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Inside Chrysler: 1964

Opening night in late September 1963 was as good as we had ever seen. I only wished that Grandpa, Mrs. Weed and Mr. Green had been there to help us with that night.

I well recall Mrs. Beachum's grand entrance that night when she came to pick up her new car. No black beauty for her this year. Got a beautiful blue Sport Fury 2 door hardtop, loaded, with air and a white interior. And, as usual, her 1963 Plymouth was sold the minute it crossed the curb into our lot.

On opening night, we sold 10 new cars. Mr. Harrison, the general manager was ecstatic. Dad was pleased, but seemed detached in some way.

Plymouth and Dodge continue on each other’s turf

In the Spring, Dad attended an all dealer conference in San Francisco, and came back more disillusioned than ever. He had been trying, again, to push through the separate Plymouth Division along with their own sales and stores.

The Plymouth was a victim of its own success, as the new 1964 models were running near record level sales. With a big Plymouth planned for 1965, which would expand the brand to two lines of cars (three, with Valiant), dealers were content to stand pat and not shake up the cart. They had a friend in Townsend. He liked things uniform, and saw no reason to change a winning formula.

Unfortunately, increasing numbers of shoppers saw Dodge as the alternative to Plymouth, and the switch was on. Then, even as in the end (2001), Dodge was seen as the next step up from the low price class. Dodge sales grew at the expense of Plymouth.

Plymouth sales actually dropped in the 1966 model year. A good marketeer would have seen the writing on the wall, but no one was looking. I don't believe that Walter P. Chrysler would be at all pleased with the neglect of “his” Plymouth.

Dealership issues and the standard stores

Dad had also been in a running battle with Chrysler Real Estate. Accountant Lynn Townsend, who wanted to make everything exactly alike, was a great pain for some dealers; he wanted dealers to have new stores, all alike in design and space. Chrysler Real Estate wanted us to sign up for a quarter of a million dollar mortgage and build an entirely new dealership closer to the downtown area. Yes, we would have to pay this mortgage back out of our own money! Dad flatly refused. Chrysler kept putting on the pressure, seeking any sort of angle to make us comply, even trying to divert inventory and parts replacement. Talk about shades of K.T. Keller's days!

There had been several explosive meetings, with our lawyer firmly entrenched in the middle of the battle. We had the advantage since it was our land (and not leased from Chrysler). However, Chrysler had threatened to stop shipments and send them to another area. We knew that it couldn't be done right away because no one else was equipped to handle the amount of cars that we did.

After one particularly odious session, Dad had threatened to shut the whole thing down and start selling Fords or Buicks since both had approached him at one time or another. The session ended without a time or place for another meeting.

In the meantime, I hit upon an idea that would have made our dealership one of the largest. I came across a dealer that had tried to turn himself into a rental car company; in 1964, they were nowhere close to what rental cars are today. He lost his money, and had to sell five Plymouths that had been registered with the rental company, all clean with low miles. I got the General Manager to buy them all and put them out on the front row of our store on a Friday morning. By the following Monday they were all sold, for a nice profit.

At first, I wasn't going to say anything to my Dad, since he had not been in on this. I wanted to do it again, just to make sure I was right. I found another mixed bag of Plymouth and Dodge rental units and I got the Manager to buy a dozen. In their transit, Dad had been looking at the books, and I guess he near choked when he saw the check with my name on it, and the amount it was for. The next day, I caught the fifth degree. He was not happy with me. However, the Manager was so enthusiastic that Dad decided to drop the issue and wait and see. I got the 12 cars in, detailed them and set them out on the front lines. They didn't last five days! Again, with a nice profit margin.

Now, you would think my father would be happy. He was not. In fact, he looked like he'd lost his best friend or something. I had no idea what was bothering him. However, I was about to embark on a 24 car rental deal based on the profits of the last cars. When I asked the Manager for a check, he just shook his head. My Dad had barred the entire thing! I was furious. I went home that night in a confrontational mood, but Dad had left for a five day dealer meeting in Highland Park. By the time he got back, a new crisis was awaiting him.

Chrysler had forced the issue and bought land downtown for a new Chrysler-Plymouth store. Our lawyer, being the intelligent fellow that he was, had put the word out to the local government officials that he was to be notified right away about plans for any new car dealerships in the county. Dad got home on a Tuesday night. Wednesday morning an injunction was filed against Chrysler to halt any further attempts at building a dealership pending a court review of the agreement with my Dad. Hearings, arguments, depositions, rulings, filings, and all sorts of court stuff was in progress.

Curtis’ father in the hospital

I was a junior in high school, about to become a senior in four months, and a star pitcher on the Baseball team. I was also the local Plymouth dealer's son, and the new Plymouths were the hot ticket in racing. I was about to find out just how fast those new ’64 police pursuit Plymouths were.

I had just gotten into home room class on a Friday morning. It was a gorgeous Sping day with the promise of being very warm that afternoon. Great for a baseball game. Suddenly, the intercom phone buzzed. The teacher, Miss Melloncot, quickly came right to me and told me that a City Police car was waiting for me outside the school to get me to the City Hospital. "Your father has had a bad heart attack, and you must go now." The rest is but a blur in my mind. I remember stumbling down the steps to the waiting cruiser. No, it wasn't my uncle, but I do remember the officer calling him on the radio to let him know that we were enroute. I remember hearing my uncle's voice on the radio telling him, "this is a code 3 run!"

The car literally seemed to fly through the traffic. Suddenly we were at the City Hospital. My mom, my uncle, several cousins, my aunt, some cops, deputies, nurses, and some folks from the dealership were all crammed into the emergency waiting room. I was ushered quickly into the room by my mother. Dad looked ghastly ill. He had tubes sticking out from all over him. He managed a small smile when he saw me, and raised his hand a few inches. Just as quickly, I was ushered out. For the next week it was sheer chaos. If I wasn't at home doing something like dishes, washing, cleaning, entertaining morose quests, trying to console relatives, or trying to sneak out the back with my friends, I was at the hospital. The second night Dad took a turn for the worst. However, on the fourth day, he rallied. By the seventh day, he was almost back, and on the tenth day, he was up and about. On the twentieth day, he came home. Things were not as good then as they are now, but they were miles ahead of what they had been back when he had his first attack. He certainly looked a lot better than he had in a very long time. He seemed settled, with a purpose. Little did I know what that purpose was.

Two weeks later, I came home to find Dad there. His company car was gone, and in its place was a new 1964 Chrysler Newport Sedan. Not an expensive car, but nicely equipped. I walked in full of questions, and he just held up his hand. In front of him were a lot of papers, some with the legal blue covers on them.

He had sold the dealership! Just like that! No consultations, no nothing! Just signed my legacy away! I was so angry that I turned almost purple with rage. I even swore in front of him for the first time. I couldn't even think straight I was so upset. He was stunned and hurt.

We did not communicate with each other for weeks. Of course, my nice job at the dealership was over. So was my involvement with Chrysler Corporation.

That summer, I got a job with the local newspaper, learning to operate a linotype machine that sets the news articles in the columns for the paper. It kept me away from the house, and it sometimes involved long hours when hot news stories came in. I didn't mind, since it meant I didn't have to see or try to avoid Dad.

It was late one night and I was on the loading dock taking a breather away from the machine. It used hot lead to set the type in and could be very uncomfortable sometimes.

I heard glass breaking down the ally, then someone shouting at someone else. Then a couple shots rang out. I ducked back inside and ran for the telephone. Within two minutes the city cops were there. One of them I knew. I had gone to school with his son and we played on the ball team together. He also knew me. I told him quickly what I had heard. He told me to get back inside. His partner went to the other side of the building to come in the other way. I acted like I was going to go back inside, instead I ducked down and squatted by the open door of the patrol car. I can remember its rumbling engine. Hey, after all, it was a 1964 Plymouth with a 383. I also recall the smells from inside. Stale cigarettes, sweat, some vomit, cheap vinyl seatscovers, oil, and gasoline.

The officer was slowly moving down the ally, checking behind the dumpsters and other things lining its side. In a flash, a man jumped up behind the officer and knocked him flat on the ground. My heart was pounding in my chest, yet, at the same time, I wasn't really scared. I was totally angry. Without thinking, I grabbed the radio microphone and called out that there was an officer down in the ally behind the Republic-Democrat and that his assailant was running North in the ally. Man! All hell broke loose! It seemed like it didn't take but a second and the entire police department was trying to scream into the ally!

The first cop came running up and asked if I was the one that called. When I said yes, he yelled at me to come with him so we could catch the bad guy. The second cop stopped to assist Officer Grant, which was the one that had taken the hit. I also saw two first aid guys heading for him. Well, that was all I needed. I easily kept up with the officer that called for me to come with him. We ran all the way down to the park. Everyone kept calling me the "eyeballer." I heard one say that I was a "goddamned hero!"

Officer Grant was not seriously hurt and had come around just as we had run by. He came to the scene a few minutes after we had established a command post and the Lieutenant was there in charge. It didn't take long before a suspect was rounded up. He had robbed the drug store using a handgun, broken the rear window to get out, and then shot twice at the owner to keep him inside the building. Then he had hidden in the alley. When Officer Grant went by, well, you know the rest. I identified him, and so did the drug store owner.

I was given a hero's treatment. My uncle was very proud. That cemented for me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I joined the police explorer post and worked assisting the dispatchers over that summer. In September, I was given a part time paying job as assistant dispatcher in the City Dispatch Center that controlled the Police and the Fire Department radio. Summer flew by, and then it was my Senior Year.

In the Spring, I was the hottest left handed side armed pitcher that class AAA ball had ever seen at my school. In the 4 years I had played ball, my Dad had never once come to see me pitch. Finally, on the second round of sectional finals, we were playing for the right to defend ourselves as last year's AAA champions against another semi finalist. I looked into the stands, and there was my father. I was so proud that I almost forgot what I was doing. My first pitch resulted in a line drive that caught me full on the nose. I remember nothing until I woke up in the hospital about two hours later with my nose resembling a mountain covered in gauze. Yes, Dad was there when I woke up. Things were said, and it all came out well.

My involvement with Chrysler Corporation had ended. I didn't go back to work for the General Manager, and even if I had, I am sure that it would not have lasted.

Other parts of this series

  1. 1946-1953: The story through 1950; Hemi engines and Virgil Exner.
  2. 1954 and Plymouth’s independence, and automatic transmissions.
  3. 1955 — hot cars, NASCAR’s roots, Daytona, and more
  4. 1956 and the Plymouth Belmont
  5. 1955-56 police packages and CHP testing
  6. 1956 Plymouth Fury and Daytona Speed Weeks
  7. The stunning and disastrous 1957 cars
  8. 1957 engineering, Daytona, and pursuit cars
  9. The much more reliable 1958s
  10. The Pettys and Bill France; creating the ’62s
  11. The 1959 Chrysler Corporation cars
  12. NASCAR and the Pettys; Engineering vs Marketing
  13. Losing DeSoto, 1957-1960
  14. Dodge and Valiant clobber Plymouth, 1957-1960
  15. 300 and 300X; personal notes
  1. The hot new 1960 Valiant
  2. The new unit-body 1960 cars
  3. 1960 Chrysler fleets and squads
  4. Chrysler racing, 1960
  5. The hot Chrysler 300F
  6. Corruption and incompetence
  7. The 1961 cars
  8. 1961 police cars and racing events
  9. The 1962 cars
  10. 1962 Police Pursuit cars
  11. 1962: Hot Performance
  12. The 1963 cars
  13. The 1964 cars
  14. NASCAR racing — 1964
  15. End of the series

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