The 1962 and later Plymouth Belvedere cars were never meant be truncated to “mid-size” status. They were down-sized before introduction, cut down before being given a chance, after short-term Chrysler President Newburg heard GM’s President talk about the new upcoming “small” Chevrolet while at a golf club together. The car being mentioned, however, was the 1962 Chevrolet Chevy II compact, not a down-sized mainstream Chevy. Newburg lost his job after only months in the position in a huge 1960 scandal. Orders had been given, though, and the die had been cast.
The original “S-Body” cars planned for 1962 were meant by head designer Virgil Exner to take the styling language of the Chrysler Corporation into a new direction. The look was to include short decks, long hoods and curved side-glass on a fuselage body with sculptured “chicken wings” replacing fins at the rear. The Plymouth was meant to retain its historical 118-inch wheelbase, since the 1960 unit-body car had been all-new and a 1962 re-body on the prior underbody was the plan.
The Plymouth was introduced in a huge rush on a cut-down 116-inch wheelbase with flat side glass and with styling that didn’t look quite right. Lead designer Virgil Exner, who had been responsible for huge profits at Chrysler from 1955 and especially with his fantastic 1957 cars, lost his job over their sales failure.
The Corporate scandals endured by Chrysler in 1960 didn’t help the situation one bit. The stock value plummeted. Massive lay-offs of engineers and designers during this time hurt the company badly. When 1962 pilot cars were introduced at a Detroit dinner for dealers to inspect outside the public eye in the summer of 1961, several dealers loudly walked out and immediately cancelled their once valuable franchises.
Sure enough, sales plummeted and morale at an all-time low. It seemed a repeat of the down-sized disaster which Plymouth had endured in 1953-1954. On top of all of that, the recession of 1958 followed by the austerity of 1959-1961 ended abruptly, with the fickle buying public tiring of the compact cars and six cylinder engines they’d bought. Suddenly, performance was in demand.
GM and Ford were offering big cars in their showrooms and Plymouth, their major competitor, offered cars that were smaller than the public wanted. Plymouth went from fourth place in the sales race in 1961 all the way to eighth place for 1962.
The famous big-block V-8s came in three displacements: 361 (305 hp), 383 (335 hp) and massive 413 (410 to 420 hp). Shifting was by the vastly improved and near unbreakable Torqueflite automatic. For 1963, the 413 was replaced by the massive 426 Max Wedge V-8 of 415 or 425 hp.
The styling re-do for 1963 at least helped Plymouth regain fourth place behind Chevrolet, Ford and Pontiac, but the cars were still considered too small against the competition, and nothing could be done about that until 1965.
Overall, the situation was disastrous for the Plymouth Division, which didn’t regain its historical third place in the sales race until 1970. These 1962-1964 failures did several things for Plymouth as well as Chrysler Corporation, though. They helped to re-establish Chrysler as a preeminent builder of super-fast high-performance street and drag race machines, and they forecast the major styling coup best evidenced by the Mustang in mid-1964. Needless to say, the collectible, valuable cars in this group are the big-block wedge-head cars, simply because they were present at the beginning of Chrysler’s muscle-car era.