Plymouth VIP 2dr HT

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Description: The ups and downs of Plymouth's big Fury and the brief history of the Plymouth VIP, Chrysler's answer to the Ford LTD and Chevrolet Caprice.

For 1965, the Plymouth Fury and Sport Fury, which had previously been the upper-level B-body trim series, switched to the bigger C-body used by the Dodge Polara/Custom 880 and low-end Chryslers. For the Fury, the C-body’s wheelbase was shortened to 119 inches (3,023 mm), giving it overall dimensions very close to those of the full-size Ford and Chevy. To ensure that the Fury would cover the same price spread as Chevrolet’s Biscayne, Bel Air, and Impala models. there were now three Fury series: Fury I, Fury II, and Fury III.

This is a 1966 Plymouth VIP, but the 1965 and 1966 models differ only in minor details. The first C-body Fury was 209.8 inches (5,329 mm) long on a 119-inch (3,023mm) wheelbase, very similar to the Ford Galaxie. The C-body’s unitary construction make it more solid than the deliberately willowy perimeter frame of the big Chevy, but not any lighter: with a big-block engine and air conditioning, the Fury’s curb weight was a bit over 4,300 lb (1,960 kg).

Since the sales of the 1963-1964 B-body Plymouths had been quite good, Chrysler-Plymouth did not simply discard them. Instead, the Belvedere series got another restyling that removed 3.1 inches (79 mm) of the 4.5 inches (114 mm) of overall length the car had gained since 1962, bringing it closer the size of the Ford Fairlane and Chevrolet Chevelle. Plymouth now advertised the Belvedere (and its more plushly trimmed Satellite sibling) as an intermediate, rather than a full-sized car — which is what Chrysler probably should have done with the B-bodies in the first place. (Dodge did the same with its B-body cars, creating the midsize Coronet and its Dodge Charger derivative.)

The 1965 Fury was the most conservative Plymouths in over a decade. Although Furies still had unibody construction (once again with a bolt-in front subframe) and torsion bars, the pushbutton transmission controls were gone, the suspension was softer, and the styling had become cautious and rectilinear. All those changes were deliberate, intended to entice GM and Ford customers who might have considered previous Plymouths a little too odd. The pushbuttons, for instance, were dropped at least in part because a Chrysler marketing study found that they were a deterrent to buyers who had never tried them before, although Chrysler was probably also worried by a new regulation from the General Accounting Office requiring all federal fleet cars to have a neutral position between drive and reverse (a requirement that later became part of the first federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards). The Fury still had a firmer ride and somewhat better handling than its nearest rivals, but the difference was modest, and it would gradually erode throughout the decade.

From a commercial standpoint, Plymouth’s newfound orthodoxy was no bad thing. Sales rose by about 20% from the already-decent 1964 total. In fact, the 1965 model year was the second best in Plymouth’s history, falling short of 1957’s peak by only 45,000 units. Nearly half of those sales were Furies and Sport Furies, suggesting that adding the C-body had been a smart move.

While sales of just under 330,000 units were better than decent, the Fury remained a distant third in the low-priced, full-size market. The full-size Chevrolet outsold the Fury by almost four to one while the big Ford outpaced Plmouth by nearly three to one. Moreover, the big Plymouth’s short-term resale values still lagged behind Chevrolet’s and Ford’s by $100 or more, a serious concern in an era when many buyers still traded in every two or three years.

The badge reads “Commando V8,” which was a trade name for a variety of Plymouth V8s in this era. The standard engine for the VIP was the 318 cu. in. (5,204 cc) A-series V8 with 230 gross horsepower (172 kW); the Commando V8 was the first step-up option, a 383 cu. in. (6,277 cc) B-series engine with a two-throat carburetor, making 270 gross horsepower (201 kW). This car, like most Furies and probably all VIPs, has the optional three-speed TorqueFlite automatic, a $198.35 extra.

Part of the problem was perceived quality. In general, the 1965 Plymouths were solidly built, a welcome improvement from the rattly, fast-rusting products of the late fifties, but fit and finish still left something to be desired. Critics were already making similar complaints about Chevrolet, but many buyers still perceived the big Chevy as the better-built car, something Chrysler’s five-year/50,000-mile (80,000-km) warranty had not entirely rectified. Evidently, not all customers were convinced that Chrysler had really cleaned up its act.

As we’ve previously discussed, in 1965, Ford introduced a new wrinkle to the low-priced big-car market: the LTD. The LTD was a essentially a super-deluxe trim package, adding plusher upholstery, extra sound insulation, and a lot of woodgrain appliqué to transform the Galaxie into a sort of cut-price Lincoln. Although it was very expensive — nearly $500 more than a Galaxie 500 — the LTD struck a responsive chord with both salespeople and buyers, selling over 100,000 units in the first year and raking in a considerable profit.

Unlike the four-seat Thunderbird, which had seemed to confound Ford’s rivals, the LTD’s formula was easily duplicated. For the 1966 model year, GM, AMC, and Chrysler rolled out their own budget luxury models: the Chevrolet Caprice, AMC Ambassador DPL, and Plymouth VIP. All were studious imitations of the Ford concept.

All Plymouth VIPs were hardtops, whether two-door or four-door. The two-door started at $3,069 in 1966, the four-door at $3,133. Those prices put the VIP roughly halfway between the Chevrolet Caprice and the Ford LTD, but dangerously close to its corporate sibling, the Chrysler Newport.

The acronym “VIP” — Very Important Person — dates back to World War II, where it was military shorthand for senior civilian officials, the wives of general officers, and other transport passengers accorded more consideration than the average G.I. or Marine. Plymouth had previously applied the name to a show car displayed at the 1965 Chicago Auto Show, although the production VIP bore no resemblance to the concept car, which had featured a partially retractable glass roof and a built-in television.

Mechanically, the Plymouth VIP was a Fury III — it was initially a sub-series of that model, although it cost nearly $350 more. It came standard with the 318 cu. in. (5,204 cc) LA-series V8, rear fender skirts, and a clock, which were optional on lesser Furies. The rest of the price premium was in the interior, which included the obligatory slathering of chrome and faux mahogany, as well as indulgences like folding armrests and a separate cigarette lighter and ashtrays for rear-seat passengers. As with the LTD, the price did not include automatic transmission, power steering or brakes, or even the vinyl top, a $75.10 option with which most VIPs were apparently equipped.

Rear fender skirts were optional on other Furies, but standard on the Plymouth VIP. Like all Chryslers of this period, the Fury and VIP had torsion bar springs in front and leaf springs in back compared to the coil springs used by the big Fords and Chevys. In previous years, these had provided above-average handling and a rather firm ride, but Chrysler progressively reduced the spring rates, softened the shocks, and added thick rubber bushings to reduce harshness; some base models also lacked a front anti-roll bar. The VIP was rather soggy for a Chrysler unless you opted for the heavy-duty suspension, which cost $15.90 extra.

Unsurprisingly, the VIP performed a lot like any other Fury. With the base engine and TorqueFlite, 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took around 12 seconds, although many buyers opted for the optional 383 cu. in. (6,277 cc) V8, with either 270 or 325 hp (201 or 242 kW). The latter allowed 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in around 9 seconds with a top speed of around 115 mph (185 km/h), wholly adequate, if not particularly sporting. A big 440 cu. in. (7,206 cc) “Super Commando” V8 and four-speed manual transmission were theoretically optional, although we can’t imagine many VIP customers ordered such a powertrain; the VIP was marketed as a budget luxury car, not a Supercar.

All sixties Plymouths had temperature and amperage gauges, rather than warning lights, but for some reason, none had an oil pressure gauge. The Plymouth VIP’s instrument panel was the same as lesser Furies, but it added padding to the top of the dash. Note that the shifter is on the column; Chrysler abandoned its famous pushbuttons at the end of the 1964 model year.

While both the LTD and the similar Chevrolet Caprice were strong sellers, Plymouth’s VIP proved to be a commercial disappointment. The Caprice and LTD/7-Litre accounted for nearly 300,000 sales in 1966, not far from the total sales of all Furies. Chrysler-Plymouth didn’t break out VIP sales from those of the regular Fury III in 1966, but we doubt sales were much more than 20,000. The restyled 1967 sold fewer than 19,000 units.

The split grille and stacked-quad headlamps make the 1966 Plymouth VIP (and all ’66 Plymouths) look rather like a 1963-1964 Pontiac — given that Plymouth was eager to reclaim the number-three sales slot from Pontiac, the resemblance may well have been intentional.

The VIP’s commercial failure probably had a lot to do with Plymouth’s continuing connection with Chrysler. The LTD and Caprice were thinly veiled broadsides at their upmarket corporate siblings, but Ford and Chevrolet were not obliged to sell them alongside Mercurys, Pontiacs, and Oldsmobiles; the multi-franchise automotive “supermarkets” so common today were then very rare. By contrast, the VIP had to share the same showrooms as its most direct in-house rival, the Chrysler Newport.

In that era, the Chrysler brand still offered a respectable level of badge cachet, certainly far more than any Plymouth. A basic Newport hardtop was only $43 more than a two-door VIP and came standard with the 383 cu. in. (6,277 cc) 2V V8 that cost $69.70 extra on the Plymouth. The Newport shared the same body shell as the VIP, although its wheelbase was 5 inches (127 mm) longer and its running gear and performance nearly identical. Measured on the usual luxury-car scales of size, power, and snob value, the Newport was clearly a better value and it outsold the VIP by a sizable margin. If Plymouth had really gotten its own dealer network at the beginning of the decade, the VIP might have done better, but the pairing with Chrysler limited Plymouth’s upmarket ambitions.

The 1967-1968 Plymouth Fury was 213.1 inches (5,413 mm) long on the same 119-inch (3,023mm) wheelbase, nearly identical to the contemporary Impala and Galaxie. This is a Fury III, distinguished by additional exterior trim and a higher grade of interior upholstery. With automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, and a radio, a 1968 Plymouth Fury III hardtop like this cost around $3,500.

Plymouth continued the VIP series through the 1969 model year, but sales never picked up and it was quietly dropped in the spring of 1969. Sales in its final year amounted to fewer than 14,000 units, less even than the AMC Ambassador DPL.

The Fury, meanwhile, was staying its conservative course. The restyled 1967-1968 models, developed by C-body chief stylist Dick Clayton under the supervision of Chrysler-Plymouth executive designer Dick Macadam, were less rigid-looking than before, although they still fell short of the voluptuous curves of contemporary Pontiacs. The big Fury was pleasant enough to look at, but it was far from distinctive. Except for the sharply angled C-pillars of the “Fast Top” hardtop roof, the new Plymouth C-body could easily be mistaken for any number of other makes. It was a far cry from the dramatic Forward Look Plymouths of a decade earlier.

The most distinctive styling feature of the 1967-1968 Plymouth was the “Fast Top” roof on two-door hardtops, with its reverse-slant C-pillars. This is a 1968 Plymouth Fury III, identifiable by the tiny side-marker lights mandated by new federal safety regulations. Like the silver VIP above, this car has the 383 cu. in. (6,277 cc) Commando engine and TorqueFlite, but is also equipped front disc brakes, which became optional on big Plymouths in 1966.

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