Category Archives: Chrysler

Street seen: native New Yorkers

Wunderkind VW

Wunderkind VW

We recently spent part of a sweltering New York afternoon, ahem, walking the streets with world renowned performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite.  What Tammy doesn’t know about cars could fill the New York Public Library.  That’s no surprise in light of the fact that this Manhattan born and bred provocateuse doesn’t have a driver’s license and that’s a very good thing since she doesn’t actually know how to drive a car.

Bunny hoppers

Bunny hoppers

While she’s rather indifferent to cars other than taxis, she was somewhat smitten by the sight of a vintage Volkswagen Rabbit Cabriolet on East 11th Street.  It’s not often that one encounters a mid-80s car parked on the mean streets of Manhattan, especially a soft top like this yet there it was.  The VW convertible has long been considered the ultimate “chick car” and that’s not a slight in any way.  They’re cute and trim and when the top is folded down there’s a roll bar that looks something like a purse handle.

Tammy's bunny

Cabaret Cabriolet

These were built for VW by Karmann (as in Karmann Ghia)  in the Westphalian town of Rheine, 190 kilometers north of Cologne. That’s where Christa Päffgen was born in 1938. She would transform herself into the underground icon Nico who went on to a career of modeling, recording, acting and drug abuse.  Tammy has portrayed her in Nico: Underground, a theatrical performance that The New York Times called “remarkable and howlingly funny, morbidly fascinating night of theater.”  See how we connected the dots just now?

K-car gets the OK

K-car desperately seeks Tammy’s OK

Just one block removed from that surprisingly not-too-battered VW we encountered a domestic rag top of similar vintage.  Behold, the Chrysler LeBaron convertible for 1983.  Though not as loveable as the VW, the two cars have much in common.  Both are front wheel drive cars powered by transverse-mounted 4 cylinder motors. Are you taking notes, Ms. Starlite?  There will be a quiz!  We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that Tammy’s deficiencies in automotive areas is more than made up for by her uncanny ability to inhabit characters based on real people.  Her next piece, entitled Cabaret Marianne, debuts October 1 at New York’s delightful Pangea restaurant and supper club.  It’s a performance based on the life and music of Marianne Faithful which Rolling Stone’s David Fricke called “poignant” and  “lethally honest..”  Damned if we can find a way to connect this with Chrysler’s K-Car but Marianne once recorded a song entitled “Times Square” and that’s only about a mile away from where this LeBaron was parked.  No?  How about the fact that, in her youth, Marianne had a fairly big record titled “Summer Nights”? Isn’t that exactly when you’d want to put the top down.  Hey, we’re walkin’ here!

Styling? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Styling? Fuhgeddaboudit!

We offer a bit of time travel with the great Ricardo Montalban, a performance artist in his own right, in this LeBaron commercial from back in the day.. and not a mention of “rich Corinthian leather.”  And check out this Mattel commercial for the Heart Family Car which looks strangely similar to the VW Rabbit convertible.. but much, much smaller.

What’s keeping you from buying this ’87 VW Cabriolet?  It’s in nearby Seattle and is offered for a mere (not a typo) $525!! A deal like this won’t last forever.  And while you’re in the buying mood, why not add this ’82 LeBaron convertible to your shopping list?  It’s a low mileage cream puff in nearby Palm Springs. Yow!  They’re asking $7900 for it but, hey, it’s the deluxe Mark Cross edition and one of only 505 made.

Bonus! Click here for Tammy performing Marianne’s “Sister Morphine” at Lincoln Center.

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

Note: While we strive for factual accuracy in our posts, we readily acknowledge that we we sometimes make inadvertent mistakes.  If you happen to catch one please don’t sit there and fume; let us know where we went wrong and we’ll do our best to correct things.

 

Giving thanks for rock solid Plymouth

Mayflower, madame?

The Mayflower came over on a Plymouth

An underappreciated marque for which we give thanks  today is Plymouth.  Of course, we love Barracudas, Valiants, Horizons and even Reliant Ks but we’re talking about the senior and intermediate Plymouth. It was Chrysler’s main contender in the low price field that was long dominated by Ford and Chevy. On this day we give thanks for Plymouth’s top tier, rock solid, standard bearers.

Fins were in

Fins stayed in; “charmin'” rear deck lid

By 1960 fins were on their way out; it was the year that, for the first time, Cadillac’s went lower instead of higher.  The downward move by Cadillac was a true bellwether but Plymouth gave it one last towering hurrah with this ’60 Fury convertible complete with “sport deck,” a fake spare tire imprinted on the trunk lid which some suggested resembled a toilet seat.  This black on black example was snapped on-the-run by Feral Cars Field Scout Amy Treco . This was the first year of unit body construction for Plymouth, the selling point of this commercial that uses a cover version of Big Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” to get the message across.

Rip van Plymouth

Satellite of love

Things simmered down by the end of the decade and the look was not anywhere as outrageous as it had been a few years earlier.  This ’68 Satellite was a mid-size entrant that did battle with Chevy’s Chevelle, Ford’s Fairlane, AMC’s Rebel and corporate cousin Coronet from Dodge. We found this plain Jane Satellite sedan in Palo Alto, California where it’s obviously been well cared for.  We like the fact that it’s neither a glitzy hardtop nor convertible but a real blue collar Plymouth, reflective of the brand’s working class roots.

The ghost of Plymouths past

Scary Satellite

The Palo Alto Plymouth’s less-well-cared-for doppelganger was spotted in Nashville and we like its tough guy persona. Who needs hubcaps anyway?

Better red than dead

Better red than dead

Feral Cars Field Scout Alex “Love Tap” Vickers shot this stunner from a moving car; it’s  a ’69 GTX convertible in screaming red with black rocker panels and white top and interior.  We’re  sure the Puritans didn’t have something like this in mind when they chowed down at that first giblet fest so long ago. This thing looks more devilish than a Salem coven. Va-va-voom!

The Forward Look redux

The Forward Look redux

Jumping around from era to era, tossing aside concerns for chronology, we note that Plymouth always seemed quite different than its Ford and Chevy competitors.  This Briar Rose and Eggshell White ’56 Belvedere carries the mark of designer Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look” on its sweeping rear fenders; no low price GM or FoMoCo product of the time was more jet age-inspired  than this.  Thanks to Feral Cars Scout Candice Miller Crossley for this view that offers lots in the way of hindsight.

Senior visor

Senior visor

We now set the ‘way back machine for 1951 and a chance to view this paradoxically pimped-out Cranbrook sedan, laden with after-market accessories. These include dual tear drop spotlights, amber fog lights mounted on the front bumper, a full sun visor and period-appropriate wide whitewalls. This generation preceded the introduction of a V8 option which both Plymouth and Chevy finally offered in 1955.  Our feature car  is powered by a 217 cubic inch flat head six that developed an adequate 97 horsepower.  Obviously, Plymouth’s muscle car day had not dawned.

Fury unleashed

Fury unleashed

After fins had run their course, Plymouth went off on an “out there” tangent with this ’62 Sport Fury.  It was oddly futuristic looking and had been downsized from the previously year though to contemporary eyes it still looks quite huge. The car was a sales disappointment and Exner took the fall for it and was  shown the door.  Just the same, and for reasons we can’t fully explain, it’s among our all-time favorite Plymouths.  The styling that some found off-putting we think is totally swingin’.  There’s another red ’62 Sport Fury that’s for sale here  it’s damn expensive –$45K — and it’s not even a convertible.  Who’s unloved now, huh?

Trim is in

Trim is in

Plymouth would regain its conservative footing in later years as evidenced by this non-confrontational, straight-as-an-arrow ’65 Belvedere II.  It’s quirk-free look was a sales winner, as you might expect.

The living end

The living end

This ’66 hardtop, which could be a Belvedere or Satellite — it’s just too dark and too fast to make a positive i.d. — has a sinister presence that is, perhaps, frightening to the faint of heart.  It’s really at odds with the bourgeois bent of that upstanding sedan on which its based, no?

Night flight

Night flight

Just as Elvis Presley rose to fame and Dwight Eisenhower embarked on his second Presidential campaign, the “Forward Look” made itself very evident with this ’56 Belvedere. That zig-zaggy white lower body inset was a somewhat anomalous touch on a staid sedan but the fins seem to justify this kind of flamboyance.

Elvis has entered the building

Elvis has entered the building

We have to point out that we come from a MoPar family where dad drove a Chrysler and mom a Plymouth.  Here’s Brother Eddie screwing around with a fire extinguisher between our ’53 New Yorker hardtop and mom’s completely bare bones (no radio!) ’51 Cambridge two-door sedan.

MoPar fire department

MoPar fire department

Just 90 miles south of Florida we found another ’51 Cambridge, this one serving as a Havana taxi cab.  Who knows when the cormorant hood ornament, the contrasting fender skirts and rear fender- mounted stop lights were added but that’s beside the point. This car is testimony to endurance and utility.  We think that’s reason enough to give thanks.

¡Cuba sí  ¡Plymouth sí!

¡Cuba sí ¡Plymouth sí!

Saluting a truism

Saluting a truism

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

 

K-car saves Mopar

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Orange you glad they paid back the loans?

Chrysler’s recent emergence from bankruptcy to become a unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brings to mind an earlier time when the company’s continued existence was in doubt.  Thirty-five years ago Congress debated a measure that would reassure lenders who were hesitant about extending credit to keep Chrysler’s sinking ship afloat.   At the urging of President Carter,  the Chrysler Loan Guarantee Act was passed — over the objections of General Motors Chairman Thomas Murphy who called the measure “a basic challenge to the philosophy of America.” Speaking of “basic challenges to the philosophy of America,” the Chevette was introduced during Chairman Murphy’s tenure at GM. 

Playing all the angles

Playing all the angles

But we digress.  Over at Chrysler, once Public Law 86-185 was enacted resources were poured into marketing the Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant, the legendary K-cars, so named for the company’s internal code for the front wheel drive platform shared by both.  We can’t get over this 1980 commercial for the Aries in which no less a light than the real Chairman, a certain Mr. Francis Albert Sinatra declares, “America’s not gonna be pushed around any more!” Give ’em hell, Frankie!

Pentastar star car

Pentastar car

The cars were well made, comparatively reliable (Reliant — get it?) but were, essentially, dull as dishwater.  Styling was straightforward in a way that recalls a child’s typical depiction of a car as one box atop another — with windows and doors.  Nonetheless, the K-car twins were smash hits, giving Chrysler Chairman Lee Iococca, the company’s onscreen pitchman (“If  you can find a better car, buy it!”), a tremendous public profile that obliterated thoughts about the role he had played in the Pinto disaster back when he ran Ford.  The loans that the government had guaranteed were paid off ahead of schedule and, as a result, the U.S. Treasury got a $350 million bonus, though it was probably all frittered away in the Iran-Contra deal.

MoPar goes topless!

MoPar goes topless!

Chrysler, cleverly, used the K-car platform as a kind of automotive Hamburger Helper, creating new products from the same basic components.  The Chrysler brand launched its tarted up LeBaron derivative which became the basis for the first new American convertible since the demise of Cadillac’s much vaunted “last” one back in 1976.  Dodge gave the Aries an upscale treatment (and a convertible) and, inexplicably, named the result “400.”

Dodge drop top

400 of what?

Sign of the olden times

Sign of the (olden) times

Chairman Lee seemed to be enamored of fake wood and, in short order, launched the LeBaron Town & Country station wagon and convertible, both festooned with gobs of grainy goodness. An early LeBaron convertible, slathered with bogus timber, is for sale for under $7,000 here in nearby Woodland Hills, CA.  One of these went for almost twice that much at a recent auction so we’re thinking this could be the buy of the century, if not the millennium.

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The answer to the deforestation crisis

The platform was stretched, like so much pizza dough, for longer models including Chrysler’s New Yorker and the Dodge 600, though, again the Dodge’s model number seems to be a reference to nothing in particular. The K-platform underpinned the wildly successful Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager minivans and even the seldom seen (or purchased) Imperial, Chrysler’s line topper that had come back from vehicular purgatory for a short run beginning in 1990.

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

Up with U.S. Imperialism!

My how you've grown

Imperial cruiser

That Imperial looks like two or three cars were grafted together to make one strange, billowy barge. Profit margins on these rococo K cars were higher than bare bones Aries and Reliants so they found clever ways to squeeze some additional dollars out of a dumbstruck nation.

Behold: the top of the K line

Behold: the top of the K line

The K-car marched into the next decade under a variety of names.  This Plymouth Sundance gives some indication of the abuse these stout machines could take.

Undercover K

Undercover K

That’s not just a festering dent on the right rear of this ’87 LeBaron; it’s a mark of character.

Le K

Le K

We really like the profile of this ’89 Dodge Shadow as seen on the mean streets of lower Manhattan.  A tip of the hat to Feral Cars Field Scout and self-proclaimed “car guy” Jim Bessman for this stunner!

Still life

Still life

Oh K!

Oh K!

Dig this archetypal Chrysler commercial with Chairman Lee closing the deal.  “Buy it!”

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting consideration please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com OR through our Facebook page.

Postwarriors: “the greatest generation” revisited

After having been so rudely interrupted by Pearl Harbor, domestic auto production resumed in 1946. GM, Ford, Chrysler and the independents — Packard, Studebaker, Nash, Hudson — had spent the war years building tanks, planes and whatever was needed to ensure victory over the Axis powers. This United Auto Workers song gives an encapsulated history of the union’s efforts to organize Ford Motor and to rally behind the war effort.  It really speaks volumes about that extraordinary time.

Delightfullly delovely

Delightfullly delovely and, yes, that’s an AMC Hornet aft of its stern

Initial postwar cars were, essentially, carry overs from the 1942 model year as was this ’47 or ’48 DeSoto sedan we found the other day  mouldering away and dragging its tail a bit.  It’s impressive in terms of sheer mass and presence — the roof being more than 5′ 6″ above the road) and that front grill is straight out of the deco age.

Bulbosity

Bulbosity sans filler cap

We think it just hangs around the eastern fringe of Hollywood hoping to be cast in a remake of a  film noir of the era like Dead Reckoning starring George Clooney in the Bogart role and Scarlett Johansson in the part Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo — no kidding!)  created.  Hard core hip-hopper culture devotees should check on this “grill.” Surely, it will soon be the envy of L’il Wayne.

Thrill grill

Thrill grill

DeSoto was an object of middle class aspirations to move up a notch from lower class Dodge but stopping short of the old money subtext underpinning the upmarket Chrysler.  The back end on this one seems to have given way though it may have been intentionally lowered. Tough guys know that a few stiffs in the trunk tend to make a car ride on the low side and draw suspicion which some might think a “dead giveaway.”

Sophie Tucker, your Uber is here.

“Sophie Tucker, your Uber car has arrived.”

In an earlier post we covered this ’49 Packard Custom 8, photographed by Feral Cars Field Scout Davin Seay.  It, too, seems to have been designed by adherents of the  pontoon school of styling back in New Deal days.  Packard was a car for patricians, Cadillac being for the nouveau riche as well as for prosperous, yet showy, ethnic types. While a DeSoto could be had for far less than a Packard, Chevrolet was very much an entry level play.

Heavy Chevy

Heavy Chevy

We’re just nuts about the patina on this, apparently, untouched mid-line ’48 Chevrolet Fleetmaster sedan. It’s noteworthy that all the trim pieces, both bright and body-colored, are right where they should be and all are in undamaged, original condition.  We do think those whitewalls and the chrome wheel trim rings are un peu de trop for a car with such unassuming working class roots.  Then, again, maybe they’re a reflection of hopes for upward mobility during that ever so optimistic post war era.

Medicaremobile

Qualifies for Medicare

The origins of the brand names of these three cars bear addressing.  Packard, the oldest marque here, was founded in Warren, Ohio in 1899 by brothers  James Ward Packard and William Doud Packard.  Chevrolet came next, founded next in 1911. The car was initially a partnership between former Fiat and Buick race car driver Louis Chevrolet (b.1878 in the Swiss canton of Neuchâtel) and GM founder Billy Durant, then on the outs with the company, to build a low priced Ford competitor.

DeSoto is, strictly, the product of marketing.  The name on Chrysler’s one-step-down (from Chrysler, itself) and two-steps-up (from Plymouth and Dodge) marque was derived from Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto. This was an obvious attempt to mimic Cadillac, named in 1902 after the French explorer who 200 years earlier, founded Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit.  While he’s credited for being the first Westerner to see the Mississippi River back in 1541, de Soto’s resume also includes the destruction of the Inca civilization, introducing plagues of fatal diseases to the New World, not to mention the wholesale massacre of indigenous people.  And you thought Jeep’s Cherokee is an example of corporate insensitivity!

Hernando's ride away

Hernando’s rideaway

Badging on our ’48 DeSoto is a mid-century vamp on Hernanado de Soto’s family coat of arms.  That’s a profile of the fun-loving conquistador, himself, above a stylized representation of his crest.  Class! See?

DeSoto, Packard, Chevrolet and lots of other makes are chronicled in this Noire Car video guide with a very ‘cool school’ vibe.

We sincerely urge you to purchase this extended wheelbase 1946 DeSoto Custom that has only 76,000 miles.  You’ll make the $19K asking price back in a few weeks by renting out this 7-passenger party van of its day for weddings, bar mitzvahs and bank robberies.

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com.  Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it posted

 

 

Keha’s Plymouth Horizon never sets

The Blue Horizon never ends

The Blue Horizon never ends

We were delighted and amazed to meet lovely Keha McIlwaine the other day as she lounged behind the wheel of her 1986 Plymouth Horizon.  She told us she had driven the car out to California from New York a few months back and encountered no difficulties despite the fact that the odometer is closing in on 150,000 miles.  We especially like the duct tape around the parking light.  This kind of ingenuity worked for Apollo 13, so it would seem  a logical solution for a terrestrial vehicle with certain needs.

Plymouth pride will out

Plymouth pride will out (NOTE: ultra feral ’68 Chevy Caprice just ahead)

Plymouth Horizon and corporate twin Dodge Omni were introduced in 1978 and the same basic car stayed in production for 12 years.  They were fielded by Chrysler to compete with Volkswagen’s Rabbit and, like that bunny, were powered by a transverse mounted 4-cylinder motor via front wheel drive. Most mass-produced cars these days are configured this way but the “Omnirizon” twins were the first American cars of this kind and were jointly named Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1978.   We salute Keha who, paradoxically, pronounces her name like a certain Korean car spelled with three letters.

Hop-a-long VW

Hop-a-long VW

Volkswagen Rabbits of this general vintage are much more plentiful than their Plymouth and Dodge counterparts so we offer two such here to underscore the point.  Both of these are diesel-powered which may provide a clue to their preternatural longevity.

Oil-burning sweaty Rabbit

Oil-burning sweaty Rabbit

Diesel-powered VW = Sooty Rabbit

Diesel-powered VW = Sooty Rabbit

For quite a few model years, the Horizon co-existed with its ultimate replacement, Plymouth Sundance.  We’re not sure we’d exhibit the kind of loyalty Keha has for her Horizon if we had to tango with something like this over the long haul.

Unbutch: Plymouth's Sundance

Unbutch

Dappled Sundance

Dappled Sundance

Chrysler touted Horizon with lots of red, white and blue advertising such as this “The Pride Is Back” commercial that has a distinct Springsteenian undertone. The truth is that Simca, its French subsidiary, later offloaded to Peugeot, did the initial development work on this car.  Let’s keep that notre petit secret, d’accord?

If you’ve stalked a feral car and would like to submit a photo of it for posting please send it to us:   info (at) feralcars (dot)com.  Include your name, location of the car and some thoughts about the vehicle and we’ll look into getting it posted