Styling the 1963 Plymouth
The 1963 Plymouth (also known as the T series) looked all new, but it was really a result of the new 1962 (or the S series) and reflected its basic package…as well as its shortfalls. Therefore, it is necessary to first look at the 1962 Plymouth to fully understand where the 1963 model came from.
1962’s program foresaw new styling across Chrysler Corporation from the Plymouth division all the way to the Imperial division (except for the Valiant and Lancer). However, Chrysler and Imperial brands only received face-lifts, Desoto was discontinued, and Plymouth and Dodge were withered versions of what they could’ve been.
Plymouth Fury Super Sport
The 1962 Plymouth was to be a full size car, with a 119" wheelbase to compete with the Chevrolet and Ford counterparts. Virgil Exner’s new finless European look would be further expressed, however, with enhancements via flush body side sections and curved glass. Plymouth’s flagship would be the Fury "Super Sport" (planned before Chevy’s mid 1961 Impala SS). The huge wraparound backlights and single side window configuration that were on the Super Sport would foreshadow the look of the 1975 Firebirds and Camaros.
Unfortunately these beautiful cars never made it to a showroom floor.
Downsizing hurts sales; stylists aim for recovery
The 1962 story has been told many times: In 1960, Chrysler president Bill Newberg heard at a party that Chevrolet was planning a downsized carline. Not realizing that this referred to the launch of the Chevy II, and that the full size Chevrolet would continue, Newberg demanded that the full size 1962 Plymouth and Dodge be downsized to intermediate status, like Ford’s new Fairlane. The wheelbase shrank to 116”, and the cars, already styled and designed, were shortened and narrowed, with cheaper straight side glass. Stylists and engineers worked overtime but came through.
Unfortunately, consumers were put off by the overgrown Valiant appearance and the reduced size. Because of this, 1962 Plymouth production (aprox. 182,000) was actually less than that of the ugly ’61 Plymouth (aprox. 213,000). Therefore, the ’63 derived from the compromising of the ’62 model, with a Detroit facelift. The ’63 Plymouth was to feature the new ’63 front sheet metal bolted to a carryover ’62 body shell, with the transition between the front and body being new front door stampings. The Dodge division also had the same game plan; new front ends morphed to last year’s bodies.
According to Jerry Thorley, manager of the Dodge car studio back in the day, it was acknowledged early in the program that just a facelift wouldn’t do justice. Virgil Exner’s preference, in Thorley’s words, "decorating the corners" of cars resulted in the cars looking smaller than they were. Lynn Townsend, who was to supersede Exner as styling VP, did not like the "broken body side" look of the 1962 and so money was approved to change the whole exterior appearance. The ’63 front end was already approved and kept, but the undercut character line coming off the new front fender was carried the full length of the body, becoming deeper toward the rear. There are photos of a painted clay model that reveal at one time this character line was not completely straight but actually kicked up slightly above the rear wheel opening, giving the hint of extremely subtle fins.
Perceived shortness of the ’62 car was a problem, so everything possible was done, styling wise, to make the ’63 car look longer. Three of the four series offered full-length front to rear body side moldings, bright on the Belvedere and painted on the Fury, with an engine-turned insert on the Sport Fury. Actual body length was also increased by three inches from the 1962 car, even though the wheelbase stayed the same.
The raised beltline from the ’62 was taken off, with the ’63 car featuring a perfectly horizontal beltline, again for a longer look. This was key since Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac were featuring larger bodies with long, horizontal lines.
Dodge and company also worked for this longer look, however they had an easier time since their wheelbase was upped to 119 inches (except for wagons), and overall length was increased by 6.1 inches, mostly in the rear. Because of this, Dodge was upped to full-size status.
The new Plymouth front-end, featuring wide, bold, vertical, oval park and turn lamps was the work of Don Wright. These park and turn lamps, incidentally, were the only ones on 1963 Chrysler Corporation cars to have translucent white lenses, with amber colored bulbs, rather than the amber colored lenses. These prominent outboard park and turn lamps embodied the front end theme; the side by side dual headlights were subordinated into the new horizontal grille motif, designed by Chet Limbaugh. This compared to the “barbell” theme of 1962, with its oversized outer and subordinate inner lamps, a theme that reappeared successfully in the ’64 Dodge.
At the other end of the car was a brand new rear end designed by Don Wright, which sported the shield-shaped gun sight tail lamps, which were designed by Bob Gale. The execution of the tail lamps was tricky to get right, especially the horizontal and vertical bars to look “right” when looking dead on from the rear. As with the front, designers did all they could with the rear to emphasize the width of the car, which was 75.6 inches, 4.4 inches less than the ’61 model. Tail lamps were spaced as far apart as possible and were more “important looking” than the minuscule round lamps that were used in 1962. All series featured a horizontal bright molding which ran across the rear deck and wrapped onto the rear quarters. Fury and Sport Fury models contained an additional ribbed horizontal stainless steel panel which spanned between the tail lamps. Essentially flat hoods and trunk lids of approximately equal length also emphasized width. Especially wide PLYMOUTH nomenclature in block letters that were on all hoods and most trunk lids also added to the perceived width.