MM Retro Write-Up: 1967 Chrysler Newport/New Yorker

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MM Retro Write-Up: 1967 Chrysler Newport/New Yorker















IN A NUTSHELL: A big American semi-luxo-boat...but I've owned better vehicles.

Before the late 1950s, Chrysler-built vehicles, in general, were not that much different from their Ford and GM competition, aside from being somewhat frumpy-looking and generally adhering to corporate founder Walter P. Chrysler's insistance that the rooflines always be high enough for him to wear his buisness-hats without them getting crunched on the ceiling. But, aside for some differences like Buick's ultra-smooth (but inefficient) Dynaflow transmission (which was much smoother than even other GM transmissions at the time), Chrysler products, mechanically, weren't much different from their competitors. Like Ford, GM, and AMC/Packard/Studebaker, Chrysler products were generally body-on-frame, coil-sprung, and used in-line sixes and V8s.


That all changed in 1957, with Designer Virgil Exner's famous introduction of the the "Forward Look" cars, and, "Suddenly, it's 1960" theme....although Exner had also designed the eye-opening, but somewhat less-radical 1955 Chrysler 300, considered by historians to be the first true American muscle-car. But the 1957 cars took the entire American car industry by surprise...particularly the competition at Ford and GM, who were stunned, and quickly put their designers to work designing suitable new competitors. With the Forward-Look cars, Chrysler tossed out the (former) rule-book on suspensions, and adopted a design with longitudinal torsion-bars in front and longitudinal leaf-springs in the rear......which produced a slightly stiffer/noisier ride than their coil-sprung competition, but significantly improved handling. These 1957 models were longer, much lower in stance, and had clean, elegant lines with long, high slanted-fins in back, reminiscent of jet aircraft. Inside, the cleaner-look theme continued, with rear-view mirrors attached to the upper-dash instead of the top of the windshield, electro-mechanical push-buttons for the transmission on the dash, to the left of the driver, instead of the more-common shift-lever on the steering column, and, in general, a Space-Age look.

Unfortunately, as is the case so often in Chrysler's history (although the company did have good quality-control for a few years in the early-mid 1960s), these cars were not well-built....exactly the opposite. Stories abounded at that time of hoods that would not close properly, torsion-bars snapping (that torsion-snap problem was fixed for 1958), hardware becoming loose and/or falling off, just nuisance (and sometimes serious) stuff....and, remember, this was in the days before widespread safety-equipment in vehicles, so, an accident, because something failed, could often mean serious injury or death. Of course, quality/engineering goofs were not necessarily limited to Chrysler....stories also exist of late-50s-vintage Ford/Mercury/Edsel problems of the basic body structure being so loose that fully-locked doors could fly open on sharp turns, because the body-flex on the loose structure and body-flex actually overcame the limits of the door-locking mechanism. Again, remember, usually no seat belts if the doors did fly open.

(Folks, like I've said before....we're simply spoiled by today's engineering/quality-control standards, even if today's vehicles don't have the tank-like metal-thickness of vehicles back then).

Chrysler tossed out another former rule-book in 1960, when they converted from body-on-frame design to unibody, which significantly strengthened the basic structure of their cars, lightened the weight, created a design more resistant over a longer time to squeaks/rattles, and assisted the torsion-bar/leaf suspension in providing better handling than their body-on-frame-competition. And, at the same time, they were getting the notoriously bad quality control problems tamed.....to the point where the company was able to introduce the first 5-year/50,000 mile warranty on its drivetrains, at a time when most of the industry was 1 year/12,000 miles (the Lincoln Continental had 2/24). The durability of the Chrysler engines and three-speed Torqueflite automatic also helped make that possible. Because studies had shown, though, that unibodies were more difficult in controlling road-noise, Chrysler's top-line luxury Imperials remained body-on-frame until 1967, and then converted to unibody to make them essentially a stretched version of the Chrysler-full-sized platform.

Through the early/mid 1960s, Chrysler products, like their GM competition, had lost their fins, and, by then, had started to look almost frumpy again...like they had up to about 8-10 years before. Virgil Exner had been removed from his position...the scapegoat for the sales-flop the early-60s Dodge/Plymouths had been, even though he had not been totally behind management's decision to downsize those cars. He was replaced by Elwood Engel, who had come over from Ford. Engel had designed the squarish Lincoln Continentals of the period, and did do on the mid-60s Chrysler products.


Which brings us to the specific subject of this write-up...the full-size 1967 Chrysler. The 1967 models had been totally redesigned, but, like the 65/66, in the Engel mode, remained somewhat squarish. The former round chrome-metal radio volume/tune/tone knobs were replaced by novel/unusual chrome metal vertical thumbwheels that twirled up and down. There were also some signs that, after several years of engineering and quality-control excellence (temporarily the best in the American car-industry), the quality on the assembly-line was starting to slip again.....and it would get significantly worse again in the next couple of years (1968-1970), and never fully recover, although Dodge, in 2020, is finally starting to show some real improvement with the Charger and Challenger.

I had extensive experience with the '67 Chryslers, both as the owner of a dark blue '67 Newport (which I kept for some three and a half years), and with a Forest-green '67 New Yorker that a friend of mine, from college, had inherited what his late father passed away. I had had a former BIG (Cadillac-sized) Buick Electra 225 in college, and dearly loved that car (I still talk about it today), but it was old, had a lot of miles on it for that time, and simply wore out, although a friend of our family (who was an vehicle-mechanic for the old AT&T phone company) wanted it, and I sold it to him. For a while, I drove a smaller Buick Skylark that, though some six years old, only had 20,000 miles on it, and was almost like new (I didn't really appreciate how nice it was)...but my heart, back then, unlike most people my age, was simply into big American cars, and I was hooked.....until the early/mid-70s gas crunch.

Well, to some extent, I fell in love (again) with the big dark-green 4-door '67 New Yorker my friend had. It had a black felt-clothsemi-velour interior (the true American Bordello velour interiors didn't come until a few years later, in the '70s). Its big, "TNT" four-barrel 440 cubic-inch (7.2L) was actually larger than Chrysler's famous 426 c.i (7.0L) Hemi, but produced a little less power, as the Hemi was designed as a racing engine. Still, the big 440 produced 375 HP and 480 ft-lbs. of torque.....that was a lot of thrust for the period. With the efficient 3-speed Torqueflite transmission, it would handily light up the rear tires.....which my friend would do moderately on occasion, though he was generally not in the habit of full-burnouts from rest. But power really wasn't my thing...I liked a cocoon-like experience, isolated from the road, and an easy ride, which this car, though not as pillow-soft or massive as the '67 Cadillac or '69 Lincoln Continental I would get to try out later, certainly delivered. It felt a little more planted on the road than my big '65 Buick had been, for three reasons.....first, the suspension wasn't worn out LOL, Second, it had the unibody design instead of body-on-frame, and, Third, of course, the torsion/leaf suspension instead of coil springs. Its A727 Torqueflite transmission was not quite as smooth as the Buick's Super-Turbine 400 (Buick was known at that time for arguably the world's smoothest transmssions, although by 1967 they had converted to the standard GM Turbo-Hydra-matic to standardize production across the board)....but the rugged Torqueflite felt like it could take more ultimate punishment...which is one reason it was widely used in drag-races. I liked the deep-dish three-spoke steering wheel in the New Yorker, its wood-tone trim on the dash and door panels, and in general, its road-manners. My friend and I took a trip, with three or four more of our college friends packed into it (it had two very wide bench seats, front and rear), towing a small boat, down to the lower-Potomac River's Nanjemoy Inlet (Creek) for a party on the water where his family owned a small cottage. That car handled all of us, and the boat/trailer, even with air-conditioning on that hot day, like we were toothpicks...try that with even today's Chrysler 300.

Well, I was so impressed with this car that, since my budget was quite limited (I was still living at home, as I went to a local Community-College at the time), was not yet established in my career, and could not afford a new car at all, much less a brand-new car like that), I decided to look at a used '67 in the Classifieds. No E-Bay, Amazon, or other Internet buyer-services...used vehicles were usually advertised in the local newspaper Classifieds. I hunted in the Classifieds for a while, and saw a dark blue '67 Newport Coupe for sale, with a black vinyl roof, and a black vinyl bucket-seat interior. Same platform as my friend's New Yorker, but different interior, seats, and engine...the standard two-barrel 383 c.i. (6.3L), which was supposed to use leaded 94-octane regular instead of the leaded 100-octane premium that the New Yorker (and my previous big Buick) required. I took it for for a test drive, and bought it....I don't remember how much I paid for it. My late Mother was a Notary Public...which, of course, made title-transfers privately, at home, much easier without having to go to the DMV.

Looking back, I think that Newport purchase was one of my automotive mistakes. Though in college, the fact was that I was young and naive.....I probably knew more about cars than the average twenty-year-old, but, in all honesty, I still didn't really know what I was doing. I liked my friends's New Yorker so much that, wth the Newport, I thought I could maybe have something similar (or mostly similar) at a lower price. Nope....it didn't work out that way....for a number of reasons. First, I found out, the first time I filled the tank, that, despite the official 94-octane leaded-gas rating in the Owners' Manual, this two-barrel 383 simply would not run on regular 94-octane gas without pinging, no matter how one adjusted the carburator or spark timing. I didn't know it at the time (or was even aware that it could happen), that probably had carbon-deposits in the engine, artificially-increasing the compression-ratio and requiring more octane. Second, the two-barrel 383, while producing 270 HP and 390 ft-lbs. of torque (enough power to get out of its own way) was clearly not the power plant the big TNT 440 in the New Yorker (and Chrysler 300) was. Third, I had (perhaps conveniently) forgotten all of the cold-engine carburetor problems I had had in the two-barrel V8 Plymouth Barracuda I had owned a few years before. I had EXACTLY the same cold-engine drivability problems, under exactly the same conditions, as with the Barracuda....those problems were generally not evident on 4-barrel Chrysler products. Fourth, getting in and out of the back seat (when I went somewhere wth my friends) was a PITA compared to my friend's four-door. Fifth, this car did not prove reliable in actual ownership. Sixth, the Newport lacked the nice wood-trim and three-spoke steering wheel the New Yorker had....its interior was not as impressive, and was basically Plymouth/Dodge-grade. In addition, The power-steering fan-belt broke, and steering it under those conditions was a job even for Hulk Hogan. I had a number of problems...among them a rear-axle seal failure, which went made the car difficult to drive until it was repaired, universal-joint-failure to the driveshaft (clunking/scraping noises until replaced), a rear-tire-blowout on the Pennsylvania Turnpike just east of the Pittsburgh area where I had to get out and change the tire on the shoulder of the road, which was risky....ended up limping back home to D.C. on a snow-tire spare, which howled with road noise. Believe it or not, this long, heavy (for that period) car had drum brakes all around with no power-assist, and pedal-effort, even under normal conditions, was also Hulk-Hogan grade. I noticed, after a while, that the previous owner had stuffed insulation inside the rear fender/quarter-panel...apparantly, at the factory, these Newports did not get the same level of insulation that the New Yorkers did. Most cars back then needed conventional tune-ups around every 10,000 miles or so.....this Newport, for whatever reason, wore out its breaker-points about every 5000 mies or so, necessitating a tune-up. In short, although I kept this car a while (some three and half years), I was never really satisfied with it, and felt it was a mistake. It wasn't just me.....the mechanic at my local gas station (I used a Mobil station back then) told me that Chrysler products, although with durable engines, just didn't hold up in many other areas.

Part of it was also my late Father. I generally preferred GM products (particularly Buick), but he was sold on 60's-vintage Chrysler products, although I have to admit he was probably correct on the Slant-Six engine being the most durable auto engine on the planet at that time. He never really accepted the fact that I liked Buicks (or, later, ANY car with emission-controls), and kept pressure on me to drive Chrysler products. I obliged in this case, partly out of respect for him as my Father, partly to thank him for the (used) Barracuda he had bought for me for high school-graduation, and, of course, partly because I liked my friend's New Yorker, which I naively tried (and failed) to imitate at a lower price. I sold it to a young man, in 1975, three years after I had bought it....though inexperienced, I was an honest person, and explained the car to him, not trying to hide or cover up anything I had been through. He still wanted it, and, so, that was that. Because of the fuel-prices at the time, It was replaced with a much smaller (but brand-new) Slant-Six Chrysler product...which I'll write up later.

And, as Always, Happy-Car-Memories.


MM
__________________


DRIVING IS BELIEVING
 
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Sulu

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Why is it that I have a phantom smell of stale cigarette smoke and butts whenever I see pictures of the interiors of late-1960s / early-1970s American land yachts? Perhaps it is all of these cars I remember from my childhood or watching re-runs of TV shows of that era, in which everyone smokes.
 

mmcartalk

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Why is it that I have a phantom smell of stale cigarette smoke and butts whenever I see pictures of the interiors of late-1960s / early-1970s American land yachts? Perhaps it is all of these cars I remember from my childhood or watching re-runs of TV shows of that era, in which everyone smokes.
^^^^ While the dangers of smoking were known as far back as the 1960s (and, in some cases, the 1950s), it didn't really start to sink into the public mind (with lifestyle changes) until the 1970s. So, yes, a lot of those cars did have their ash-trays and cigarette lighters well-used (including my own cars, until I was 22 years old, when I quit smoking). I haven't regretted quitting a day since. 😉
 

Ian Schmidt

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I'd say a bit later than that, even. In the DVD commentary for Ghostbusters, someone noted that one of the obvious differences with GB II is that in 1984 everyone on screen smoked and that was normal, and in 1989 almost nobody did and that was also normal.
 

mmcartalk

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I'd say a bit later than that, even. In the DVD commentary for Ghostbusters, someone noted that one of the obvious differences with GB II is that in 1984 everyone on screen smoked and that was normal, and in 1989 almost nobody did and that was also normal.

That was in a movie, though. I'm talking about real life. Although we still see widespread tobacco use in Third-World nations, in the U.S., it pretty much became socially unacceptable by the late '70s or so. From then on, more and more laws restricting its use (and tobacco-sales) began to take effect.

We also saw it in vehicle-marketing. What were one standard ash-trays/lighters became optional "Smoker's Packages"...and then their elimination across the board. Few vehicles today even offer ash trays as an option.

Anyhow, back to the '67 Chrysler. I sorely wish mine would have had power-disc front brakes, electronic fuel injection (or at least the four-barrel carb), and the electronic-ignition option that Chrysler first started offering in 1972......the first of Detroit's automakers to do so. And I admit that buying it was at least somewhat of a mistake....I bought it for the wrong reason (which I explained in the write-up).
 
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