The 1962-1964 Dodge Custom 880 restored a full-size car to Dodge's lineup. Downsized big Dodges seemed a good idea when Chrysler design chief Virgil Exner conceived them in the recession-wracked late 1950s, but they were literally bad business when introduced to the improved market of 1962.
Though medium-price cars still weren't selling like they used to, DeSoto's demise in late 1960 had left the Newport as Chrysler's sole entry in the still-important $3,000-$3,500 segment. Dodge dealers, suffering poor sales of their newly downsized 1962 "standards," screamed for relief.
They got it at mid-model year with a revived Dodge Custom 880. This was either the recently canned 1961 Dart/Polara with finless "plucked chicken" 1962 Chrysler rear, or a 1962 Newport with the peaked-fender 1961 Dart/Polara front. Actually, either conception is correct. Both 1962 Newport and Custom 880 used the 122-inch-wheelbase unibody platform found under all full-size Chryslers and Dodges since 1960.
Of course, that had also served the last DeSotos, which the Custom 880 essentially replaced. It was, after all, the same package offered at similar prices, but in more models with nicer looks.
Speaking of style, the old Dodge front mated remarkably well with the new Chrysler rear, but the combination was not the result of a hasty design decision. According to Virgil Exner, Jr., it had been proposed in an ornamentation drawing as a last-gasp effort for a 1962 DeSoto. Though shelved then, the idea was dusted off when Dodge's shrunken 1962 standards met sales resistance, which is how the Custom 880 got to market so quickly.
What Chrysler obviously did was abandon a lackluster nameplate (DeSoto) for a more saleable one (Dodge) without really changing the product. And the ploy worked every bit as well as the hybrid styling. Though the 1962 Newport saw over 83,000 sales, the Custom 880 generated a healthy 17,705 despite its six-month selling season -- important added business at a time when Dodge desperately needed it.
Keep reading to learn about the styles and sales success of the 1962-1964 Dodge Custom 880.
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Marketing aside, there was nothing new about the 1962, 1963, 1964 Dodge Custom 880. The numerals related to nomenclature in the 1962 mid-size line, and if an 880 wasn't twice the car a Dart 440 was, it was pushed hard as a full-size machine of the type many buyers craved. "Big" was the operative word: "Big room, big ride, big power!!!!" screamed one ad. Another blared, "Overall length almost 18 feet" (more precisely, 215 inches for wagons, 213.5 for other models).
That "big ride" naturally reflected Chrysler's proven "Torsion-Aire" suspension, which also still provided Detroit's best big-car handling. Power was courtesy of a corporate 361 V-8 trumpeted as "high performance" but also "surprisingly economical" (two-barrel carb). There were "no optional performance engines; no need for them," Dodge boasted, though this was probably to keep prices down.
Trim was limited to one level in four-door sedan, hardtop coupe and sedan, convertible, and hardtop wagon models (the last left over from 1960-1961). Three-speed manual transmission was standard for all, but most were ordered with optional TorqueFlite automatic as well as power steering (which reduced turns lock-to-lock from a cumbersome 5.5 to 3.5).
Big "Total Contact" drum brakes, seven-stage rustproofing, and newly extended 32,000-mile lube intervals were included at prices pegged within a few dollars of Newport's. Performance was naturally close to the Chrysler's as well, and respectable. Workmanship, on the other hand, remained far below Ford/GM levels, and Highland Park products still had a deserved reputation for early rustout.
Nevertheless, the Custom 880 earned its keep, so it returned for 1963 with little-changed prices and a minor restyle incorporating round taillamps and a simple flat-face grille composed of fine vertical bars. More importantly, styling was no longer "me-too," as Chryslers were heavily reskinned with the "Clean, crisp, custom look."
Models regrouped around three base-trim 880s and five Customs. But despite a full season, sales rose by less than 11,000-still far behind Newport's. The advent of cleaner, slightly longer 1963 standard Dodges was the likely reason.
Deliveries improved to near 32,000 for 1964, when the old 1960 bodies received a final face-lift marked by wraparound taillamps and an evolutionary concave grille. Model choices stayed put, prices rose a paltry $13, and options expanded to include four-speed manual transmission (rarely ordered) and Comfort-Tilt steering wheel.
Motor Trend tested a Custom convertible, judging it "a top-rated package," happily reporting that "close inspection ... didn't turn up any flaws caused by careless workmanship."
With 1965 came totally new full-size Dodges that included 880s, after which the name was retired. Today, the 1962-1964s are forgotten by all but the most ardent Dodge devotees, and that's a shame. If not the greatest American cars of the 1960s, they had a lot to like. Come to think of it, they still do.
Keep reading for 1962-1964 Dodge Custom 880 specifications.
For more information on cars, check out:
1962, 1963, 1964 Dodge Custom 880 Specifications
The 1962-1964 Dodge Custom 880 was built to fulfill a need to restore a full-size car to its downsized model and provided the spark when Dodge needed it.
Engine: all ohv V-8; 361 (4.12 x 3.38), 265 bhp; 383 cid (4.25 x 3.38), 305 bhp (1963-64)
Transmission: 3-speed TorqueFlite automatic
Suspension front: upper and lower A-arms, longitudinal torsion bars, anti-roll bar
Suspension rear: live axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs
Brakes: front/rear drums
Wheelbase (in.): 122.0
Weight (lbs): 3,615-4,185
Top speed (mph): 105-110+
0-60 mph (sec): 10.8-13.2
Production: 1962 Custom 880 17,505 1963 880 9,831 Custom 880 18,435 1964 880 10,526 Custom 880 21,234