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by David Zatz
The 1974 Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth large cars were supposed to provide high profit margins in a hot market. The new cars were launched in the fall of 1973 — just before OPEC doubled and then redoubled oil prices, to punish Richard Nixon for supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. Nixon had been trying to stop inflation by stopping wages or prices from rising; gas stations could not raise their prices, and would have to sell fuel at a hefty loss. They shut their pumps.
The end result was that large cars become persona non grata among much of the American public, and compact cars suddenly gained in popularity. While Chrysler did have a larger market share in the compact market, they also barely broke even on them; they made their money from midsize and large cars. They could not have predicted that a one-two of “gasoline not available” and then continuing high prices would slam the market; nor could they put aside the almost-completed cars and do new compacts instead. (They did start rushing through new compacts — resulting in the 1976 Volare/Aspen debacle — but not fast enough for the 1974 model year.)
In many ways that was a shame, because the 1974 Chryslers were nicely styled and generally well-engineered, putting their torsion-bar suspension with rear leaf springs to good use — biased somewhat to better handling than Ford or GM, but still with a good ride.
The big “C-body” 1974 Chrysler cars included the TorqueFlite three-speed automatic, power steering, and electronic ignition, a Chrysler invention that was rapidly being adopted by other automakers. An eight-stream wiper-mounted windshield washer increased coverage, and a battery heat shield and updated voltage control prolonged battery life. On the surreal side, optional fender-mounted turn signals would light if the driver stepped down too far on the gas (the “Fuel Pacer”).
The rear overhang for all the 1974 and 1975 Chryslers was absurdly long by modern standards, and even by contemporary European standards, but it was the style of large American cars for the time.
New safety features for 1974 were a collapsible steering column, side door impact beams, a hydraulic impact-absorbing bumper system, and color-keyed seat belts with a starter interlock used only in 1974 — and easily defeated by unplugging a wire, with a connection conveniently stashed under the front seat. The cars had a new modular dashboard.
A reserve system avoided having antifreeze splashing onto the roads (wasting coolant and killing animals), and made it easier to check the antifreeze level. The fusebox now swung down from the dash for easier access, and buyers could opt for a tilt -telescope steering column. A larger, molded dash panel liner covered more than three times the area of past liners, cutting back on noise.
Spark plug replacement was pushed from 18,000 to 30,000 miles on Newport, while oil changes were extended to six months / 5,000 miles across the board. Not least, the door latches were made stronger but smaller.
Imperial was still a separate brand, though the listing of a “Chrysler Imperial” in the 1974 brochure showed the direction of the future. It was essentially a New Yorker, with every option Chrysler Corporation could throw at it, extra sound insulation, and nicer trim. After the 1975 run, it was renamed to become the 1976 Chrysler New Yorker Brougham, with many standard features becoming optional; ironically, it sold better as a Chrysler, and most buyers took the Imperial options.
The “true” Chrysler car was the New Yorker, also sold as the Town & Country wagon; below that was the Chrysler Newport, which was still quite large but not as opulent as the New Yorker, and was largely shared with Dodge (though still on the same large-car platform as New Yorker). As in the past, they were solid, well-built big cars, but now Chrysler Corporation had invested a huge amount in increasing their quietness as well. For 1975, they were joined by a much smaller car which, without the fuel crisis, may well have become a Plymouth — the Chrysler Cordoba.
The New Yorker Brougham was sold as a four-door sedan, or as a hardtop with two or four doors. The 1974 redesign brought more sound deadeners, including foam seals, silencer pads, and vibration absorbers. Aiding comfort were standard 50/50 front bench seats, with adjustments for both driver and passenger; they were covered with cloth and vinyl (all-vinyl was optional).
The New Yorker, being the top of the line, had power brakes (the fronts were discs, the rears were drums), power windows and steering, a 440 cubic inch V8 engine (taking regular gas), and steel-belted radial whitewalls. Options included a power retracting antenna, power sunroof, and vinyl-covered roofs in six colors. Starting in January 1974, buyers could get a “St. Regis” appearance package.
Inside, the new interior included dual armrests (on Brougham), passenger-side recliner (four-door cars), and a rear center armrest, all done up in blue, green, black, gold, or parchment. A modular instrument panel included temperature, alternator, and gas gauges, with a digital clock and optional LED warning lamps for overheating, discharging, and low fuel. Thermostatic temperature control was optional, along with FM stereo and eight-track tape player.
In 1975, the New Yorker gained the Phase II Electronic Ignition System and a new muffler system which, with other changes, reduced external noise by 60%.
While the New Yorker didn't sell well, with just over 6,100 base models and about 26,000 Broughams sold in 1975, as top of the line, it really didn’t have to in order to make a profit. The most popular was the four-door hardtop. In 1975, the plain New Yorker was dropped, and Brougham sales remained at around 26,000, again mostly four-door hardtops.
1975 brought a new grille insert, and a no-extra-cost 400 V8 option (for slightly better gas mileage). Buyers who wanted more — and a much more exclusive car than even the New Yorker — could opt for an Imperial, which remained a separate brand until the 1976 model year. The 1974-75 Imperial was based heavily on the New Yorker, though its origins were fairly well disguised.
The Chrysler Town & Country was a station wagon version of the New Yorker, with simulated walnut body sides, wall to wall carpet (including the cargo area), and a standard 440 and TorqueFlite. An auto-lock system automatically locked the tailgate when the ignition was on; a power tailgate window was standard; and a front sway bar and heavy duty suspension were used for cornering under load. The two-seat version boasted 104.9 cubic feet of cargo space, and was able to handle a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood.
For 1975, the tailgate was closer to level with the cargo floor for easier loading, the result of a revised hinging system. Also new was a built-in step at the tailgate, which used an extruded aluminum panel between the rear body and bumper; it pivoted out of the way when the bumper was deflected. A 400 cid engine could be swapped for the 440, and a new 1.8 hp high-speed starter was used.
Newport’s main claim to fame was a lower price, which came at a cost: the 400 engine was stnadard instead of the 440, the body was smaller and shared with Dodge, and buyers could, starting in mid-1974, swap out the 400 for a more thrifty 360, which likely also improved cornering (through lower weight and better balance).
The company downsized the 1974 Chrysler Newport from the 1973, making it an inch lower and five inches shorter bumper-to-bumper, albeit an inch wider. Still, Chrysler Newport sales fell as a result of gas shortages — hence the free 360 option.
New for 1974 was an upper-level vent system that kept fresh air moving around the passengers, and individually adjusting 50/50 bench front seats. As befitted a Chrysler, even base Newports came with wheel covers, rear-seat ashtrays, dual horns, thick, color-keyed carpeting, and power front disc brakes (with power rear drums). Thermostatically controlled climate control was optional. Newport used Chrysler’s modular instrument panel, with related controls placed together.
Not surprisingly, as the entry-level Chrysler, Newport sales were higher than the more-expensive New Yorker, with over 70,000 Newports sold in 1974, and over 60,000 Newports sold in 1975. The vast majority were four-door sedans, and they were common on the street decades later.
The big news for 1975 was the Cordoba, introduced after the other 1975 models. Essentially sharing bodies with the standard B-body Plymouth and Dodge, the Cordoba was given the Chrysler sound-insulation and luxury-feel treatment. It struck a chord and sold in vast numbers, especially for a Chrysler model, with 150,000 made in 1975 — rather stunning for a Chrysler two-door hardtop.
Some credit the high sales with Cordoba’s place as an affordable Chrysler car and believe it would not have sold quite as well as an upscale Plymouth would have, and it’s a credible argument. The GTX, after all, barely made it onto the sales charts, while the cheap Road Runner was a runaway success. For just over $5,000, a buyer could say with pride that they owned a Chrysler, in the days when Chrysler ranked with Lincoln and Oldsmobile.
In February 1975, PR man Frank Wylie bragged in a press release, “Cordoba, the new Chrysler personal luxury car, has flourished wonderfully in 1975. Already Cordoba is #3 among the specialty cars. It is outselling such established cars as Gran Prix, Cougar, T-Bird, Toronado, and Riviera (January 1-February 20 sales showed Monte Carlo at 23,838; Ford Torino X at 10,752; and Cordoba at 10,445. Gran Prix followed at 7,983; the Cougar, Thunderbird, Toronado, and Riviera were all below 5,000.)
During the fuel crisis, it helped that the smallest engine (a 318 V-8) was a cash-back option; the standard engine was the 400 cid V-8 (with two or four barrel carburetors) until 1978. The 360 was also optional. Cordoba easily beat the cheaper Buick Century Regal and more costly Ford Granada in acceleration, with Car & Driver claiming 0-60 in 9.3 seconds. The interior was quieter than that of the Buick or Ford.
The suspension used longitudinal front torsion bars with lower trailing links and an anti-sway bar, coupled with semi-elliptical rear springs and a rear anti-sway bar. This provided the large, heavy car with surprisingly good handling.
This model is covered in detail on our Cordoba page.
The 1974 models were 55 inches high and had a maximum track of 64 inches. The basic dimensions were the same, except for width. Specific models for this chart are Newport and New Yorker.
Comparing interior space to the 1971 or 2007 Chryslers, we find they were somewhat less space-efficient, losing rear legroom while keeping the same outward length — roughly similar in legroom to the 2007 300C but much larger outside.
The Chrysler New Yorker four-door Brougham hardtop was .2 inches wider (this may have just been a reporting change), and the wagon was two inches longer. The wagon, with rear seats folded down, had 97.7 straight inches from the back of the driver's seat to the gate; it was 58.9 inches high.
The 1974 Chrysler line plunged in popularity, but Cordoba brought it back in 1975 — albeit on a body that was shared almost completely with Dodge and, to a lesser degree, with Plymouth.
1976-78 Chrysler New Yorkers • 1974-75 Imperials by Chrysler
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