For some reason, I’ve always skewed toward American luxury cars. With the exception of Porsches and Volvos, that is-blame my parents and their cars for that one. But as a kid, watching 1980s TV, I always wanted the black Cadillacs, Town Cars and Fifth Avenues the bad guys drove, not Magnum’s 308GTB or Michael Knight’s talking Trans Am. You can probably blame that one on my grandparents, my Grandma Ruby’s 1977 Thunderbird and Grandpa Bob’s navy blue 1977 Continental Mark V saw to it.
One of the earliest memories I have of car shows was when my mom and dad took me to the June Jamboree, a car show and festival in town back in about 1986 or 1987. I would have been about seven. The only car I remember, and have strong memories of, was a gigantic black 1955 Cadillac Fleetwood 60 Special. Even more imposing when you’re four feet tall.
Fast forward thirty years and I still love vintage domestic lux rolling stock. And with all my car buddies near and far, I never know what I’ll get to check out next. Case in point: K V Dahl, a friend of mine who just happens to also be the local Ford dealer, got a blue 1962 Continental convertible about a year ago. I’ve been wanting to write it up for a while, and though I had some pictures of it, I wanted to get some beauty shots of the car sitting outside. K V said we could definitely do that. So back in May I called him up and said, “Hey, I’d like to get some shots of the Connie sometime this week if you’re around.” To which he responded, “Well sure, but you should see what I got this week in Indianapolis!” “What?” “A 1960 New Yorker convertible. It’s sitting out front of the dealership right now. Wanna stop by?” *long pause* “I’m on the way!”
The 1960 Chryslers were all new, and the second generation of Virgil Exner’s Forward Look was extremely attractive. And fins? Oh heck yes! Despite all the glamour and glitz that was de rigueur back then, the biggest news was under the skin, where all Mopars (save Imperial) went to unit-body construction.
The 1960 Chrysler lineup was homogeneous yet diverse at the same time. There were no midsizers and compacts and subcompacts and SUVs and combovers…oops I mean tall hatchbacks…oops I mean crossovers. Everything was a variation on a theme. Full-size Chrysler with big-ass fins. But there was a wide variety of body styles and trim levels. And colors! Oh, the colors! And hardtops! And wagons! And push-button Torque-Flite transmissions!
Look at all those wonderful cars. Sure, if you didn’t want to drive such a gunboat, you were kind of out of luck, but that’s what Renault Dauphines and VW dealerships were for. And you could admire the Chryslers and then check out the new compact Valiant sharing the showroom ifin you were so inclined.
The other big deal on ’60 Chryslers was the totally awesome Astra-Dome instrument cluster. In addition to its cool looks, the Astra Dome instrumentation introduced electroluminescent lighting to Chryslers for the first time. Instead of small bulbs throwing light upon the surface of the gauges (think spotlights on a stage), the numbers and needles were illuminated from within, in bright green and red. Not only did they look cool, they reduced glare compared to the more commonly illuminated gauges on other 1960 model year cars.
One interesting factoid on 1960-62 Chryslers. For the rare buyer who wanted a manual transmission, they would have received a floor-mounted gearshift instead of the three-on-the-tree column shift. With the Astra Dome extending all the way to the steering wheel, there simply wasn’t any place to put it!
Super cool, but as you might expect, they were rather expensive to make, especially in 1960. But back then Chrysler was still the engineering-focused member of the Big Three, despite the early-rusting, troublesome 1957 Forward Look cars. Only 1960-62 Chryslers and 1960-63 Imperials got the EL gauge clusters. They looked pretty good in the top-tier Imperials too.
They were an indicator (no pun intended) of the future, as all cars eventually went this route, with the numbers and needles lit from within on pretty much everything by the late 1970s and early 1980s. In this picture you can see another gee-whiz late ’50s/early ’60s Chrysler gadget, the swing out seats. Designed to help (in theory) people get in and out of the rather low 1957-62 Chryslers, they were an option, and depending on whether it was a Dodge or Chrysler or whatever, they automatically swung out or were operated via a lever on the seat.
As usual, the New Yorker was the top of the line, and while not quite in the same league as a Cadillac, Lincoln or Imperial, was nevertheless a swank set of wheels. Lots of Jet Age details abound, even the interior door handles have a jet thruster look to them.
K V’s new addition to the collection has a bit of history too. It was the cover car for the December 1994 issue of Collectible Automobile, when they had a feature article on the 1960-62 Chryslers. Of course, K V has a copy in the car. And was nice enough to make a color copy of the article for me!
At any rate, I arrived at Dahl Ford in due course and met up with K V. As we exited the side door of the dealership, I spotted the New Yorker in a primo parking place and fired up the camera, but K V said the car deserved better pictures than sitting in a parking lot. “Let’s take it for a ride!” Um, hell yes, okay! I’m in!
A nearby cemetery provided a good background for pictures. I can also tell you that this is one smooth riding car. You think the late-model Town Cars and Cadillac DTSs ride nice? These Mid-Century yachts blow them totally out of the water!
You don’t really drive, you kind of float. But with that famous Chrysler Corporation Torsion-Aire suspension, it handles pretty darn fair for such a big girl!
But as good as the entire car looks, let’s face it, it’s all about the fins. The 1960 Chrysler is, in my opinion, one of the best looking Mopars of the late Fifties and early Sixties. I like it even more than the ’57 “Suddenly it’s 1960” Chryslers, which are pretty damn attractive in their own right! The ’60 is just so smooth, and the whole car, from nose to tail, is so smooth and flowing.
Sadly, that terrific look was marred a bit in the ’61 restyle. The slanting quad headlamps just aren’t as attractive. It’s like they just changed it for the sake of change, and while that was the rule of the day in Detroit at the time, I kind of wish they’d just done a new grille insert and side trim instead of this. I like them, but not as much as I like the 1960 Chryslers.
If you ever happen to see a 1960 New Yorker in person, you’re in rare company. For whatever reason, drop-top Mopars didn’t sell back then, while over at GM Cadillac convertibles were flying off the assembly lines. Total sales of topless New Yorkers that year were a mere 556 units. I kid you not. Each retailed for $4,875 before options. For those wanting Forward Look fins in a less-costly version could have gotten a Windsor for $3,623. Windsor convertible production was 1,467 for the year, better than the New Yorker but still minuscule.
And for those for which cost was no object, the 300F was available for $5,841. It was even rarer than the New Yorker, with 248 being sold. But it was so cool!
And that, my friends, is how a 1962 Continental article turned into a 1960 Chrysler love fest. But never fear, the Lincoln will get written up someday. Until then, keep calm and Brougham on!