Chrysler, Imperial, Dodge and Plymouth — 1970
Plymouth was still the volume leader for 1970, and its lead over Dodge was dramatically widened as customers sought less expensive cars. Plymouth had the answers, including an efficient slant six in an attractive new wrapper.
The big sellers for Plymouth were the A-bodies - particularly the Plymouth Duster. The Duster came at just the right time for Plymouth, though one could argue they stole sales from the brand-new E-bodies. In its first year, this Valiant lookalike (from the front) sold 193,375 units, nearly double the Valiant's prior year sales. Priced at $2,172 to $2,283, weighing in at 2,790 to 2,865 lb, the new Duster was simply a more sporty-looking Valiant, with rear curves to counter the front angles.
Valiant and Dart slant six brake drums were expanded to 10 inches in front and nine inches in back; 14 inch wheels were standard.
The Valiant itself, ignoring the “Valiant Duster,” sold only 50,810 units, a severe drop from 1969 — and most likely due to the Duster, which boasted sportier styling, a much larger trunk, and a flush, aerodynamic rear window that cut wind noise and air drag. (Duster development story). Duster was the Chrysler success story of 1970.
Showing up at the wrong time was the E-body Plymouth Barracuda. Created by merging A and B body components to handle any engine Chrysler had, the E-bodies are now among the most popular and sought-after vehicles ever made by Chrysler Corporation.
Identical under the skin (aside from two inches in wheelbase) to the Challenger, the Barracuda was a far cry from the light, nimble European-inspired road car of years past, which had difficulty fitting a 273 cubic inch V8 under the hood. The new Barracuda was nearly the opposite of the original, capable of fitting a 440 or 426 Hemi, but not providing the same sports-car cornering as the old Formula S.
The Barracuda’s 340 pushed out a rated 275 hp (gross) and 340 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,200 rpm; the 340 with triple two-barrel Carter carburetors provided the muscle of bigger engines with much lower weight, helping traction and cornering. The 383 was up to 335 gross horsepower standard, with three optional engines: the legendary Hemi (425 hp), the 440 Magnum (375 hp with a single four-barrel carb), and the Hemi-challenging 440 Six Pack, with three two-barrel carburetors (390 gross hp and a stunning 480 lb-ft of torque at a very low 2,300 rpm). And of course there was a slant six option.
The ‘Cuda, with its 340 six-pack engine, seemed perfect for Trans Am racing, but the package didn't work well, and the AAR ‘Cudas, acid-dipped and weight-reduced, didn't remain in production long. (A small number were sold to the public, but worksmanship was unusually poor.) Tom Murden mentioned that the Plymouth 'Cuda was an inch too short for Can-Am, so the Challenger, being two inches longer, was raced there.
Just 55,499 Barracudas were sold, beating the Valiant sedan but a fraction of Duster sales, and far below projections. It was perhaps the right car for 1969, but the wrong car for 1970. Besides, on the one hand buyers could get the Duster, with its hot 340 V8 and light weight, and on the other, buyers could get the bigger Charger, whose weight was not far from the Barracuda and Challenger.
The Road Runner was mainly unchanged from 1969, except for the new Air Grabber hood, which was remote controlled from the passenger compartment. Press a button, and you have a scoop. Press again, and you have a normal hood.
Those seeking a more civilized ride with nearly all the looks of the Road Runner could simply buy the Plymouth Belvedere, then in its last year; it had the same front and rear, minus the cartoon graphics, and a very similar interior. The Belvedere was Plymouth’s entry-level big car, the first one above the Valiant.
1970 brought a new grill and rear end treatment for the Satellite line, which was a higher trim level of the Belvedere, with different sheet metal. The Sport Satellite, after arriving in 1968, left at the end of 1970 with few changes.
For those who wanted sport and luxury together in a non-luxury brand, there was the Plymouth GTX, also in its last year, to be replaced in 1971 by the short-lived Satellite Sebring. There were good reasons for dropping all three nameplates — poor sales. The Belvedere racked up just over 24,000 sales; the GTX, under 8,000; and the Sport Satellite, under 16,000. In contrast, the Road Runner sold over 43,000 units, the Satellite over 66,000.
The big seller of the Plymouth line, excluding the hit-of-the-year Duster, was the Plymouth Fury series. The Fury III alone sold over 150,000 units in 1970, more than all the big Plymouth muscle cars combined. These were huge C-body cars, with four models ranging from the unpopular Fury I (17,166 units) up to Sport Fury (39,268). The Fury II/Gran Coupe sold as many copies as the brand new Barracuda.
The Fury line had been redesigned for 1969, with a longer wheelbase of 120 inches, and more shoulder room; the shape was less boxy. For 1970, the Fury continued its uncluttered appearance, while styling made the car seem smaller, and concealed headlamps and full-loop bumpers were added.
The base Dodge car was the Dart, with nearly 190,000 sold — and if had not been for the Duster, perhaps more Darts would have fled out the door. Dart sales were up just a little from the prior year, as customers downsized their cars, squeezing the division’s margins. Fortunately, it did have the Darts to sell, and they were still a little longer in wheelbase and length than the Plymouth Valiants they competed against. The Dart Swinger was the sporty model, featuring two doors, a sportier hood, and a moderately restyled rear; it was clearly outclassed in practical terms by the Plymouth Duster, which had much more attention devoted to reducing wind noise and drag, not to mention a larger trunk. The Swingers were still very popular, and ranged from slant six up to 340 V8. Dart also had a Custom two-door hardtop; the GT and GTS sold in 1969 were not available in 1970.
Up one level from the Dart was the Dodge Coronet, the familiar workhorse B-body that ranged from cheap to luxury-performance in trim and treatment. In 1970, the base Coronet was dropped and the Coronet Deluxe took over as the bottom of the line, without the Deluxe name on the outside. The other series - 440, 500, R/T, and Super Bee - continued. Sales dived for this year, and in 1971, a new Coronet was introduced, with a much simpler grille, a new 118 inch wheelbase, more rounded styling, and a more subtle Coke bottle side styling. The Coronet, though, remained very popular with taxi fleets, and can be seen in the introduction to the original Odd Couple TV series. The mainstay was the Coronet 440, selling over 66,000 units, over double the next best Coronet; the R/T moved under 3,000 units.
Next up was the Polara, jumping up into the newly redesigned C-body chassis. These sold around 80,000 units in Polara, Custom, and Special models. The similar Monaco, once a trim level of the Polara, was at the top of the line, replete with luxury feature and selling nearly 25,000 copies.
The big news for Dodge was unquestionably the new E-bodies. The Dodge Challenger easily outsold the somewhat smaller Barracuda, perhaps because people preferred the styling or extra length, or perhaps because it was a fresh new name, while the new Barracuda was very unlike the old one. Either way, a full 63,000 plain Challengers were sold, as well as nearly 20,000 performance Challenger R/T models, and exactly 1,000 Challenger T/As - required for Trans Am racing.
The Challenger was made in both hardtop and convertible versions; there was an R/T (road and track) performance version and an SE luxury package, with leather seats, a vinyl roof, and the "formal styled" rear window. Base engine for the base Challenger was the humble slant six, but the "starter" V8 was the 340, producing a rated 275 hp (gross) and 340 lb-ft of torque at a low 3,200 rpm.
The R/T was the hot model, with a 383 cubic inch engine putting out 335 gross horsepower standard, and three optional engines: the legendary Hemi (425 hp but only 356 buyers), the more affordable 440 Magnum (375 hp with a single four-barrel carb), and the Hemi-challenging 440 Six Pack, with three two-barrel carburetors (sold to over 2,000 people, and featuring 390 gross hp and a stunning 480 lb-ft of torque at a very low 2,300 rpm). While the R/T had a standard dual-scoop hood, the functional scoops simply pushed air into the engine bay, rather than forcing it into the engine; for that, you need the "shaker" hood, which was essentially an attachment to the air cleaner that protruded through the hood.
The T/A, named after the SCCA Trans American series, was a street version of the racing car, using a 340 Six Pack and running at a rated 290 horsepower (gross); some claimed it was more poweful. On many of these Challengers, fiberglass hood was lifted off (no hinges), and the flat black color and fender pins gave the car a unique look. (Wendell Lane wrote: “my 1970 Challenger T/A had hood hinges, with lighter hood springs for the fiberglass hood, and dual hood pins up front.”) The Challenger T/A was showy, with big stripes and dual exhausts with special outlets, but it was also a runner, with a special heavy duty "Rallye" suspension, increased rear-spring camber, different sized front and rear tires, and an engine that could do 14 second quarter miles. Like the Plymouth AAR E-body, it wasn't competitive in the series it was designed for; but the actual SCCA racer used a destroked 303 cubic inch V8.
Finally, the infamous Dodge Charger continued its rollercoaster sales; around 50,000 units moved through the door in 1970, including the standard Charger, Charger 500, and the Charger R/T. The Charger 500 was no longer a specially modified version with better aerodynamics, but a dressed up base model with a base 318; the SE package was still available, but only with the redesigned, optional bucket seats. Volume across all models was just a bit over half of the 1968 peak, and was sharply down from 1969, possibly due to the new front styling, which included a front bumper that completely encircled the grille (the rear got new full width tail lights).
The R/T got simulated scoops on the door, and a longitudal stripe instead of the rear bumblebee stripes. Engine options remained the same, except for the addition of the hot 440 6 pack (three double-barrel Holley carbs monted on an Edelbrock intake manifold). Engines once again started with the slant six.
Dodge trucks and vans
The big news for 1970 trucks was the availability of the LoadFlite automatic transmission with the four wheel drive W100 and W200 models; and, for manual transmission lovers, a new three-speed, fully synchronized transmission was standard on the half-ton and three-quarter ton trucks, and on six-cylinder W100 and W200 models. A new "easy off" tailgate could be removed or installed by a single person without tools, helping camper owners. The Camper Special got a new electrical hookup, and a standard 25 gallon gas tank. Tools were moved under the hood.
Bolstering Dodge’s leadership in motor homes and campers, the 413 V8 was added to the options for motor home chassis; while heavy duty trucks could get 478 or 549 cubic inch engines.
For the D-series light duty trucks, a new anodized-aluminum grille was used, with cross-hatched bars for a wider, lower appearance. Standard, Custom, and Adventurer models each got their own instrument cluster faceplates.
The A-series compact vans were in their final year, but still got the new three-speed, fully synchronized manual transmission and the 198 slant six (which replaced the 170). Otherwise the truck continued, complete with Job-Mated Tradesman interiors, Travco’s Host Wagon and Executive Suite conversions, and optional 225 and 318 engines. The B-van would show up for 1971, Dodge’s last van.
Sales for all Dodge trucks together were 137,509 units in the United States, with nearly 190,000 trucks made across the world. Dodge was the only truck maker to gain in sales in 1970.
The 1971 Chrysler line was big and proud. Each vehicle was made as a two door and four door hardtop; the New Yorker and Newport also came in four-door sedan form, and the Town & Country was a wagon, with two or three rows of seats. All but the wagon were basically the same car, with different front and rear clips and varying trim and powertrain levels; and all had the “streamlined” fuselage styling, now in its second model year (1969, 1970, 1971). At each lower level of trim, the interior appointments dropped a bit in materials, the exterior dropped some chrome or swapped mouldings, the lighting package diminished a little, and other minor changes were made to alter the visible status of the car and to save some money here and there.
The revised C-body architecture had been introduced in 1969, but the splash of the first year was a memory in the second year. The top line Chrysler New Yorker sold 34,000 copies; the 300 didn’t quite hit 21,000; the Town & Country wagon moved just over 15,000; and the mainstay Newport’s sales were half of 1969’s, with just over 110,000 Newports sold.
The 1971 Chrysler New Yorker was similar to the Imperial, with fewer features and a shorter wheelbase: gone were the covered headlights, two-spoke horn-on-rim steering wheel, and some of the other frills, but it was still clearly a luxury vehicle, with standard 440 and automatic, and vinyl replacing the leather. The wheelbase was 124 inches rather than 129, the length 225 inches (the overhang was the same), and the width still 79 inches.
Just below the New Yorker was the Chrysler 300 - not a letter car - with the same drivetrain and basic dimensions, but a Charger-like front clip with headlight-concealing grille. Interior trim on the 300 was another step down, with either vinyl or cloth-and-vinyl bucket seats only. Missing from the standard features was the folding center armrest in front and rear, and the trunk carpet and electric clock were optional; the carpeted spare tire cover was not available at all; and the three-speed wipers were replaced with two-speed wipers. With low sales a perennial problem, the 300 was dropped after 1971 — a vehicle that was never really needed, and diluted the image of the 300 letter cars.
The Chrysler Newport (and Newport Custom) had the lowest level of trim: most dimensions were the same, but the styling again was different in front and back, and a 383 cubic inch engine was standard rather than the 440. The TorqueFlite automatic was optional; interior choices had bench seats instead of buckets, and an added 3-in-1 divided cloth-and-vinyl bench seat.
The Town & Country wagon had numerous options and features that set it apart as a true luxury wagon, such as a carpeted cargo floor; optional Strato Ventilation; optional cassette stereo with optional microphone; standard bucket seats; tilt wheel; power operated tailgate window; optional dual air conditioners; and concealed wipers. The wagon body had a 122 inch wheelbase, but was just .2 inches longer than the other Chryslers; width was the same.
Cargo space was large, with a minimum 48.5 inch wide (max. 54.5 inches) floor and the ability to lay a 4x8 panel flat with the gate closed and locked (if the rear seats were lowered flat into the floor). The dual action tailgate could either swing open from the side, or lift up like a hatch. Storage pockets were molded into the cover of the rear wheelhousing; the vertically mounted spare tire was on the right of the cargo floor, just ahead of the tailgate, for easy access. An optional third seat let two adults or three children ride, facing backwards, at the end of the wagon. The maximum height of the rear opening was 29 inches; the cargo floor stretched 63 inches from the back of the rear seat to the end of the closed tailgate, or 99 inches from the back of the front seat; and there were 104.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Options included automatic headlights and tilt wheel, with seven different positions. The automatic temperature control used a dial with temperatures in five degree increments, and could be set anywhere from 65 to 85 degrees Farenheit.
The 1970 Imperial LeBaron stretched to an amazing 230 inches, with a 127 inch wheelbase - the rear overhang was simply enormous. The car was a full 79 inches wide and was powered by a standard 440 cubic inch V8 that ran on regular gas.
For 1970, the ignition lock cylinder was moved to the steering column and a steering wheel lock feature was added.
As in 1969, the top-of-the-line LeBaron six-passenger four-door hardtop ($6,328) was best received, reaching 8,426 buyers versus 1,333 Crowns ($5,956) in the same body style. The LeBaron two-door hardtop ($6,095) went to 1,803 destinations, while the Crown ($5,779) in this configuration moved just 254 units. Company leadership closed out the Crown line at this point.
Weights were reported as ranging from 4,610 to 4,805 pounds. Stability and control capabilities still led the field — there was no large luxury car at the time that could equal Imperial. The V-8 was rated at 350 GBHP, even though the compression ratio was reduced to 9.7:1 in response to emissions requirements. 1970 Imperials featured (as did the entire corporate lineup) a new isolated-field alternator teamed with a new 2-prong electronic voltage regulator making use of a zener diode.
Standard features for the Imperial LeBaron included an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering, power windows, fender-mounted turn signal indicators, and cruise control; unusual features included hidden headlights (with manual overrides), rear reading lights, vinyl covered pillows (four door), automatic doorway enlarger (two-door), and power disc brakes.
Unusual (for the time) options included headlight washers and wipers, a power operated sunroof, cassette stereo (or eight-track) with microphone, thermostatic air conditioning, dual air conditioner with thermostatic control, rear heater/defroster, automatic headlights, and cornering lights. Four interior seats were available: cloth-and-leather bucket-back bench seat or divided bench seat, and leather bucket or divided bench seats. The bucket seat had a passenger recliner, center cushion, and pull-down center armrest; power adjusters were used on both seats. A new feature for 1970 was the full circle horn switch: squeezing any part of the steering wheel rim would blow the horn (it was optional for other Chrysler cars).
Standard or available on the Imperial were dual air conditioning, automatic temperature control, vacuum-based parking brake release, individual folding center front armrest, rear door armrests with storage compartment, antilock brakes, rear step pad bumper guards, and twin rear cigar lighters (a single rear cigar lighter was standard).
When gauges reached a danger zone, a check gauges light flashed to get the driver's attention. Center air conditioner outlets were flush with the rest of the instrument cluster. At night, the entire instrument panel was externally lighted.
Burton Bouwkamp wrote:
From 1968 to 1975, I was Director of Product Planning at Chrysler. During that time Styling (Elwood Engle) lobbied top management to put the antenna in the windshield á la GM. I objected because of the loss in radio performance.
I had a very simple test. My cottage in Mecosta was 160 miles from Detroit and my favorite Detroit radio station was WJR (J. P. McCarthy, Bud Guest, etc). I could get WJR with a mast antenna from the cottage but not with a windshield antenna. I was worried that if the customer experienced this loss in performance that he would blame the reduced radio reception in his new car on the quality of the radio.
Finally in a showdown with Elwood I lost. Management made a compromise decision and that was to put the windshield antenna only on the  Imperial - not across all car lines as Styling wanted.
The rest of the story is that after one year's field experience, the Chrysler/Imperial National Dealer Council formally recommended that we return to the fender mounted mast antenna. We did - but we built Imperials with windshield antennas for one or two years. (Eventually, GM also discarded the windshield antenna.)
Though the Imperial was clearly linked to the Chrysler New Yorker, it sold well for a $6,000-and-up car in 1970, moving 10,000 LeBarons and nearly 1,600 Crowns. Cadillac was in no danger, but Imperial was likely a money-maker as well as a prestige item.
Common engineering on the domestic cars
1970 was the first year for the new 198 cid slant six, which boosted power over the old 170 while still being slightly more fuel efficient (and cheaper) than the 225. The 198 was based on the slant six, but had a shorter crankshaft throw and longer connecting rods. High performance 440 engines (including those with triple carburetors) got heavier connecting rods and piston pins; they also had a vibration damper and torque converter (or flywheel) balanced to match the engine.
In California, cars could no longer have open fuel systems. Chrysler responded with a clever system that stored vapors in the crankcase, to be pulled into the engine later. This system would be used on all American and Canadian cars in 1971, and would be completely redesigned for 1972.
Hydraulic tappets used in some engines had a larger plunger diameter. The 426 Hemi engine, notably, was produced with hydraulic tappets for 1970, cutting maintenance and noise alike.
Carburetors changed, with a Holley 2210 two-barrel used on some 383 engines in place of the Carters. The idle tubes on that carburetor were pressed in, and could be damaged if the air horn was not handled carefully.
Engineers found innovative ways to counter emissions rules; Chrysler boasted that 90% of cars produced by domestic automakers used systems they had pioneered. All 1971 cars would come with a charcoal-canister fuel vapor reduction system (still used today). Chrysler built a new emissions lab in Santa Fe Springs, California, to find solutions for the 1975 rules (“At the present time, there is no technologically practical way to meet these requirements.”)
The primary pollution control systems were enclosed crankcase ventilation (rather than venting to the air) and a charcoal canister to hold gas fumes, along with an automatic choke that warmed up more quickly. There was also a solenoid to raise the idle speed on high performance engines during idle and deceleration, and a hot-idle compensator on carburetors with air conditioning to prevent hot stalls, cut idle emissions, and improve hot starts. One addition many customers may have appreciated was the manifold air heater, essentially a metal cover over part of the exhaust manifold that would warm the intake air until it reached 100° F. This made warmup much faster.
The 383 and 440 engines (except triple-carbs) had a timing retard which reduced timing at idle.
Floating caliper disc brakes were standard on Imperial, optional on everything else, except Valiant and Dart.
Batteries would last far longer due to a standard-across-the-board electronic voltage regulator, and theft was deterred somewhat by standard steering column locks. These were the familiar design where, if the car was left in Park (Reverse, on manual transmission cars), the steering wheel would lock into place. The key could only be removed when the wheel was locked, again to prevent theft.
The new 2-prong electronic voltage regulator used a zener diode, and was not interchangeable with the one used on some 1969 models; they had no adjustments. New isolated-field alternators were also not interchangeable with the 1969s; both field rotor brushes had separate terminals.
“Strato ventilation,” fresh-air ventilation coming through the adjustable outlets in the middle of the instrument panel, was standard, along with floor level side-cowl fresh air vents. Dual air conditioners, optional in Imperials, had an extra cooling unit in the rear.
All engines had hydraulic tappets and a fast-action choke. The V8s had deep skirt engine blocks. The distributor was always mounted in front for easier service.
Nearly any vehicle could get the Torqueflite or Loadflite automatic with liquid cooled torque converter, or a fully synchronized three speed manual transmission; four-speeds were available on some cars. LoadFlite was the truck version of the TorqueFlite.
Manual transmissions included the new A-230, a three-speed with synchronizers in all forward gears (and no clutch interlock). A clutch interlock prevented owners from starting their cars unless the clutch was disengaged.
Most cars used drum brakes, with bigger linings than competitors, aided by finned front drums and flared rear drums to dissipate heat. Power front discs were standard on Imperial, New Yorker, and Town & Country. All brakes were self adjusting, and used a dual master cylinder (half controlling the front, half controlling the rear) for safety.
The “lane change turn signal” also became standard in 1970, after being available on some cars. It allowed drivers to use light pressure to temporarily activate a turn signal, and full pressure to push the stalk into a detent so it would stay on. Meanwhile, the hazard flasher switch moved to its familiar place on the steering column (except on Chrysler and Imperial, where it stayed on the instrument panel).
Safety was also starting to be a concern, and Chrysler responded by developing airbag components, adding interior padding, and selling what they claimed to be the first four-wheel anti-skid (anti-lock) braking system in the industry, used on Imperial. Challenger and Barracuda got a new energy-absorbing steering column, added roof rollover protection, and crash-resistant inner door beams.
All 1970 Chrysler Corporation domestic cars were unibody designs, with a subframe (isolated by rubber cushions) to support the engine, transmission, steering, and front suspension. Unibody (versus body on frame) design provided better rigidity and lower weight. There were still subframes, including a steel rail box section supporting the rear (including the suspension) and a steel box for the windshield header and pillars. The Torsion-Quiet ride on some models isolated the suspension with rubber cushions and blocks. Critics considered the Chrysler and Imperial cars to be as comfortable as competitors, but with far better cornering.
The suspension was standard for Chrysler Corporation by that time, with independent, high-chrome-steel torsion-bar front springs; an antisway bar up front on many models; shock absorbers in front and back; angled upper control arms to resist brake dive; diagonally mounted steel struts to reinforce and position front wheel lower control arms; widely spaced, off-center mounted rear springs to eliminate acceleration squat and resist brake dive; and a wide-track rear axle. Multileaf springs, fastened at two points, were used in the rear to cushion driving and braking shocks, and to adjust to varying loads. The result was surprisingly good cornering for a huge, comfortable car.
A standard 7-step antirust treatment started with a cleaning dip, then two rinses, a phosphate dip, cold rinse, acid rinse (metal conditioner for paint adhesion), and primer dip. After that each car got two coats of epoxy primer, then two coats of acrylic enamel.
Air conditioning was popular in 1970, installed on over half of all Chrysler Corporation cars (52%). Automatic transmissions were on 91% of their cars, power steering on 80%. Power brakes (38%) and disc brakes (25%) were less popular but growing in use; the prior year, only 14% of their cars came with discs.
Trailer towing went up to 5,500 pounds on the big Chryslers, with a package that included a larger radiator, seven blade fan with shrud, hood air seal, heavy duty suspension (springs, sway bar, torsion bars, shocks), auxiliary transmission oil cooler with 383 four-barrel engine, heavy duty electrical components and wheels, and 3.23:1 axle ratio.
A new self adjusting cable-and-vacuum water valve for midsized car air conditioning eliminated linkage adjustments (Barracuda and Challenger was cable controlled, with a self-adjuster). All cars got greater protection against overpressure damage:a pilot-operated pressure regulator valve opened the main EPR valve as needed, giving better control; a high pressure relief valve replaced the “fusible plug,” to in case of overpressure (over 475 psi), only the amount of refrigerant needed to prevent problems would be released (instead of all refrigerant); and a low pressure valve protected the system cut power to the compressor clutch if pressure dropped below 23 pounds.
Conforming to Federal law, all cars got bulb-and-reflector sidelamps.
Chrysler Corporation, 1970
1970 was one of the most powerful years of the muscle-car era, but at Chrysler, the financial engines were stalling a little. Vehicle sales rose a little from 1969, but the company went from a net profit of $99 million on $7 billion of sales to a net loss of $8 million — though with a dividend of $29 million!
Chrysler lost $27 million in the first quarter of 1970; the other three quarters were profitable. The United States had economic problems including high unemployment; the big C-bodies that arrived in 1969 were spurned by Americans demanding less expensive cars. Fortunately, customers flocked to the old A-bodies, restyled and lengthened for 1968 — but the especially ran to that brand new runaway hit, the ever-so-slightly altered Valiant known as the Plymouth Duster. Chrysler snagged 39% of the domestic compact market - the largest share of any company. Corporate planners, though, planned another set of the C-bodies, for 1974, postponing investments in the A-bodies.
Chrysler was then a massive corporation, involved in defense and space operations, air conditioning systems, chemicals, and more. The company had a $1.8 billion payroll with over 228,000 employees worldwide. Defense-Space Group had $140 million in sales; during 1970, they developed a compact vehicle exhaust analyzer and an automated mail sorting system, also winning a NASA contract to explore a space shuttle. Chrysler Defense was already working on converting a Saturn V gantry to support the smaller Saturn 1B for Skylab (the S-1B Skylab transport would indeed be built by Chrysler).
The Detroit Tank Plant in Warren made M-60 tanks; Chrysler also built TOW anti-tank missiles (tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided missiles). M-615 military vehicles and outboards continued production, and a night-vision surveillance system was completed for military and civilian use.
The Airtemp Division set sales records, as it had in 1969, with commercial sales rising by 10%. International operations grew, with high profile installations including the BBC, Bonn’s airport, and a hospital in Brunei.
The boating division unveiled two new lightweight 13 horsepower models, one with an electric starter; a 45 horsepower outboard; a 35 horsepower alterator-equipped motor; new six and eight horsepower fishing models; and four new boats (Conquerer, Buccaneer, Bass Runner, and Courier 231). Chrysler sold 44 power boat models, from 14 to 24 feet, and four sailboats, from 13 to 18 feet. Those seeking more power would find it in three new gasoline V8s and two four-cycle diesels (four and six cylinders, 65 and 100 hp), as well as a new 318 inboard-outdrive model dubbed the Super Bee.
Chrysler Industrial supplied ten gas engines from 230 to 440 cubic inches and seven diesels. Amplex still sold the Oilite bearings and powder metal parts it had pioneered four decades earlier, along with cold extrusion and ceramic magnets products. Sales by the chemical division also rose 7%, including a new compound (Monocote) for the steel industry. The Plastic Division sold vinyl coated fabric, pressure sensitive foam tape, and other items, and the Introl division sold control devices.
Market share was high at 19% for the year, while Dodge truck retail sales hit a new high of 145,519 units, (just 8% of the market). In Canada, Chrysler's share (excluding imports) was 26%, four points over 1969. Sales outside the U.S. and Canada rose to $1.7 billion, or 25% of total sales. The company was actively investing in Mitsubishi Motors, aiming for 35% of the company and eventual takeover.
In 1970, one year after taking control of the company, Chrysler renamed Barreiros Diesel to Chrysler Espana S.A. Barreiros made diesel engines, buses, tractors, and other vehicles.
A big advance for domestic Chrysler customers was the linking of all North American parts depots into a single computerized control system, helping people get parts faster.
Other key corporate items:
- Richard K. Brown was named general manager of Chrysler-Plymouth Division
- John J. Riccardo was named president of Chrysler Corporation.
- Chrysler, with 73% of Rootes Group, renamed it Chrysler United Kingdom Ltd.
- Societe des Autos Simca (SIMCA) became Chrysler France SA; sales would shoot up each year in the early 1970s, earning Chrysler its first million-cars-sold-in-Europe year in 1973.
- Show cars: Cordoba de Oro, Concept 70-X, Dodge Diamante
- 18 millionth Plymouth; 13 millionth Dodge car; 5 millionth Chrysler
Chrysler brought in cars from its current and “future” overseas divisions: the Plymouth Cricket, a Rootes Group car built in the UK using a 70 horsepower four-cylinder and an optional three-speed automatic; and the Simca 1204, sold under its own name. These cars started at under $2,000, with few takers.
The Simca 1100 had been introduced to America in June, 1969 as the Simca 1204, reflecting its 1204cc engine. In American trim, it produced (in 1971) 62 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 65 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 rpm, and weighed 2,025 pounds (similar to the contemporary Saabs, much lighter than the Toyota Crown, and much heavier than the Subarus). Length was 155 inches, width was 62.5 inches, and the transmission was a four-speed manual. The 1100 became the best-selling Simca of all time. Production levels at Poissy bloomed considerably, and in 1971, it became France's best selling car. However, it failed to make a name for itself in the United States. The little front wheel drive car eked out a mere 6,035 sales for all of 1970, despite having a full range — two and four door sedans, and two and four door wagons.
In Australia, the successful Australian Production (AP) Valiant line was busily achieving high performance with optimized straight-six engines, but these were never brought to the United States. The VG series debuted in 1970; it continued the appearance of prior years, but had new power options. Australians had a choice of three engines created just for that region, the 215, 245, and 265 cubic inch straight-sixes (dubbed “Kangaroo Six” by some engineers); the 265 was the power option, using the same cylinders as the 318 to reduce costs, but with triple Weber carburetors and hemispherical heads designed to squeeze out power. The VH Pacer, a 1971 model, was the fastest mass-produced four-door sedan with a six cylinder engine produced in Australia until at least 1988. An American V8 was also available, but it was seen as more of a luxury option.
In February 1970, the Hillman Avenger (also sold as the Plymouth and Dodge Avenger, in some markets) was launched; the press was taken by its overall competence on the road, and smart contemporary styling. There was a real sense that the car offered the ailing company a shot in the arm, and that under Chrysler's direction, Rootes Group would go on and prosper. It was quite demonstrably a car for the time, and one that people wanted. It had no frills, but a low price and conventional yet contemporary technology. The car featured a live coil sprung rear axle, a four-speed manual gearbox, and overhead-valve all-iron engine of 1250 or 1500cc capacity. A high-powered twin carburettor 1500 GT followed in October 1970 with bizarre dustbin lid shaped wheel trims and go-faster sticker tapes down the side of the doors. According to Graham Robson's book Cars of the Rootes Group, the 50,000th Avenger was produced in August 1970, and by the end of its life in 1981, a total of 638,631 Avengers had been made.
In the United States, the Avenger was sold as the Plymouth Cricket; its styling arguably fit perfectly into Chrysler’s lineup, but its size did not. Plymouth made a few changes to the Avenger to make it into the Cricket. Only the 4-door sedan and 5-door wagon were offered, with a base 1.5 liter engine, the smaller powerplant being underpowered with the automatics. Front disc brakes were standard; these were optional in the UK. A single barrel carburetor with manual choke was standard. As per Federal requirement, front seats with integral headrests (in a high-backed tombstone style) were unique to the US cars; and side markers were fitted, again unique as there was no law for them in the UK. All Crickets used the uplevel UK model's four round headlights, as rectangular lights were not yet legal.