Tag Archives: Dodge

Suddenly, it’s 1961!

A couple of recent bold car designs have been bothering me as of late, leaving me with a loose feeling of styling déjà vu.

The first design is the corporate SUPER GRILLE(!) of contemporary Lexus vehicles, what with its gaping proportions and pinched middle. The treatment was recently applied to the stalwart ES 350, giving the otherwise conservative sedan a dash of visual presence.

The other design is the new Nissan Murano, with its ultra-curvy flanks and unusually angled rear end architecture.

Where, oh where, had I seen these elements before?

Oh, yeah – in Chrysler Corporation’s awkward, identity-confused 1961 models. That year saw the company break free of the high-finned look that, while fresh and exciting when introduced in 1957, had become dated by 1960.

The Lexus grille brings to mind the jarring front of the 1961 Plymouth – a design that lasted one year and was compared to the face of an insect by some critics.

The Lexus ES 350, now with new grille (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

The Lexus ES 350, now with new grille (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

1961 Plymouth: a face not for forgetting.

1961 Plymouth: a face not for forgetting.

There’s much to look at in the Murano, but its rear haunches are strongly reminiscent of the 1961 Dodge and its odd, ‘reverse tailfin’ design.

Those concave body flares turned off buyers and even presented a safety risk to other motorists, thanks to the undersized, hard-to-spot taillights placed below them.

1961 Dodge Dart Seneca: a new (fin) direction (Image via)

1961 Dodge Dart Seneca: a new (fin) direction. (Image via)

2015 Nissan Murano (Image: Nissan Motor Company)

2015 Nissan Murano (Image: Nissan Motor Company)

Like the Plymouth, the design of the ’61 Dodge didn’t live to see another calendar year. It was an awkward time for the Big Three automakers,  each of whom was struggling to break free of the design direction of the past to bring to market a fresh, modern design for a new decade.

Some things don’t really change in business, and getting noticed is still paramount for automakers. It’s not surprising that some elements of the past have been resurrected, albeit unknowingly – after all, there’s only so many ways to bend sheet metal.


Mr. Belvedere

1966 Plymouth Belvedere, spotted in Aylmer, Quebec.

1966 Plymouth Belvedere, spotted in Aylmer, Quebec.

Call it a sleeper.

When people think of 1960s Chrysler Corporation collectibles, the mind usually turns (almost exclusively) to the years 1968 and ’69, and the hot muscle cars cranked out by Dodge and Plymouth.

Brash, in-your-face, and often sporting vivid colours to alert cops from afar, those rides oozed appeal but they aren’t – oh, what’s the word – subtle.

Go back a few years further, and you’d find there was still muscle to be had, only with a side of anonymity.

The 1966 Plymouth Belvedere is a good example of that – a car that could drag race on a country road but wouldn’t appear out of place in a church parking lot.

Inside this grandpa car lurks pure, raw POWER. Beware.

Inside this grandpa car lurks pure, raw POWER. Beware.

The Belvedere was Plymouth’s bread and butter midsize, sandwiched between the compact Valiant and the full-size Fury.

Spanning a number of body styles, the Belvedere line included the Belvedere I and II trim levels, as well as the top-level Belvedere Satellite, available only as a two door.

After spending the early 1960s in a state of confusion trying to figure out its styling direction, Chrysler Corp. entered 1966 with a firm commitment to the slab-sided look, which adorned everything from lowly Plymouths to top-end Imperials.

The razor-edged styling motif, which served to emphasize the vehicles’ length, continued until the Fuselage Era of 1969-1974.

1966 was also the year Chrysler began hitting the gym and showing off.

The fastback Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger bowed that year, the latter backed by a youth-oriented ‘Dodge Rebellion’ advertising campaign.

It's got the power. The top-level Belvedere engine made 425 horsepower.

It’s got the power. The top-level Belvedere engine made 425 horsepower.

The corporation capitalized on the success of its vehicles – including the Belvedere – in the hands of NASCAR drivers like Richard Petty, inserting those wins into ad material to bolster its growing street cred.

Midsizers often prove to be versatile vehicles, and the Belvedere was eager to be anything its owner wanted it to be.

With a 225 c.i.d. Slant-Six serving as a base engine, the Belvedere could be equipped with a vast array of V-8s. A 273 c.i.d. with 180 hp, a 318 with 230hp, a 361 with 265 hp, and a Commando 383 with 325 hp were available, as was the range-topping 426 Plymouth Street Hemi.

That engine, introduced in 1966, made 425 horsepower and 490 ft-lbs of torque. When coupled with the Belvedere’s fairly light midsize body, the engine was a performance monster.

The Belvedere spotted here sported ‘383’ badges and the popular and bulletproof 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic. No doubt it could lay some rubber in a hurry. But, if you were to take away the white letter tires and sport rims, there’d be little to give away this car’s performance secret.

In a word: discreet.

The early rumblings of the muscle car could be heard in 1966.

The early rumblings of the muscle car could be heard in 1966.

Big and topless

1968 Dodge Monaco 500 convertible, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

1968 Dodge Monaco 500 convertible, spotted in Ottawa, Ontario.

I’ve said it for years – there’s something about Chrysler products from the late ’60s/early ’70s that make them seen invincible.

It just feels that regardless of what damage they could sustain – even a frame bent 90 degrees – the menacing Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodges would just get mad… and then get even.

Too many car chase movies in my youth, I guess.

The example of Mopar muscle seen here – a slightly battered 1968 Dodge Monaco 500 droptop – was once the pinnacle of luxury motoring for the Dodge division. Not just any Monaco, the massive, top-level 500 was two tonnes of compliant driving enjoyment.

Luxury conveniences were plentiful, while the power any driver of a menacing Hippie-era Dodge needed was instantly on tap. A 383-cubic inch V-8 making 330 horsepower was mated to a bulletproof 3-speed Torqueflight automatic with console shifter.

The Monaco and Monaco 500 coupes, sedans and convertibles were all based on the forgettable Dodge Custom 880 (the division’s hastily-prepared full-size offering), which ran from 1962 to 1965. The Monaco replaced the 880 in the U.S. market in 1966, and in Canada in 1967.

While the American Monaco had a 383 as the standard engine, the thrifty Canadian marketplace demanded that it also come with the 318, as well as the 225 Slant-6.

Doing what a '74 Monaco always seemed to do best (image: www.imcdb.org)

Doing what a ’74 Monaco always seemed to do best… (image: www.imcdb.org)

Looking at the bruised-but-still-kicking convertible pictured above, some of the menace fades from its visage when you imagine a Valiant-worthy Slant 6 under its hood.

While the Monaco soldiered on well into the Malaise Era (earning it lasting fame as The Blues Brothers’ car), the 500 option was scrapped after 1971. After splitting the nameplate into ‘Monaco’ (formerly, the Coronet) and full-size ‘Royal Monaco’ in 1977, a bankruptcy-bound Chrysler Corporation was forced to kill off both the following year.

Serving as the ubiquitous cop car in countless 1970s films and TV shows, the stodgy-but-tough Monaco saw its media presence last well into the ’80s, thanks to its durability and cheap resale value. Look to any episode of The Dukes of Hazzard for proof of this.




What’s old is new again…

1979 or 1980 R-body Chrysler New Yorker, spotted in Gatineau, Quebec.

1979 or 1980 R-body Chrysler New Yorker, spotted in Gatineau, Quebec.

1979 was a turbulent year in America.

Gasoline had suddenly became expensive again thanks to the Iranian Revolution, interest rates were rising like mercury in a noonday Texas thermometer (as was inflation), and disco seemed poised to take over the world…and our kids.

On the automotive front, the Big Three automakers were struggling against economic pressures and the sudden appearance of a new competition – fuel-efficient Japanese compacts that tempted buyers with savings at the pump and low starting prices.

Nowhere in Detroit was the financial pressure greater than in the headquarters of Chrysler Corporation, which was desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy following a decade of non-stop punches that shook the industry to its core.

In addition to trying to secure bailout money from the federal government (while wooing eventual savior Lee Iacocca into their top-floor office), Chrysler was trying to compete against new, downsized models from GM (1977) and Ford (1979). And, given its dire situation, it had to create something competitive using little money and mostly off-the shelf parts.

As a rule, the downsized full-sizers introduced in the late-70s needed to appear fresh and new, have as much interior room (or more) than their land-barge predecessors, weight less, while consuming less precious, endangered gasoline.

For Chrysler, that meant the creation of the ‘new’ 1979 R-body line of vehicles – the Chrysler New Yorker and Newport, Dodge St. Regis, and (eventually) Plymouth Fury. The R-bodies have long fascinated me, as they really represent the end of the traditional full-size lineage of Chrysler vehicles – a slapped-together vehicle created in desperation to bridge the gap between the excessive 1970s and the lean, modern 1980s.

As a result of the rapidly changing era – one advanced by Chrysler itself following Iacocca’s appearance – the R-bodies (produced from 1979 to 1981) quickly became rolling dinosaurs, and faded from both roadways and the public consciousness in a hurry.


A ’62 dressed up as a ’79


The word ‘new’ appears here with quotation marks because the R-platform wasn’t new at all. Rather, Chrysler had simply taken the old B-platform that  underpinned the previous Dodge Monaco and Plymouth Fury (and dated from 1962), and created a new, yet traditionally-styled body atop it, while doing everything possible to shed weight.

The old, big-block 400 and 440-cubic inch engines were put out to pasture, replaced by the venerable 225-cid Slant-Six, as well as the trustworthy 318 and 360-cid V-8s. So extreme was the need for weight loss, Chrysler fielded the ‘new’ line of sedans with stamped aluminum, chrome-plated bumpers, aluminum radiators and brake cylinders with plastic components. The weight loss, totalling several hundred pounds, helped the car’s lineup of aging engines (strangled of horsepower by government-mandated emission controls) haul the lengthy sedans around town.

Once on the market, the R-bodies represented the most traditional of the Big Three’s big sedans. Big on the outside as well as the inside, the Chrysler stablemates could be had with all the baroque trappings a late-70s driver could desire – vinyl top, pillowed velour interior in gaudy colours, and the classic fake wire wheel hupcap/whitewall tire combination. The New Yorker, which was available in top-shelf ‘Fifth Avenue’ trim, continued the hidden-headlamp motif popularized by its predecessors, as well as offerings from Lincoln.

"Do you park your 1979 Chrysler New Yorker here often?" (Chrysler promotional photo)

“Do you park your 1979 Chrysler New Yorker here often?” (Chrysler promotional photo)

Sales of the R-body ‘pillared hardtops’ (ie – no window frames) started off brisk, helped by commercials that searched high and low for fiscal bright spots in an R-body purchase, but soon tanked once the effects of the Iranian Revolution began to impact people’s wallets. 1980 saw an exponential decrease in units sold, and the same for 1981.

Police fleets snapped up the Newport, Fury and St. Regis in fairly large numbers, given their imposing size and sturdy platform, but none were ever regarded as performers. Most pursuit vehicles were bought with a decent 195-horsepower 360 under the hood (for 1979), mated to the ubiquitous and bulletproof 3-speed Torqueflight automatic transmission, though California fleets made do with less (190 horsepower), and Canadian fleets with more (200 hp), thanks to better exhaust systems and boosted engine compression.

In 1980, California’s air pollution regulations mandated that all police R-Bodies come equipped with a 165-horsepower 318, which caused “a monumental firefight” between Dodge and the officers and management of the California Highway Patrol, who complained of embarrassment when the car performed dismally in real-life applications.*

(Apparently, one of the requirements of a police vehicle is the ability to catch fleeing suspects)

By 1981, the jig was up for the R-body. Sales of the big Chryslers were circling the bowl, and the company had already bled so much cash that CEO Iacocca was forced (starting in ’79) to slash all unnecessary overhead in a bid to save the company. Iacocca’s ‘triage’ approach meant that the company’s attention was primarily focused on keeping costs down while it produced and aggressively marketed a revenue-generating vehicle tailored for the economic climate America found itself in.

That vehicular saviour was the K-car line of compact, front-wheel drive vehicles that first appeared as Dodges and Plymouths in 1981 and branched out to the Chrysler brand in 1982. After ’81, with the R-body gone, Chrysler’s full-size spot was filled by the (formerly) intermediate-sized M-body Chrysler New Yorker, Plymouth Gran Fury, and Dodge Diplomat.

The real, honest-to-goodness full-size Chrysler was dead.


Adios, big guy…


Today, 33 years after the last R-bodies rolled unceremoniously off Chrysler’s embattled Detroit assembly line, seeing one in the flesh is a rare occurrence. The 1979 or 1980 New Yorker pictured at the top of the post was such an uncommon sight, it needed to be documented. These cars do look better in black, though this example is suffering from sagging lower body trim, missing front bumper guards, and an absent wheel cover.

However, under the hood there likely lies a 318 that can be nursed back to life without too much trouble, if it isn’t already serviceable.

Hopefully, the owner of the New Yorker will ensure this relic of a largely-ignored chapter in American automotive history stays alive, and on the road.

1979 Chrysler Newport, the less-flashy brother of the New Yorker. (Image: Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)

1979 Chrysler Newport, the less-flashy brother of the New Yorker. (Image: Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)



Undercover brother

"Where's our guy?! D'ya think we've been double-crossed?"

“Where’s our guy?! D’ya think we’ve been double-crossed?”

I was thinking lately – and not for any particular reason – about what would make a good getaway car.

Or, alternatively, what would make a good undercover police pursuit vehicle.

I’m not talking about the unmarked-yet-obvious Tauruses, Explorers and Chargers you see waiting in speed traps, either – I’m talking deeper cover than that.  For a stakeout operation or a tail job, you don’t want Starsky and Hutch’s ride.

At first glance, the list of automotive choices out there seems pretty much endless. However, to properly execute either role I believe a smart driver would demand certain attributes from his trusty steed.


I’m not here

First off, anonymity. You want the car to be rolling camouflage, seen but not noticed by either cop or felon. Just part of the landscape.

Non-descript is key, but as our mustachioed hero once stated in an episode of Magnum, P.I., you can go overboard on it and end up shouting your presence to the world. If I recall, the ‘loud’ shadow car in that episode was a beige Ford Fairmont.

I’ve always said the best car for non-descript would be a 5 to 10-year-old GM sedan like a Grand Am or Malibu – ubiquitous, bland, and usually one of two colours. Most popular Japanese sedans have the problem of being either a heat score (Accord, Altima, Maxima), or simply too un-sketchy to fit in (Camry, Camry, Camry).

However, going cookie-cutter isn’t the whole game plan. If your needs include more than just being incognito, these sensible sedans pose a problem.


Need for speed

 If a pursuit/chase will at some point be likely – whether it’s collaring bad guys or shaking the heat – you’ll need muscle and handling. Boring the other party to death isn’t an option here.

And as important as power is, it needs to be subtle. Racing stripes, modifications and a aftermarket exhaust might be cool in heist flicks, but it’s a dead giveaway in the real world. The power needs to have been born on a factory assembly line.

Also, the vehicle model itself can’t be synonymous with performance. You’ll want to have a top-end drivetrain in a car whose model lineup contains some real tepid stuff. There should be an engine lower down the totem pole than yours, with less cylinders.

The setup I’ve described, a hot engine coupled with an aging, dime-a-dozen design and no exterior add-ons, should do the trick (though nothing’s foolproof, of course).

Any suggestions, you ask? Any particular vehicular preference, after weighing the key criteria?

After some careful thought, as well as observations on the road, I think I’ve narrowed down a decent choice.

Your forgettable hero has arrived. (Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)

Your forgettable hero has arrived. (Bull-Doser, Wikimedia Commons)

 2011-2014 Dodge Avenger

Yes, it’s the car that’s barely there.

Chrysler was recently slinging these off their lots so fast, and at such discounted prices, you’d think they had been stolen. If there was a cheaper midsize car on the market, I didn’t notice it.

There are many things that make this outgoing model a good candidate.

First off, the 2011-2014 Avengers look an awful lot like the 2007-2010 Avengers that came before them. The mid-life cycle design refresh gave the bland car a slightly improved appearance, but at a distance, or in the dark, or to an untrained eye, they may as well be the same thing.

“Is that a nearly-new car, or seven-year-old clunker?”

The 2011 upgrades also endowed the Avenger with a decent shot of power, courtesy of the available 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6. This well-regarded unit serves as the base engine in hotter models like the Dodge Charger, Challenger, and Chrysler 300.

The Pentastar’s 283 horses and 260-lb-ft of torque, delivered through a modern 6-speed automatic, provides big pull in a smaller, less-assuming package than its storied stablemates. Zero-to-60 (mph) times were listed at 6.3 seconds with this drivetrain, according to the manufacturer.

No slouch, for sure. To put this into perspective, results from the Michigan State Police’s vehicle evaluation program in 2013 show the fastest police cruiser on the road – the Taurus-based and EcoBoost-equipped Ford Police Interceptor – ran up a 5.66 second 0-60 time.

The Explorer-based Police Interceptor utility, equipped with the same turbo 3.5-litre, emerged with a 6.28 second 0-60 time. The non-turbo utility returned a 8.02 second figure.

In the same tests, a V-8-powered Dodge Charger cruiser hit 60 mph in 6.04 seconds when equipped with optional all-wheel-drive.

 While I certainly don’t condone running from the cops (they have many ways of getting you), those high-performing vehicles’ numbers are very interesting when contrasted with the lowly Avenger.

Besides the upgraded powertrain (at least in higher trim levels), the 2011-2014 Avenger saw fairly major suspension upgrades, which would help both cop and felon stay on the road while enjoying their car’s newfound power.

Chrysler sold a good number of Avengers in the latter part of the model’s run, but it was never a vehicle anyone talked about. Lately, I’ve begun to notice them more and more – often outfitted with blacked-out rims that aren’t unattractive on this boxy vehicle.

Frankly, in some cases, the Avenger looks a little bit badass, and isn’t that really just perfect for both criminal and cop?




1972 Dodge Charger, Yellowknife, NWT.

1972 Dodge Charger, Yellowknife, NWT.

I’ll have what he’s having…

The Canadian subarctic is an unlikely place to find red-hot American muscle, but that’s where this brawny ’72 Charger found itself.

Gas in the summer of 2012 was $1.41/litre in the ‘Knife, a figure that doesn’t change much in either direction, so filling the tank on this beast would be a direct hit to the wallet. Still, any driver’s options for cruising are as limited as the northern road network, so this thing likely stays parked for most of the time.

The ’68-70 Chargers get most of the drool action in popular culture, but I really dig the ’71-72’s as well. Their hulking, wide-stance and curvaceous fuselage shape are everything I love about early-70s American cars.

Vehicles from this era simply look indestructible.

The body on this black beauty looks pretty unblemished and straight, though the hidden headlamp doors are way out of alignment. I’ll blame the harsh, northern climate and the failure-prone nature of this feature (on any make or model) for this imperfection. As well, the hood seems to me missing its tie-downs, though the anchors remain.

Horsepower figures has started to slip by ’72 as compression ratios dropped, but the Charger could still be optioned with several tons of iron under the hood. I have no idea what motor beats within this example – ’72 Charger engine choices ran the gamut from the 225 Slant-Six, to the 318, 340, 400, and 426 V8’s, maxing out with the range-topping 440.

I hate to think what it would cost to feed a 440 muscle car making 8-10 miles per gallon – especially in Yellowknife. However, I have no doubt this owner turns a lot of heads during the 1.5-kilometre trip to the local watering hole.