The 1966 Chryslers: Sheer Perfection

NOTE: A friend of mine, Mike Batch Kirouac, who penned the Olds Diesel article earlier this year, has given me the green light on running some of his other posts from the other site. His favorite car is the 1966 Chrysler, and he owns several-which you’ll see more of in the near future. Enjoy. -TK

Elwood Engel left Ford Motor Company in 1961 to succeed Virgil Exner as head of styling at Chrysler.  The 1965 Chrysler–which essentially evolved the Engel design language created for the 1961 Lincoln Continental–was his first “clean sheet” production car design for Chrysler.  The 1966 refresh was, in my opinion, an improvement on the ’65s that provided greater differentiation between the base Newport (Windsor, in Canada), sporty 300 and high-end New Yorker models, all of which shared most of their sheet metal.

The letter-model 300 was gone, but 1966 marked the debut of the 350-hp, 440 cu in Mopar big-block that came standard in the New Yorker. The Newport and 300 had 383 cu in big-blocks with two- and four-barrel carbs, respectively. All ’66 Chrysler series offered the 365-hp, 440 ‘TNT’ engine upgrade.

Front disc brakes were newly optional for ’66; from my personal experience, however, under most circumstances the power drum brakes are sufficiently large to stop the car without drama.  Even the base-level, non-power drums are fairly adequate, thanks to their use of a unique pedal assembly that provides more leverage.

TV ads touted the 1966 Chrysler as a car “For when you’re young…or when you want to be.” This car definitely lives up to the tagline.

When I drive to the mall, it’s not unusual for me to find an old guy hanging around my car even when I park it near the back of the lot.  The story is always familiar: He drove one “back in the day”, and it was the best car he ever owned.

Once, I even found a business card, stuck under the wiper blade by someone who’d once had a car just like mine. On it was a written offer for my car. As every current or former owner I know will tell you, these cars never fail to evoke fond memories.

9 Replies to “The 1966 Chryslers: Sheer Perfection”

  1. John C.

    These cars have a sort of Camelot regency to them that probably hurt them in the marketplace of the day post JFK’s killing. For that matter all of Engel’s efforts afterward were less special. This isn’t a complaint, people just have their era.

    Chrysler was also not as adept with noise control, transmission smoothness or soft ride as what was offered over at GM. They had their strengths but not in the areas that made the sales. The American car that a Mercedes owner would pick if forced to buy American was not the selling point some would imagine in 1966. After all, who will force them?

    I was struck by the ad with the painting and the elegant black couple. I suppose that I should be impressed by the early portrayal, but instead it just seemed that the ad agency was already then spending more time injecting their politics than figuring out how to sell more of the product.

    • JustPassinThru

      In 1965, the Mercedes line was barely past its postwar-taxicab era. Those were not status cars – those were cars for academics and other eccentrics. An engineer might be drawn to one, but only if he cared nothing for the negative status he’d get. An Olds, which in those years also tried to stress engineering, offered a better value package.

      Regarding the black couple: Chrysler was onboard with proto-Affirmitive Action, early on. Chrysler always had a higher percentage of minorities working its Detroit plants than other companies. Just the way it played out. It was about the time of Townsend’s appointment as CEO, that the question of black dealers came up.

      Ed Davis, Jr., quoted on Allpar:

      “We were all standing around, talking in groups at the cocktail reception before dinner. The men talking with Townsend were asking him about opportunities for blacks in the automotive industry. “Why don’t you have any Negro dealerships?” he was asked.

      “There’s no reason why,” Townsend answered. “We’re looking for dealers, and we don’t care whom they are, so long as they’re qualified.”

      “Well, I know a Negro who would qualify and make a good dealer,” one of the men said.

      “Who is he? I’d like to meet him.”

      “Ed Davis.” And with that, my friend drew me away from a nearby group and had me come over to meet Chrysler’s dynamic young president.

      “I’m glad to meet you,” Townsend said as we shook hands. “We’re looking for dealers.” ”

      • John C.

        On the Mercedes, seems like they had some pretty prestigious offerings by the mid 50s and Max Hoffman was trying to make that point in his dealers in the USA.

        I suppose we are again supposed to nod along how wonderful it was that Chrysler gave a franchise to Mr. Davis. I wonder, the article doesn’t say, if Mr. Davis was actually coming up with the franchise fees out of his own pocket as would be expected of any other prospective dealer. If not, it seems like misguided charity out of the hides of those who actually paid for the privilege of a Chrysler dealership.

        • JustPassinThru

          Actually, Davis did. I came across the incident in David Halberstam’s business biography, The Reckoning. It focused on Ford vis-a-vis Nissan, but veered off into Chrysler. Partly because Ford’s story of the 1950s-70s was Lee Iacocca’s story, and that story continued with the left-for-dead Chrysler. So – obviously as Halberstam was researching – shifting realities obligated him to take a detour into Chrysler history, including how Lynn Townsend ran the company into the ground. After first saving it. Townsend brought fresh outlook and an open mind to the Chrysler of K.T. Keller and George Love. He forced a change in design, but then tried a marketing change as well, and then focused on stock performance and raw numbers over quality and dealer concerns.

          But Davis was a Studebaker dealer with strong auto-dealer cred. And he had his own financing – actually there was a small hiccup in that his line of credit didn’t initially match what Chrysler demanded.

          Yeah, I’m not race-focused, but there’s no legitimate question that Davis was qualified and paid his way in.

    • Carmine

      I don’t think their supposed to be black, they look grey-purpleish flesh-tone but the colors for the ad are all over the place.

  2. -Nate

    Truly these were fine cars .

    I’m not a big MoPar fan but I rode in and worked in these cars and the ride was fine and the road holding was far better than anything GM had at the time, and right out of the box too .

    If you wanted this big car to float and wallow like a Caddy, Easy-Peasy ~ just adjust the torsion bars .


  3. Tony LaHood

    There is nothing about these cars that I do not love. Make mine the six-window sedan in the top shot.


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