1962-1964 Dodge 880

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.

Dodge Image Gallery

The Dodge 880 was pulled together, inside and out, in record time.
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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In 1961, the Dodge 880 was created as a reaction to forces inside the Chrysler company -- most importantly, the lack of a mid-size Dodge model to compete with other brands.

As a beginning, a small number of Plymouth-only dealerships were set up in various parts of the country, growing to 297 "exclusives" by 1961. The first major move in implementing this plan began with the 1960 model year, when the Plymouth franchise was withdrawn from Dodge dealers.

But instead of commanding Dodge dealers to concentrate their sales efforts going after Mercury, the low-series Oldsmobiles and Buicks, and especially the fast-rising Pontiac, Chrysler instead did two things to the detriment of both Dodge and Plymouth.

First, they gave Dodge dealers the Dart, a 118-inch-wheelbase car that competed model for model with Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth. Second, they reduced the number of medium-priced Dodges, shrinking the series count from three to two, Matador and Polara, which were new and unfamiliar names.

The Dart was so overwhelmingly successful that the division's percentage of industry sales increased dramatically, from 3.5 percent in 1959 to 6.2 percent in 1960. The good-looking Dart even outsold the Plymouth with its awkward-looking front end that drove customers straight into a Dodge showroom. When the model year was done, more Darts than Plymouths had been produced -- no doubt not what had been intended.

Dodge dealers, of course, were ecstatic, selling all the Darts they could get. However, demand for larger, costlier Dodges languished. One consequence of this was that the array of medium-priced Dodges was further reduced to a single series -- Polara -- for 1961.

Meanwhile, the company, distracted by scandal in the executive ranks and the foundering of DeSoto, abruptly abandoned its plans to estab­lish Plymouth-only dealerships. Upon DeSoto's demise, the dealer network was reconfigured into two groupings -- Dodge-Dodge Truck and Chrysler-Plymouth.

In the addictive rush of the Dart's initial success, Dodge's traditional role in the medium-price market was allowed to wither, and not just at company headquarters. In truth, Dodge dealers themselves, flush with profits on Dart sales, simply walked away from competing in the field.

Model-year production of "sen­ior" Dodges plummeted from 156,385 cars in 1959 to a mere 14,032 in 1961 (not counting Dart wagons, which shared the bigger cars' 122-inch wheelbase.)

To learn about the 1962 Dodge 880, see the next page.

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­The last-minute creation of the 1962 Dodge 880 was a flurry of activity intended to give Dodge a competitive mid-size car to take advantage of a suddenly booming market. Dodge was caught unawares, completely unprepared for this mid-size car need.

In fact, the corporation was betting that the whole medium-price field was suffering a permanent deflation. In 1961, Chrys­ler fielded three medium-priced cars: the Chrysler Newport, DeSoto, and Dodge Polara, each on a 122-inch wheelbase with the same 361-cid V-8 as standard equipment. But only the Newport was selling.

Anxious to maintain sales of its founding marque without resorting to so-called "jun­ior editions," Chrysler killed off both the DeSoto and the Dodge Polara based on the hard knowledge that the 1961 production of the two cars combined was barely more than 17,000 units. (North of the border, Chrysler Canada chose to market neither the 1961 Polara nor the 1961 DeSoto, giving its erstwhile Dodge-DeSoto dealers the Chrysler New­port to sell instead.) Of course, far from declining, the medium-price market was actually on the verge of a great renaissance.

While all this was ongoing, the design of the company's all-new 1962 cars was thrown into chaos, the result of a radical downsizing ordered by then company president William Newberg based on incorrect information regarding the forward plans of Chevrolet and Ford. The 1962 Plymouth and Dodge were sales disasters. As a result, Chrysler's market share dropped precipitously, at times to less than 10 percent.

In summary, Chrysler erred when it didn't follow through with the plan for Plymouth-only dealerships (which some believe led ultimately to Plymouth's demise in 2001). It erred when it essentially made Plymouth and Dodge equivalent makes. It erred in believing that the medium-price market was declining. It erred in downsizing its mainline Plym­outh and Dodge for 1962. This perfect storm of errors and miscalculations led inexorably to the need for the Dodge 880.

In the midst of all this, changes were occurring in Chrysler's executive suite. Lynn Townsend, Chrysler's new president since July 1961, could forgive the disastrous downsizing as a fiasco attributable to the now-discredited Newberg. But Townsend could not overlook -- or forgive -- the divergent styling of the 1962 Plymouth and Dodge, with their "overgrown Valiant" looks.

To make sure of that, Townsend replaced the talented, but unfortunate Virgil Exner, hiring Elwood Engel away from Ford to be Chrysler's new vice president of styling. Townsend gave Engel strict instructions: Get Chrysler styling back into the mainstream.

When the tall, lanky Engel arrived at Chrysler's Highland Park campus in November 1961, his first duty was to examine the company's upcoming 1963 line, cars designed under the guidance of Exner. To Townsend's relief, Engel liked what he saw for the most part. (The only major change he made was to the rear-quarter panels of the all-new Valiant.) However, before he could even settle into his new office, Engel had to deal with his first crisis, the crash program to create a big Dodge.

Obviously, the new car had to be constructed off an existing platform. The 118-inch-wheelbase platform used for the 1960-1961 Plymouth and Dodge Dart was out of production, and the sole remaining 122-inch platform belonged to the 1962 Chrysler Newport. Product planners and engineers came up with the idea of mating a 1961 Polara front end to the 1962 New­port body, thereby providing a Dodge identity to the makeshift combination.

This approach had multiple advantages. It would employ available tooling, allowing the new car to be built alongside the New­port in Chrysler's Jefferson Assem­bly plant in east Detroit with hardly any alteration to the factory. (The Polara had been built there in 1961). Best of all, it could be accomplished in a matter of months in time for a late-winter introduction.

There were downsides to this approach as well. Styling-wise, this new Dodge would be a strange duck, indeed, looking like a new 1962 Chrysler from the back and an "old" 1961 Dodge from the front.

There was also the risk that this new Dodge might dilute the image of the successful Newport and even eat into its sales, which would sit none too well with Chrysler dealers. Normally, such considerations would have sparked a lively debate among the sales, marketing, and division staffs with­in the corporation, but the overriding need to do something to help desperate Dodge dealers swept aside any objections.

There was still work to do regarding the styling, though, especially the ornamentation. Everything possible -- or at least reasonable -- had to be done to give this Dodge-Chrysler hybrid its own personality. To assist in this process, a "mule" car was assembled with a 1961 Polara front clip hand-fitted to a 1962 Newport sedan body. The car was painted black so as to best show off any proposed moldings and other details.

Retired Chrysler design executive Dave Cummins recalls Engel being in the Styling showroom with the mule and a hodgepodge of existing bezels, plaques, nameplates, medallions, and moldings on the pristine parquet floor in a pile four to five feet in diameter and one to two feet high. Others recall him sitting on a three-legged stool, directing the stylists as they taped parts onto the car. It was seat-of-the-pants styling done against a loudly ticking clock.

"Being new to the company and reporting directly to Townsend, Elwood could get anything he wanted," says Cummins. "His power was greatest then, being hired to 'fix things.'" Even so, Engel had his restrictions. Take the bodyside molding. In order to be able to use the Newport's doors and rear-quarter panels, the 880's side molding had to be placed in exactly the same position as the Newport's, which was a midbody spear placed high enough to clear the front wheel openings.

Locating the molding higher or lower would have required new drilling fixtures in the plant, and there wasn't time for that. As it was, the tapering "speedform" line on the 1961 Polara's front fenders very nearly precluded extending the bodyside molding onto the front fender. The molding did clear, but barely.

Bits and pieces of ornamentation were tried and evaluated. A diecast louver ensemble from the rear quarters of the 1961 Chrysler New Yorker was tacked on the front fender forward of the wheel opening, replacing the original Polara script.

A star-within-a-slanted-rectangle ornament lifted from the 1962 Dart 400 C-pillar was applied to the C-pillars of the 880 four-door sedan and four-door hardtop. A slim bright molding was added to the lower lip of the decklid. Other major moldings were carried over from the Chrysler, including the sill molding, the molding that outlined the license plate and rear-bumper openings, and all the greenhouse moldings above the beltline.

To make sure that everyone knew this was a Dodge, a marque script borrowed from the 1962 Dart was added to the rear quarters just above the side molding, and individual block letters spelled out the brand on the hood edge and right side of the decklid.

Curiously, there was no Custom 880 nameplate anywhere on the exterior (but there was no Newport nameplate on the Chrysler, either). The exterior was festooned with Dodge's new delta-shaped "fratzog" logo, which appeared on the grille, trunklid, and wheel covers. (Stylists called the faux knock-off hubs "weed winders.")

Accounts of the development of the first 880 customarily state that the front end was the same as the 1961 Polara. This was not strictly true. The hood, for example, was not a direct carryover part. The hood on the 1961 Dart/Polara had left and right banks of louvers stamped into the hood surface near the base of the windshield. These louvers were not present on the 880.

Retooling the entire hood for such a small change was impossible in so short a time, so in all probability, the stamping dies were altered to eliminate the louvers. This meant that any future hoods struck off the modified tooling, such as replacement parts for 1961 Dodges and 1962 880s, would be louverless.

The same applied to the Custom 880 grille. In place of the large star emblem in the center of the 1961 Polara grille, the 880 sported an oversize fratzog affixed to a new horizontal bright bar that stretched between the headlights. The stamped-aluminum grille texture itself was the same as 1961, but the integral frame of bright metal surrounding it was altered. On the 1961s, the frame was decorated all around with long, slim depressions that were painted black to look like cooling slots.

On the 880, the depressions directly above and below the grille were eliminated by altering the stamping tools to create a smooth surface. Curiously, the ends that wrapped around the headlights were not altered, but their depressions were no longer paint-filled. Why the step of simply omitting the black paint all around the grille frame was not used is unknown, but someone (probably Engel) obviously took great exception to the very presence of the pseudo "slots."

Total tooling bill for the 1962 Dodge 880 was a mere $400,000 -- chump change in the auto business -- with the entire amount spent on the outside of the car. Out of strict necessity, the existing 1962 Chrysler taillights were retained.

There wasn't enough time to do anything for the 880's interior. According to Chrysler's internal 1962 Engineering Data Book, "trim style, codes, colors, and materials are identical to those of the 1962 Chrysler Newport."

This gave 880 customers a choice of four cloth-and-vinyl and four all-vinyl trims to coordinate with the 11 exterior colors and 25 two-tone combinations. To impart a Dodge identity, the 1961 Polara instrument panel and steering wheel were installed in the Newport interior.

When the Custom 880 was finished being patched together, what was the result? Many would agree that the car was better looking (if less original) than the 1961 Polara, with its logic-defying "reverse" fins.

But the clean lines of the Newport body made the exaggerated forms of the Dodge front end -- one of those ideas that looked good in sketch form but less attractive in reality -- look garishly overdone. With an overall length of 213.5 inches and a weight of 3,655 pounds, the Custom 880 four-door sedan was 1.4 inches shorter and 35 pounds lighter than a com­parable Newport.

Of course, what was really odd about the two cars was that the Newport itself was simply a 1961 Polara with new rear-quarter panels and taillights. When Exner's planned long-hood/short-deck 1962 DeSoto, Chrys­ler, and Imperial were abruptly canceled, stylists had to come up with replacements and quick. DeSoto was dead and the Imperial could be given a swift make­over front and rear.

But the Chrysler was much more difficult. The 1961 front end clip could be used, but not the doors, since their contours were inexorably tied to the suddenly dated finned rear quarters.

Someone cleverly came up with the idea of using much of the 1961 Polara's sheetmetal, including front and rear doors, decklid, lower deck panel, and the rear bumper. With those pieces in place, a new rear-quarter panel was developed, designed to mate with the carryover Polara parts while also conforming to the Polara's rear-wheel opening.

In profile, the new finless quarter panel was given a reverse effect, with the taillight draped over the undercut surface. The result was a design that was admittedly bland, but relatively clean.

For more on the features of the 1962 Dodge 880, see the next page.

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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.
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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Not everyone was happy with the new Dodge 880. Mopar maven and avid Collectible Auto­mobile® reader Jim Ozbold, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, relates this story of a man who ordered a shell-beige Chrysler New Yorker sedan and was about to take delivery of his new car one Friday evening in February 1962:

"On his way there," writes Ozbold, "he passed the local [Dodge] dealer ... where he saw a full-size shell-beige car on the floor. He immediately made a U-turn, went into the Dodge agency, and saw for the first time the new Dodge Custom 880.

"Upon inspecting the 880 and the $1,161 price spread to the New Yorker, he proceeded to ... the Chrysler-Plymouth agency to tell them he wasn't accepting the New Yorker. He felt the 880 cheapened the Chrysler and especially the New Yorker .... He then proceeded to the local Oldsmobile store and purchased on the spot a new Starfire hardtop."

Though this gentleman eventually came back to Chrysler a few years later, Ozbold reports that "he always said the 880 devalued the Chrys­ler nameplate."

Given that a heavily reworked 1963 Dart/Polara on an expanded 119-inch wheelbase (save for wagons) brought back the "standard-size" Dodge, one might have expected that the Custom 880 would have been discontinued at the end of 1962. But sales of medium-priced cars were burgeoning and division officials were wary of again incurring the dealers' wrath by depriving them of a "big Dodge." Thus, the 880 became an integral part of the Dodge lineup.

This, however, was not as easily accomplished as it might seem. The Chrys­­ler was totally reskinned for 1963, and carrying over the 880 would increase the complexity of body building and assembly operations at Jefferson and its associated Kercheval body plant.

The plants would thus be building three different kinds of cars: the totally restyled Chrysler, the facelifted 880 (both with unitized body construction), and the body-on-frame Imperial, which had returned to Jefferson after Townsend closed the Imperial plant in Dearborn at the end of the 1961 model year to cut costs.

Continue on to the next page to learn about the 1963 Dodge 880.

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Standing pat with the outdated 1961 Polara front end for the 1963 Dodge 880 was not commercially viable. A new front would have to be designed, approved, and tooled for the 1963 model year, which was a scant nine or 10 months away. (At this time, the product program for the other 1963 model lines was done and the stylists were busy with the 1964 changes.) A new face for the 880 meant yet another crash program for the designers in the Dodge Exterior Studio.

In order to introduce some discipline to the process, it was decided early on that the new 880 front end would employ the front bumper designed for the 1963 Chrysler. This bumper had much to recommend it.

The basic bar was a simple design, clean in section. It was also nearly flat in plan view, without ins and outs tied to any specific design, and therefore "anonymous." The amber parking and turn signal lamps were recessed into the outer ends, taking these lights "out of the equation." Per­haps best of all, the bumper was already designed and tooled.

Settling on the bumper immediately established the plan view of the 880's new front end and hood so that the stylists each had a common starting point for their sketches. As finally released, the new front fenders were "normalized," with the forward humps, the tapering speedline, and the forward-thrusting wheel opening of the 1961 Polara replaced in each instance with simpler designs.

Fendertops incorporated a subtle windsplit that faded out as it moved rearward. The hood surface was raised and made flush with the fendertops, its contours relieved by a slightly recessed center depression that then spread across the leading edge of the hood and onto the upper fender ends. A stand-up fratzog hood orna­ment rose above tightly grouped block letters that spelled "Dodge."

Framed by bright moldings, the grille opening was essentially rectangular, but rounded at the ends to accept the headlamps. The grille itself was composed of numerous delicate diecast chrome-plated bars. The arrangement of the convex bars was quite intricate. Every third grille bar went top to bottom while the two bars in between formed upper and lower rectangles, separated by a gap in the center.

Though the new grille had a tonier appearance than the original 880's cheap aluminum stamping, improved quality wasn't the prime motivator in choosing to do a diecast part. While more expensive piece for piece, the diecast parts were easier and faster to tool, critical considerations in a time-constrained program like the 1963 Dodge 880. Also, stamping tools are more expensive and more complex, requiring both male and female dies and large presses to stamp out parts.

Compared to the unruly exaggerations of its predecessors, the new front end was dignified and quietly self-assured, even stately. While not exactly original, the 880's new visage transformed the car's appearance.

The new look was also greatly admired within the Dodge Studio, becoming the inspiration for the 1964 Polara and 1965 Coronet front ends. With the new design, overall length grew slightly to 214.8 inches (216.3 inches on wagons).

To learn more about changes made for the 1963 Dodge, see the next page.

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Though body sheetmetal was unaltered for the 1963 Dodge 880, a new taillight was conjured up to fit in the existing fender opening. A chrome-plated die casting incorporated a round taillight above a rectangular back-up lamp.

The 1963 Dodge 880 featured a single-height seat rather than a high driver's seat.
The 1963 Dodge 880 featured a single-height seat
rather than a high driver's seat.

Why round? For one thing, it was different from the 1962 Newport. For another, Dodge had featured round taillights on most of its cars since 1955.

The extended surface of the bezel casting that rode atop the fender was detailed with long, fine ribs. It was a bit much, but the designers did what they could to infuse a Dodge identity, even if all they had to work with was a taillight.

The rest of the rear end was cleaned up by removing the bright molding from the edge of the decklid and incorporating the trunk-key cylinder into the fratzog ornament. An understated Dodge script was fitted to the right side of the decklid, mimicking similar new scripts on the front fenders.

The bodyside was also simplified via a new full-length bright molding that was narrower in section and placed higher on the body, terminating in a reverse hook on the rear quarters (except on wagons and the new base sedan). The new molding intersected the door handles, making the handles appear less conspicuous and more integrated. The star ornament was stripped from the C-pillars of four-doors.

Sometime in spring 1963, 880s received Chrysler's new "maker's mark," a gold-colored Pentastar. Created by the New York-based corporate identity specialist Lippincott & Margulies, the tiny badge appeared midyear on all the company's automobiles, but on the curb side only.

According to then-Lippincott & Margulies design director Robert Stanley, Engel wasn't happy with this bit of "not-designed-here" ornamentation on his cars, nixing initial proposals for a larger Pentastar on the rear-quarter panels before reluctantly agreeing to the smaller front-fender-mounted mark.

The corporation invested $2.9 million in new tools for the 880 facelift, spending most of that on the new front end. Immutable timing requirements for fabricating the new hood, fenders, and grille tooling meant that the introduction date for the 1963 Custom 880 had to be delayed until November 14, 1962, a month and a half after the debut of the other 1963 Dodge lines on October 2.

Even so, the fact that the new front end was designed and tooled in just 10 or 11 months was an extraordinary achievement, especially considering that the 1963 Dodge 880 wasn't in the cards when that year's Dodge lineup was first being planned.

While certainly not "modern" compared with the sheer-lined new Chrysler, the Dodge 880 was much better looking than in 1962. Moreover, with the redesign of the Chrysler, the Dodge 880 was now "its own car," if only by default.

For 1963, Dodge planners expanded the product offerings, retaining the six-model Custom 880 lineup while adding a three-model base 880 series consisting of a four-door sedan and four-door pillared wagons for six or nine passengers. (Dodge called them sedan wagons.)

At $2,813, the base Dodge 880 sedan was priced $151 less than an equivalent Custom 880 or Chrysler Newport. The wagons had a similar price spread. Still, customers preferred the Custom 880s overall by almost 2-to-1. Among Dodge 880 models, only the six-passenger wagon outpaced its Custom running mate, and by just 80 units at that.

Since there was time for interior changes, new trim styles were designed. Customs got new vertically ribbed two-tone door-trim panels with carpeted lower kick panels, while base 880s had horizontal ribbing in one color and no carpeting on kick panels.

Custom 880s also had longer arm­rests and pleated seats in a "Jacquard body cloth fabric with nylon warp and spun rayon fill highlighted with silver metallic yarns." Cloth-and-vinyl seats in five colors were offered in the sedan and two-door hardtop, while all-vinyl trims, also in five colors, were featured in the four-door hardtop, convertible, and wagons. The high-back driver seat, a comfort feature introduced in 1960, was replaced by a conventional single-height front seat.

The instrument panel was tweaked, with the speedometer, minor gauges, and the new all-transistor radio receiving black dials, white numerals, and red pointers. New steering wheels with series-specific round centers were introduced; Custom Dodge 880s had a two-tone rim and full horn ring. Custom models also sported a bright aluminum overlay along the lower edge of the instrument panel, a detail absent on plain 880s.

External trim cues specific to Custom 880s included bright trim moldings on the upper door frames of the four-door sedan, rear-bumper outline, and rocker panels. On Dodge 880s, Chryslers, and Impe­rials, a new acrylic enamel paint that could be buffed after baking was introduced.

For 1963, there was now a choice of "LB" V-8 engines: the unchanged 361 or a newly optional 383-cid job. The latter put out 305 bhp at 4,600 rpm and generated 410 pound-feet of torque at 2,400 revs. Both powerplants had a two-barrel carburetor and single exhaust system.

The 383's higher 10:1 compression ratio mandated the use of premium fuel. Through-gear acceleration from 0 to 60 mph was improved an estimated 17 percent over the standard engine. Motor Trend's test of a 383/TorqueFlite convertible resulted in an average 0-60 time of 9.9 seconds. (For police applications, a high-performance 413-cid V-8 was made available.)

A parking sprag was added to the TorqueFlite transmission, allowing the new parking brake to operate on the two rear-wheel service brakes. The elimination of the long-standing transmission output shaft parking brake permitted the use of a new floorpan, lowering the transmission hump 1.63 inches and providing more foot room. Brakes were enlarged, too.

All Dodge 880s came with Chrysler's new industry-leading five-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Production of the 880 line increased to 28,266 cars in 1963, a 61 percent increase over 1962. With Chrysler still scrambling to get Plymouth and Dodge cars into distinct compact, intermediate, and full-sized categories for the 1965 model year, the Dodge 880 would enjoy one last hurrah.

Though the Dodge 880 may have come late to the party, the company, to its credit, continued to spend money updating the car. Having redone the front end in 1963, Dodge stylists attacked the rear for the 1964 model year.

Quarter panels, decklid, and taillights were new. There were restrictions, of course. To save money, use of the 1963 Chrysler rear bumper was specified, which in turn meant that the back-up lights and license plate moved from the body into the bumper. As the fuel filler remained in the center rear, a separate access door was required in the new lower-deck panel.

The stylists had to carry over the rear-wheel openings and, most important, the rear doors on four-door models. This meant that the horizontal flare on the rear doors had to be once again carried into the new quarters.

In place of the backward-leaning Newport quarters used previously, designers chose to make the ends of the 1964 rear quarters angle forward in side view, reinforcing the effect with a new black-paint-filled bodyside molding that angled downward parallel to the sloping quarter ends. Atten­tion to the new sheetmetal was enhanced by large individual letters that spelled out Dodge on the rear flanks.

For more on the 1964 Dodge 880, continue to the next page.

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From the rear, the apparent width of the 1964 Dodge 880 was enhanced by long horizontal taillights that wrapped around the ends of the quarter panels. By repositioning the lamps to just above the rear bumper, the car appeared lower, too.

Between the taillights on Custom Dodge 880s was a bright diecast ribbed panel (absent on the base Dodge 880 sedan) that visually tied the taillights together to form a car-wide horizontal band outlined by bright moldings.

The new decklid was wide and flat, its trailing surface angled forward to match the quarter ends and accented by a new circular center medallion. The broad horizontal surface was relieved by two narrow windsplits. Wagon back ends were unchanged, save for new rectangular wraparound taillights.

Up front was a new diecast grille, concave this time instead of convex. A horizontal slot filled by a thin bright bar bisected the grille. Above and below the slot, three-deep stacks of horizontal rectangles made up the grille texture.

Two small stand-up fratzogs on the fendertips replaced the central hood ornament from 1963. Parking and turn signal lamps reverted to clear lenses, but with amber bulbs. New wheel covers retained the weed-winder centers.

Sedans and four-door hardtops received the larger, higher backlight with thinner C-pillars last used on the 1962 New Yorker. Thanks to this resurrected rear window, total glass area on the Dodge 880 four-doors increased to 4,741 square inches from 4,044 square inches in 1962-1963.

Prior to 1965, the big Dodge never succumbed to the vision-restricting blind rear quarters that found their way onto most 1960s cars. Consequently, Dodge 880 drivers enjoyed virtually unrivaled all-round visibility. The new rear windows were tinted to provide sun protection to the necks of back-seat passengers.

The tooling bill for the 1964 Dodge 880 came to $3.4 million. The changes made the big Dodge look lower, wider, more contemporary, and more expensive. The new wide taillights and smoother sheetmetal also gave the Dodge 880 a solid, respectable look more appropriate to its price. Most importantly, any lingering Chrysler identity was emphatically erased.

Though the basic instrument panel was carried over, a simplified gauge cluster was fitted, replacing the exaggerated "ears" of the 1961 Polara panel. The black-faced speedometer was narrower, flanked at either end by large silver elements that enclosed the turn signal indicators. Minor gauges were relocated so as to allow room for a newly available clock.

The rearview mirror was moved from the dash to the windshield header except on wagons with the headliner-mounted rear-compartment air-conditioning option.

New seat fabrics, trim styles, and ribbed vinyl door-trim panels unique to each series looked more luxurious. Customers could select from cloth-and-vinyl or all-vinyl interiors in five colors, with red interiors available on Custom Dodge 880 models only.

In celebration of Dodge's 50th year, a new featured exterior color, a medium-gold metallic appropriately named "Anniversary Gold," was available with matching gold interiors. Thirteen exterior colors and 10 two-tone combos were offered.

Custom and base Dodge 880 steering wheels were new again, the two spokes now horizontal, with hubs lettered to proclaim "Dodge Golden Anniversary 1914-1964." A seven-position tilt steering wheel was a new option for cars with power steering.

Another interesting -- though likely rare -- new option for Dodge 880s equipped with the optional 383 V-8 was the new Chrysler-designed A-833 fully synchronized four-speed manual transmission with a floor-mounted Hurst shift linkage. Don't expect to find one with bucket seats; despite their growing popularity, the Dodge 880 never offered them.

Seemingly pleased with the appearance changes, customers responded by taking 31,760 cars, an increase of almost 3,500 from 1963. Again, Newport sales were seemingly unaffected as assemblies topped 85,000 units in 1964.

The three-year run of the Dodge 880 totaled 77,531 cars. This was an eminently respectable figure, considering that they were improvised cars, hastily conceived out of necessity and modified on a strictly catch-up basis.

Nevertheless, these were cars that Dodge dealers would not have sold had the big Dodge not existed. They also allowed Dodge to reenter the highway patrol police cruiser business in 1963-64 after sitting out 1962.

It must be noted, however, that in no single model year did the Dodge 880 exceed the 44,636 Polaras and Matadors built in 1960. But Chrysler did get its money's worth out of the tools. When the last Dodge 880 rolled out, it represented the final use of tooling that had originated for 1960, giving that basic bodyshell a five-year run.

In 1965, Chrysler finally extricated itself from the pit it had dug in 1962 and fielded a Dodge lineup with distinct products in compact, intermediate, and full-size iterations. For the full-sized cars, this meant an all-new C-body on a wheelbase of 121.5 inches.

Crisply styled under Engel's direction, they were marketed in Polara, Custom 880, and Monaco trim levels. The sales guys vacillated between carrying on the Custom 880 name or recasting it as the "Polara 880" (the name Chrysler Canada used on its equivalent model; for the record, the 1962-1964 Dodge 880 was never sold there).

In the end, they went with the familiar Custom 880 designator, but the final decision arrived so late -- May 26, 1964 -- that the tooling was delayed and the first cars came off the line with no series badging. The internal angst was all for naught, for in 1966, the senior Dodge was divided into Polara and Monaco series. The Cus­tom 880 name disappeared -- gone, and for the most part, forgotten.

While the 1962-1964 880 pleased its customers, it was no automotive milestone and survival rates are low. "The car that wasn't there" back then still isn't at most vintage-car shows now, which begs the question: Are Dodge 880s collectible?

That depends. If you want to show up at your next local cruise night in something different from all the 1957 Chevys, the 880 is your ride. As for rarity, the 1962 Custom 880 convertible takes the prize at 684 cars. Good luck finding one.

On the other hand, a 1964 Custom 880 wagon would give you the last of the four-door hardtop station wagons and the last year for pushbutton transmissions. If nothing else, given proven mechanicals like the 361/383 V-8s and "bulletproof" Torque­Flite, a Dodge 880 can still make a mighty fine daily driver.

Continue on to the next page to find the models, prices, and production of the 1962-1964 Dodge 880.

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­The 1962-1964 Dodge 880 gave Dodge customers a mid-size option at the dealerships. Though the model didn't last long, it served an important function during a transitional period. Here are the specifications of the 1962-1964 Dodge 880:

Only Custom Dodge 880s were available with red interiors.
Only Custom Dodge 880s were available
with red interior.

1962 Custom Dodge 880 Vehicle Specifications

All models

Wheelbase, inches

1962 Custom Dodge 880 Models, Prices, and Production

ModelWeight, pounds
hardtop coupe 3,615$3,0301,761
4-door sedan 3,6552,96411,141
hardtop sedan 3,6803,1091,855
convertible coupe 3,7053,251684
4-door hardtop wagon, 6-passenger 4,025 3,292 1,174
4-door hardtop wagon, 9-passenger
Total 1962 Dodge 880


1963 Dodge 880 Vehicle Specifications

All models

Wheelbase, inches

1963 Dodge 880 Models, Prices, and Production

ModelWeight, pounds
4-door sedan 3,800 2,813 7,197
4-door wagon, 6-passenger 4,145 3,142 1,727
4-door wagon, 9-passenger 4,175 3,257 907
Custom hardtop coupe
Custom 4-door sedan
Custom hardtop sedan
Custom convertible coupe
Custom 4-door hardtop wagon, 6-passenger
Custom 4-door hardtop wagon, 9-passenger
Total 1963 Dodge 880


1964 Dodge 880 Vehicle Specifications

All models

Wheelbase, inches

1964 Dodge 880 Models, Prices, and Production

ModelWeight, pounds
4-door sedan 3,795 2,8267,536
4-door wagon, 6-passenger
4,165 3,1551,908
4-door wagon, 9-passenger 4,185 3,2701,082
Custom hardtop coupe 3,765 3,0433,798
Custom 4-door sedan 3,825 2,977 9,309
Custom hardtop sedan
Custom convertible coupe
Custom 4-door hardtop wagon, 6-passenger
Custom 4-door hardtop wagon, 9-passenger
Total 1964 Dodge 880


Sources: Encyclopedia of American Cars, by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®, Publi­cations Inter­national, Ltd., 2002; Standard Catalog of Chrysler 1914-2000, James T. Lenzke editor, Krause Publi­ca­tions, Inc., 2000

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