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Inside Chrysler: the 1960 cars

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I cannot make any claim to accuracy for the materials that I have used to make these articles. In some cases, the journals go back 50 years. - Curtis Redgap

by Curtis Redgap

The year roll-out for the 1960 Chrysler cars was on October 9, 1959. As told in the last segment, each of the "Big Three" automakers had a new, smaller companion cars to go along with their standard models.

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Chevrolet introduced the radical Corvair, with its aluminum six-cylinder rear-engine layout. Ford launched the conventional Falcon, with its coffee-grinder straight-six engine. Its sales took off for the stratosphere from the first night. Chrysler had its Valiant, conventional in layout, but extraordinary in features.

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Underneath nearly every car, the beauty was the first unit-body built by Chrysler. Engineers had discovered that the outer body panels did not have to be part of the inner structure; not understanding that was part of the reason why Hudson and earlier unit-body builders had so much trouble.

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The 1960 Imperial came off well in its redesign. It was smoother looking, but huge in proportions. The grille had a sort of contorted smile look to it, and detracted from the rest of the car; but in luxury items, the Imperial lacked for nothing. Power came from a 413 cubic inch engine with 350 horsepower, and a stump-pulling torque of 430 foot pounds at 2300 rpm.

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The new Chryslers were a work of art. The proportions were just right, and there was a square-jawed look that imparted masculinity. The fins were upswept and part of the design of the body line. The cars looked every bit as good as the 1957s had. About the only model that did not quite match to the new design were the four door hardtops; there seemed to be a styling conflict between the roof and the body where it meet with the sculptured side of the fin.

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DeSoto arrived dead at our store, though the 1960 was a fine looking car. It was attractive mainly because it looked like a Chrysler - way too much like a Chrysler. After so many years, Chrysler just did not know how to market poor DeSoto.

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The 1960 car had only two models, the 126 inch wheelbase Adventurer, which had given up all pretense of being an exclusive high-performance model (all the 126 inch wheelbase cars were Adventurers), and the 122 inch wheelbase Fireflites. The 126" wheelbase was shared with Chrysler, the 122" with Dodge. You had to ask, why bother?

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With the usual enthusiasm, ChryCo Board announced proudly that a "new alliance" had been created. Right after the introduction, they created the Chrysler-DeSoto-Plymouth Division. It was about all over except the burial.

Two engine sizes were available on DeSotos. The 361 cubic inch had a two barrel that put out 265 horses. You could get three different levels of performance with the 383, starting a two barrel version that had 295 horses, and a four barrel set up that delivered 325 horsepower. Like a slap in the face, the final humiliation was that you had to special-order the big engine for the Adventurer, where in the recent past, the Adventurer had come fully loaded. With two ram-inducted four-barrel carburetors, the top 383 was rated at 330 horsepower.

Sales were underwhelming. My Dad kept telling me not to back fill the slots that we had sold from inventory with the DeSoto models. He explained that if DeSoto wasn't killed off this year, we would be lucky to see it in 1961, and he was afraid that Chrysler wouldn't pay us for the fees we charged on a car that was "dead." Turned out he was right, and we still got stuck with three 1961s. Good ol Chrysler.

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And then there was Dodge in all its glory. Dodge went after Plymouth in a big way. It had do it, to ensure its own survival, but you would think a brother would be more considerate.

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Two sizes, no waiting. The new Plymouth-sized Dodge car was the Dodge Dart. It rode on a 118 inch wheelbase, and was sold in three levels of trim, from Seneca to Pioneer to Phoenix (Dodge arising from its own ashes in the low price class?) It was a good looking automobile.

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Still, Marketing blundered. The senior ("big") Dodges were not badged with the familiar names of Coronet, Royal, Custom Royal and Lancer. In their place were Matador and Polara, on the 122 inch wheelbase. They were styled like overdone Darts, but did not wear the design as well, and created confusion with customers, until they saw the Dart. Many thought the Dart was the new Plymouth! Ouch! Too bad it wasn't.

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Engine choices in the Dart started out with the new slant six. Chrysler engineers had made two versions of the overhead-valve canted six cylinder, one of which had a higher block and longer stroke; the new 225 was available across the board in any Dart, and would become the base engine for trucks (except Power Wagon), replacing the flat-head six. Chrysler also designed a Torqueflite transmission especially fitted to the slant six engine line.

The next step up was the now corporate-built 318 cubic inch two-barrel V-8, which had grown out of the rebore of the Canadian sourced 303. The 318 was introduced in 1957 as the high performance Fury engine. With the two barrel, the 318 had an output of 230 horsepower. A dealer-installed option was the Power Pak, a 4 barrel carburetor, dual exhausts, and a remade distributor. That raised power to 260 horsepower.

The next engine was the 361 cubic inch V-8. This could be had in the two barrel version with 265 horsepower. Or you could put a four barrel on it, with dual exhausts, and achieve 305 horsepower. There was also another option, not in the customer books, a dealer installed set of twin four-barrel carburetors on a special manifold. Previous editions of this same unit on other 361 engines claimed 340 horsepower. Marketing probably didn't want to detract from the ram induction concept.

Ultimate power was developed with the 361 and two ram-inducted four barrel carburetors that raised output to a claimed 310 horsepower.

Dodge raised a few eyebrows by making the 383 available in the Dart for Police Pursuit packages. The 383 with a 4 barrel put out 325 horsepower. With the twin 4 barrel ram inducted tubes on the 383 it reportedly developed 330 horsepower. This must have been a real screamer in a Dart! Yes, the 361 ram induction was also available as a police option. This was another bullet aimed at Plymouth's gut.

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The 1960 Plymouth was a sorry looking car, especially after the stupendous looks of the 1957. The massive grill had a frown look, while the soaring tail fins resembled sharks slipping along under water. Automotive wags, copying the 1957 ads touting that "suddenly it is 1960," said of the 1960, "suddenly it's 1957!" That is what it looked like - an attempt at revival of the outstanding 1957 lines. It didn't work.

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The front wheel well was topped off by a curvature that started at the tip of the headlamps and ended at the bottom of the wheel opening. It made no sense and detracted from the overall appearance of the Plymouth car.

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Underneath, the car was the same as the Dodge Dart, with the same wheelbase and slant six engine. Plymouth made that engine available on all models, except the Fury convertible and the big nine-passenger wagon, which had a base two-barrel 318. Dart did not have a corresponding station wagon.

The next step up was the 318, with the same Power Pak option. Unlike Dart, Plymouth skipped the 2 barrel 361, going right to the 305 horsepower 4 barrel engine, but it also offered the ram induction for the 361, which Plymouth named "Sonoramic Commando." (Who ever thought of these names....?)

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A late-year introduction was the Dodge built 383 cubic inch engine with a four barrel or ram induction with two four barrels. Chrysler needed more engine on NASCAR tracks for the Pettys to run, so they had to build so many 383 equipped cars. It didn't stop there.

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The 1960 model year was good to our store. The 1960 Christmas party in December was another classic. For the first time since 1929, however, the patriarch, my grandpa, was not there to celebrate with us. He had elected to stay in Florida this year. Instead, we took three weeks in February 1961 and went down to Florida to see him and my uncle in Ormond Beach. It was my first experience with stock car racing, Daytona high-banks style.

For 1960, we sold more Dodges than Plymouths, about 3 to 2. The only reason that production figures for Plymouth show a total of 447,724 units was because when the totals began to tally up, Dodge Dart had sold 324,160 units, all by itself! The senior Dodge sold 44,636 units for a total run of 368,528, the best year Dodge had ever had!

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Someone up in the accounting department remarked that the totals made Plymouth with 253,330 units sold, look really bad. To offset this, and soothe the wrinkled brows of the investors, it was decided at the last minute to include the Valiant production figures in the Plymouth totals. Valiant had a first year run of 194,394 cars.

We had sold 135 Chryslers, and 4 300 Fs. DeSoto was dead, and we only moved 23 DeSotos. Dodge Darts moved away from our store at about 20 per month for a total of 221 Darts. Big Dodges, we managed to move about five per month for a total of 62. Plymouths, we sold 167; Valiants, 154; Imperials, 18. All in all, not too bad a year, at 784 units total - roughly two per day.

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