The 1961 Chrysler Newport retired its extravagant fins after this model year, leaving behind the styling cues of Virgil Exner.

1960, 1961 Chryslers

The Chrysler 300E has been long chided as a weakling next to its Hemi-powered predecessors, but road tests said the 300E was just as quick as a 300D. With 10.1:1 compression, TorqueFlite, and 3.31:1 axle, the E could run 0-60 mph in under 8.5 seconds and reach 90 mph in 17.5. Even so, production was just 550 hardtops and a mere 140 convertibles, a record low that would stand until '63.

After flirting with a GM-style five-division structure in the '50s, Highland Park was back to just Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth by 1960. The firm introduced its first compact that year, the Valiant, but it wasn't badged a Chrysler. Indeed, C-P repeatedly declared throughout the '60s that there would never be a small Chrysler. Let Buick, Olds, and Pontiac rush to compacts. Dodge and Plymouth would field -- and sometimes suffer with -- smaller cars; Chryslers would remain big, brawny and luxurious. And so they would, all the way into the mid-'70s.

The 1960-61 models were the last of the outlandishly finned Exner-styled Chryslers and the first to employ full unit construction instead of traditional body-on-frame (even the old Airflow had body panels welded to a separate cage frame). Since "unibodies" were held together more by welds than nuts and bolts, they didn't suffer so much from looseness or rattles. But they were definitely more prone to rust -- as many a sad owner found out.

Stylewise, the 1960 Chrysler models were highly sculptured but as clean as the deft '57s. Chrome was tastefully handled, superstructures were glassy (especially windshields), and inverted trapezoid grilles conferred an aggressive 300-like appearance. Returning from '59 were optional swiveling front seats that pivoted outward through an automatic latch release when a door was opened.

Wheelbases and engines stood pat for 1960. The Saratoga was in its last year. Windsor would also depart for good, after '61. Top-liners were confined to six varieties of luxury New Yorker and the 300F. By decade's end, New Yorker regularly scored over 30,000 annual sales. Prices were just below Imperial's but about equal to those of the larger Buicks.

By far the most-exciting 1960 Chrysler was the sixth-edition "letter-series" 300 with a racy yet simple new "cross-hair" grille, four-place bucket-seat interior, road-hugging suspension, and newly optional French-made Pont-a-Mousson four-speed gear-box. The F rode hard, but cornered better than any other car of its size. And it was a flyer. New "ram-induction" manifolding lifted its 413 V-8 to 375 or 400 bhp, good for standing quarter-miles of 16 seconds at 85 mph. A half-dozen different axle ratios were available for even greater speed. With the 3.03 cog plus a tuned engine and some body streamlining, Andy Granatelli came close to 190 mph in one flying-mile run. The 300F wasn't cheap at $5411 for the hardtop and $5841 for the convertible, but it had a lot of style and sizzle.

The '61 line was mostly a repeat of 1960 save somewhat more contrived styling. Windsor moved up to replace Saratoga; taking its place was a downpriced base series called Newport. The latter fast became the make's bread-and-butter, thanks to very competitive pricing of just under $3000 through 1964, a point repeatedly emphasized in Chrysler ads. By 1965, Newport's annual sales were exceeding 125,000. The '61 carried a 265-bhp 361 V-8; Windsor and New Yorker retained their previous engines. That year's 300G didn't offer the four-speed option, but returned to 15-inch wheels (versus 14s) for the first time since 1956.

Though Highland Park's fortunes were shaky in these years, Chrysler Division actually improved its volume and industry rank. After sinking to 12th with over 77,000 cars for 1960, it finished 11th on better than 96,000 units for '61.

Nevertheless, the company's general sales difficulties hastened a management shakeup that had an immediate effect on products. At the end of July 1961, a beleaguered "Tex" Colbert retired as president, a role he had resumed in 1960 when William Newberg quit the post after two months amid allegations of having financial interests in several Chrysler suppliers.

This ushered in former administrative vice-president Lynn A. Townsend, who then became chairman in January 1967, with Virgil Boyd as president through early 1970. These changes also prompted Exner, who was often blamed for the sales woes, to leave in late 1961 after shaping the '63 corporate line. His replacement was Elwood Engel, recruited from Ford and part of the design team on the elegant '61 Lincoln Continental.

For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see: