There’s perhaps no bigger surprise underdog that early 1960’s full sized Plymouths. Due to a number of factors, especially from 1960 through 1962, the Big Bargain Basement Mopars found themselves not only at odds with their traditional market segment. They found displeasure among Mopar loyalists as well.
While the 1960 and 1962 versions get their fair share of flack, most of the mockery goes to the rather galactic looking 1961 versions of Savoy, Belvedere and Fury. How did this Extra-Terrestrial get let out of Area 51 to convince Highland Park executives that it was just the Science Fiction fantasy that America wanted during the Camelot years? It’s a peculiar question to ask.
One of the main symptoms of the 1961 Plymouth was Chrysler, design language wise, had nowhere to go. Having shown what 1960 was going to look like in 1957, the 1960 Plymouth had little to offer compared to gull-wing rivals from Chevrolet and Ford, nevermind the quality and frugality of insurgent Rambler, or the moxie of powerful all equipped with 389 V8 Pontiacs for a few dollars more.
Hurting matters more were a slate of bargain basement Dodge Darts priced within a few dollars of all Plymouths, using the undergarments of their siblings with a more palatable, modern look and a tad bit more prestige. Dodge continued to ensnare Plymouth in a parasitic death match that took another 40 years to complete.
It’s really hard to believe that, at the end of the day, the 1961 Plymouth is not much more than a ’60 model shorn of its shark fins. Plenty of the menacing details, including the furrowed brows over the headlamps and hints at the pinched grille arrangement were first seen at the turn of the decade.
B-Movie Make-up hid pretty well the fact that the rooflines, main body and general great performance that these Plymouths had compared to market rivals carried over from the previous year.
Whether it was the Slant Six, a choice of fine V8’s, Torqueflite drive, Torsion-Aire ride or Total Contact Brakes, the 1961 Plymouth provided you with the same extrodinarily roadable machine for a peasants entry cost. These taunt terrors of the early Interstate Highway System weren’t nearly as soggy as Buick aspirant Chevrolet Impalas and middle class Galaxies.
There were still well reasoned, and sometimes found worries about workmanship, quality control and rust that seemed more a propensity for Chrysler creations than other domestic brands, especially as a plethora of more manageable choices became available, even in Plymouth showrooms as the Valiant stood separate from the brand for ’61.
All in all, the rage face scared people away in a form and fashion that didn’t happen on a grand scale at other brands. Once again Plymouth dropped from #3 in national sales, not to return until GM faced a strike ridden 1970-71 period. Without the inclusion of Valiant totals for the year in retrospect, the story proves even more tragic.
It leads to all big 1960 Plymouths being interesting land bound space ships some 55 years into the future. Only 8,507 Fury Four Door Hardtops found buyers for 1961, making it the rarest of Low Priced Three Open-Air Sedans that year. It’s a lesson in aggression and lack of direction that doesn’t seem to be much of a phase today, with plenty of snarling faces on our Freeways more a half century later. Perhaps Plymouth predicted our eventual future. Too bad they didn’t survive long enough to see themselves proved right.