By on February 16, 2008

Somewhere west of Ogallala, rocketing across the plains at ninety-six in a sixty-nine Plymouth Fury, a twangy voice lectured us with the old song: “love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage.” My two female traveling companions and I exchanged glances, laughed and sang along. “…you can’t have one without the other.” In that precious moment, everything crystallized: what it meant to be nineteen in 1972, free as a bird, barreling down the freeway in a powerful American sedan.

We were headed for the Rockies, retracing the annual eight hundred mile pilgrimage my family and I made there in the early sixties. This time I was literally and figuratively behind the wheel, re-writing the script.

Back in the day, the Niedermeyer family would stop at church to pray for a safe trip before all six of us squeezed into our barely mid-sized ’62 Fairlane penalty-box. God drove a hard bargain for our safe-keeping: two seemingly endless days spent sweating on the CIA-interrogation approved clear plastic seat covers, second-guessing our pilot’s passing skills.

Papa drove like the stereotypical newly-minted immigrant driver. His tentativeness trying to pass trucks on the crowded two-lane highways taught us what we couldn’t articulate: decisiveness (and good judgment) inspires confidence; hesitation… doesn’t. The tension in the Ford was thicker than the greasy truck-stop steaks we admired from afar. After a particularly hair-raising episode my older sister refused to return to her seat after a stop at a roadside gas station. Thankfully, daily hikes in the Rockies relieved our accumulated stress (and restored regularity).

So there I was, stretched out behind the wheel of a “fuselage body” 1969 Fury with my companions of choice (not fate). We were cruising down the interstate’s smooth, barely-cured concrete without a care in the world.

Back then, Chrysler’s barges weren’t quite as plush-riding as GM and Ford’s. But their unibody construction made them the lightest of the three. And Chrysler’s superb Torqueflite transmission put Mopar muscle to the wheels. With the popular 383 V8, the zero to sixty sprint required just 7.5 seconds. Even today, that’s not bad for a comfortable family sedan.

Little did I know that smog controls were about to emasculate this singular breed, the American barge, as OPEC gave Detroit’s carmakers an identity crisis that continues to this very day.

Anyway, the Fury, dubbed “Ply-mouth,” belonged to the two sisters’ Mom. She’d bought the car for its ability to pull a horse trailer down Iowa’s rural roads. But on that magnificent day, the Chrysler was paying service to a higher calling than equine transport: sheer balls-out speed.

It’s not like I’d set out to challenge Cannonball Baker. But once we hit I-80 on that glowing summer morning, the Ply-mouth just wanted to run, just like the well-bred horses it usually hauled. Traffic was sparse back then; cops were jawboning with the farmers over their fourth cup of dishwashing-water at the local cafe, and the purple mountain majesties beckoned us.

As the big V8 cleared the gravel-road dust from its lungs, our speed crept up. I swear, there was no holding that Fury back. In what seemed like a flash, we’d traversed Iowa and crossed the Missouri. The next thing I knew were barreling across Nebraska at somewhere between 90 mph and the ton.

It was so effortless and relaxed we might as well have been sprawled on (and across) the living room couch. The endlessly-wide bench seats became chaise lounges. Bare feet were everywhere: on the dash, across a lap, out the window. Seat belts? The restraints had atrophied from neglect.

In another break from the past, we gave greasy spoons a wide berth. We’d packed an ample supply of organic produce from their Mom’s garden, some home-baked bread, excellent cheese and iced mint tea. We only stopped for gas, which, at our Furious clip, was a regular occurrence. Even though gas was ridiculously cheap (just thirty-five cents a gallon), our meager gas budget took a big hit.

It was money well spent. By mid-afternoon, we were already well into the mountains. Having forded a stream, we made camp and slept under the dazzling stars, the smell of pine and sage intoxicating our nostrils.

I had driven fast before, but only in short bursts. Our dash through the heartland was my initiation into the joys of sustained speed. I was eight (hundred) miles high.

Truth to tell, I’ve been hooked ever since. But I’ll never recreate the magic mix of ingredients that day, which etched those glorious moments into the depths of my memory.

Within a year or so, the energy crisis hit, and we were driving fifty-five. The Ply-mouth soon gave way to a weak-chested if practical Corolla. And in just a few more years, we all heeded the song “love and marriage…”

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38 Comments on “Autobiography: ’69 Plymouth Fury...”


  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    The only thing that makes me happier than seeing my own name on these write-up’s, is seeing your name.

    Another great work by a….. pretty good man. Looking forward to buying the book and maybe helping out with the local marketing.

  • avatar
    frontline

    Should I just assume those two ladies were gorgeous? I guess I don`t want to know otherwise !

  • avatar
    Hank

    My first car was a ’68 Fury three, like the one pictured above, but white. Even with the “small” 318 V8 that barge could hussle. I used to eat 80′s Mustangs and Camaros for lunch. Could seat 7 teens and go over 100 mph, and you could fit two spare tires and a lawnmower (gotta pay for gas somehow) in the trunk and still close it with room left over.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    My parents’ navy blue 1966 Plymouth Fury 2-door, slant-6, 3-speed torqueflight was a handsome, reliable, comfortable, economical car on 29¢ imperial gallon gasoline.

    Finances were at low tide and the family steed on life-support, so optional power steering was omitted. Steering effort was manageable at speed but I don’t know how Mom managed parallel parking, which is how one parked before urban shopping centers. I nearly had to stand on the seat to get enough leverage to turn the wheel!

  • avatar
    jurisb

    There is something about Marry. No… I mean about old American carz. That magic simplicity. Those times, when chrome finish meant always there was a metal underneath. When you could pour whiskey in your glass just by hitting the brake pedal and the nosedive would do the job if you were smart enough and put the glass in front of the Kentucky`s finest bottle. Every door handle was meant for a man, and having skipped hearty breakfast you even weren`t able to get into the plush saloon. And this mighty steering wheel! Some ships even had smaller ones. And can you imagine that 60ies Mercury entering a chicane while talking on your razorphone. The simplicity like Montana village stuck between two mountain saddles. 3 buttons for the whole interior. No bluetooth, no ipod jack, no heated steering wheel, no active exhaust , no active driver. A grandma`s proving ground. Everything could be repaired by a hammer, or a screwdriver , if seriously approached by a village doctor or brain surgeon. No fake this, no fake that. All the buttons had only two positions, whether on or off, like a vibrator ( `fuck on` or `fuck off`). This rural manhood, nobility, when materials were what they were, not imitated carbon, faux aluminum or imagined scoop vents. Giant ships that slowly ploughed the unfathomable plains and straights of America with chrome finish televizing all the clouds passing by. These were times when men, being tired, could put their feet on a bumper and light a cigar, when ladies could correct their make-up on a reflection on a bumper shine and both could make out on the warm v8 hood without leaving a dent of alibi. When a front couch had no difference from a rear one and both could home a Mexican family. And those flippers, each of them bigger than today`s Smart cars with every inch and fuel gram beancounted. When elegance was a dance, and economy was a silence of a gentleman. When a luxobarge was longer than a train , and you had to be trained to curve it nicely into your only turning place- your garage. When nobody knew what an MPG or barrel is, when lions were about cubic inches and smoking asphalt with their claws, not about G numbers, lap times or eloquence of gadgetry. When men had axes, Colts and barracudas whether on their hooks, or hooking a nice chick with the one wheelspinning by. No notebooks, no GHz or modems, no cursing Bill gates,nothing that couldn`t be managed outside near a bar. What a pity we couldn`t get those cars Darwinian theory exempt…….

  • avatar

    You make me sad.

    In college, I had a two door 1967 Fury, with the SuperCommando 383. This car had every option, power, A/C the works. I got it as a time warp car from an Estate, and drove it for about a year in Boston.

    You could eat any “performance” car of the 80′s easily. The back seat was big enough to lay flat in, and as a college student, that was handy for a bunch of reasons. The car didn’t turn, being slag iron, but it did stop OK with big discs. Steering feel was akin to holding a joystick. The only feedback was the screech of tires. Suspension (torsion bars) was better than expected. Gas mileage was a whopping 10-12 mph, 8 with A/C on. That part was tough for a student.

    Long trips were phat. We called it “the living room”. The front bench seat would hold three in full comfort.

    One of my saddest car nut days was the morning when my GF came in, to ask where I’d parked. I told her “right in front”. Nope.

    Somewhere, a Dart or Valiant received an injection of SuperCommando V-8. Snif, Snif. I hope they wrecked with injury and police investigation.

    Detroit did this sort of thing VERY well.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    thanks so much. makes me yearn for yesteryears gone by…

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Superb article, as many from this author.

    My father had 2 of the ending era barges: 1980 Caprice one with the V6 and the other with the 305-V8. The V8 was simply indestructible.

    My mother and him made trips, whole car loaded at pegging the neddle at way more the (politically BS correct) 85 mph speedo.

    And they were always fun. I drove my granma 79 ‘Bu for about a week, and those cars were a joy to drive.

    And yes, cars of yore were SIMPLE without all the crap/BS/gadgets today cars have. You opened the hood and found an ENGINE (even if it was a four banger), not the plastic “cover” mandated by costs and noise regulations. They sounded like a machine not a freakin refrigerator. You had to rely on your abilities (very few developed them), not the BS electronic nanny.

  • avatar
    wmba

    1962.

    One of my old man’s co-workers had to go away on a long business trip to New York City. Left his 1960 Plymouth Fury 4 door hardtop in our safekeeping out in our country home on a gravel road. 318 4 barrel, 260 hp Super Commando V8 with 2 speed Powerflite push button automatic. Power steering guided by an oval wheel with metalflake particles inside clear plastic parts of the rim top and bottom. Baaaaad taste, but nice. Two tone blue and white paint with gigantic tail fins. One smooth driving automobile, the first unit body year for the big Chryslers.

    We were immigrants from the UK to Canada just 3 years before and Dad had bought two English Fords for us to get by on. They were not cool, but the Fury was, even though it had been assembled after the longest steel strike in US History and the fit and finish was an utter joke. Automakers were hammering those cars together to make up for idled plants. We used to kid the owner about the extremely approximate lining up of the doors.

    Family went out, I stayed home and at 14 and a car nut grabbed the keys to that Fury and terrorized the long driveway and then the dirt road leaving rooster tails of gravel pouring out the back. I had no driver’s license. My driving skills were almost non-existent. My heart beat wildly with pure adrenalin excitement.

    Took it home after about 10 minutes, parked it where it had been, my legs just shaking as I pushed the P button. Then ALL the buttons FELL inside the dash. OH MY GOD!

    I was paralysed with fear, since the old man was a strict disciplinarian. I barfed and barfed at the thought of what I had done and the punishment I was about to receive.

    On this occasion, when Dad and the family returned, he was wonderful when I told him I’d been fooling with the car and what had happened to the pushbuttons. No doubt I was a whiter shade of pale with worry and fear. Anyway, he got a screwdriver out, removed the trim panel, and found it easy to remount the buttons properly. He was, moreover, delighted to find pieces of crumpled newspaper used in the construction of the rear of the cavity housing the buttons, and presumably keeping dust out. For Dad, that was proof enough that Made in America meant bad quality and that external appearances were all that mattered, and he retold the story for years afterwards.

    As for me, I learned nothing, and hammered that Fury around when the family went out twice more, until I got worried about how low the gas gauge needle was getting. Hell, now I KNEW the buttons could be fixed if they fell in the dash again.

    Oh to be 14 again.

  • avatar
    windswords

    In my dreams I see a new Plymouth Fury, cut from the same cloth as today’s Charger and 300. Available with every engine, safety, and audio option but no leather, sat nav, heated seats, and other geegaws, electronic and otherwise that would pad the price and make it steal sales from the 300. I see the new Fury available to the public and rental fleets while the 300 is just for public consumption, or only a very small percentage for fleet.

    Too bad it’s only a dream.

  • avatar
    phil

    my mother and her sister worked on the plymouth assembly line in the early 60′s. they were given a plastic bag full of screws and other odds and ends that attached the dashboard to whatever it was attached to. they did not have the option to stop the assembly line, and they did not have enough time to properly do the job, according to mom. as a result, as they were approaching the next vehicle in line any nuts/bolts/screws that had not been used were tossed behind the dash so as to not be seen by the supervisor (it would have been bad form to be seen with left over screws!). hence the old expression, “bucket of bolts”, and perhaps the beginning of the end for detroit quality. sorry mom.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Thanks for all your Fury stories. mba: your story was priceless; reminded me of my unlicensed antics(and getting caught): http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/editorials/auto-biography-10-strung-out/.

    frontline; of course the girls were (and still are) gorgeous. And they’re still my friends, and read my articles. That goes for their Mom too.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Great editorial! Makes me long for spring, when I can pull my Chryslers out of winter storage.

    With the exception of the Plymouth Fury, I don’t think that the “Fuselage” styling of the 1969+ fullsize (C-body) Mopars was an improvement over the 1965-68 designs.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    From a European point of view, no mention of the Fury is complete without reference to Claude Sautet’s César et Rosalie, a movie from 1972.

    In it, a rich junkyard owner falls in love with a beautiful woman he desires but does not understand. He is a roughshod charmer who drives an angular, spectacular, pre-fuselage Plymouth Fury. Having won her over, he feels the need to show her he has sophisticated sides as well, so he sells the Fury and buys a Citroen SM. The story goes downhill from then (as it would in real life, too).

  • avatar
    Dinu

    I didn’t know American barges of the 70s were sold in Europe or does the movie NOT take place in Europe? I’m 28, so what do I know? :)

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Dinu — thanks for asking. The movie takes place in France; the leads are the immortal Romy Schneider and the versatile Yves Montand. In Europe in the 1950s and 1960s, American barges were practically the only means of luxury transportation for those who didn’t want a German car, or couldn’t live with the unreliability of a Jag. In most places the oil crisis ended that. But in Switzerland well into the 1990s, an American car was commonplace.

  • avatar
    umterp85

    Great article….

    My first car was a ’77 Fury 318. I had great times in that car during high school including many road trips to New England Patriot games. While I wasn’t a Pats fan…my friends dad was a season ticket holder and 2-3 times a year he would give us the tickets…oh the days when 18 year olds had freedom ! We would load up my Fury and make the 3 hour trek from Schenectady NY to Foxboro Mass—-the Fury was a great highway cruiser and a helluva tailgate mate !

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    My uncle in Nova Scotia owned a black 70 Fury. It was a retired RCMP cruiser with the usual cop stuff. His favorite band was Creedence and his Maritime beverage of choice was Schooner. Halcyon days.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Paul, you can still get a really, nice fuselage C body at a reasonable price.

    On the other hand, as I have found from experience, the saying ‘you can’t go back’ is painfully, tragically true.

  • avatar
    Buick61

    Well that’s simply the best Editorial this site has ever seen.

    Makes me want to take my ’58 Plymouth (with the Torqueflite and big block Plymouth 350) out on an interstate journey out West.

    Too bad when I was 19, the 9/11 had happened and the most exciting cheap sedan on the market was a 245hp Nissan Altima. Times have changed.

  • avatar
    LtSolo

    Can’t wait to be old enough to write about my own automotive memories…. as in this choice example from October 2005,

    Cruising down the freeway in the hot, hot sun,

    The ’85 Audi 4000, at 85mph had just begun to run,

    When from out of nowhere, hopping really fast,

    Came two rabbits, and then a sickening smash.

    Every belt in the engine bay, from a/c to water pump,

    had broken and shattered, and left me really stuck.

    Looking down Highway 285, in the middle of New Mexico,

    I pondered the parts availability for a 20 year old auto.

    The Audi didn’t stay there, the story goes on for three days,

    and includes several choice characters that I ran into along the way.

    Lesbian softball players, some rednecks, and sand dune flowers,

    to Judy Messoline, aliens, and the UFO Watchtower.

    Football players, a sonic waitress, and several cops as well,

    I should write it down, it’s a great story to tell…..

  • avatar
    racebeer

    Thanks for the great article, Paul. Reading the comments here about everyone’s “remembrances” of this genre of cars, I have to admit I also fell into this group …. at least until I inherited the wife’s uncle’s 1963 Dodge Polara 2 dr. hardtop (yep, 383/4 brl with a Torqueflite) a couple of years back. The split front bench, ton of room in the backseat, huge trunk where the full size spare gets lost, and the absolute gobs of torque off the line bring a kid’s giggle to me each time we take it out. We often forget how simple and honest these cars were. No distractions other than the sweetie next to you! Of course, you better have good leg muscles for the non-power drums, but no wrist strength required on the super-boost power steering. I swear, if Detroit would just look carefully at what made these cars desirable, they might be able to pull themselves out of the dumper. In the meantime (albeit with only 12mpg….), I’ll keep on drivin’ and grinnin’……..

  • avatar
    PeteRR

    I’ve built a ’68 Plymouth Road Runner to go road racing in. The first summer I took it out, I was going to a local car show with a bunch of Mopar fanatics. We were cruising down the Atlantic City Expressway, when I decided to show off and leave all of the stop light bandits behind. I dropped down into 3rd and punched it. Very quickly the Road Runner is flashing along at 130 mph in 5th gear. I don’t want to go too much faster because NJ State Troopers don’t have much of a sense of humor. I happen to look in the rear view mirror, and right on my ass is my friend Dave’s ’71 Dodge Polara convertible. His hair is whipping in the breeze and he’s resting his left arm on the driver’s door. Crestfallen I let off and we wait for everybody else to catch up. When we get to the show, I walk over to talk to Dave. Not only did the big Dodge keep up, but it’s also riding on bias ply tires!

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I had the privilege if working on a dual 4 barrel 383 in a 68 fury back in he 80′s. This particular model was blessed with a 4 speed manual and 3.23 rear gears. The owner needed help with the carbs and I was all too willing to oblige as long as I got to test drive it.

    We ran low 13′s in that car consistently and burnouts were on tap. the dual carb offenhauser intake was a perfect match for the cam it had.

    Who cared about handling and gas mileage? Sure the interior was crap and the dash ugly by most standards but the car was a beast.

  • avatar
    blautens

    Great read – thanks, Paul.

  • avatar
    Toscha

    It’s articles like this that make me wish I had grown up in a time where the gas was indeed cheap and the cars massive. Road trips are so appealing, and with a boat of a vehicle and nothing between you and your destination but the open road, the trip would only get that much better.

    Thanks for the article, and the envy.

  • avatar
    Kevin Kluttz

    I think jurisb stole his thunder!

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Kevin Klutz: he most righteously did. jurisb rocks!

  • avatar
    fallout11

    That was a great article, and I really enjoyed jurisb’s comment. Really takes me back.
    I picked up an estate sale avocado green 1969 Fury with the SuperCommando 383 and about every option back in my college days for a meager $800 (Detroit had fallen mightily, and the ’80 X-body I’d been driving was an unmitigated unreliable piece of crap). My other choice was a blue 1968 Dodge Monaco with evil taillights (leaked oil terribly, though, so I passed).

    What a great car! Except for the gas mileage, which wasn’t terrible considering the prices in the early 1990′s. Brakes were incredibly grabby, however, and nosediving is the best description to go with that. But the power, the space, and the feather-touch (and no feedback) steering was awesome…..if you could get it into a parking space.
    I loved the fuselage bodied barges, beauty and grace in a battleship size. What a cruiser.
    Truly, the epitome of a era, a time and place never to be seen again. How bittersweet, the memories.

  • avatar
    WildBill

    Good times, me and my ’66 318 c.i. Ply-mouth Belevedere, shiny wheels, glass pack mufflers, jacked up rear, Rush on the 8-track player, 18 yrs. old and the open road. Yea…

  • avatar
    nikita

    Oh the joy when grandpa traded in the brown Studebaker on a brand new, metallic turquoise 1965 Plymouth Belvedere. He was proud of the fact that the midsize, and price, Belvedere was basically the same as the ’64 Fury, which got even bigger for ’65.

    I was 12 and hated being seen in the Stude. The 318 and Torqueflite were still running strong when he passed away two decades later.

  • avatar

    Great story. Takes me back to my youthful x-country journeys, starting in 1970 at 17 in the ’62 Falcon, Cape Cod to Stanford, CA. The big dif: that car had the kind of power where you floored it and it felt like another person had started pushing, and anyway, in my effort to preserve its late middle age, I never pushed it much beyond 50mph. I did get close to 30 mpg on that trip.

  • avatar
    davekatz

    Fury tales, ah, yes, indeed…December post-Christmas hung over, sprawled in the vast back seat of my buddy Dave’s four-door Fury III, turning around in a vacant lot in some low rise neighborhood north of Boston…dude slings his arm over the seat back, cigarette negligently dangling, pokes it in R, fixes us with one of those hey, Ma, watch me! rubbery-lipped shiteaters, and mats ‘er….right into a phone pole. The sound the streetlight bursting on the roof made was apocalyptic. As was the view out the rear window, what with an iceberg-looking jagged peak of blue sheetmetal where there once had been a placid plain of trunk.

    Drove 70 miles home like that. Rest of the car didn’t care at all.

  • avatar
    Queensmet

    WOW. Who’d a thought a Plymouth Fury was a chick magnet.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Queensmet: It was a guy magnet. The Fury belonged to them.

  • avatar
    bugo

    We had one of these beasts, a blue ’69 2 door hardtop with a 383. I don’t remember that much about it, except my dad trying to keep up with my uncle who was riding on a motorcycle at 90+ MPH on a curvy Arkansas 2 lane highway. I didn’t think much of the car at the time, but looking back it was an awesome car. Wish he still had it.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    In 75 I had a 74 Dodge Monaco 440 Police interceptor edition, it even says calibrated MPH the top end says 150 or so, that beast was fast, back then an imp gal of benzene was still livable ~ 60 ish cents a gal.
    Is more for top end than off the line as PI is there to catch highway speeder.

    My other big displacement Vee eight was the 73 500 cu ins Eldo u dont wanna one of these now.

  • avatar

    About once every couple of months I come back and read this story again.
    I can almost imagine being there and enjoying the moment.

    Being from England the thoughts of a car like the Fury were an impossible dream for a 17 year old in 1972 (we’re the same age I guess)and my ride at the time was a Mini 1000 station wagon.

    I’m now the proud driver of a Ram 1500 5.7 hemi and I love that engine. Small efficient hatchbacks are OK and in this day and age the correct thing to do but nothing will ever stop me loving Mopars finest achievements.


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