By Jim Benjaminson
With the success of the big new Fury, Plymouth turned its attention to the aging B-body Belvedere. Due for some major revamping, the B body started with the much-maligned 1962 models, and would serve until the Gran Fury was demoted to the Volare chassis in 1982!
Elwood Engle had free reign to design cars the way he liked them—straight as an arrow. Straight, knife-edge fender lines began at a forward peak, and swooped straight back to the extreme rear of the car. Sculpted side panels and single headlamps carried on the relationship with the previous year’s car. The wheelbase remained at 116 inches, but the car lost the three inches in overall length it had gained in 1964, to bring it closer to Ford’s Fairlane and Chevy’s Chevelle; it was still the biggest car of the three.
Belvedere’s engine choices couldn’t have covered a wider range. At the bottom end was the 225-cubic-inch Slant Six—at the top, the awesome 426-cubic-inch, hemispherical combustion chamber “Street Hemi.” Conservatively rated at 425 horsepower, detuned “just enough” to make it street drivable—provided of course, you could live with a rough idle, rumbling exhaust, and more horsepower than most knew what to do with! Magazine editors stumbled over themselves to drive the Street Hemi and racers stood in line to buy them—then head for the nearest drag strip to become “King of the Hill.”
Most buyers opted for the 273, 318, 361, or 383 engines. Belvederes ordered with the Hemi got heavy duty everything, including a lot of underbody restructuring. Ironically, disc brakes were introduced as options on the ’66 Valiant and full-size Fury—but not the Belvedere, which was the only model in which the Hemi came!
Prices of Hemi-powered cars have gone through the roof in recent years, resulting in cars being fitted with Hemi engines that originally carried something else, giving rise to a buyer-beware attitude and a thriving matching-numbers business to authenticate correct cars. 1,510 Belvederes were Hemi powered—one of which was driven to victory at the Daytona 500 by Richard Petty.
With a new car the year before, the full-size Fury settled in for a minor restyle of grille and trim. Horizontal bars in a center framework gave the illusion of a split grille—again, á la Pontiac. At the rear, the tail lamps were moved upward on the deck lid, which carried a new stamping giving the illusion of a split grille like the front. Furys and Sport Furys featured brushed-aluminum panels in these coves. The rear bumper was modified with the addition of letters spelling out the word “Plymouth” at the top.
In answer to Ford’s 1965 LTD, a new model, the VIP, came on line. Originally a four-door hardtop, the VIP had a vinyl roof (the roof covering was supposedly optional but few, if any, VIPs came without it), fluted aluminum taillight panel, wood-grained insert side trim, rubber bumper strips, and special colors and medallions. Luxurious interiors of deep pile carpet and special tufted block pleated upholstery on seats featured fold-down arm rest, front and rear. A padded dash and individual reading lamps on the inside C pillars were standard, along with seat-edge courtesy lights, plastic walnut interior trim, and special medallions. After January 1, VIP trim could also be had on a two-door hardtop. The VIP would remain in production through the 1969 model year.
At the other end of the scale, a price-leading low-level sedan resurrected the “Silver Special” name from 1958; this Fury II four-door sedan was painted solid silver metallic with exclusive blue upholstery. Full wheel covers, whitewall tires, and bright window moldings completed the package. The Silver Special, like the VIPs, were not counted separately in year-end production totals.
The 14 millionth Plymouth came off the line in December of ’65, one of 507,713 intermediate and full-size Plymouths built during the model run. Again, Pontiac managed to keep Plymouth at bay, giving the most popular Chrysler brand a fourth place finish.
Content to play follow-the-leader in styling, the 1965-66 Plymouths did a good job of imitating General Motors early-’60s straight-line designs, but now the General had gone to the Coke-bottle look of curvaceous lines. It was time for Elwood Engle to follow suit—but not to the extremes used by General Motors.
In the third year of its full-size body shell, Engle continued his trademark knife edge along the fender top running front to back—only now there would be a slight hike in the rear fender line, just forward of the C pillar. A slight canting inward of the fenders helped surround the quad headlamps, effectively hiding them from side view.
Around back, the deck lid received a pronounced boat-tail hump under which ran a taillight panel from side to side. Following GM leads, there were three lights per side, at least on the VIP, Sport Fury, and Fury, with aluminum trim between. Reflecting their lower status, Fury I and II had just two lamps and painted panels. Bodies were slab sided with larger wheel openings—surrounded by bright trim on upper-level models. The only carry-over sheet metal would be found on the roof of sedans and station wagons.
A new roofline on Fury III and Sport Fury two-door hardtops had nearly constant width C pillars, giving the car a light and airy look. The Sport Fury’s optional “Fast Top” completely changed the look to formal with a heavy triangular C pillar. This heavier roofline, covered in vinyl, was standard for the VIP two-door hardtop. Four-door hardtop C pillars were also reworked to give a more formal appearance.
Under the hood, an all-new 318 V8, with the “LA” block (“lightweight A”), was derived from the 273 introduced in ’64 for the Valiant. The two looked alike and shared the same cylinder head and other external components. Internally, the 318-LA carried the same crankshaft, rods, and pistons as the old A-block 277 and 303 from 1956. Externally, it used the same water pump. It became the standard V8 for all VIPs, Sport Furys, and the Fury II and Fury III hardtops and convertibles. Standard power plant for all Fury I, II, and III sedans was the Slant Six.
Intermediate size Belvederes received only minor trim changes, dual headlamps replaced the singles of years past, the only sheet metal change being a concave indentation on the he deck lid. New for the year was a bottom-line station wagon called simply “Belvedere”—without any numbers. Joining the Belvedere I wagon, it was a replacement for the discontinued Valiant wagon.
At the other end of the scale, and much more memorable, was a new luxury performance car in coupe and convertible form. For those wanting near-maximum performance but unwilling to put up with the temperament of the Hemi, the GTX 440 was the ticket. The Hemi found its way into some of the plainest (lightest) machines for racing, but the GTX 440 was a stand out in any crowd. Fiberglass-simulated hood scoops, optional racing stripes, blacked-out grille, and pop-out racing-style gas cap all spelled high-speed luxury. Interiors were gussied up as well to go along with the optional electric tachometer and 150-mile-per-hour speedometer. Standard engine was the car’s namesake, a 440-cubic-inch, 375-horsepower V8. There was an optional engine—14 cubic inches smaller but producing 50 more horsepower—the Hemi. Only 125 opted for the Hemi. It would be a one-year-only offering in the GTX. (The GTX is still valuable, but relatively few were sold.)
Other Belvedere models included the Belvedere I two door, four door, and station wagon; Belvedere II hardtop, convertible, four door, and wagon in six- or nine-passenger form; Satellite; and GTX hardtops and convertibles. Full-size cars included the Fury I two door, four door, or wagon; Fury II two door, four door, or wagon in six- or nine-passengers; and Fury III hardtop, convertible, four-door sedan, and hardtop, and wagons for six or nine; the VIP two- and four-door hardtop; or Sport Fury in convertible or coupe, in regular or fastback top.
Sales of 465,390 intermediate and full-size cars again kept Plymouth in fourth at the end of the model run.
Styling for ’68 was still slab sided, but a closer examination revealed new rear quarter panels that did much to straighten out the hump of the ’67’s fender line. A new rear-door stamping and new deck lid eliminating the boat-tail look gave the car its own identity. Front fenders and sheet metal remained the same with an obligatory grille change for model identification. The lower half of the grille became a fine mesh painted body color.
Headlamps remained vertical dual quads; side marker lights, a government-mandated safety feature, sat at the extreme ends of both front and rear fenders—small and round, they looked very much like last-minute additions. Other standard safety (i.e. mandated) equipment included a dual-brake system with warning lamp, emergency flashers, back-up lights, and a left-hand outside rear view mirror. Optional on wagons was a rear-window washing system that cleaned the glass as it rolled down.
Models names and numbers remained the same except the Fury II station wagon was discontinued—or was it? Station wagons again got their own Suburban nomenclature of Custom and Sport Suburban from years past. What would have been the Fury I wagon was offered only in six-passenger form, Custom and Sport wagons offering either six- or nine-passenger capacity.
Fury III came in convertible, two- or four-door sedan, or hardtop with choice of regular or Fast Top roof styles. The Sport Fury came in convertible or choice of top for the hardtop, while the VIP hardtop came only with the fastback-style roof.
Biggest news for the year was not in the full-size car line, but in the intermediate Belvedere camp. For some time Chrysler officials had been noting that performance buyers—specifically those buying Hemi engines, were putting them into the cheapest, most stripped-down models they could. If Plymouth were to drop a big engine into the lightest, no-frills body available, would there be a market for it? The answer was an astounding yes.
Belvedere two-door sedans had gone by the wayside for 1968—but there was a pillared coupe that shared the hardtop’s sheet metal, even its frameless doors. Powered by a 383-cubic-inch, 335-horsepower V8 priced at $2,896, the Road Runner was an instant success. Nearly making it out the door with the name Chaparral, it took instead the name of the chaparral cock—a bird most people know as the roadrunner. Somewhere the association was made between the name of the car and Warner Brothers Saturday-morning cartoon character; when the dust settled, Plymouth had rights to use the cartoon figures likeness on the car (full story). Clever engineering replaced the car horn’s aluminum windings with copper—presto, even the horn sounded like the cartoon character.
Optimistically cautious, 2,500 Road Runners were projected; over ten times that number rolled out the door, joined shortly thereafter by a true hardtop coupe of which an additional 15,000 would be built. Not bad for a dirt-cheap, dog-dish-hubcap, taxi-interior, bottom-of-the-line, pillared coupe.
While the Road Runner stole thunder from everything else, few people noticed that the Belvedere was now called just that—Belvedere, available in sedan, wagon, or swing-window-pillared coupe like the Road Runner. Replacing the Belvedere II line was the Satellite four door, wagon, hardtop, and convertible. What had been the Satellite was now the Sport Satellite in hardtop or convertible and two wagons in six or nine passenger.
At the top of the list was the GTX, a car that was everything the Road Runner was—and more. The bucket seat luxury high performance hardtop or convertible was powered by a standard 375-horsepower 440 or the optional 425-horse 426 Hemi.
Spurred by sales of the Road Runner, Plymouth built 262,098 intermediate and 349,540 full-size cars, ending the year, once again, in fourth place.
“Fuselage” was the word for all full-size Chrysler products for 1969. Following aircraft principles, Chrysler designed bodies of a single arc from rocker panel over the roof to rocker panel. Although forward looking, since it is used by nearly every car builder in the 1990s, the fuselage style did not catch on with the buying public of the time. Critics claimed the cars looked too bulbous and that the fuselage design was better suited for smaller cars.
Although all new, the full-sized 1969 Plymouths had an appearance of continuity with previous years’ models. A rather plain single-tier stamped grille was flanked by horizontally paired headlights, a change from the stacked quads that had been a trademark of the big Fury since its 1965 inception. Sport Fury and VIP models were given a more interesting die-cast appearing grille.
Horizontal taillights rested above massive rear bumpers. Upscale models had a die-cast panel between the red lenses.
The four models—Furys I, II, and III; Sport Fury; and VIP—were identified by an inset panel behind the front wheels. The VIP came standard with pillow-pleated upholstery, vinyl roof, fender skirts, and many other luxury appointments. It and the Sport Fury had wheel openings outlined with bright trim. The Sport Fury and VIP two-door hardtops had ventless front door glass. All other cars continued with conventional vent windows. All had concealed windshield wipers.
A mid-year addition was the formal hardtop, which was created by installing the wider C-pillar four-door hardtop roof to the two-door body.
The base Fury I two door was actually a pillared hardtop coupe that shared the true hardtop’s doors. The Suburban station wagon had an integral roof spoiler to cleanse the rear window.
The Fury engine list included the 225 six and the 318, 383 two-barrel, 383 four-barrel, and 440 engines of 145, 230, 290, 330, and 375 horsepower, respectively. The optional 383 for the Suburban was limited to 350 horsepower.
The hugely popular Road Runner was rewarded with an expanded role in the intermediate series. It kept the hardtop it gained mid-1968 to which was added a convertible for 1969.
A new cross-hatch grille was installed on the Belvedere, Satellite, and Road Runner models. On the latter, it was given an argent rather than bright finish. A dual-bar, die-cast-appearing grille was reserved for the Sport Satellite and GTX lines. The line name appeared in the center of this grille.
Sheet metal change was reserved for the rear fender caps to accommodate redesigned taillights and the deck lid which was given an oval indentation. This indentation was filled with a die-cast molding on the upper scale models.
Although the intermediate Plymouth series offered a full complement of sedans and wagons, it is best remembered for its “post” and hardtop coupes that were the basis for the Road Runner and GTX muscle cars.
The vertical hood vents could be made functional with special under-hood ducting. When so equipped the vent openings were covered with red plastic mesh.
The 440 was a GTX exclusive until springtime when three two-barrel version was installed in a Road Runner. A flat-black big-scooped fiberglass hood, that was held in place by four chrome pins, gave the car a special identity. It also came sans hubcaps with only chrome lug nuts setting off the plain wheels.
This book is reprinted with the permission and cooperation of Jim Benjaminson, who holds the copyright to the text and to his photos. Also see his book Plymouth 1946-1959.
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