Because of the cobbled-together nature of the hastily-made 1962 Dodge 880, the 1962 Newport was much more of a 1961 Dodge than the 1962 Dodge 880 was a 1962 Chrysler. Of course, all of this was unknown to the buying public and even the automotive press.
The Dodge 880 had a 361-cid low-block engine.
Consumers were also blissfully unaware that the 1962 Custom 880 and Chrysler station wagons used the same concave rear-quarter panels and tailgate as the 1961 Plymouth wagons.
In creating the 880, Chrysler didn't stint on model availability. A full range of body types was offered from the get-go: four-door sedan, two- and four-door hardtops, a convertible, and six- and nine-passenger four-door-hardtop wagons. The wagons were really big, boasting 91.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity. On the nine-passenger jobs, the third-row seat faced rearward and also folded into the floor when unneeded.
Mechanically, the Custom 880 was a virtual clone of the Newport, with its familiar Unibody construction, torsion-bar front suspension, and semielliptical leaf springs in back.
The newly designed A-727B TorqueFlite three-speed pushbutton automatic transmission was considerably more compact and some 60 pounds lighter than the A-466 unit used previously. This, however, was a $211 option to the standard A-745 three-speed manual with a floorshifter similar to that used on the initial Valiant.
Powering both the Newport and the 880 was a 361-cid low-block "B" engine (LB) designed to operate on regular fuel. Equipped with a single two-barrel carburetor, the 361 LB's brake horsepower was listed at 265 at 4,400 rpm. With the TorqueFlite and a 2.93:1 final drive, Car Life was able to run a Custom 880 four-door hardtop to 60 mph in 10.8 seconds with fuel economy of 14-17 mpg.
Many have asked, "Why Custom 880?" Was this peculiar moniker meant to suggest that the 880 was twice the car of the Dart 440? What this midyear Dodge really was, of course, was either a third-year Polara or revived DeSoto, but the former was now a variant of the downsized Dart and the latter was deceased. Since the car was created primarily for Dodge loyalists, perhaps "Custom Royal" might have been a more appropriate choice. But Custom 880 it was, and truthfully, nobody seemed to mind.
It would be rather pointless to compare the Custom 880 with its supposed competition in the medium-price field. The 880 wasn't built to win over buyers of Pontiacs or Oldsmobiles. The 880 was created solely to satisfy Dodge dealers and their older brand-loyal customers who demanded a big car. In truth, the 880's biggest competitor was the Chrysler Newport itself, especially since both the Custom 880 and Newport four-door sedans had identical $2,964 price tags.
Somehow the miracle was accomplished. The car that wasn't there in November 1961 was a reality three months later. Production of Custom 880s began on January 22, 1962, with full production scheduled for February 2.
The 880's rapid conception and birth so impressed Time magazine that its story was the lead paragraph in an article about Chrysler's travails in the January 19, 1962, issue. "In a move so unconventional that it left Detroit openmouthed," gushed the newsweekly, "the Chrysler Corporation last week announced its plans for a 'new' Dodge ... in the midst of the 1962 model year."
Even so, Dodge Division General Manager Byron J. Nichols admonished his dealers that, "The biggest volume of cars during 1962 will still be in the low-price standard and compact cars, and we will continue to concentrate our major efforts in that portion of the automobile market."
Nevertheless, dealers were happy to get the 880. During the remaining eight months of the model year, 17,505 Custom 880s were produced. This was almost 3,500 units more than the total run of the 1961 Polara, so Dodge customers were obviously happy with the 880, too.
It made at least one friend in the automotive press; Car Life lauded its test car for its styling, braking, interior room, and -- especially -- assembly quality. Even the Chrysler dealers were happy, given that the 880 didn't seem to affect Newport sales, which rose by more than 26,018 units compared to the 1961 model year.
To learn about Dodge's new visage in the 1960s, see the next page.
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