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1961 Chrysler Corporation cars, air conditioners, and such

by David Zatz

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1961 turned out to be a fairly bad year for Chrysler, with sales and profits dropping. The company had had a poor year in 1960, despite the successful move to new unit-body chassis (on all but Imperial). Plymouth applied 5,400 welds to each car to form the body, and engineers claimed 40% more sag resistance and double the twist resistance of body-on-frame models.

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After the 1957 disaster, Chrysler was taking rust proofing seriously, with six chemical sprays, seven dips, and four coats of paint. Strong engineering and stress testing with Plexiglas scale models resulted in a no-disaster transition. New quality checks, including random sampling and a high-rate water test, also helped prevent problems from reaching customers.

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All Chrysler cars had the "Torsion-Aire" suspension - torsion bars up front, well-engineered, widely-spaced leaf springs in back. It had debuted in 1957 and would remain in production into the 1980s - indeed, after a change to transverse torsion bars, Chrysler would use the system through 1989, which it stopped making rear wheel drive cars for around 15 years. Torsion bars, at the time, were used mainly by higher-level cars, and for many years gave Chrysler a real handling advantage over GM and Ford.

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Manufacturing, sales, and product planning all moved to central organizations, led by new president Lynn Townsend, an accountant by training. He was faced by a large, out of control bureaucracy, and past corruption problems; centralizing manufacturing may have been a step to make sure that inappropriate deals would be easier to spot, but were more likely a cost reduction effort.

Chrysler's 1961 sales were affected by stylist Virgil Exner's heart attack in 1960; the clay models, which were supposed to be finalized by Exner, went straight to metal instead. The designs for 1961 and 1962 were set while Virgil Exner was near death, and little could be done until, in November, Chrysler finally hired Elwood Engle away from Ford to replace him. Exner himself reportedly was able to "fix" the styling on the 1963 cars, while Engle's first cars showed up in 1964. This showed up in sales - 1961 and 1962 were poor sales years, while 1963 saw a huge increase.

Park Hunter of the Plymouth Bulletinwrote the 1961 Plymouths' "controversial styling not only kept the buying public away at the time but has been piled with scorn ever since." Curtis Redgap wrote, "The rear looked like someone had tried to but a bustle on and hung two flashlights on the sides of the car."

Yet, Hunter pointed out that critics praised the cars; Consumer Bulletin, Popular Mechanics, and Motor Trend all seemed to enjoy the sleek fin-free styling, with the latter concluding the Plymouth had "more unity of appearance [than] the styling of Ford and Chevy." Still, sales dropped 36% even with the new Valiant included; Plymouth fell to seventh place and ended up with less than a 10% share of its full-size, low-price segment.

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Richard M. Langworth (in Collectible Automobile) wrote that the new look may have been influenced by the 1958 Chevrolets with their rounded look; the 1961s were started at that time. Hunter wrote,

...The new Plymouth profile was one of smoothly integrated curves sweeping from the front to the back of the car. ... What caused so much controversy was the handling of the lights at each end. In front, the chrome trim line swept over the headlights on each side to form a menacing eyebrow, then curved back into the base of the quad headlamps. A toothy center section on the bumper completed the bug-eye monster look... [A single trunk-mounted center fin was actually used in one styling proposal.] The [taillights were] probably a result of Exner's unfortunate preoccupation with neo-classical styling (the Chrysler Imperial of the same year featured freestanding chrome headlight pods reminiscent of the early 1930s.)
Lanny Knutson wrote that the sheet metal from the 1961 Plymouth station wagons was used as late as 1964, when it adorned the Dodge 880 wagon. Because of their low volumes, wagons tended to keep styling constant from year to year, using the same tooling.

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A new tight-weave carpet was said to last twice as long as prior carpets; and while swivel seats were reportedly dropped after 1960 (Chrysler literature includes them in 1961), the Command Seat, with a higher backrest, was back on the list for 1961. The "Teleview" thermometer-style speedometer got a magnetic drive in its final year of production. Clock gauges below showed temperature and fuel. The "aero wheel" option provided a "squared off" steering wheel with a silver-speckled clear plastic rim. Dealer-installed seat belts, first offered in 1955, were purchased at the rate of 4,000 per week.

Plymouth grabs Valiant, Dodge muscles into Plymouth, Chrysler muscles into Dodge

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A new brand, Valiant, easily beat the Falcon and Corvair in performance and critical reviews (though not in sales); for 1961, it was, in the United States, combined with Plymouth. However, the standard Plymouth car was also now sold as the Dodge Dart; with more prestigious marque, Dart was an instant hit, selling 324,160 cars in the US, more than the 253,330 Plymouth-branded Plymouths. Even the Valiant had a Dodge Lancer equivalent, siphoning off sales from what had been Chrysler's huge volume leader.

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For 1961 Chrysler played the same game, launching the Newport - a regular sized Dodge/DeSoto with the more exclusive Chrysler badge, burnished by the 300 letter cars. Newport was also an instant hit, selling for $200 less than DeSoto.

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Inexpensive versions of higher brands tend to sell well, until the brand equity is gone. Dodge and Chrysler would not recover their earlier status, with their best sellers being in lower price classes.

Plymouth cars

Plymouth was supposed to have been given its own dealers by this time; instead, in 1961, it was joined more firmly to Chrysler. Plymouth-DeSoto dealers became Chrysler-Plymouth dealers, and Plymouth itself was merged into the new Chrysler-Plymouth division. The company referred to all of the brand's cars other than Valiant as "the Plymouth," regardless of actual model name; it was a reflection of days when each brand had one size car, with different names referring to trim.

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For 1961, the base "regular size" Plymouth, the Savoy, was sold as a sedan, with either two or four doors; it was at least above the commercial Fleet Series. Nearly 19,000 two-doors sold, with around 45,000 four-doors. The four door weighed 3,465 pounds; pricing started at $2,381 with a V8 two-door. Buyers could get a manual transmission or a Torqueflite three-speed automatic.

Above the Savoy was the midrange Belvedere, in two door sedan, four door sedan, or hardtop coupe. At the top was the Fury, no longer solely a performance car, in four door sedan, hardtop coupe and sedan, and a convertible coupe. Wagons were all Suburbans, with three levels: Deluxe (base), Custom, and Sport. The Sport Suburban wagon was the priciest Plymouth.

Nine different V-8 engine options were listed, including the 375 hp 413 to the Fury. The rugged 318 V8 was sold as Fury V-800 and Super Fury V-800 (with 230 and 260 horsepower); the standard version had a two-barrel carb and the Super had a four-barrel carb, dual exhaust, and special cam. The Golden Commando 395 (which was 361 cubic inches and 305 hp) and SonoRamic Commando (with dual four-barrel carbs, ram air induction, and 383 cid for 330 hp) were unchanged from 1960. 0-60 for the latter was claimed at 7.5 seconds.

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An unusual "hot car" was the Valiant Six Hyper Pack, with a 4 -barrel carburetor and other modifications which raised the horsepower to 148 (gross). Valiant and Lancer were the only compact cars of the Big Three to offer factory-installed power steering and power brakes. New for 1961 was a sharp two-door Valiant hardtop.

This was the year of the "alternator test" - when Chrysler introduced the first modern alternator, it dramatized the event by driving a Fury from Detroit to Chicago, without any battery. Chrysler was the first to use alternators as standard equipment for retail buyers on mass-produced cars - Valiant and Imperial. Chrysler did not invent the alternator, but was, thanks to Glenn S. Farison, the first to use diodes to convert power and to use electronic voltage regulators - ed.

It was also the first year of a "heavy duty synchro-silent" manual three-speed transmission, hooked up to the Commando V8 series, cast as a single unit - lighter and stronger than the older transmission.

Police cars could be identified by the VIN, with a second digit of 0 or 9; Plymouth put big 12 inch brakes on all its pursuit cars, so they could out-stop equivalent Dodges. The Torqueflite equipped Savoys had a 3.21 sure-grip rear end. With the 383, this package lit out on a 7.5 to 8 second 0-60 time, broke the lights in the quarter mile at 15.2 and 89 miles an hour. Top speed was a touch over 125 miles an hour.

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A Plymouth Savoy with a six cylinder engine won its class in the Mobil Economy Run, finishing with 23.15 miles per gallon and 28 mpg on the Chicago-to-Los-Angeles run. The achievement did not mean that ordinary drivers would get 23 mpg from their "standard size" Plymouths, though; the drivers had numerous tricks they used to increase gas mileage, not unlike later "hyper-milers." It was Plymouth's fifth straight championship in its class, which included 34 different cars.

Dodge cars: Polara and Dart

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Dodge cut back its offerings, which in 1960 had been completely name-changed. With the success of the low-priced Dart, with its medium-price name on a low-price car, the regular size Dodge (the same size as the Chrysler Newport) was cut back to just the Polara. Polara was made in the Jefferson Avenue plant for the 1961 model year.

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The big Dodge performance option for the year was the D-500 Ram induction engines, using wedge-shaped chambers and a whopping 10:1 compression ratio; the big 383 had twin four-barrel carburetors and ran to 330 horsepower at 4,800 rpm with 460 lb-ft of torque at 2,800 rpm. It was available with a manual transmission on Dart only. (With Polara, the D-500 dropped to 325 hp, 425 lb-ft at the same revolutions).

Slant six cars got a 3.54 axle (manual) or 3.31 (auto); Dart 318 came with a 3.58 manual, 2.93 auto (a PowerFlite two-speed was also available with the 318 only, using a 3.31 ratio). The 230-hp, 340-lb-ft 361 V8 used a 3.23 with manual, 2.93 with auto. 383 used a 3.23 regardless - with or without Ram manifold.

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The Chrysler Newport, garnering 96,000 sales and being a runaway success of Chrysler, was to Dodge what the Dart had been to Plymouth: by offering the same car with a classier marque, it destroyed the sales of the original. Polara sales were just 14,032 in 1961, a faint shadow of the Newport. The base price of the Chrysler was actually $5 lower than the Dodge. As a result, Dodge fell from fifth place to ninth, and Plymouth dropped from fourth to a new low - sixth place.

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Dodge also rushed a Valiant clone into production, the Dodge Lancer; while it was seen by many as better styled than the original Valiant, it also bumped Dodge down a notch as a brand, as its main sellers were both entry level cars. The more brand-consistent Valiant took most of the sales of the twins, regardless.

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DeSoto had technically died on November 18, 1960, but 3,034 1961 models had already been built; only 55 were sold during 1961 (the rest were presumably sold during 1960). The 1,100 DeSoto dealers were given Chrysler-Plymouth franchises, though an effort was made to convert them to Plymouth alone - as had been promised in 1957. (The corporation as a whole boasted 6,000 dealers.)

Dave Duricy wrote, "In its oddly beautiful 1961 dealer brochure, DeSoto made one final, rambling plea:"

For 1961, DeSoto proudly presents a fine new car. It is a car rich in traditional DeSoto quality, fresh in the way it looks and performs. It puts into your hands the most all-around value in its price class. The 1961 DeSoto is not a former middle priced car scaled down in any way to attract the mass of low priced car buyers. Nor is it for those who are willing to pay a premium for a status symbol. Rather, the 1961 DeSoto has been deliberately designed for a particular kind of person who appreciates the additional roominess, the distinctive refinements and the reassuring "feel" of an automobile in DeSoto's class. It offers all these things, in superior measure, at a price you will find surprisingly low. ...

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As mentioned earlier, the big Chrysler news was the launch of the Newport, a re-skinned Dodge/DeSoto that used the name of an earlier hardtop; it used the 1960 Windsor's wheelbase. At the same time, the Saratoga was quietly dropped. A Chrysler Newport, the rebadged Dodge, won its class in the Mobil Economy Run with 20 miles per gallon over 2,500 miles (from Chicago to Los Angeles), 8 mpg less than the Savoy.

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The big Chrysler had been heavily face lifted. Its grille had been turned upside down, and the headlights were canted, or "slanted," depending on how you choose to look at it. The result was far less aggressive than on the Dodges and Plymouths. In the rear, fins continued their sharp ascent. The "real" Chryslers were not big sellers compared with the Newport, but were split into three series: Windsor, New Yorker, and 300G, all with standard V8 engines.

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Chrysler Windsor carried forward from 1960 with increased status and pricing, essentially replacing the Newport; it included chrome drip rail moldings, wheel covers, and, on sedans, chrome upper door covers. Buyers could choose a four door hardtop or sedan, or a two door hardtop coupe; by far they chose the sedan, with over 10,000 being sold versus under 4,200 hardtop sedans and under 3,000 hardtop coupes.

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The New Yorker had more body styles, none reaching 10,000 sales, and three falling well under a thousand. These were the four door sedan and hardtop sedan, two door hardtop coupe and convertible, and two station wagons (with two and three rows of seats.)

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Chrysler 300G remained at the top of the sport-luxury market in the United States, with clear 300 logos in several places, ram intake manifolds (some had the short ram high output V8s), and some with three-speed manuals in place of the usual automatics. Just 1,280 coupes and 337 convertibles were sold, but the cars had a high sticker price: $5,411 for the hardtop, and $400 more for the convertible. That compared with the New Yorker at $4,175 for the hardtop coupe, and $4,592 for the hardtop convertible; it was even more than the nine-passenger wagon ($4,871).


The Newport weighed around 3,700 pounds (wagons topped two tons); Windsor had a similar weight. But New Yorker ran over two tons, with wagons hitting 4,400 pounds; and 300G, similarly, weighed 4,260 or 4,315 pounds. These were not unusual weights for the price and size class.

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Options and standard features included remote control outside mirror, day/night mirror (attached to the dash), pushbutton air conditioner (dual setup available on some cars, but not convertibles), swivel seats, Sure-Grip differential, power locks and windows, electric clock, pushbutton automatic, pushbutton windshield washer, power brakes, pushbutton radio (Golden Touch had a foot-operated station changer), power antenna, rear speaker, and cruise control, set by dial.

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This was the first year the B-block 383 (rather than the RB 383) was used in Chrysler cars; Trenton Engine had figured out how to make enough B engines alongside the RB V-8s.

Most premium brands don't sell police cars in the United States, but when state police agencies demanded a 122 inch wheelbase on their pursuits and Dodge would not sell their Polara with a squad package (only Dart had one, so they could compete against Plymouth more effectively), Chrysler created the Chrysler Enforcer, based on its Dodge-sized Newport. It had a single engine, the 383 RB V8, and did 0-60 in 8.3 seconds despite the 4,400 pound weight of the car and bias-ply tires. The car did the quarter mile in under 17 seconds at 86 mph; its top speed, with fuel, gear, and a 220-pound officer, was 131 mph. It had 12 x 2.5 inch non-fade brakes.

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The California Highway Patrol insisted on another 122 inch wheelbase Dodge patrol (perhaps not wanting the public to think it had over-spent on a luxury brand) and got 1,220 custom Polaras, outfitted with the 383 low-block Dodge V8, rated at 330 horsepower.

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1961 was the last year of the "Chrysler lion," a theme echoed in engine names such as "Golden Lion."


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As the top of the line Chrysler Corporation car, the Imperial got a variety of standard and optional features not available on run of the mill cars. These included a remote control mirror, automatic headlamp dimmer, pushbutton heater/air conditioner, power, locks, and vents, "auto pilot" cruise control, power antenna with touch-tuner radio, and six-way power seat. The cruise had a dial that would lock in a specific speed in these years; it also provided "back pressure" on the pedal when the driver went over the set-and-locked speed. More common options included a Sure-Grip differential, rear window defogger, tinted glass (including a shaded rear window), swivel seats, and single and dual air conditioning systems (with newly redesigned ducts).

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Imperials moved to Warren with the 1961 models, and back to Jefferson Avenue during 1961, with the 1962 models; the Graham/DeSoto/Imperial plant was sold. Curtis Redgap wrote, "The Imperial had gotten rid of its 'toilet seat' rear deck, but, had acquired some odd styling quirks like free standing headlights, along with taillights that looked like they had been stuck on the car as an afterthought. The fins soared higher than ever on the 61. They didn't resemble a luxury car. More like a garish testament to better times."

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1961 Dodge trucks

The D series, the first pickup entirely styled under Virgil Exner, was launched in 1961. Compared with the C series, the wheelbase of each model grew by about six inches, while the frames grew stronger and added a cross member. The truck moved to the industry's standard 34 inch cross members, straight frame rails, wider and longer leaf springs, and stronger front and rear axles, so that one-ton models had a 10,000 GVW rating. This made the trucks harder to drive and hurt handling, but increased capacity and durability under tough conditions.

On the light duty models, the overall height dropped by seven inches, matching the popular "long and low look" (especially with the stylish Sweptline pickups). One new truck was actually labeled Dart, after the Dodge car, to show how car-like the new trucks were (the name was only used in 1961). Town Panel and Town Wagon continued with the old styling and 1960 design, though they got the new 114 inch wheelbase.

Two new engines replaced the flat-head sixes on most models - the tough and advanced (for the time) slant six, producing 101 horsepower from 170 cubic inches or 140 horsepower from 225 cubic inches. The 170 was an option only for the lightest duty model (D100), while the 225 was standard across the board - meaning you could buy a one-ton truck with a 140 horsepower engine, and that was an improvement over the L-heads of years past. A new heavy duty New Process A745 transmission became the standard for half and three quarter ton models.

The 1960 heavy duty models carried over, having just been redesigned.

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In addition to the slant sixes, Chrysler's latest technological wonder, the alternator, was added to its trucks in 1961. This was a major advance, because it did not cook batteries like generators, yet were able to charge the battery during idle. New manual transmissions were added, as well, with greater capacities; a four speed automatic was also available.

The unique Power Wagon, sticking to its 1940s basic design, gained a 251-cube Six, and a Chrysler alternator with optional Leece-Neville alternator. The 251 had replaceable hardened exhaust valve seats, full flow filtering, and full pressure oiling, and was rated at 115 hp at 7:1 compression until 1966.

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Dodge sold 140 basic models, and the gross vehicle weight range went from 4,250 lb to 76,800 pounds, including school buses and tandems.

Overall, Chrysler sold around 40,147 trucks in the U.S. for the calendar year 1961; they produced 64,886 total (sales in other countries account for much of the difference). This was an 8% fall in sales from the prior year, putting Dodge into fifth place for truck sales; and a strike at Warren in December lowered production, but in August 1961 Dodge had been given government contracts for 10,254 trucks, mainly military vehicles, with 1,751 Postal Service walk-in forward control trucks (with slant six and automatic).


For 1960, a new Rambler was launched; it continued into 1961 mostly unchanged. There was no 1961 Rebel, and the curvy American model was completely restyled with a linear shape; the big Ambassador got a "European style" front end.

American and Classic were available only with the 195.6 cid six, with single-barrel carb or optional two-barrel Power Pak. Ambassador was powered by the 327 cid V-8. Metropolitan was still sold; importing stopped in 1960 or 1961. AMC's Brampton plant was opened in December 1960 and saw its first full year in 1961; it lasted through 1994, and was sold to Wal-Mart and converted to a warehouse.


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The Fleetvan, developed for the Post Office, was available to buyers outside the post office starting in 1961; the Surrey was temporarily dropped, and the four-cylinder one-ton 4x4 stake truck was permanently gone; but the Perkins diesel engine was made available to Jeep buyers for the first time (it developed 60 hp, gross, at 3,000 rpm, with 143 lb-ft @ 1,350 rpm). A dual rear wheel option was created for 1961 FC-170 buyers.

Today's buyers associate Jeep most closely with what was then called the Universal, which was sold in three basic flavors: CJ-3B, CJ-5, and CJ6. The various CJs ranged in weight from 2,132 to 2,225 pounds, astounding light by today's standards - not just for four wheel drive vehicles, but for any cars or trucks - and they had a gross vehicle weight of 3,500 pounds, giving them a hefty payload.

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The CJ-3B, used in the Operation Pineapple, was the oldest of the range. Most CJ6 models were exported, largely to Sweden and South America, or used by the U.S. Forest Service; it had a 20-year run, ceasing production in 1975. The Universal and Dispatcher were manual-transmission only in 1961, and could only fit a four-cylinder (V6 engines would be used in later years).

Servo-type drum brakes were used on all wheels, with bonded linings and ten inch drums. Springs were variable rate for a good combination of smooth ride (for an off-roader) and high capacity. Metal tops and metal cabs were sold.

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Not much was standard on the Universal: oil filter, oil bath air cleaner, anti-freeze, windshield wipers (without a washer), closed crankcase ventilation, front driver's seat, 35-amp alternator, and single lever transfer case. Even direction signals were optional. The frame had heavy steel channel sides with six cross-members.

The DJ (Dispatcher) was similar to the Universal, but had a lower grille and hood line, special suspension, single bucket seat, rear-drive only, and different gearing; it was a courier vehicle that could brave snow and unpaved roads, without needing the extra armor or bulk for snow plowing, farm duties, or rock crawling. The DJ was mainly used by the Post Office, and many came with right hand drive and a rearview mirror on the left hand side, by the front of the hood; a full cab enclosure with sliding doors and a rear door could be added. DJ models starting at 1,769 pounds for the soft-top model. The F-head four would not fit under the hood, so the old, less powerful L-head engine was used (thanks, S. Cook).

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The Jeep Fleetvan, available to the general public in 1961, was essentially the DJ Dispatcher with a van body; their basic look continued onward to the later AM General postal vans. All were made in Toledo. The FJ-3 had an 81 inch wheelbase and 135 inch length, and was 90 inches tall and 65 inches wide; no room was wasted on a separate hood. The F-head four was used, unlike the DJ.

Forward Control trucks were had pickup beds or Jeep-tested-and-endorsed specialized bodies from other suppliers including tow trucks, fire trucks, and even dump trucks. Mahindra produced FC-150 models in India, after assembling Jeeps from knockdown kits starting in 1947. The FC-150 was powered by a four cylinder, the FC-170 by a six; both were available in chassis-cab, pickup, and stake forms, in four wheel drive only.

The F4-134 series of four-cylinder, trucks included chassis-cab and delivery trucks in the half-ton range, with chassis-cab and pickup trucks in the one-ton range. L6-226 trucks were sold as delivery and wagon in half-ton form, rear or four wheel drive; and as one-ton 4x4s in chassis-cab, pickup, and stake form.
The heaviest truck weighed a mere 3,564 pounds (the FC-170 stake truck).

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Jeep also made station and utility wagons, essentially the same design introduced in 1946 (rear wheel drive; 4x4s came in 1947). The Station Wagon was rear wheel drive, and the Utility Wagon was four wheel drive; a Panel Delivery was also made, with windows deleted. These closely related models stayed in the Jeep lineup until 1965. The four cylinder was standard, with an optional six cylinder, and 1,000 pounds of cargo capacity. One of these wagons can be seen in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

The F-head Hurricane four cylinder engines displaced 134.2 cid; they produced 70-72 hp at 4,000 rpm and 114 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, with intake valves in the head (fed by a Carter YF carburetor) and exhaust valves in the block itself. This engine was used in all CJs and F4-134 one-ton trucks (high compression) and FC-150 trucks (high compression); a slightly more powerful version (75 hp, 115 lb-ft) was used in Fleetvan, with the same 7.4:1 compression ratio. All used Carter YF single-barrel carburetors and had three main bearings and F-type heads, with 2-inch intake valves. Exhaust valve rotation was used to avoid burning.

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Heavier trucks used the Hurricane L-head straight-six with 226 cid of displacement and a 6.86:1 compression ratio, producing 115 hp at 3,650 rpm and 190 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm. It used a Carter one or two barrel carburetor. Stellite valves with exhaust rotation were used for durability, while chromium plated rings kept oil use down.

Jeep military vehicles

The Willys M170, from which the CJ6 was derived, replaced the molder M38 starting in 1959. This Jeep was used as an ambulance and six-man Marine troop carrier; just 6,500 were made. Starting in 1961, the M151 took over, built by Jeep and Ford through 1984; it had independent front and rear trailing arms and had many more rollovers, prompting the installation of seat belts and a rollover protection system.

The now-defunct m-678-dot-com noted that military versions of the FC trucks (M-676, M-677, M-678, and M-679) ran the gamut from re-powered civilian truck with minor modifications, to re-bodied versions (ambulance, carry-all/van, and four door crew cab with abbreviated bed); all were functionally similar to their civilian counterparts, except for the engine, heavier-duty bumpers, and far greater instrumentation. Instead of the Super Hurricane straight six engine, the military Jeeps used a three-cylinder two-cycle loop-scavenged 85-horsepower diesel with 170 lb-ft of torque at 1,900 rpm. Without intake or exhaust valves, camshaft, or timing chain, this engine had fewer adjustments and presumably higher freedom from breakdown, as well as (presumably) better gas mileage.

Both the military trucks and
civilian FC-170s used a Warner T-90a three speed, Spicer model 18 transfer case, and Spicer model 44 front and 53 rear axles. These models had a top speed around 45-50 mph, partly due to the axle ratios and tire sizes; the civilian models were not much faster.

1961 Chrysler, Dodge, and Plymouth Racing

Chrysler used the same performance package for Daytona's top speed trials in 1961 as in 1960, except that a corporate three speed manual transmission replaced the four speed Pont-a-Mousson transmission. Pont-a-Mousson wanted to sell hundreds of transmissions to Chrysler each year, not just a handful.

Gregg Ziegler finished first at 143 MPH but 300G's would have finished 1, 2, 3 and 4 however windshield moldings blew off three of the cars and they were disqualified. You have to finish the run with all the parts. The 5th and 6th place cars were probably standard production automatic transmission 300G's. (Second through fourth place ended up going to Chevrolets.)

Separately, Bob Osiecki's Chrysler-powered "Mad Dog IV," set a world speed record of 181.561 MPH at Daytona International Speedway, largely through aerodynamic improvements; this would have definite consequences, with Russ Shreve renting the University of Michigan wind tunnel in 1965 on behalf of J.C. Penney's nascent racing car. Jim Amick was the aerodynamics expert, and his 1965 report would recommend a wing; builder Jim Hall would eventually see the report, leading to the Dodge Charger Daytona.

This was the year both Richard and Lee Petty crashed at Daytona, both due to being hit by out of control GM cars. Lee's crash was far worse, effectively ending his career; Richard was put in charge.

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Joe Godec wrote for the Plymouth Bulletin: "In 1961, the Ramchargers wanted to get into stock dragging so they set up a Dart after Plymouth turned them down. Their 413 was probably similar externally to the 300 F and G Specials, but according to Hot Rod, the 1961 Dart that they took to the NHRA Nationals at Indy had the "short" long rams of the Specials, but its cam was a 292 degree duration jobber (an RC-92 with solid lifters -- imagine adjusting those with the long rams!) and 12.5- or 13-1 compression Forged True pistons. NHRA allowed all kinds of parts then to be used if they were factory approved." [Read Ramcharger Mike Buckel's story.]

Don Johnson, who was to meet fame driving "Beachcomber" dragsters, moved from a flathead-powered dragster to an unblown 300 cid Mopar fueler built with Roy Fjastad. The pair ran the machine during the year winning their share of races; in 1962 they added a blower and set a Bonneville record of 272 mph.

Engines and Brakes

Chrysler continued with the "center plane" brake system that had been innovative in 1956, but now inadequate, with the additional engine power. Valiant and Lancer were the only Chrysler cars with the far superior Bendix brake system. Not only did the Bendix use one wheel cylinder per brake and give far better performance, but it eliminated the driveshaft parking/emergency brake that Chrysler had been using since the 1930s. In fairness, GM and Ford's brakes were no better.

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In 1961 and 1962, there was a slant six die-cast aluminum cylinder block program; after around 47,000 engines were built with aluminum blocks, the program was cancelled due to high costs.

A competition engine, the Hyper-Pak featured a much more radical cam, intake, and carb; steel tubing exhaust headers; higher compression pistons; and a special tuned exhaust system. Advertised at 195 hp, Hyper-Pak engines are often said to put out even more power. They were the rulers of the lower stock classes at the drag races. The Hyper-Pak was available as a dealer-installed or user-installed option.

Slant six crankshafts were forged castings from 1961-1968, using a small pilot 1.960 od/ 1.530 id. Jerry Engle wrote, "Connecting rods from 1961 to pre 1976 are all forged and are excellent for a power build up. A lot of horsepower can be obtained by installing oversize valves and blending the bowl areas."

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Richard Bowman noted that the 361 DeSoto Turboflash version of the B engine went from a 10:1 compression ratio in 1960 to a 9:1 compression ratio in 1961, without losing performance (it had 265 gross hp in 1961) because the compression change was accompanied by enlarged intake valves. This let owners use regular gas instead of premium.

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The carburetor was a two-barrel Stromberg WWC (3-188), whose rubber-tipped needle valve made it less sensitive to flooding; it had a two-stage jet for better flow at cruising speeds, replacing 1960's three-stage metering rod (shown below)

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1961 was also the first year for closed crankcase ventilation, then used only on cars sold in California, to painlessly reduce smog. A flexible tube connected a valve and a carburetor fitting just below the throttle blades into which the crankcase vapors were drawn by suction. From here they were drawn into the intake manifold for burning, leaving fewer vapors to be discharged into the atmosphere. All cars now use this system, adapted for fuel injection.

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According to Joe Godec, writing in the Plymouth Bulletin, the "SonoRamic Commando Power" badge carried through from 1960, but moved from the front quarter panels to the right-lower corner of the rear deck lid. Some were installed at the factory and some installed by the dealer, and the buyer could leave it off to have a "sleeper." Dealers or the factory workmen would use a template, or "eyeball" it into position.

For 1961, the 361 SonoRamic Commando was dropped and the 413 brought in, with 375 horsepower on the "long tube" version; the rare "short tube" engines were rated at 400 hp. Chrysler had a three-speed manual with a column shift, but a Torqueflite could generally outperform it thanks to its faster launch.

Despite the proven principle of ram induction, the smaller 1962 models sounded the death knell of the long tubes in Plymouth (and Dart) since the wide manifolds couldn't fit. Today, those tuned ports are used in virtually every engine.

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Chrysler engineers designed the third generation of the turbine and introduced it in three different vehicles starting on February 28, 1961.

The first was an experimental sports car called the Turboflite. Other advanced ideas of the car were the retractable headlights, a deceleration air-flap suspended between two stability struts, and an automatic canopied roof. This car received wide public interest at auto shows in New York City, Chicago, London, Paris, etc. The other vehicles were a near-stock 1960 Plymouth Belvedere, and two-and-a-half-ton Dodge truck. Why these turbines weren't used in 1961 models was never explained. Later, a third-generation turbine would be fitted into a 1962 Dodge truck.

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After months of test and development work, a CR2A gas turbine engine was installed in a modified 1962 Dodge called the Dodge Turbo Dart. Styling was adapted to reflect its power plant; the bladed wheel motif of the grille and wheel covers reflected the appearance of the vital components of the gas turbine.

The car left New York City on December 27, 1961, to begin a coast-to-coast engineering evaluation. After traveling 3, 100 miles through snowstorms, freezing rain, subzero temperatures and 25 to 40 mile per hour head winds, it arrived in Los Angeles just four day slater.
The turbine exceeded expectations; every part of the engine was in excellent condition, and gas mileage was better than the "chase" car.

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The key to the performance and economy of turbine was its new variable turbine nozzle mechanism, which provided optimal results through the entire operating range. The first turbine engine had an acceleration lag of seven seconds from idle to full-rate output; the second engine required three seconds to achieve maximum vehicle acceleration, while this new engine required less than one and one-half seconds to accomplish the same performance.

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Chrysler president "Tex" Colbert resigned in midyear; Lynn Townsend followed him as president, and quickly gained fame for cutting corporate fat, ending corrupt deals, and instigating Chrysler's involvement in muscle cars.

Airtemp developed (for 1962 sale) a new 35,000 BTU room air conditioner, designed to cool entire houses.

Amplex developed new metal-based friction materials for automotive use; at the time, it had plants in Trenton (MI) and Detroit. A government contract led to a new dry lubricant, and a new material which could operate, unlubricated, in rubbing contact up to 1,200° F without appreciable wear was developed and used in the turbine regenerator.


1961 Sales

In 1960, Chrysler International sales hit 81,470; in 1961, they were 70,886 (excluding Simcas and vehicles shipped to North America). This included some 50,394 units imported from the United States, the largest number of such imports since 1957. Chrysler International also sold Simcas in some markets, to maintain a full line of vehicles.

Vehicle Locomotive Machine Factory

Chrysler Canada sold almost exactly 53,000 cars and trucks, down somewhat from 1960, but maintaining a 14% car market share (down from 15%) and a 9% truck market share (up from 8%). Parts and accessory sales were the highest in Chrysler history.

Chrysler tried to sell Mopar parts the way Motorcraft and Delco were sold, making Mopar replacements for other carlines, for the first time; the project did not succeed.

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Military and Space

Defense and space accounted for $181 million of revenue, or 9% of total sales. Chrysler built the last of its Redstone missiles in 1961; due to age of their design, some were sold to Australia for their space program. Still, Redstones launched America's two space explorers (Alan Shepard and Virgil Grissom) in the nation's first manned sub orbital flights, and in November, NASA announced that Chrysler had been contracted to build 20 Saturn S-1 boosters. Redstones made by Chrysler had a 95% successful-flight rate, while Jupiter firings were all successful.

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The Warren plant, which made the Redstone missiles, also built some Jupiter C missiles and the first stage of the Saturn booster.

Russian Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961, spurring the American space effort; by September 1961, Chrysler began to move in to a huge plant in Michoud, since the massive Saturn rockets would not fit in Warren.

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Chrysler received two contracts to produce M-60 combat tanks in Warren, and Airtemp got contracts for fire control systems; $59 million was awarded for making military trucks. Defense Operations also got a contract from the FAA for 20 airport mobile lounges at Dulles International Airport, to move passengers from terminal to plane.

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Other projects included:

  • The 25-ton Mobile Floating Assault Bridge Ferry, which formed a bridge or ferry as needed
  • Marsh Amphibian, a limited warfare vehicle designed for the Navy that could move over snow, swamps, or marshes, running on two pontoons with spiral blades
  • XM-410E1, a prototype successor to the XM-410 truck
  • Light Armored Car, a mobile 7.5 ton vehicle
  • Various Dodge military trucks

Research by the Missile Division included programs for tactical and intercontinental missiles, reentry vehicles for the Air Force, a Navy sea launch program, and electro-optical systems.

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Chrysler International

Chrysler International expanded operations in Argentina and Australia, and increased dealer count to over 1,200 outlets in 120 countries. Total sales were 70,886 units, compared with 81,470 in the prior year, excluding Simcas (Chrysler owned just 25% of SIMCA). Vehicles exported from the US and Canada rose 6%, and were the majority of international sales; local plants included Rotterdam, Venezuela, Australia, the UK, and South Africa, with interests in Mexico (Automex) and Argentina.

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Over in England, the Series 2 PA van - later to be renamed Spacevan - was launched with a 1.6 liter engine.

In South Africa, the Valiant and Lancer appeared (the latter sold as the "DeSoto Rebel"). The local Valiant R series were not sold until January 1962 though assembly started in 1961.

Chrysler's Rotterdam plant, purchased from Kaiser-Frazer, stopped making Simcas at the end of 1961; the line was dropped because of the end of import duties on cars made in other European countries, eliminating the need for separate production. Rotterdam appeared to have a harder time with unibody construction, but the new Valiant and Lancer compacts were popular and became a plant mainstay.

Simca, the largest privately owned automobile manufacturer in France, made the last Simca Vedette at Poissy; the assembly lines were dismantled and Simca installed 9 kilometers of conveyors and 500 new machines for a new car.

On July 27, production of the highly successful Simca Mille started. The Simca 1000 had Gemmer worm-and-roller steering, four drum brakes, and 5.60 x 12 tires; weighing just 1,584 pounds, with a wheelbase of 86.6 inches and a length of 149.6 inches, it was a genuine four seat/four door car, and would quickly become France's most popular.

SIMCA in 1961 had a 20% passenger-car market share, with 203,300 cars made, 22% exported out of the franc zone. Once the engineers had completed the Mille, they went to work on a new car - the front wheel drive Simca 1100, the car which would spawn imitators at GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and Chrysler itself - possibly one of the most influential cars ever made.

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