by Lanny Knutson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.
In 1975, a long-standing promise was broken. Early in the 1960s, when Oldsmobile and Buick were coming out with their F85 and Special compacts, Chrysler boasted that there'd never be a junior Chrysler. "Never" ended in 1975.
Tardy as usual at entering a specialty car market, the Number Three automaker was intent on making a big splash with its new personal luxury car. Ford had long had its Thunderbird, and Chevrolet its hot-selling Monte Carlo since 1970, but the best Plymouth had was a gussied-up Sebring. Naturally, it would seem, Plymouth should have been in line for its own four-place luxury coupe. But it wasn't to be.
Back in 1961, as Chrysler discovered when the Chrysler-badged Newport was entered in DeSoto's market niche, it far outsold the floundering nameplate. In fact, Newport killed it off. Customers were saying, essentially, "Why buy a DeSoto when I can get a Chrysler for the same price?"
The '61 Newport, though selling for just under $3,000, was still a full-sized car. The promise was kept: it wasn't smaller, just cheaper. But 14 years later, wanting to give its new car a leg up on the competition, the automaker decided to draw on the allure of the Chrysler name once again, even if it meant breaking a promise. Plymouth never got its personal luxury car and, starved once again by its corporate parent, Plymouth would continue on its long, slow slide to eventual oblivion.
The short-term effect of the Chrysler Cordoba was that Plymouth got a new mid-sized B-body coupe.
Having invested highly in a new sport utility vehicle and a completely redesigned C-body for 1974, and badly needing a new compact to meet the burgeoning fuel crisis-induced economy market, the corporation would likely have been inclined to soldier on with its mid-sized offerings introduced in 1971. That's exactly what they did with the B-body four-door sedan and station wagon. But, because of the Cordoba, Plymouth got a brand new B-body coupe, an off-shoot of the Cordoba (which really was a continuation of the existing B-body coupe platform).
The trade-off was that Plymouth had to share its new coupe with Dodge right down to the last square inch of sheet metal. Previously, though the Plymouth and Dodge bodies were essentially the same, they each had their own fenders, hoods, quarter panels and deck lids to provide somewhat distinct identities. Now, even that, was gone and each marque had to rely on its own grille and taillight patterns to forge a semblance of unique identity.
Unlike Plymouth, Dodge did get a version of the Cordoba. Carrying on with the famed Charger nameplate--now dubbed Charger SE--its formal, squared-off profile was a far cry from sleek and hunkered high-performance predecessors. Then again, the formal look with upright, radiator-shaped grilles and opera windows was in vogue and Dodge had already been attempting to formalize the sporty Charger body with opera windows and a formalized grille within its looped bumpers. Although a bit cheaper than a Cordoba, the Charger SE had customers once again asking, "Why buy a Dodge when I can get a Chrysler for a few dollars more?"
Realizing the bottom had fallen out of the big car market, Plymouth sought to downsize. Unable to do so with a car, they did it with a name. The popular Fury nameplate was now being affixed to the mid-sized line, making the "New Small" Fury, on paper at least, seem more fuel efficient.
There was still a big Fury, carrying on with bodies that were brand new in 1974. To distinguish this car from the new "smaller" Fury, Plymouth dubbed it the Gran Fury. Applied' to the top-trimmed Fury the previous three years, Gran Fury moniker now identified the entire full-sized line.
The new "small" Fury (huge cars by today's standards) line consisted of the aforementioned 115-inch wheelbase coupes and the carry-over 117.5-inch wheelbase sedans and wagons with new front clips restyled to accept the coupe's grille and headlight panel. As such, these cars would carry on until the B-body's demise at the end of the 1978 model year.
Single-unit headlights returned to the B-body Plymouths for the first time since 1966. Once considered down-scale from dual-headlight systems, these headlamps were enjoying a resurgence, perhaps because they evoked a certain formality auto designers were then seeking to convey. As such, the top-of-the-line Gran Fury Brougham was also given single-unit headlights while lesser Gran Furys had to make do with the out-of-fashion duals. In 1976 the whole Gran Fury line would get these headlamps and keep them through the line's final year in 1977.
The only mid-sized Plymouth not to be called a Fury was the Road Runner. With its new squared-off styling and mild 318, 360, and 400 cubic-inch engines (the latter two available with either two- or four-barrel carburetion), it was a far cry from its fire-breathing predecessors. Perhaps most notable about this car was the tunnel decal that could be applied to the squared "spare tire" bulge on the trunk. This was Road Runner's final year in the B-body line.
In the 1974 fuel-crisis-induced market, Valiants were selling so fast, Chrysler couldn't produce enough Slant Six engines to keep up with the demand. Desperate for more six-cylinder engines, the corporation actually approached General Motors, Ford and American Motors, offering to buy their engines. Fortunately for today's Plymouth Owners Club judges, the rival automakers couldn't spare any six-bangers either. Otherwise, imagine a judge opening a Valiant hood to see a "straight-up" six and hear the owner insist, "That's the way it's always been.")
The star of Plymouth's lineup continued to be its redoubtable Valiant. It was getting quite long in the tooth with sedan and hardtop coupe bodies introduced on the Dodge Dart in 1970 (which, in turn, were restyled 1967s) and the Duster coupe also of 1970 origins. Although the A-bodied Valiant easily outsold its B- and C-bodied siblings combined in 1975, its sales dropped almost a third from 1974 when one in four compact cars sold in the United States was a Valiant.
A new fine-mesh grille was designed for all Valiants. Since the compact was attracting normally larger car buyers seeking improved fuel economy, Plymouth loaded the premium Brougham sedan with even more luxury appointments. A new Valiant Custom sedan offered a trim level between the Brougham and the base sedan.
The Duster Custom brought similar luxury to the sport coupe line. The full-length rocker and taillight panels that decorated fhe Custom were optional on other Dusters. The Gold Duster returned as a special trim packaged car. The Space Duster Pak continued to provide fold-down rear seat access to the trunk. For the second year, the high-performance coupe was called the Duster 360 after its four-barrel, 245 net-horsepower engine.
Radial tires, a fuel-pacer system, a tighter torque converter helped increase the fuel economy of the Valiant as well as the rest of Plymouth's 1975 line.
Without Cordoba's sales total of 150,105, Chrysler Corporation's 1975 sales performance would have been truly dismal. At that, corporate sales dropped by 24% from 1974 totals. Plymouth did even worse, with output down 26.5%, which dumped it into the No. 6 industry sales position.
Would a Plymouth "Cordoba" have helped? Possibly, but Dodge sold a mere 30,812 of its "Cordoba," the Charger SE, compared to the Chrysler Cordoba's 150,105. But if the car bore a Plymouth nameplate rather than Chrysler's? Who knows?
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