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by David Zatz
Chrysler brought out a brand new line of large cars for 1974, one year after the oil crisis struck and large cars suddenly became unpopular. The timing was poor but in some ways inevitable: the company made its profits from midsize and large cars, and it took years to redesign them. They could hardly put aside the almost-completed project and rush through new compacts in 1973. They did rush through new compacts — resulting in the 1976 Volare/Aspen debacle.
Imperial was still a separate brand, though the listing of a “Chrysler Imperial” in the 1974 brochure showed the direction of the future.
The “true” Chrysler car was the New Yorker, also sold as the Town & Country wagon; below that was the Chrysler Newport, which was still quite large but not as opulent as the New Yorker, and was largely shared with Dodge (though still on the same large-car platform as New Yorker). As in the past, they solid, well-built big cars, but now Chrysler Corporation had invested a huge amount in increasing their quietness as well. For 1975, they were joined by a much smaller car which, without the fuel crisis, may well have become a Plymouth — the Chrysler Cordoba.
All the 1974 Chrysler cars included the TorqueFlite three-speed automatic, power steering, and electronic ignition, a Chrysler invention that was rapidly being adopted in various forms by other automakers (points were used by some automakers for many years afterwards). An eight-stream wiper mounted windshield washer increased coverage, and a battery heat shield and better voltage control system prolonged battery life. On the surreal side, in a concession to fuel economy, the optional fender-mounted turn signals would light up if the driver stepped down too far on the gas (the “Fuel Pacer”). All cars used the old but still top of the line torsion-bar suspension with rear leaf springs.
The rear overhang for all the 1974 and 1975 Chryslers was absurdly long by modern standards, and even by contemporary European standards, but it was the style of large American cars for the time.
New safety features for 1974 were a collapsible steering column, side door impact beams, a hydraulic impact-absorbing bumper system, and color-keyed seat belts with a starter interlock used only in 1974. The cars had a new modular dashboard.
A coolant reserve system avoided having antifreeze splashing wastefully onto the roads, and made it easier to check coolant levels. The fuse box now swung down from the dash for easier access, and a tilt - telescope steering column was optional. A larger, molded dash panel liner covered more than three times the area of past liners, cutting back on noise.
Spark plug replacement was pushed from 18,000 to 30,000 miles on Newport, while oil changes were extended to six months / 5,000 miles across the board. Not least, the door latches were made stronger but smaller door latches .
In 1975, the New Yorker gained the Phase II Electronic Ignition System and a new muffler system which, with other changes, that reduced external noise by 60%.
At the top of the line stood the New Yorker Brougham, in a two-door or four-door hardtop form, not to mention being sold as a four-door sedan.
Coming with the 1974 redesign were additional sound deadeners, foam seals, silencer pads, and vibration absorbers. Aiding comfort were standard 50/50 front bench seats, with adjustments for both driver and passenger; they were covered with cloth and vinyl (all-vinyl was optional).
The New Yorker, being the top of the line, had power brakes (the fronts were discs, the rears were drums), power windows and steering, a 440 cubic inch V8 engine (taking regular gas), and steel-belted radial whitewalls. Options included a power retracting antenna, power sunroof, and vinyl-covered roofs in six colors.
Inside, the new interior included dual armrests (on Brougham), passenger-side recliner (four-door cars), and a rear center armrest, all done up in blue, green, black, gold, or parchment. A modular instrument panel included temperature, alternator, and gas gauges, with a digital clock and optional LED warning lamps for overheating, discharging, and low fuel. Thermostatic temperature control was optional, along with FM stereo an eight-track tape player.
While the New Yorker didn't sell well, with just over 6,100 base models and about 26,000 Broughams sold in 1975, as top of the line, it really didn’t have to in order to make a profit. The most popular was the four-door hardtop. In 1975, the plain New Yorker was dropped, and Brougham sales remained at around 26,000, again mostly four-door hardtops.
1975 brought a new grille insert, a no-extra-cost 400 V8 option (for slightly better gas mileage), and a “St. Regis” option package. Buyers who wanted more — and a much more exclusive car than even the New Yorker — could opt for an Imperial, which remained a separate brand until the 1976 model year. The 1974-75 Imperial was based heavily on the New Yorker, though its origins were fairly well disguised.
The Chrysler Town & Country was a station wagon version of the New Yorker, with simulated walnut body sides, wall to wall carpet (including the cargo area), and a standard 440 and TorqueFlite. An auto-lock system automatically locked the tailgate when the ignition was on; a power tailgate window was standard; and a front sway bar and heavy duty suspension were used for cornering under load. The two-seat version boasted 104.9 cubic feet of cargo space, and was able to handle a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood.
For 1975, the tailgate was closer to level with the cargo floor for easier loading, the result of a revised hinging system. Also new was a built-in step at the tailgate, which used an extruded aluminum panel between the rear body and bumper; it pivoted out of the way when the bumper was deflected. A 400 cid engine could be swapped for the 440, and a new 1.8 hp high-speed starter was used.
Newport’s main claim to fame was a lower price, which came at a cost: the 400 engine was stnadard instead of the 440, the body was smaller and shared with Dodge, and buyers could, starting in mid-1974, swap out the 400 for a more thrifty 360, which likely also improved cornering (through lower weight and better balance).
The company downsized the 1974 Chrysler Newport from the 1973, making it an inch lower and five inches shorter bumper-to-bumper, albeit an inch wider. Still, Chrysler Newport sales fell as a result of gas shortages — hence the free 360 option.
New for 1974 was an upper-level vent system that kept fresh air moving around the passengers, and individually adjusting 50/50 bench front seats. As befitted a Chrysler, even base Newports came with wheel covers, rear-seat ashtrays, dual horns, thick, color-keyed carpeting, and power front disc brakes (with power rear drums). Thermostatically controlled climate control was optional. Newport used Chrysler’s modular instrument panel, with related controls placed together.
Not surprisingly, as the entry-level Chrysler, Newport sales were higher than the more-expensive New Yorker, with over 70,000 Newports sold in 1974, and over 60,000 Newports sold in 1975. The vast majority were four-door sedans, and they were common on the street decades later.
The big news for 1975 was the Cordoba, introduced after the other 1975 models. Essentially sharing bodies with the standard B-body Plymouth and Dodge, the Cordoba was given the Chrysler sound-insulation and luxury-feel treatment. It struck a cord and sold in vast numbers, especially for a Chrysler model, with 150,000 made in 1975 — rather stunning for a Chrysler two-door hardtop.
Some credit the high sales with Cordoba’s place as an affordable Chrysler car and believe it would not have sold quite as well as an upscale Plymouth would have, and it’s a credible argument. The GTX, after all, barely made it onto the sales charts, while the cheap Road Runner was a runaway success. For just over $5,000, a buyer could say with pride that they owned a Chrysler, in the days when Chrysler ranked with Lincoln and Oldsmobile.
In February 1975, PR man Frank Wylie bragged in a press release, “Cordoba, the new Chrysler personal luxury car, has flourished wonderfully in 1975. Already Cordoba is #3 among the specialty cars. It is outselling such established cars as Gran Prix, Cougar, T-Bird, Toronado, and Riviera (January 1-February 20 sales showed Monte Carlo at 23,838; Ford Torino X at 10,752; and Cordoba at 10,445. Gran Prix followed at 7,983; the Cougar, Thunderbird, Toronado, and Riviera were all below 5,000.)
During the fuel crisis, it helped that the smallest engine (a 318 V-8) was a cash-back option; the standard engine was the 400 cid V-8 (with two or four barrel carburetors) until 1978. The 360 was also optional. Cordoba easily beat the cheaper Buick Century Regal and more costly Ford Granada in acceleration, with Car & Driver claiming 0-60 in 9.3 seconds. The interior was quieter than that of the Buick or Ford.
The suspension used longitudinal front torsion bars with lower trailing links and an anti-sway bar, coupled with semi-elliptical rear springs and a rear anti-sway bar. This provided the large, heavy car with surprisingly good handling.
This model is covered in detail on our Cordoba page.
Chrysler Newport and New Yorker four-door sedans. The 1974 models were 55 inches high and had a maximum track of 64 inches. The basic dimensions were the same, except for width.
Comparing interior space, we see that they were less space-efficient than the 1971 or 1974 Chryslers.
The Chrysler New Yorker four-door Brougham hardtop was .2 inches wider, and the wagon was two inches longer. The wagon, with rear seats folded down, had 97.7 straight inches from the back of the driver's seat to the gate; it was 58.9 inches high.
The 1974 Chrysler line plunged in popularity, but Cordoba brought it back in 1975 — albeit on a body that was shared almost completely with Dodge and, to a lesser degree, with Plymouth.
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