Saturday, April 19, 2014

1962 Chrysler Newport 4-door Sedan

"Newport's surprisingly low price has caused thousands of smart car buyers to move up to Chrysler. And because Chrysler builds full-size cars only, your new car investment is fully protected. No small car steals the thunder from the Chrysler name — or the pride you'll take in owning one!"

Here's a car that doesn't seem to fit quite well into Cuba's automotive landscape: in 1962, the U.S. trade embargo came into full effect and car imports from Detroit went down to quasi zero. So, what is a Chrysler from 1962 doing here? Nelson, the owner of this Chrysler Newport from Cardenas, knows the answer: "This was one of four cars used by the Canadian embassy in Havana. At one point in time, the cars were donated to the church and served there for long years. Somehow, my family later got into possession of this Chrysler." We can only speculate what "somehow" means.

Technically, the 1962 Chryslers were quite advanced cars. All fullsize Chryslers had been adopting a modern unibody structure in 1960, while the main competitors still used a classic body-on-frame construction. Too bad, that the modern engineering wasn't reflected in the design, as Chrysler styling perseverated in the 1950s for too long. Large tailfins and excessive chrome detailing which the rest of the industry had already abandoned, remained a Chrysler identifier through 1961. Perhaps, for just a little too long Chrysler was hoping to ride the wave of success that they had enjoyed with the first and second generation of Virgil Exner's "Forward Look" cars. 

Adding insult to injury, wrong decisions of Chrysler's brass should severely hamper progress. Chrysler design always had had its up and downs. But at the dawn of the 1960s, Chrysler was sailing through really rough waters, and the 1962 models are a testimony of these times. When their development was under way, William C. Newberg became Chrysler's new Vice President. 64 days later, he should already be dismissed, when evidence surfaced that he had financial interests in several Chrysler suppliers. Yet, these 64 days were long enough to cause enormous damage, because he had ordered a massive downsizing of Plymouth and Dodge models, that were already heading for production. In the following "crash-course", Chrysler designers literally worked their butts off in shifts around the clock, to minimize the production delay and to adjust the designs to the demanded proportions. Yet, the final result was less than convincing to say the least. Chrysler's design chief Virgil Exner was the only one to raise open criticism to the board. Ironically, he should become the scapegoat, being held responsible and fired in late 1961 when it became evident that these downsized cars wouldn't sell.

The styling of the fullsize Chryslers, luckily, suffered less from the chaos. For 1962, these models simply kept the front end of the previous model year, showing the same gaping grille and canted headlights. The large tailfins, a leftover of earlier "Forward Look" styling, were axed and replaced by a clean and boxy rear end. And, most importantly, these cars retained their good proportions since they didn't get downsized. Only the "Astradome Instrument Panel" with its big circular speedometer and lavishly applied brightwork still exudes an aura of the 1950s.

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