Why exactly does this car create such a powerful response (in me, anyway)? It projects such solidity, dignity, and self-assurance. It flew in the face of GM’s 1965 coke-bottle styling, and showed that hard-edged angularity still had some serious life in it. Most of all though, this Chrysler New Yorker represents a pinnacle: never again would the New Yorker attain this degree of success, prestige and quality.
The Virgil Exner years at Chrysler were a styling roller-coaster ride. He resurrected Chrysler from the stodgy, boxy K.T. Keller years and set it on the path toward styling leadership with the radical ’57 models. But he took the hit for the strange 1962 models, and his Exneruberance was a bit too wild or overdone at times, like his persistence in grafting fake-spare tire covers on the trunks of everything from Valiants to Imperials. By 1961, too much of Chrysler’s sales woes were blamed on Ex, and it was time to exit.
Elwood Engel was recruited from Ford, where he was credited with the mile stone 1961 Lincoln. It’s angularity and compact elegance laughed in the face of the over-wrought finned Caddys. Engel brought a radical change in styling direction to Chrysler, and in its first few years, like so many new starts, it worked like a charm.
The first sign of the new direction was manifest in the very T-Birdish Turbine Car of 1963. It took a few more years for Engle’s angularity to come to full fruition at Chrysler, and it arrived just as GM was heading the opposite direction. And Ford was chasing the Pontiac look. Eventually, it led Chrysler into a dead end, and the radically different fuselage Chryslers of 1969 were seen to be the way out. It wasn’t, despite their strangely appealing qualities. By 1974, Chrysler was back to a boxier, edgier look, hoping to recapture the success of the ’65 – ’66 models, without avail.
One of the first Curbside Classics was a ratty, rusty 1965 Chrysler Newport coupe. This stately New Yorker that I found on a walk in Millbrae is every bit its opposite: a remarkably superb car to be sitting out front. I could practically feel its presence over a block away, standing out among the curvaceous little cars around it like the Chrysler Building in a trailer park.
These Chryslers were some of the best built cars carrying that name since its WWII tanks, and the passenger tanks it built just after the war. The unibody was tight, the torsion-bar suspension lacked the floaty feel of its competitors, and interior and trim quality would never again be this solid. But don’t be fooled into thinking this barge was overly heavy: at 4,295 lbs, it weighed exactly the same as a “compact” 2009 Saturn Vue. With 340 horses (gross) on tap from its 413 CI V8, these Chryslers hustled down the road effortlessly. Brakes were better than average for the times, and the Torqueflite tranny was best in class. Chrysler’s numb power steering was the only fly in the ointment, but for its intended purpose, who cared?
Chryslers appealed to buyers who still felt that a finer engineered car was the one to buy. There were several relatives and University acquaintances for whom these vintage Chryslers were the last American cars they ever bought; they all drove Mercedes by the mid seventies. Now that I think of it, that’s the reason why I hold these Chryslers in such high esteem: they really were the end of the road in more ways than one for Chrysler.