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Inside Chrysler: the 1962 cars

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

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Lynn Townsend lent an air of quiet fortitude to the Chrysler Presidency, and things began to calm down. Townsend was responsible for the emergency facelift of the 1962 Chrysler cars, the quick creation of the Dodge 880, and the restyle of the Imperial. The big car was still garish, but it had an air of subdued power, even with its quirky stand free headlights and tacked-on taillights. Townsend also ordered up a complete remake of the 1963 cars. Again, Design was tasked to the limit. The lights stayed on in the studios for double shifts.

1962 was a good year for the Chrysler brand cars. The facelift of the 1961 models, ordered by Lynn Townsend, resulted in one of the best designs of the entire decade. However, poor Plymouth, wearing Newberg-ordered "downsized" styling, saw its sales head right down to the dumpster. We never experienced such a complete rejection of a car design.... unless it was worn by the 1962 Dodge. They were a sorry looking lot, and the butt of countless jokes. [See Chrysler Corporation 1962: The 1962 Chrysler products fiasco and Flite Wing - What might have been, by Chrysler designer John Samsen]

DeSoto was gone. For a time, the Board looked at a possible revival of DeSoto, but the design was based upon the same modified "S" series as the current 1962 Plymouth and Dodge. The board decided that two wrongs couldn't possibly become any more of a hit, and Townsend agreed; that was the final chapter in DeSoto's history.

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The late September 1961 introduction of the 1962 Chrysler models signaled the end of a turbulent era. Lynn Townsend, an accountant, had taken over the office of President, and Tex Colbert and William Newberg left. In November 1961, Lynn Townsend succumbed to demands from board members, stockholders, and dealers, and fired Virgil Exner. In a conciliatory gesture, he had Exner stay on board as a consultant to the new head designer.

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Elwood Engle had worked in the Lincoln design area at Ford; when he arrived and met Exner, the 1963 cars had pretty much been done. Plymouth had been up to the final designs in metal, and Engle told Townsend, "I am not changing anything." Exner had designed the entire corporate line one last time, but he would be long gone before the 1963s went on sale.

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Opening night of the 1962 model year was subdued. With the lousy look of the Plymouth and Dodge, Dad decided to keep things low key. For the second year in a row, my grandpa elected not to come up - and did not select a new car (now Dad was becoming concerned.) No band or hullabaloo would move these oddball cars.

Worsening matters, marketing had again lost its grip on the corporate structure. Dodge lost its traditional medium-priced car; the biggest Dodge rode on a 116 inch wheelbase, the same as a Plymouth. This would change, and quickly.

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DeSoto was dead and gone, but Chrysler had already moved down to fill that with a lower priced model; the resulting Chrysler Newport's sales stayed high.

The car that Dad had not wanted to see get built in 1959, appeared in 1962: the "Chrysler 300." The 300 was a sport model of the Newport; it signalled the end of the era of the Chrysler 300 as a pure performance car. Dad felt it was corporate greed with the same shortsightedness as the Plymouth Fury - especially since, optioned out, it would be faster than the 300H, with an engine combination that was not available on the H.

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NASCAR had increased its engine limit to 7 liters (427 cubic inches); Chevrolet and Ford were both developing 427 cubic inch engines for the 1963 season. In 1962, no one except Pontiac (421) came near that range, although Chrysler was close at 413. Chrysler responded by boring out the 413 to 426 cubic inches, resulting in an engine that outwardly looked exactly like the 413, but pushed out 365 gross horsepower witih a single four-barrel carburetor. It was only officially offered on the 300.

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The 300H with its non-ram twin 4 barrel carbs got a 380 horsepower label, but could also be ordered with a 15 inch set of ram tubes (405 horsepower); if the right option box was checked, you could have gotten it with the 30 inch long ram tubes. That engine was not rated. The same applied to the 426 cubic inch version. To my knowledge, no one ever did order such cars. If there are any, of either engine size, with the 30 inch tubes, they would be truly a priceless piece.

The showroom traffic was not bad on opening night. Most people wanted to see the ugly twins that Chrysler had wrought. However, Mrs. Beacheum came down with her '61 Plymouth and traded it in on a '62 model. That was one sale.

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Dad picked out a new Chrysler New Yorker. He couldn't talk Mom into giving up her Valiant, though.

Valiant and Lancer were another set of corporate twins, as a result of Dodge crying and corporate giving in to the whining. It gladdened me however, to see Valiant outselling the Lancer about 2.5 units to one! Served Dodge right. They again broke all the rules, promises, and agreements they had made previously.

Dodge moves back into big cars

W. C. Petersen, head of Dodge Division, went to the board and demanded a big car to replace the Polara. It was obvious by then that the public was rejecting the new, smaller Dodge. In an impassioned speech to the board, he ended his demand with, "Chrysler doesn't build a big car for Dodge, I will quit my job."

Given his attitude, I would have let him go. However, in just 11 weeks, Dodge again had a 122 inch wheelbase car for sale. The Dodge 880 was a Chrysler Newport from the cowl back, and the front clip came from dies of the 1961 Polara. It was a good effort, and a good car. It sold 17, 500 units in its shortened introduction year, but did not make it to market in time for it to be considered for the fleet bid business.

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Suddenly, we were gripped by a world crisis. The real fear of a nuclear confrontation ran throughout the country. New car models seemed insignificant during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and President Kennedy's usual smiling countenance was grim as the tension-filled two weeks went by. Dad bought a big console TV set and put it in the showroom, and people came and stood watching the unfolding details as the world stood at the brink of nuclear war. The TV in the showroom always drew a crowd.

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Fallout shelters, Civil Defense drills, and air raid warnings became the talk of the day. Police forces began plans for containment. Finally, near the end of October 1962, President Kennedy announced that the conflagration had been avoided; the Soviet Union was removing all its missiles from Cuba. People spoke and shouted with real relief.

The 1962 Christmas party was rather bleak. We were still shaky after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the country was slipping into internal turmoil as John and Bobby Kennedy started going after members of organized crime. No one talked about the Mafia, but we all knew about their work. Numbers. Betting parlors. Cigarettes that were not stamped. Liquor without the tax seals. I am not endorsing or condemning anything to do with that way of life, but it just was. You got along if you just went along.

In 1962, Plymouth ended up in 9th place in production; sadly, it slipped from seventh in 1961. They sold 339,814 Plymouths, 157,294 of which were Valiants - leaving just 182,523 "regular" Plymouths, the lowest number in decades. We managed to retail only 305 of them.

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An even bigger slide was, surprisingly, taken by Dodge, which sold both Plymouth-sized and Valiant-sized cars, along with the Dodge-sized 880. Only 160,238 were shipped, putting Dodge down to #12, lower than it had ever been as part of Chrysler. We managed to sell 233 of them.

The Chrysler car did well; over 128,921 Chryslers made the trip off the end of the production line. Dad had chosen one of the New Yorkers for his personal car that year. Newport sales alone were 83,120, and we sold 166 of them (Newport is one reason Chrysler sales were up and Dodge sales were down). The Dodge Custom 880, which was essentially a Newport, sold 17,505 cars in its short model run, 35 from our dealership.

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The Imperial continued with its lack of market penetration; 14,337 Imperials moved away from Detroit, and we managed to sell 28. We did not sell any 300H cars - and only 558 were built. There were 25,020 300s sold, 50 by us. That would validate the dilution of the 300 letter car (though it might have sold as well under any other name); but it marked the end of an era.

By the time of the Christmas party, the relief was already selling. The 1963 models had already been out for over two months! Thank God!

Engineering changes, engines, and fleet cars

For 1962, the Torqueflite transmission was built with an aluminum case, finally matching Valiant, and saving 60 pounds. Finally, the Torqueflite got a parking position. By pulling a small lever alongside the push buttons, internal fingers locked into the main spline shaft to keep the car from moving.

A new heating and ventilation system provided outside air, even when the car was not moving.

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Body jigs for welding improved the chassis stiffness by some 30%. Chrysler also adopted a front clip "sub frame" that was bolted onto the body, then welded it to the cowl. It resulted in a 350 pound weight saving, yet was torsionally stronger than anything prior. Tie rods, ball joints, and steering elements were now all factory sealed, resulting in a 32,500 mile stretch before they needed lubrication.

Plymouth and Dodge also finally got the Valiant-derived Bendix brakes. They were self adjusting, by means of a lever and pawl that worked when the car was backed up. The Bendix system also allowed Chrysler engineers to move the parking brake to operate off the rear wheel shoes, instead of the driveshaft where it had been for close to 30 years!

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There were still problems; instead of making the brakes bigger, the engineers made them smaller, which resulted in less swept area. Granted, the cast iron drums were flanged to maintain their rounded shape, and finned to dissipate heat quickly. However, they were small - 10 inches by 3 inches wide. They were barely adequate to haul the cars down to stop. The Pursuit package had 11 inches by 3 inches, which was better, but they also had the non-organic lining, so they would handle any sort of punishment you could throw at them and still keep on stopping. But, they were not great brakes. They did the job and no more. The scary thing is that both the Ford and Chevrolet cars of larger proportions and greater horsepower had smaller brakes!

Chrysler "cost controls" and dealer pressures

Things began to change, under Townsend. He was an accountant, remember. Suddenly, items for warranty repairs accountability tightened up. More forms. More proof the work was done. Several franchisees lost their ticket because they had been fast and loose with the warranty bills to Chrysler.

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Suppliers that the dealership used had to be approved now by Chrysler. Dad had always gone to the local NAPA store for parts. He found that in most cases they were equal to or superior to the MoPar division parts.

You can guess that getting something like that approved past Townsend's bean counters had a snowball's chance in Hell of getting by. Oil and filters, lubricants like grease, and other such items Dad always got from the local Quaker State oil supplier. Their product was always good, consistent throughout the USA, and they helped sponsor Cousin James when he got his contract with Cotton Owens to build engines for him. Chrysler began to demand that we purchase their MoPar items at 20% to 50% markup. Dad began to balk. That was a lot of money.

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Chrysler then moved in with a specified parts inventory. Whether you needed or used it or not, Chrysler demanded that it be available at your shop. Dad got hot about that. Dad always used Goodyear tires, and that is what he sold. Chrysler began to demand that we had a supply of OEM tires, whatever manufacturer they were using that week, so to keep the consistency of the product going. That meant Firestones, BF Goodrich and even Dunlops had to be on the shelf.

Chrysler then began to dictate inventory. Never mind what was selling or what you wanted. No way. Chrysler made up the list and that is what you got. Customer orders were scrutinized for the slightest error so they could be rejected to try to get the customer to take a car off the lot!

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I recall Dad raising hell with the order office in Highland Park because so many orders were being rejected, just out of hand. He finally called the Production Director and lit a fire under him since it was his area that was losing potential in business. No orders meant no production! You could hear the steam escaping right over the telephone. After that ordeal, things went back to near normal as far as getting a customer a car they wanted. The forced inventory also went away, at least for the direct dealers.

Sometimes, the sub-divisional guys caught a lot of what no one else wanted. As an example, a small guy out in a town of about 2,500 folks got five bright taxi-chrome-yellow four-door Plymouth Savoys. That wasn't so bad, except they were not taxi packages. They were meant for the Toronto Police Department in Canada. Because the interior was black and not tan, the Toronto Police rejected them.

No taxi company is going to buy a 361 cubic inch V-8 Police Pursuit! This poor guy didn't sell 5 Plymouths in a good year, let alone these bright yellow bananas! He refused them. Chrysler threatened to pull his ticket!

The guys were getting tough, instead of trying to help and be glad someone was out there pushing their junk. Finally, the sub spent $250 per car, his entire margin, and got them painted. The local Sheriff picked up two and three small-town police departments got real bargains. No guarantee on the paint!

Also see:

Other parts of this series

More by Curtis Redgap:

Chrysler HeritageHistory by YearChrysler People and BiosCorporate Facts and History

Chrysler 1904-2018

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