Best of the carryovers: Plymouth for 1964
It was a carryover year, one more year to make do with the disaster of Sixty-Two. Second year restyle jobs have the general distinction of being just that: second best. A third year rehash would seem to be a sure ticket to automotive oblivion. Sometimes it was. But there are obvious exceptions: the '57 Chevy, the '40 Ford. . . and the 1964 Plymouth.
The 1962 Plymouth (much like modern art, acclaimed by the critics but soundly rejected by the public) was a primary reason for Virgil Exner's quick exit from Chrysler styling. Coming in to straighten things out, with a literal vengeance, was Elwood Engel of 1961 Continental fame. Under Engel's tutelage, all Exner's beloved eccentricities were dumped in favor of straight lines and square corners. A rush job was done on the 1963 restyle, bringing in almost all-new sheetmetal for the third time in as many years. (Was the 1963 what was to have been the all-new 1964, pressed into production a year early?)
It worked. The 1963 Plymouth was much better received by the public. The prominent outboard parking lights were perhaps a bit strange to some, but the buyers liked them much better than the huge round headlight bezels of the previous year. The only holdover features were the upward-rising cowl, the pointed windshield, and the trepzoidal instrument panel (the cowl is one of the most expensive areas to engineer). That was the 1962 Plymouth, the second time around.
The third time around was the 1964 model. It carried sheet metal identical to the 1963 from the doors back, except for a wider rear to hold a 2" wider axle. But this time nothing remained visible of the ill-fated 1962. The cowl was now conventional, as was the windshield, and the dash was simplified to the point of plainness. Still, it held a certain charm. With its round gauges all in a row, it was somehow reminiscent of the Plymouth dash of 1949. The gorgeous wood grain was not there, replaced by chromed, fluted plastic, but the appeal was.
It was the front end that really made the '64 the best of all "carryovers". It was "Chevy-like," said many of the magazine writers. There was, admittedly, perhaps a hint of the '62 Chevrolet, along with a touch of the '63, in the new grille. But Plymouth's grille was defmitely of a much cleaner design than either Chevy design. A multi-segmented grille with quad headlights floating in an open cavity creased horizontally two-thirds of the way up, was very eye catching. (Never mind that the corresponding fender points would fall victim to many later-year park-by-braille specialists.) It was a clean design, a very clean design. The cleanest-designed Plymouth since. . . 1955? . . . 1949? . . . 1934? One person's opinion is as good as another's.
Also bowing in that year was a new set of roof panels, again the third new design in as many years. The sedans continued with the "Thunderbird-style" C-pillars, but now without the upper lip over the rear window. Also new was a definite crease running front-to-back above the side windows which created a bit more headroom. The biggest news, roof wise, however, belonged to the two-door hardtop. Distinctive triangular pillars with a convertible top crease (the current fashion) and a curved backlight gave the whole car a much more streamlined appearance. And it actually did translate into more speed on the NASCAR speedways. (More on that later.)
1964 Plymouth Model Lineup
Along with the standard-sized models was the compact Valiant, discussed in its own section on this page.
Plymouth was one year away from learning the "less-is-better" lesson on trim taught by the '62 Grand Prix. One magazine writer actually claimed that the plain-jane Savoy with unadorned sides was better looking than the expensive Fury with too-heavy trim which seemed to fight rather than compliment its finely sculpted sheet metal. There was some truth to that claim, though the Savoy, with no chrome around the windows, was perhaps a bit too plain. Plymouth thought so too, attaching an abbreviated spear to the Savoy, mid-year. Possibly most appealing to the eye was the mid-range Belvedere, especially in two-door hardtop form. A thin "shepherd's crook" side trim followed precisely the sheetmetal creases to which it brought just the right compliment. And out back, the Belvedere continued the clean appearance with simple single-lens taillights in contrast to the Fury's busy double-segmented taillights and fake rear grille.
The Belvedere Six was $55 more than a Classic 770, and a Savoy Six was $22 more than a Classic 660, but the Belvedere came standard with a carpeted floor, with leather-grained door trim that went up to the window, unlike Rambler's painted moulding; the Plymouth was 206.5 inches long, the Rambler 190 inches. Plymouth was 4.3 inches wider, as well, with more legroom, headroom, and hiproom, seating six passengers. Plymouth’s trunk held 17.3 cubic feet of luggage, compared with Rambler’s 13.7 cubic feet. The larger size and torsion-bar suspension provided a smoother ride than the Rambler Classic and Ambassador, which used a coil-spring front suspension.
The Fury V8 two-door hardtop listed at $32 less than the Rambler Ambassador V8. Rambler had no convertibles or four-door hardtop in Classic and Ambassador series, but Plymouth had them in the Fury line.
1964 Plymouth engines
Under the hood, the widest array yet of Plymouth engines was available. It was a long way from the time just ten years earlier when you could have any engine you wanted as long as it was a flathead six! Base engine (other than Valiant) was the 225 Slant Six, already in its fifth season of proving itself a tireless performer. Another workhorse, the famed 318, was the base V8. It was followed by the B-block engines: 361, 383, and new for this year, a "street" 426 wedge. The latter had made a great name for itself on the drag strips in 1963 as an out-and- out racing engine, setting eight NHRA records. Now it could be had in a state detuned just enough to drive on the streets, but not enough for anyone else to beat. For the drag racer, two more 426 wedge engines were available. Fed by dual four barrel carbs on a short cross ram manifold and relieved by newly designed "snakepit" Tri-Y cast iron headers, one of these Stage III Max Wedges produced 415 horsepower with a compression ratio of 11:1, the other put out a full 425 hp with a 12.5: 1 compression ratio. The latter option included hood scoop equipped aluminum front sheetmetal that knocked off 150 pounds from the car's weight. But that's not all! One more engine would find its way under Plymouth's 1964 hood, an engine that would become a legend. The Hemi!
Rambler’s American did very well in the Mobilgas runs, but the Plymouth Six won in its class, while Ambassador didn’t run after finishing last in 1962. Plymouth could boast better results than Rambler for larger cars.
Plymouth had entered the world of four-speed transmission in 1963 with a Borg-Warner unit. This year they had their own Chrysler-built 4-speed, topped with a Hurst shifter. The other transmission option remained the unbeatable Torqueflite three-speed automatic, in its last year of pushbutton control. In fact, the pushbuttons were already on the way out. In the top-of-the-line Sport Fury, there was a new console that held a lever shifter ("selector", to be exact) for the Torqueflite equipped cars. (Other unique Sport Fury appointments included bucket seats, spinner wheelcovers, and engine-turned side trim inserts.)
The 5.39:1 breakway ratio (compared with 5.07:1 in Rambler’s Flash-a-Matic) helped the Plymouth get off to a speedy start. Meanwhile, safety-rim wheels helped assure safety in case of blowouts, and front seats could be adjusted six ways (by the dealer). Chrysler also boasted of its 5/50 warranty on powertrain; Ramblers were warranted bumper to bumper for 2/24.
Plymouth was the first-ever NASCAR super-speedway winner when Johnny Mantz's stubby '50 fastback took the checkered flag at the inaugural Darlington 500. Then came a decade-and-a-half drought. Then came Daytona '64. There the drought ended, with a vengence. Aided by the low-frontal- area of the new'64 sheetmetal and the new sloping roof, the Hemi engine powered Plymouths to a 1-2-3 sweep at the finish with Richard Petty in the lead. (So slippery was the , 64 body that, two years later. Petty stripped the body panels off his '66 Belvedere and replaced them with "old" '64 sheetmetal. The car ran but one race, "thanks" to a wreck, but also "thanks" to the people back in Detroit who were financing the Petty operation to sell new, not used, Plymouths. But no doubt about it, the '64 was faster!)
The standard Plymouth six had 145 hp, while Rambler Classic had 127 hp (138 hp in the optional Rambler six). The result was faster acceleration from 0-25 and 0-55 (with both having automatics). Likewise, for the standard V8s, the Plymouth’s 230 hp easily beat Rambler’s 198 hp Ambassador.
Gone were the days of putting Dodge front ends on Plymouths, but Dodge was still using Plymouth instrument panels and other interior appointments. Engine choices were fewer for Canadian-built cars. This was the final year for the enigmatic 313 cid Canadian version of the 318 V8. The Slant Six could be had in every model, including the convertible. The top engine was the B-block 383, rated at 330 hp.
The Fury was the top of the line, but there was a Sport Fury trim package for the hardtop and convertible, including those powered by a six. A six cylinder Sport Fury? Yes, there were a few built. If one came with an automatic, its shifter spot on the console was blocked off, as pushbutton control was all that was available for the six cylinder Torqueflite in 1964.
It was a good year for Plymouth, 1964. Sales at 343,193 were up 15.1 %. Good, but not good enough to return to the Big Three. Though ousting Oldsmobile from fourth place, Plymouth still trailed Pontiac, which held on to third place. As a carryover of the '62 that was downsized 15 years too early, the' 64 was not the big car that Ford and Chevy buyers were wanting. Next year that would change with the introduction of an all-new "full-sized" Plymouth. That meant that the old '62-initiated body would be carried over yet another year, this time as the "new" mid-sized Plymouth which it really was all along.
With the '65s, Plymouth would go on to new heights. But none would be as clean as the lithe and lean (and sometimes mean) Sixty-Four. A carryover car that not only was better. It was the best.
Plymouth Valiant and Barracuda
This section is now over at valiant.org, which covers the Valiant and Barracuda. Click here to visit! (It should open in a new window or tab.)
Home Again (by Lanny Knutson)
"You can't go home again," novelist Thomas Wolfe once said in reference to people's attempts at reliving the past. And it's true. But sometimes you can get pretty close.
My first two cars had pushbuttons; the first three, torsion bars. The first of my cars bearing these distinctive Chrysler trademarks, was a 1957 Dodge that came into my possession in 1963. When time came in 1966 to replace that Dodge, I found myself lusting after a brand new Charger. But on a student's budget, it was not a realistic possibility. So one summer evening, my brother and I set off to search the Minneapolis used car lots for a suitable alternative. It was getting quite late when a distinctive triangular hardtop pillar (in red, yet), caught my eye. "Stop here," I yelled, and my brother made a rather sharp turn into the lot of Downtown Chrysler-Plymouth.
There it was! I didn't know that I was looking for it, but once I saw it, I knew I had been all along. It was a pretty red-with-red interior Belvedere hardtop powered by a 318 (not the desired big block, but then, more compatible with my student's pocketbook) and it had a Torqueflite, with pushbuttons, of course.
This was to be my car for the next three years. But this owner-automobile "relationship" got off to a rather dubious begirming. A mere two weeks after the purchase, I was driving to work on I-694. Rounding a curve, I met, head-on, a car going the wrong way. I swerved and missed the Olds, but not a guard rail. The F-85 went on its way unscathed, never to be seen again. For this accident, obviously not my fault, I was out the $200 deductable and eventually had to pay higher insurance premiums since I was under 25 years of age. And the new red paint never matched the original.
After that shakey start, the Belvedere went on to provide me with not only transportation that was more than reliable, but even a drag racing trophy, the result of a one-and-only foray on the strip. (I was matched up with nothing less than a '69 Roadrunner 440 6 barrel. Each of us running for our own class record of course. I managed to pull a hole-shot on him which lasted all of two feet.)
Full-time employment came in 1969, the same time as the introduction of the all-new Barracuda. A Tor-Red 340, four-speed 'Cuda was ordered on introduction day in September. But instead of trading the '64, I sold it to my brother with a vague hope lurking in my subconscious that perhaps I might be able to buy it back when he was through with it. However, that time came sooner than I expected and I wasn't able to do anything about it. Thus, the Belvedere had to suffer the ignominy of being traded for an Impala, disappearing as it had appeared, into the shadows of a Minneapolis used car lot.
As I drove the 'Cuda to a new buyer in 1974, I was driving my last torsion bar car. Or so I thought. Though I stayed with Mopar, it was now coil springs. leaf springs and MacPherson struts (ie. Dodge van, '49 Plymouth, '51 Fargo and, in succession, a trio of TC3 coupes followed now by a Sundance). But then came the sale of the van after 13 years of dependable service. The very next day, I read an ad, "For Sale: 1964 Plymouth convertible." Though the ragtop was literally that, and the rest of the car in similar rough shape, I parted with half the van-sale money and drove the convertible home. With a tuneup, the 318 proved itself to be as sweet running as any. And, was it fun to be pushing those buttons again! Then I took it out on the highway. There I came to know what I had been missing all along. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that tracks down the highway with the surefooted confidence of a torsion bar Mopar!
It was good to be home again!
EPILOGUE: It would be good to let the story end there, but unfortunately, it can't. On a spring evening in 1986, as I began a left turn on a green arrow, my "return home" to the past was suddenly dashed by an impaired driver running a red light at a high rate of speed. My daughter and I walked away from the crash, but the Fury was a write-off. At least this time, it was the other guy's insurance that had to pay the damages. The sweet-running 318 survived and now this heart of a Plymouth is residing in a '64 Dodge Polara 500 hardtop. Not quite the clean lines of a '64 Plymouth, but close. It was my second of only two accidents, coming exactly 20 years after the first. Both were in 1964 Plymouths. Will I be driving a '64 in 2006? Probably.
Competitive comparison, from Plymouth’s point of view
Chrysler sent out the following record to its dealers (we’ve transcribed it for you):
In 1962, the Ford Fairlane arrived. It had no revolutionary new features and in size it was a throwback to the 1956 versions of the low priced cars.
This year, the three cars we called the BOP compacts [Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac] are no longer compact, like the Fairlane. They are sized about the same as the 1956 models and a new one has been added, the Chevrolet Chevelle.
And so the competitive picture seen by many a Plymouth Valiant salesman like Joe Gates here, is one which he viewed with alarm. This year he thought, “the big market for the intermediates is opening up and I’m not selling intermediates. I’ve got a very fine full-sized car and the very finest of the compact cars but nothing in between.” But almost immediately Joe Gates, like many other Plymouth Valiant salesmen, did a double-take on his very fine full-sized Plymouth and very fine compact sized Valiant. It’s true, thought Joe, that I’m not directly competitive but I’m still very competitive. And there is a big opportunity here that I’m not going to miss. But, let’s hear it from Joe.
Joe: Sure I was disturbed when the BOPs came out as intermediates and joined Fairlane and Rambler in that market segment, plus the new Chevelle. What’s more, I noticed that there was plenty of advertising and promotion to get people into the showrooms to have a look at the intermediates. As a matter of fact, I decided to have a look myself. I sort of had an idea maybe all this market activity might mean opportunity for me. I stopped in several showrooms and I noticed that the so-called intermediates came in strippo models and in loaded models just like other cars. Showroom traffic was good and maybe sales would be good but not everybody in those showrooms was buying intermediates. A lot of them were brought into the market by intermediate advertising and promotion. And I figured a great many of them would look at other cars too before they made up their minds.
The question in my mind was, “What do I tell a Plymouth or Valiant prospect who is also thinking about an intermediate?” It seemed to me a preliminary answer to that one would be qualifying as to what he really likes, big car benefits or compact car benefits. And either an intermediate, a compact or a full-sized car what does he like? Low initial cost? Lowest initial cost plus some luxury features? Operating economy? Exceptional maneuverability, easy parking? It seemed to me that Valiant V-100, V-200 and Signet 200 provide quite a number of good answers for the prospect who wants any or all of these things. Or suppose he’s interested in low initial cost, good operating economy, power and performance, big interior dimensions, in this case Plymouth Savoy and Belvedere offer him all these benefits and more.
But take another case:
Suppose price and operating economy are not all important to a prospect and what he really wants are luxury features. Maybe sports car features and high performance, best possible handling characteristics. Well, a prospect like this should be invited to get behind the wheel of a Fury or Sport Fury with power steering and take it out on the highway, along with me of course, or you. What I’m getting at is that many people who are thinking about the “in-betweens” we can sell up to full-sized Plymouth or down to a compact Valiant. If we first qualify them that is on the kind of benefits they really consider most important.
On a chart you can see that Valiant’s shorter length can mean plenty and easier parking, better maneuverability, particularly as compared to the bops. On another chart you can see the difference in Plymouth’s full-sized car overall length and the shorter length of the others, particularly as compared to Fairlane, Chevelle, and Rambler Classic.
Still another chart shows you the difference between Plymouth’s full-sized car luggage capacity and those of the in-between cars. Valiant, incidentally, has more luggage capacity than Classic and as much as Fairlane.
But dimensions and there benefits, compact or full-sized, are only part of what we have to sell to the prospect that thinks that perhaps an intermediate car has what he wants. We also have price to sell. I’ve checked out some manufacturer’s suggested retail prices and it looks like we are really competitive. Without going into dollars and cents, Valiant V-100 is well under the corresponding in-between models. Valiant V-200 is under all except Ramble Classic. Signa 200, a luxury sport compact is priced under all the in-between cars when they are comparably equipped. Signa 200 is also priced under the special and F-85 strippo models. As for luxury and economy you can really do a selling job with Signa 200 to the guy who wants both plus the special characteristics of a compact car.
And if he wants a V-8 along with those special characteristics of a compact, we have it! The V-100 2-door is the lowest priced V-8 on the market. And the Signa 200 is the lowest priced bucket-seat V-8.
How about prices of the full-sized Plymouth and the intermediates? Well we are very competitive there too. For example, with our low-line Savoy you’ll notice we’re under the Special and F-85 and only a little over the others.
Our price position with Fury and Sport Fury is also very competitive with comparably equipped intermediates. And when you call attention to the very slight difference in monthly payments our prices look mighty attractive to the prospect you’ve qualified on really wanting full-sized car features with all the trimmings.
Let’s check some full-sized car features every Plymouth offers the prospect who’s got a notion to compromise but isn’t quite sure yet. To start with, Plymouth has V-8 engine options that top anything the intermediates have in the way of horsepower and performance. You can imagine for instance taking a man who’s interested in both price and power and talking to him about a Commando Four-26 or even a 383 in a Savoy. And still on the subject of performance, we have three-speed push button torque flight automatic transmission with the highest break away ratio in the industry. All the intermediates except Ramble and Fairlane, have a two-speed automatic transmission. Fairlane offers their 3-speed only with the optional 289 cubic inch V-8.
We have torsion air suspension while all the others have either four coil springs or coils up front and leaves in back. And Plymouth’s better ride is something your in-between car minded man should experience.
In the safety department, we have safety rimmed wheels, more break-lining area and the only ones beside Plymouth with bonded-lining are Chevelle and Ramble Classic.
Plymouth has unitized construction; it’s tougher and quieter riding than the body-on-frame construction used by the bops and the Chevelle. Valiant has practically all of these extra quality features too and they are a big part of your Valiant sales story.
Well, I think you’ll agree that when you do some comparing you’ve got two great sales stories; one for the prospect who really wants what he can get in Valiant, the best all-around compact and one for the prospect who wants the full-sized benefits he can get in a get up and go Plymouth. The thing to do, as I look at it, is to qualify your prospect as to what he really wants in his next new car; the particular benefits of a compact or those of a full-sized car as compared to a compromise car.
Perhaps the biggest thing to remember is that we have on the shelf “price cars”, “performance cars”, “luxury cars”, “economy cars” and just about any combination of those qualities that your prospect can think of.
For price and power there’s a Savoy with 365 horsepower and four-speed stick shift.
For bucket seats, vinyl trim and other luxury features plus low initial cost and operating economy there is Signa 200.
It is simply up to us to find out just what combination he’ll buy and then to show him that certain Plymouth or Valiant is the best answer to his needs. When you do that, you’re tailoring the prospects desires to fit the very fine features and benefits we have in our automobiles. And that’s what makes the salesman.