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1960 Plymouth Cars: Fins’ Final Fling

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1960 Plymouth Cars: Fins' Final Fling

By Lanny Knutson; courtesy of the Plymouth Bulletin.

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Suddenly, it was 1960. Plymouth's model year 1957 had brought its 1960 cars to the public. Now what would the real 1960 bring?

Three years earlier, Plymouth, under its advertising slogan "Suddenly it's 1960," had rocked the automotive world with a daring new style of car. With its lines low and wide and its fins high, Plymouth joined its corporate siblings in wresting automotive styling leadership from General Motors, which had assumed the "styling leadership" mantle as if by divine decree. In the process, the designers of the now much vaunted '57 Chevy nearly got fired for fielding such a "poor" competitor!

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But it wasn't all show for that '57 Plymouth. Under the sleek body was a new chassis bearing a revolutionary suspension design featuring torsion bars at the front. The car was no slouch in the engine department either and its new Torqueflite transmission would become legendary.

Supposedly, Chrysler had shoved its whole design schedule ahead by three years, bringing 1960's cars to 1957. But now it was 1960, and what would they do for an encore? When the "encore" came, the public's response was, frankly, one of disappointment. Just a few years later, "expert" automotive pundits would have people believing that the problem was with the fins. Outlandish, flamboyant, many would say. Almost a caricature of the gracefully rising 1957 fin, the 1960 "Stabilizers" (as Chrysler officially called them) rose with a very sudden and pronounced arc to a great height at the end of the car, leaving a massive expanse of slab sided sheet metal.

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At the front - exemplifying Chrysler designer Virgil Exner's reported penchant for "decorating the corners" of his cars - were sculpted fenders upon which the "eyebrows" over the headlamps swung around the corner to descend and outline the distinctive reverse-canted wheel openings. This sculpting created a panel that, with Plymouth's Sportone treatment for that year, was painted a contrasting color. To some detractors, it appeared to be like the upper half of a whale's mouth swallowing the front end of a car.

Excessive? The pundits would later say so. But that was after 1961, when GM had definitely reclaimed the automotive styling crown with its new squared-off and mildly sculpted cars. Compared to them, the '60 Plymouth may appear flamboyant, but compared its 1959 and 1960 GM contemporaries, with which the General was trying to fight Chrysler fin-for-fin, the Mopar can seem fairly mild. Certainly, its fins were no wilder than the gull wings of the '59-60 Chevy or Cadillac's towering self-lighted fins of 1959! It was 1960, after all, and was still - for one more year anyway - the era of the fin. So, it wasn't Plymouth' supposed flamboyance that disappointed potential Plymouth buyers. (In fact, Ray Brock of Hot Rod judged the '60 Plymouth as not having "a flashy exterior design to attract the public" but having instead to rely on its torsion bar ride to sell cars!)

1960 Savoy Restoration

In those days, a car maker's success was measured by how much it could change the styling of its cars from year to year. It was 1960, and Plymouth had an all-new unitized body that had to have been designed from the ground up; yet it hadn't appeared to have changed all that much. The sheet metal was all-new, but the car's basic silhouette was much the same as in 1957 and, when it came out of the shadows, the '60 displayed many details that seemed to have done no more than clutter up the very clean original '57 design. A disappointment; and yet, Richard Langworth, in Collectible Automobile, wrote, "in the context of their time, they were as good as most and superior in many ways."

1960 Plymouths: Unibody

Much more significant than renewed styling was what was under that styling. Goaded for years by American Motors' advertising that chided manufacturers of "gas-guzzling dinosaurs" for still building them like ox carts, with bodies separate from the frames, Chrysler responded with unibodies of its own. Actually, Chrysler had been there first; the Airflow of 1934-36 had a type of unibody. But, as in many other aspects, that car was far ahead of its time in body construction.

Dodge in 1960

Stung by a somewhat deserved bad reputation for its often poorly-assembled 1957 cars, which had a propensity to rust, Chrysler answered with what it advertised as its "Solid Plymouth," often pictured with massive bridge girders, tunnels, dams and other examples of engineered strength. What those images promoted was a 5400-weld unibody construction. Framed much like a bridge truss, the body was made up of box section rails that extended upward from the sills, outlining the windows along side the roof before descending to a foundation near the rear wheel openings.

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Comparing itself to competing cars, Plymouth claimed 100% greater body rigidity and 40% greater beam strength. The "girders" which provided that strength were touted as being 75% heavier than those used in conventional construction. Yet, without the frame they replaced, these girders actually helped reduce the weight of the car.

There was a frame, however - a subframe, bearing the engine and "Torsion-Aire" front suspension, that was bolted to unitized body. This arrangement allowed the front fenders to be more easily removed for repair or replacement than those of the completely unitized Rambler. (Remember when Plymouth had last advertised the advantages of removable fenders?)

Before the body panels were welded together, the seams were "shot" with a special welding sealer that was designed to expand under the heat of the drying ovens where the body was placed after it had been painted.

One of unitized construction's drawbacks is that no sound insulating material can isolate the body from the frame, bringing road noise into the cabin. To counter this problem, Plymouth developed extra large rear spring bushings, a new exhaust system hanger, and a driveshaft designed to reduce high-speed hum. Special sound deadening fiber matting and liquid-applied coating contributed to making what could have been "riding in a tin can" into a pleasurable experience of traveling in a car far quieter than those of then-conventional construction. And, of course, the engine was mounted on its own frame, separated from the body by the usual sound deadeners.

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With its 1957 models already rusting out, Plymouth had to confront the rust problem in a big way. The spectre of a rusting-out unibody with no frame to hold it together was simply too scary to contemplate. A series of six chemical sprays and seven dips into chemical baths plus four coats of paint prevented rust where its damage could be worst - on all those structural inner beams. The wheel wells, exposed as they were to road salt, still proved to be subject to rust, however.

Despite Plymouth's revolutionarily new body building techniques, the styling remained evolutionary. Shunning the opportunity to create something entirely new, the stylists decided to stick with the tried-and-true finned silhouette. The trunk lid remained at the same high level as on the 1959 and the sedan roof displayed the same contours of the 1957-59 four-door hardtop. The two-door hardtop's profile remained the same, although some of its delicate grace was lost when wider painted C- pillars replaced the thinner bright trim that had previously separated the side windows from the backlight. The triangular-shaped base of the C-pillar, matching the distinctive reverse curves of the rear wheel cutouts (an anomaly since Exner usually like to expose his cars' wheels with large cutouts), gave the roofline an added flair. The curvature of the 'hardtop profile actually matched that of the front fender molding.

Optional on the two-door hardtop was a Ski-Hi rear window that rose to give rear seat passengers a virtual sun roof. Costing only $23, the option almost necessitated another $43 for tinting. The rear window of the four-door hardtop also rose further into the roof than before.

Matching the flamboyance of the high fins, the interior burst forth with great splashes of contrasting colors on the door panels and seats. Displaying a 1960-style space age flair, the speedometer rode in its own wide, thin nacelle. Called a "ribbon speedometer", the instrument filled up 5 mph segments, thermometer fashion. Actually, it was an adaptation of a design pioneered by Dodge in 1957 and ironically abandoned by that car just as Plymouth was picking up the design. Although road testers noted that it was easy, in a glance, to get a quick general reading of the car's speed, it was quite difficult to know precisely how fast one was going.

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In front of that speedometer appeared an optional square steering wheel. Technically not square, the wheel was flattened out on both top and bottom so that, Plymouth claimed, it could provide both better vision and greater leg room. Most analysts, however, considered it no more than a gimmick. Following the practice of the day, the speedometer and the steering wheel were given their own names: "Teleview" and "Areo Wheel."

The swivel seats so prominent in the 1959 introduction were back, this time cable activated to swivel automatically as the door was opened. Unfortunately, the door had to be swung completely open before the seat would swivel out, negating its one main advantage - easing exit or entrance in tight parking situations. Also, rear seat passengers had to be alert lest they got a good bark on the shins as the rear of the seat swung into their leg space.

New high-back driver's seats were standard on all Fury and Sport Suburban models. Also available for the first time were seats with six-way power adjustment.

The 1960 Plymouth car lineup

Plymouth returned to a three-model lineup when its Sport Fury was dropped after just one year (it would reappear in 1962 for a much longer run.) There was also a new bottom-bottom line called the Fleet Special made up of cars designed specifically for taxi and other high-use commercial applications. The taxicab specials came equipped with many heavy-duty parts plus wiring for a roof sign, dome light switches on all doors and foam cushioning on the front seat.

The Patroller Six, Patroller Special VB and Pursuit Special V8, as two- or four-door sedan police cars, were also part of the Fleet Special series. (Suburbans specially designed for police or ambulance service were not part of this series.) Although not technically Savoys, the Fleet Specials were included with that line for production counts.

Establishing a trend that Plymouth would follow for a few years, the low-line series name, Savoy, appeared nowhere on the car. According to the nameplates, they were simply called "Plymouth." The cars were identified by bumper-high side trim that extended to the leading edge of the front doors, breaking somewhat the massive slabsides that were left unadorned on the upper level Plymouths. At the upper corners of the fins appeared a modified Forward-Look symbol. (Or was it, as Don Butler claimed, the new Plymouth emblem - as found on the grille - turned on its side?)

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Savoys were available only as two- and four-door sedans. The middle Belvedere line featured no side trim, but the brightwork atop the fin (which ended even with the rear window on the Savoy) extended all the way to the front fender sculpting, creating a lower belt line. The fender sculpting itself, unadorned on the Savoy, was outlined by bright trim on the Belvedere and Fury. Within this sculpting, just behind the headlight, was the model name. The Belvedere was also identified by three hash marks appearing at the trailing edge of the fin in the form of yet another rendition of the Forward-Look (or new Plymouth) logo.

Bright window frames were optional on the Belvedere sedans, standard on the Fury. Available in Belvedere trim were two- and four-door sedans and a two-door hardtop.

All the Belvedere trim also appeared on the top line Fury, accompanied by a chrome panel (not unlike that introduced on the '59 Ford Galaxie) behind the rear wheel opening. When combined with optional (or aftermarket) stainless steel skirts, the panels gave the appearance of cruiser skirts, a popular aftermarket accessory of the time. At the upper corner of the Fury fins appeared a large round medallion similar to the one found on the '59 Sport Fury. The Fury line included a four-door sedan and hardtop, a two-door hardtop and a convertible. This was the first year a Fury was available with six cylinder power, a serious demotion in just two years.

Although most commonly seen on the upper lines, popular appearance options for all Plymouths included the Sport Deck (a fake spare tire lid on the trunk), a front bumper grille guard, rear quarter panel stone shields and an unique front Sport Shield that gave a chromed scoop appearance to the fender well. Savoys could be had with Sportone paint but the buyer first had to order the bright fender moldings that were standard on the Belvederes and Furys. As usual, full wheel covers and whitewalls were available on all cars.

Following the practice established in 1956, Plymouth station wagons bore Deluxe, Custom and Sport Suburban nomenclature although they bore the trim of the respective Savoy, Belvedere and Fury sedans. The wagons shared not only the same 122-inch (compared to the 118-in. sedan) wheelbase as the other corporate wagons but also the same lower rear quarter panels bearing the rear wheel opening shape found on the larger Dodges and Chryslers. Hence, the Fury rear wheel-to-bumper bright trim panel did not appear on the corresponding Sport Suburban.

All wagons were identified by "Suburban" script appearing (according to brochure illustrations) at the base of the C-pillar. Only the Deluxe Suburban was available in two-door form. Only the Custom and Sport Suburbans could be ordered with three seats for a nine-passenger capacity.

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All 1960 Plymouths were designated by "PP1" or "PP2" codes. The first P stood for 1960; the second for Plymouth; the 1 or 2 for Six or V8 respectively. After a dash L, M, or H appeared for Savoy (low), Belvedere (medium) or Fury (high).

1960 Plymouth engines

Upon opening the hood, the first time observer might have thought that Plymouth engineers had taken a decided liking for plumbing.

At the bottom end of the engine lineup, Plymouth introduced the now very familiar slant six in 225 cubic inch form, finally putting the old flathead six out to pasture after 27 years of service. Together with the 30-degree slant engine block, the intake manifold, with its individual tubes running to each cylinder, made for a rather unique sight back in 1960. This manifold was a modified version of what appeared on the engine at the opposite end of the lineup - the SonoRamic Golden Commando.

Consisting of long aluminum castings rising over the valve covers from Carter four-barrel carburetors on each side of the engine, the SonoRamic's distinctive manifolds were designed so that each passage totaled 30 inches from carburetor venturi to intake valve. At 2800 rpm, the manifold would reach its maximum effect as the speed-of-sound waves provided a mild supercharging effect. Although brilliant in concept, the ram induction manifold, expensive to produce and a challenge to keep in tune, would be offered for only two years on Plymouths. However, a modified form with shorter tubes would be offered on drag racing Plymouths for a number of years to come.

"Although it takes a long time to explain the powerplant," said Motor Life of the SonoRamic back in 1960, "it takes only an instant to realize (its) tremendous power potential. Stepping down on the foot feed doesn't give the driver a gentle push in the back, it can actually snap his neck if he isn't watching." The engine routinely did 0-60 in 7.8 seconds (then an amazing time, similar to 5 seconds now) for 1960 road testers.

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Plymouth brochure 81-505-0003 lists four engines: the 225 slant six called the "30-D Economy Six (for the 30-degree slant?); the Fury V800 which was the familiar 318 two- barrel base V8; the Fury V800 with Super Pak, a 318 four- barrel, dual exhaust engine that pumped out 260 hp compared to the standard 230; the "Golden Commando 395", a 361 B-block named for its 395 lb/ft torque rating, producing 305 hp; and the "SonoRamic Commando", the first 383 engine available in a Plymouth, equipped with dual four-barrels on ram induction manifolds to put out 330 horsepower. All SonoRamic equipped Plymouths were identified by a special medallion appearing on the front fenders just ahead of the doors.

Hot Rod Magazine listed three more engines, bringing the high performance total to five: a 361 SonoRamic Commando producing 310 hp; a 383 Golden Commando with a single four-barrel carb and a 325 hp rating; and a 383 with two four-barrels on a conventional in-line manifold which produced the same 330 hp as the 383 SonoRamic but at 5200 instead of 4800 rpm.

Directing power to the road were five available transmissions: a new "Synchro-Silent" three-speed manual, standard on the six and 318 engines; another three-speed manual with strut-type synchronizers that was standard on all high performance engines, according to some sources (others say engines above the 361 four-barrel were available only with the Torqueflite).

Continuing from previous years were two automatics: the already highly rated three-speed Torqueflite and the still-available two-speed Powerflite. Said Motor Life of the latter: "(It) is outclassed less by its competition than by the Torqueflite itself."

Bowing in for 1960 was the new "Torqueflite-6," based on its big namesake but designed for the new slant six engine.

Suspension and Brakes

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"Plymouth has forged a whole new reputation as one of America's top road cars, pacing the low priced field in performance and economy. . . One outstanding feature not affected by the cost of the particular model (is) Plymouth's excellent suspension system. Combining a comfortable ride with secure handling, it continues to be among the best on any American car."

The words from Motor Life echo nearly all 1960 road testers. For all its features, Plymouth was still being touted most for its torsion bar suspension system introduced in 1957. Ray Brock of Hot Rod Magazine noted, however, that the 1960's ride was softer, with resulting handling not being as sure.

"Don't get the impression we think the Plymouth is poor handling," continued Brock, "it isn't, but it has more body lean than previous models, thanks to softer springs."'

Even the ever-critical Consumer Reports gave Plymouth good marks in this area, calling it "a good fast road car." Then, inking its icy pen, it continued, "but (it's) in third place on the basis of family car values."

Although standard brakes were of the same 11-inch size as the 1959s, the backing plates were redesigned with platforms stamped on the inner faces so that, riding against these platforms, the shoes would remain in proper alignment. These "Total-Contact" brakes, continuing the two-cylinders-per-front wheel and one-per-rear-wheel setup used for years, were available with optional power assists. Although not publicized, the 12-inch brakes used on Chryslers could be special ordered for Plymouths, claimed Ray Brock.


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This year Plymouth faced almost as much competition from within as from outside competitors. In a complete restructuring, Chrysler Motors was split into two divisions - Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth-DeSoto-Valiant. The latter cumbersome title, with the demise of DeSoto and the Valiant becoming a Plymouth, would be simplified within a year to "Chrysler-Plymouth."

Dodge dealers, stripped of their low priced Plymouth line, sold what, for two years, were considered two separate makes - Dodge and Dodge Dart. The former, built on the Chrysler Windsor 122-inch wheelbase chassis, retained the traditional Dodge spot on the Chrysler pricing ladder. The latter, in a move that eventually led to the demise of Plymouth, entered the low-priced field as a direct competitor to Plymouth. Although sharing Plymouth's roofs, doors, rear wheel cutouts, and all chassis and mechanical components, the Dart had its own unique styling, with totally different fronts and rears.

Plymouth's second internal competitor, the Valiant, was right in its own showroom. While Chevrolet and Ford names appeared on their Corvair and Falcon compacts, Plymouth's name appeared nowhere on the Valiant. It was considered, only in the US and only in 1960, to be its own separate make.

Technically, Valiant's production figures should not have been counted with Plymouth's, but most charts eventually did. The 194,292 Valiants sold added to Plymouth's 253,432 sales gave a more respectable total of 447,724 (other sources claim 483,969). This was good for third place on some charts, fourth on others. The Encyclopedia of American Cars gives Plymouth a 25,451 car edge over an estimated Rambler production figure, while Don Butler, in The Plymouth and DeSoto Story, claimed Rambler built 1,776 more cars than Plymouth to claim third place.

Without Valiant, Plymouth would have fallen to a dismal ninth spot, 375 cars behind Buick, which had also fallen mightily from the number three position it held just four years earlier.

The Dart proved to be a tough competitor for Plymouth, selling 323,168 cars. (The "big" Dodge's production was only 44,636.) While not all buyers of the somewhat more conventionally styled Dart would have bought Plymouths (some would have purchased the big Dodge or another make), most were likely customers who traditionally bought a Plymouth from their local Dodge dealers. Adding Dart's production to that of Plymouth-Valiant gives a healthy total of 770,892 - still third, but much closer to the Chevrolet and Ford totals which were in the million-and-a-half range.


Now that the American parent corporation had adopted what Chrysler in Canada had been practicing since 1934, there was no need for a Plymouth body with a Dodge front end, even though the two would have fit bolt for bolt. The Dodge Dart manufactured and sold in Canada was exactly the same on the outside as its American counterpart. The interior, however, was shared with Plymouth. Therefore the Canadian Dart bore Plymouth's dash as well as upholstery, a practice that would continue through 1966.

The engine lineup for both Plymouths and Darts included one unique Canadian version - the 313 cubic inch, 225 hp V8 which in appearance was just like the US 318. Almost half of all Darts and Plymouths were equipped with the new 225 Slant Six as Canadian buyers really took this engine to heart. The single optional V8 was the 361.

In Conclusion

By the time the 1960's successor was introduced late in the year, there would be no disappointment about lack of change. Although basically the same car, the '61, except for roof lines and rear wheel cutouts, had changed completely from the previous year - even the silhouette was different. Plymouth's prime distinguishing characteristic for the past six years was gone. For Plymouth, as 1960 drew to a close, it was FINS FINIS.

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