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Plymouths for 1973: just before the crisis

by Lanny Knutson. Copyrighted by the Plymouth Bulletin. Reprinted by permission.

It was the last full model year of "cheap gas" before the OPEC oil embargo of late 1973 brought change to the industry forever. Although fuel economy was not the preoccupation it would be in succeeding years, several other concerns of the future, specifically regarding safety and the environment, were addressed.


Chrysler's famous Electronic Ignition System became standard across the board this year. Introduced on a limited basis in 1971, it was being installed on all engines late in the 1972 model year. The points and condenser-less system provided up to 35% more voltage that improved cold weather starting and reduced misfiring. Also helping reduce emissions was the Cleaner Air System which featured an exhaust gas recirculation system that routed a varied volume of exhaust gas to the incoming fuel/air mixture to lower peak burn temperatures. Also included were an orifice spark advance and an electric assist choke.

This was also the Year of the Bumper when bumpers able to withstand 5 mph front and 2.5 mph rear impacts were mandated by law. Although the bumpers had to be set two inches further from the body than on previous models, Plymouth did a better job of integrating them into overall styling than some other manufactures managed to do.

Backing up the bumpers were a full-width reinforcement beam and heavy-gauge steel support structure. Notable were the elastomeric guards designed to keep the bumper from slipping over or under another car's bumpers during a low-speed collision. The new bumper requirements led to significant front end styling changes to the Fury, Satellite and Valiant series with the first two losing their distinctive loop bumpers, resulting in a far more subdued appearance. (Interestingly, sibling rival Dodge's Charger managed to keep its loop bumper.)

For greater braking performance, disc brakes were made standard on all cars except the six-cylinder Valiants, and even for these cars, they were optionally available. Power assist was standard on all Furys, Duster 340s, and all wagons. Another sign of things to come was the Security Alarm System available on the Fury series.

Chrysler's corporate production increased 13.1 % over 1972, bettering the overall industry's 9.5% improvement and garnering an industry share of 15.55 percent Although doing even better with a 21.2% improvement in sales, Plymouth remained stuck in the No. 6 industry position.

1973 Plymouth Fury

Although extensively restyled the previous year, the standard size Fury received a new hood, grille, bumper and fender caps. For the first time in five years, hidden headlights were not an option. Each quad light had its own bright bezel and was set in a body color panel with a wide radiator-shape grille residing between them. The grille's fine horizontal bar texture extended into bumper cutout openings.

To add some character to the much plainer front end, a prominent wide arrow-shaped raised center section was stamped into the hood. The taillights were changed significantly to vertical elongated teardrop-shaped units arising out of the bumper corners. Somehow, they bring to mind 1957. A single-unit rectangular backup light resided in the upper center of a massive chromed bumper.

Front vent windows were back--on four-door sedans only--as an extra-cost option. They had last appeared in 1970... as standard equipment.

New on the option list was a security alarm system. When either of the front power door locks--a mandatory option with the system--were activated, the system was armed. If the doors, hood, trunk or ignition were tampered with, the horn would blow intermittently and the headlights, taillights and side marker lights would flash.

Together with the new 5 mph front and 2.5 mph rear bumpers were new side-impact steel beams installed in the doors for side-impact safety.

As in 1972, the Fury was a V8-only series. The 318 was standard on all models except the Sport Suburban in which the 360 was standard. Other engines available were the 400 2 barrel and 440 4 barrel.

The Fury I was limited to a single four-door sedan. Fury II had only the sedan and the Suburban wagon. The largest line was the Fury III with the sedan, hardtop coupe and sedan, and two and three-seat Custom Suburban wagons. The Gran Fury came as a hardtop coupe and sedan as well as two Sport Suburbans. The Fury Special was a striking mid-year trim package that featured dark metallic chestnut paint, a parchment vinyl roof and bodyside moldings, a color-keyed interior with shag carpeting and "tapestry" cloth seat inserts and a requisite standup hood ornament.

Plymouth Satellite for 1973

Plymouth toned down the frontal appearance of its mid and full size offerings by lopping off the loop bumpers in favor of the more conventional grille-over-bumper arrangement. The change was due more to government requirements for energy absorbing bumpers than to style considerations.

The Satellite coupes received new front sheet metal with slightly slanted headlights surrounded by a bright rectangular bezel. Between was a grille consisting of a double row of rectangles with parking lights set in the lower outer corner. The window edge of the C-pillar was moved into a nearly vertical position. The lower body character ridge was eliminated. The taillights still resided in the rear bumpers, but as inset ovals.

The Plymouth Satellite Sebring may have been created to compete with the Chevrolet Monte Carlo. They added 38 extra square feet of sound-deadening material to create its "Super-Quiet" ride. Plush wide-pleat upholstery and other ornamentation completed the package.

The Road Runner had a large "power bulge" with simulated vents on the forward corners. Stripes on the sides identified the engine size. When a 440 engine was installed, the stripe read "440 GTX." Although the separate GTX model was dead, its name lingered as the 440 package for the Road Runner. The Road Runner engine selection ran from the 318 through the 340, 400 and 4 and 6 barrel 440s. The horsepower ratings of all were down due to emissions and fuel economy considerations.

The mid-sized Satellite sedans continued with their own 117" wheelbase - two inches longer than the coupe version. The top line wagon was called Regent, borrowed from Canadian Plymouth-bodied Dodges of the 1950s. For 1973, with no sheet metal changes, Satellite sedans were given a new grille inset. A surface-level, argent colored panel had a center oval cutout for an egg crate patterned grille that was deeply recessed at the ends for a more formal appearance. The backup lenses were altered into a rectangular pair per side, and flanking the license plate were heavy rubber bumper guards.

1973 Plymouth Valiant

A significant frontal change brought a new appearance to 1973 Valiants. A new hood was matched by the wide raised center section of a new three-segment grille flanked by squared headlight bezels. Below was a massive bumper.with large rubber guards designed to meet more stringent protection requirements. Large single-unit taillamps were shaped to flow with the Duster's rear sheet metal contours. The other Valiants remained unchanged from the rear.

There were four Valiants in 1973: the mini-muscle Plymouth Duster 340, slant-six or 318-powered Plymouth Duster, Valiant sedan, and Scamp hardtop (essentially a Dart Swinger).

In addition to the returning Twister and Gold Duster were the new Space Duster and the Special Coupe packages. The Space Duster revived the old Barracuda concept of a folding rear seat and fully carpeted trunk and cargo space that could extend to 6.5 feet. A sliding sun roof was optionally available for the car.

The Special Coupe was intended to be a luxury Duster. Pleated vinyl seats, a full vinyl roof and vinyl-insert side trim enhanced the upscale package which also included the Spacemaker Pak created for the Space Duster.

The 340 returned as the engine exclusive to the Duster 340. The standard six for all other models was the 198, reduced to 95 horsepower. The 225 six and 318 V8 continued as the other available engines. Valiant production rose to 402,805, approximately 265,000 of which were Dusters. Another 2,614 hardtops were reportedly built for Canada, although no proof of their existence is found in Canadian sales literature.

Plymouth Barracuda returning for 1973

The Barracuda was still around as a two-car series of base and 'Cuda hardtop coupes. The side marker light positions were slightly changed. About the only other visible differences were a 'Cuda body-side stripe that had a flat bottom edge and the new impact-absorbing black rubber bumper guards. The latter didn't detract much from the lines of the original thin-line bumpers. But then, they didn't offer much extra protection either, except in head (or tail-) on situations.

This was a V8-only series this year with the 318 as the standard engine in both the Barracuda and 'Cuda models and a detuned 340--in its final year--optional in both models. Included with the 340 was a non-functional twin scoop hood whether the engine was installed in the Barracuda or 'Cuda. It could also could be ordered with a flat black pattern treatment.

Standard 'Cuda features were the scooped hood, heavy duty suspension, F7Ox14 tires and a 7-blade Torquefan. But if you ordered a 340 in your base Barracuda, you'd also get these features. So what was the difference between a 340 Barracuda and a 340 'Cuda? Not much. It seems only 'Cudas got a body color grille and a black rear valence panel. That's one difference. Also, if you wanted all the high-performance appearance features and suspension with a 318 engine, you could get them only if you ordered a 'Cuda.

Bucket seats were standard this year. A console and the Rallye Cluster instrument panel remained optionally available.

Although greatly downplayed from its splashy 1970 introduction, the Barracuda-Cuda series rebounded to a 22,213 sales total, up from the 18,450 sold in 1972 but less than half the 55,499 1970 total.


The British-built sub-compact entered the year as part of Plymouth's lineup, offered in four-door sedan and wagon models. Poor sales and reputation resulted in the Hillman Avenger clone being quietly dropped before year's end.

Plymouth must have been lusting after Dodge's fast-selling sub-compact Colt built in Japan by Mitsubishi. But Dodge wasn't about to the U.S. at least. In Canada, where it operated more as a single entity, Chrysler Canada quickly transferred Cricket nameplates to the Mitsubishi car. To distinguish this Cricket from the earlier edition, the new version was called the Plymouth Cricket OHC, the initials referring to the overhead cam four-cylinder hemi engine. In addition to the Plymouth nameplates, the Japanese Cricket was distinguished from its Dodge Colt twin by a different grille texture and taillight trim. The sporty bucket seat edition, called the Colt GT by Dodge, was christened "Formula S" by Plymouth, reviving a designation from Barracudas past.

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