Having miscalculated the level of appeal for its smaller and unconventionally styled 1962 Darts and Polaras, Dodge had to scramble to come up with something to keep traditional customers -- and nervous dealers -- happy. That led to the speedy creation of the 1962-1964 Dodge 880.
The Dodge 880 was pulled together, inside and
out, in record time. See more pictures of Dodges.
How long does it take to design and engineer a new car? Three years? Two years? Eighteen months?
How about three months? Created practically out of thin air in that short a time, the 1962-1964 Dodge 880 reached an increasing number of Mopar loyalists during its brief three-year life span. It can also serve as an illuminating case study worthy of the Harvard Business School of how so much can go so wrong so quickly in the automobile business.
That the big 880 was sorely needed was not in doubt. As a result of some major marketing miscalculations, Dodge and Plymouth were in effect equivalent makes during the first months of the 1962 model year.
The downsized "intermediate" 116-inch-wheelbase Plymouth and Dodge Dart/Polara competed with each other; ditto the 106.5-inch-wheelbase compact Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Lancer.
In addition, the sudden discontinuance of both the 118-inch-wheelbase Dart and 122-inch-wheelbase Polara meant that dealers had no comparable product to offer brand-loyal customers looking to trade in their older full-sized Dodges.
Adding insult to injury, the Chrysler-Plymouth dealer down the street was busy selling an attractively facelifted Chrysler line buttressed by a Newport four-door sedan with a starting price less than $3,000. Meanwhile, the local Pontiac dealer was moving increasing numbers of split-grille "Wide Track" Catalinas and Bonnevilles out the door.
The nation's 2,559 Dodge dealers were getting none of this lucrative business, and they were mad as hell. In a classic bit of understatement, Dodge's veteran public relations manager, Frank Wylie, later admitted, "The dealers were rather unhappy about not having a big medium-priced car to sell."
Fearing that the very viability of their franchises was threatened, Dodge dealers wasted no time in letting Detroit know exactly how they felt. Their message? "Fix it, now!"
The fiasco was the result of a series of incorrect assumptions and plain bad business decisions made over a five-year period. It involved such disparate subjects as the marketing of Plymouths and a repositioning of the Chrysler brand. Let's examine the components of the debacle, one by one.
To begin with, from 1954 to 1956, Plymouth was rousted from its accustomed third place in the automotive sales hierarchy by hordes of shiny new Buick Specials and Oldsmobile 88s. This fall from grace caused Chrysler Corporation to seriously reconsider how Plymouths were marketed in the United States.
Since 1930, Plymouth had been paired with its higher-priced siblings in a system of Chrysler-Plymouth, Dodge-Plymouth, and DeSoto-Plymouth franchises. In tough times, dealers pushed Plymouths, but in better times, they tried their best to get Plymouth customers to trade up to a Dodge, DeSoto, or Chrysler -- all of which had higher profit margins. What Plymouth really needed was its own network of dealers actively selling the marque full-time.
But, as the Wicked Witch of the West cackled to a frightened Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, "These things must be done delicately." Abruptly yanking the Plymouth franchise from every Dodge, DeSoto, and Chrysler dealer in the land just wouldn't work.
Instead, the Dodge 880 was born. To learn about the development of the Dodge 880 in late 1961, see the next page.
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