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Plymouth cars of 1966

Plymouth had taken care of the top in 1965, introducing its first full-sized car in four years. It was an immediate success. Now, a year later, it was time to take care of the middle.

Plymouth Belvedere

When it introduced the new full-sized Fury in 1965, Plymouth also "introduced" a "new" mid-sized Plymouth called the Belvedere. However, outside of the front fenders and trim, it was the same car Plymouth had been trying to sell as a "full-sized" car in 1964.

Now, with its full-sized Fury now established, Plymouth turned its attention to the middle and an all-new mid-sized Belvedere that had never been anything else.

Well, not quite. The basic chassis platform [called the B-body] remained basically the same as when it was introduced in 1962 and as it would remain until the Plymouth Gran Fury was demoted to the Volare chassis in 1982.

The body itself, however, was the first that Elwood Engel had a free reign in designing on this chassis without having to redo Virgil Exner's unpopular original 1962 design. The new 1966 Belvedere displayed the Engel trademark for long straight lines. Most notable were the straight knife edge fender lines running uninterrupted from front to back.

Valiant, too, felt the Engel touch for 1966. Although in the last year of a long, long four year cycle, it got straight and squared-off new sheet metal for a one-year-only appearance.

Like the 1965 Fury, the new Belvedere featured sculpted side panels and, like the 1965 Belvedere, and the 1966 carried on the themes of square surrounds for the single headlamps and a flatter, wider version of the distinctive triangular shaped C-pillars on the two-door hardtop. Plymouth advertising made much of the unique "ribbon style" taillights that wrapped around the knife edge crease that descended to the bumper.

Although its wheelbase remained at 116 inches, the new Belvedere's overall length was reduced by three inches, a reflection, perhaps, of its new status as a mid-sized car. It was still a bit larger than its Fairlane and Chevelle competitors, but while Plymouth was reducing, they were growing.

The new street Hemi

Under the hood, Plymouth was offering its widest array of engines yet. Beginning with a 225 Slant Six, the lineup continued with V8s from 273, 318, 361, 383 to 426 cubic inch sizes. Although all the other V8s each far outsold the last, it was the one to get most of the attention in the enthusiast magazines. The 426 size had been in the lineup for two years and, potent engine that it was, it had little of the "pizzaz" of this new 426. For this new one was the legendary Hemi! After two years of racing-only application, the Hemi was detuned just enough to be street driven. Magazine testers fell over each other in testing this power plant previously available only to the likes of Richard Petty. After looking over the inline 2-4bbl. carb set up and the cast iron headers civil enough to feature a heat riser valve, they got behind the wheel. They were docile under light use, but had an appetite for oil and gasoline.

Ironically, disc brakes, introduced in 1966 as options on Fury V8s and Valiants, were supposedly not available on the Belvedere series, the only one that could be powered by a Hemi. However testers found that the large drum brakes and extra firm suspension made the hemi-powered Plymouth a car that could turn and stop as well as go. In addition, it does appear that disc brakes were available for the hemi-powered Belvedere, at least in Satellite trim; Bob Baker ordered (and still has) a 1966 Belvedere Satellite with the Hemi, 3.23:1 limited slip differential, Torqueflite, and disc brakes, and several magazine articles from the time mentioned the discs as well.

The Belvedere model lineup remained the same as in 1965 from the low-line Belvedere I though the mid-range Belvedere II to the top-line Satellite series which was available in convertible or hardtop form only. Reflecting their sporting nature, the Satellites were not available with Slant Six power. Inside, they featured the new dash with a sweep-style speedometer, plus a console and bucket seats. The latter featured vinyl trim embossed to look like western tooled leather. [Bob Baker wrote that his own Satellite does not have the sweep-style speedometer, but has the regular dial.)

Plymouth Fury

In its second year, the Fury line, as expected, displayed few visible changes. Up front, the 1965's fine mesh grille was replaced by horizontal bars set within frames that give a split grille effect, sort of Pontiac style. Some would conclude it was a change-for-the-sake-of-change cluttering of a previously clean design, but it was popular anyway. Out back appeared the only sheetmetal change as the taillights were moved to the upper edge of the trunk, set within stamped panels that somewhat imitated the new split grille. On the upper level Sport Fury and Fury III, the remainder of the panel was filled with brushed aluminum material. On the lower-level Fury I and II, the panel was just there as a painted stamped panel. Below the trunk, the upper edge of the bumper featured widely spaced "P-L-Y-M-O-U-T-H" letters. The exterior changes resulted in a .4-inch increase in length and a .7-inch increase in width to 209.8 and 78.7 inches respectively.

The Fury interior displayed minor changes to the dash panel where the bottom edge of the speedometer was given a curve. There was a new console in the bucket seat Sport Fury replacing the one introduced in 1964. The console sprouted a new automatic transmission lever with a reverse lockout button on the top. The desire for a reverse lockout on the four-speed manual cars led to the mighty Hurst shifter being replaced by a willowy Inland unit, a definite step backwards in the opinion of the enthusiasts.

Also new for 1966 was an optional telescoping tilt steering-wheel, thin shell bucket seats and four-passenger seat belts with optional front shoulder belts. In another safety inspired move, the previous years' door handles were replaced by handles mounted at the front edge of the armrests where they looked very much like the seatbelt latches. This feature, which would remain on Chrysler cars for years to come, reduced the chance of a door accidentally opening if the handle was caught on clothing or used as an unintentional hand grip.

In response to the success of Ford's 1965 LTD, a luxury sedan in the "low-priced" field, Plymouth offered the VIP. Would people pay the price of a Chrysler to buy a "gussied-up" Plymouth? They hoped so, offering a car featuring exterior refinements such as an optional vinyl roof (that was virtually standard since most VIPs came with it), fluted aluminum taillight panels, wood grained inserts in the side trim, rubber bumper strips and special colors and medallions. Inside, luxury was found in deep pile carpet and special tufted block pleated upholstery on seats featuring fold-down armrests. The padded dash was standard as were individually switched reading lamps on the inside C-pillars, seat edge courtesy lights plus plastic walnut grain trim and the special medallions. Introduced only as a four-door hardtop at the beginning of the model year, the VIP line was, on January 1, expanded to include a 2-door hardtop. Like the Sport Fury, the VIP came stock with a V8 engine, a 318 with the larger sizes optional. VIP production totals are unknown since they were included with other four and two door hardtop totals. Unfortunately, the VIP did not prove to match the resounding success of the LTD and it was dropped during the 1969 model year.

The biggest underhood news was the introduction of a 440 cubic inch engine bearing 10:1 compression, dual exhaust and a single four barrel carburetor featuring a dual snorkel air cleaner to put out 365 horsepower.

A sign of things to come was a new Cleaner Air package for Plymouths destined for California. Emergency four-way flashers were introduced two years before they became mandatory and fender tip external turn signal indicators -- standard on some cars, optional on others in all Plymouth lines -- were also advertised as safety features.

As in 1958, Plymouth put out a Silver Special for the spring of 1966. The Fury II four-door sedan, painted solid silver metallic with an exclusive blue upholstery, came standard with wheelcovers, whitewalls and bright window mouldings.

Spring specials usually indicate slow sales. Plymouth's sales were a bit off this year, a 5.7% drop that could be expected, given the resounding successful year of 1965. However, Chevrolet and Rambler losses led to an actual increase of Plymouth's industry market share. And, in December 1965, the 14 millionth Plymouth -- a Sport Fury hardtop -- was produced.

Valiant

See the Valiant.org site for details.

Canada

After being absent for its first year, the Belvedere line was introduced to Canada in 1966. Being the first new car of the U.S.-Canada Auto Pact, Canada's Belvedere was essentially identical to its U.S. counterpart.

With the introduction of the Belvedere line, the Savoy nameplate, which was kept one year longer in Canada, was replaced by "Fury I".

Four engines were available on the new Canadian Fury line: 225, 318, 383 4bbl. And the new 440.

While the 1965 Valiant line included both the U.S. Dart and Valiant bodies, the 1966 Valiant came only with a Dart body bearing Valiant nameplates, dash and trim. The Canadian Barracuda bore neither Plymouth nor Valiant (as in 1964-'65) identifying nameplates. This would be the final year that a Valiant would be sold by both Plymouth and Dodge dealers in Canada. Because of the Auto Pact, the new bodied 1967 Valiants and Darts would be sold by their respective Plymouth and Dodge dealers.

Likewise, this would be the final year that Canadian Dodge would use Plymouth instrument panels as found that year in the large Polara models.

Racing

Plymouth was reaching the zenith of its involvement in racing. Advertisements in enthusiast magazines were almost exclusively racing oriented, usually featuring Belvedere two-door hardtops.

On the drag racing front, Plymouth remained as potent as ever. The availability of the Street Hemi made the hemi-powered Plymouth accessible to the ordinary guy. No Plymouths left the factory with altered wheelbases as in 1965. The funny car phenomenon was already turning to flip-up fiberglass facsimiles of production cars.

The Top Stock finals at the National Hot Rod Association Winternational and National meets featured 1966 Plymouths. At the former, Ken Heinemann's 1966 lost to Shirley Shahan's 1965 Plymouth. At the latter, Jere Stahl's 1966 Hemi Belvedere I beat out Grumpy Bill Jenkin's Chevy.

Although not a prestigious a being chosen Indianapolis 500 pace car, the Daytona pace car status given a Satellite convertible was enough of an honor for Plymouth to advertise it.

Richard Petty won his second Daytona 500 in three years and Plymouth went on to win five more major NASCAR races.

The season brought on a strange twist as Petty raced the Firecracker 400 in a 1966 Plymouth that looked like a 1964. With the introduction of its new fastback Charger, Dodge was expected to clean up the tracks. However, the sloping rook caused so much rear end lift at high speed that top Dodge driver David Pearson switched to a Coronet hardtop. Halfway through the season, Dodge engineers discovered that a simple rear spoiler solved the problem. After installing it on the requisite 500 production Chargers, Dodge introduced the spoiler on its race cars and promptly won its first race. Then it was Petty, who had been laughing at the previously ineffective Charger, who was crying the blues. Since division identity was important and he was under sponsorship contract with Plymouth, he wasn't allowed to switch to a Charger. So, deciding that the 1964 Plymouth was more aerodynamic than the 1966, the Petty team stripped the 1966's sheetmetal, replacing it with 1964 panels. (Some sources report that Lee Petty actually hammered the former into the latter!) Fortunately for Plymouth, who sponsored Petty to sell the new 1966s, not used 1964s, the car crashed (despite leading the race for a while) and the whole [mis]adventure came to an end.

Had the whole thing occurred during the 1970s or 1980s, Chrysler would likely have mounted a front clip to a Charger body and Petty would have had his fastback and Plymouth Owners Club members would have had another interesting car to collect.

What would such a pregnant Barracuda have been called? Super Barracuda? Super Fish? Who knows?

In-depth looks at other years - including Dodge and Chrysler.

Interested in reading about more historical Plymouths? Visit our main history page or the Plymouth Owners' Club.

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