Inside Chrysler: the 1964 Plymouth, Dodge, Chrysler, and Imperial cars
I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. — Curtis Redgap
After taking a beating in 1960, 1961, and particularly 1962, the prospect of another good year after 1963 put morale and spirit over the top, at our store and across Chrysler. Plymouth had much to be proud of; sales had zoomed, putting Plymouth back into fifth place, leaping over both Buick and Rambler.
Even though Elwood Engle was now the top designer at Chrysler, the 1963 models belonged to the departed Virgil Exner. They had been designed on a crash basis, because Lynn Townsend, as the new Chairman, didn't like what he had seen for 1963 in 1962.
When the photo stills arrived for the new 1964 model Plymouth, I was stunned! The combination between what Exner had created and what Engle had envisioned was enough to palpitate an enthusiast's heart. They were painfully gorgeous cars!
Engineering had not been forgotten. Engines were beefed up with powerful V-8s across the spectrum. The highlight was the late 1963 model year introduction of the wedge head 426-R V-8. With a single four barrel, it was “officially” rated at 365 horsepower. When I tried out a convertible 426 with a four speed, it grabbed the road like a cheetah after its dinner.
Opening night in late September 1963 was as good as we had ever seen. I only wished that Grandpa, Mrs. Weed, and Mr. Green had been there to help us with that night. Plymouth was generating its own excitement again.
The new Chrysler 300 letter car, 300K, had a 390 horsepower, 413 cubic inch V-8, and handled like a real road car. Dodge was okay, but the front end treatment was just not that smooth; in comparison to more recent years, it was a beauty.
I well recall Mrs. Beachum's grand entrance that night when she came to pick up her new car. No black beauty for her this year. She got a beautiful blue Sport Fury two-door hardtop, loaded, with air and a white interior. And, as usual, her 1963 Plymouth was sold the minute it crossed the curb into our lot.
That wasn't the only car sold that night (we sold ten cars that night alone). My mother, finally, found the new car that grabbed her heart. It was a pretty yellow 1964 Valiant Signet with the small 273 V-8, and loaded, including air.
Hot 1964 Plymouth police cars
Fleet sales roared back. The State Police had their usual request for test cars, and we sent them two plain-jane Plymouth Savoys with pursuit packages, identical except for the engines. Both had the 383 cubic inch V-8, one with the two-barrel and one with the four-barrel carburetor. The troopers approved: starting with the 1964 cars, Plymouth represented the State Troopers every year until the final “traditional” police packages in 1989.
The 1964 Plymouth was quite the car in the Police Pursuit Packages; everyone jumped on board Plymouth that year. The city, the county and the state were all driving Plymouth Pursuits. Most were running the powerful, yet reliable, 383 four-barrel V-8. With that engine and the 3.21 rear axle ratio, a 1964 383 Pursuit would jump out to 60 miles an hour in 7.6 seconds. It would run the 1/4 mile in 15.7 seconds at 93 miles an hour, faster than the big Dodge 880 with the 413. Plymouth patrolled 38 states and 523 major cities in ’64.
The California Highway Patrol again bought over a thousand Dodges as their “E” class enforcement vehicle in 1964. The Missouri Highway Patrol bought a mix of Dodge 880 and Chrysler Newport Enforcers for 1964.
That summer, in one of the few outings that my brother and I took together without arguing about everything, we went to the Gran Prix held in Watkins Glen, New York. My brother had gotten some free tickets and airfare from one of his promoters. We settled near what is now the chicane at the end of the long back straight, on a spot that drew some shade from the nearby trees and offered an excellent view of the “hump” in the track. A couple of Corvettes were out and they made quite a roar as they raced up the back stretch. Because of the trees, we could not see that far down the back stretch. We went back to the concession stand and got some coffee and doughnuts.
Just as we got back to our spot, a roar went up way down the back straight. It sounded like a race in progress. We could hear the people shouting, roaring approval and clapping. The sound rose in crescendo and volume. The crowd noise rose in approval. Suddenly, the source of the noise was upon us. Believe it or not, it was two local, well marked, Sheriff cars and an equally well marked New York State Police car right on their tail. All three cars were 1964 Plymouth Savoy 4 door sedans. It was also quite apparent that these guys were racing each other, and in earnest seriousness!
At precisely the right moment, the State Trooper braked hard, accelerated and put his ’64 Savoy in front of the two Deputies near the center of the sweeping curve. A roar went up from the crowd, and the Trooper gave them a great big smile and a quick salute as he gunned his car up the short hill to the main straight. Not uncontested, I might add, as the two deputies meant to overtake him! It was a noisy, bellowing display that went on for two more circuits.
The noise that those Plymouths made when they hit the back stretch and let it all hang out was astounding. I can still hear it echoing in my memory. They would never have gotten away with a stunt like that nowadays, but, back then, we had only just begun to realize what innocence was lost when President Kennedy had been slain. The crowd loved it, and so did I, running for the pits to see if I could check the cars out.
All three cars were identically equipped. New York State bid cars and Plymouth carried the day. The local Sheriff and Village Police bought their patrol units, four-door Savoy sedans, from the State Bid Pool. They had Torqueflite transmissions with 3.23 Sure-Grip (also sold by GM as “Posi-Traction”) rear ends, and 383 cubic inch Police Pursuit Special V-8s with four barrel Carter carbs and big 2.25 inch dual exhausts. It was obvious that the “special” meant a different grind on the camshaft, when they sat at an idle. They were not quite smooth, with a hint of a lump in their sequences. However, when they opened up, it was that big belly bellow that Chrysler engines used to be famous for.
That was also the day that I gave up on the Chevrolet Corvette. In their race, “B” production, they were contending against a small Maserati Coupe that was running in “A” production. I had always admired the Corvette up until the end of this race. There were about 25 Corvettes and one little blue Maserati that looked like the guy had driven it from home that morning and pasted round circles with the numbers on it for the race. The Maserati didn’t roar, slide, make smoke, squeal, or even slip during the race. It just went, and went and went and went. Faster and faster, and then still faster. So fast that it was seven circuits ahead of the nearest Corvette when the race was over.
I'm not making a literary spiel here, it's a matter of record. Disgusted? Not the word I would choose to use. As far as I was concerned, seeing those lawmen and their Plymouths charge around the course was the entire race for me that day.
Plymouth and Dodge continue on each other’s turf
In the Spring, Dad attended an all dealer conference in San Francisco, and came back more disillusioned than ever. He had been trying, again, to push through the separate Plymouth Division along with their own sales and stores.
The Plymouth was a victim of its own success, as the new 1964 models were running near record level sales. With a big Plymouth planned for 1965, which would expand the line to two lines of cars (plus Valiant), dealers were content to stand pat. They had a friend in Townsend. He liked things uniform, and saw no reason to change a winning formula.
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of shoppers saw Dodge as the alternative to Plymouth and the switch was on. Then, even as in the end (2001), Dodge was perceived to be the next step up from the low price class. Dodge sales grew at the expense of its sister division Plymouth.
Plymouth sales actually dropped in the 1966 model year. A good marketeer would have seen the writing on the wall. Unfortunately, no one was looking. I don't believe that Walter P. Chrysler would be at all pleased with the neglect of “his” Plymouth.
[See “Racing the 1964 426 Hemi” in our Ramcharger Recollections series]