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1969-1973 Plymouth

1969 Plymouth Styling

While all the sheetmetal was entirely new and unique to Plymouth, it is difficult to describe the new 1969 Plymouth styling. It was almost as if Plymouth had designed a car without a theme.

The bumper design on this 1969 Plymouth model was intended to be more substantial.
The bumper design on this 1969 Plymouth model
was intended to be more substantial.

The 1969 Plymouth emerged as one of those "insurance company ad" cars. You know, a car so nondescript that it could have been used in a State Farm advertisement in The Saturday Evening Post without anyone's guessing the make.

When you analyze the bodyside of the 1969 Plymouths, there's nothing there. An utterly mundane horizontal fender and door merge into a rear quarter panel having an almost imperceptible swelling along its top surface. A third of the way down the bodyside, a horizontal break line runs straight front to rear, with a similar offset crease line at bumper height lower on the body.

Yet the Plymouth designers had something in mind. In a styling sketch of the 1969 Fury, the car was drawn so it looked hunkered-down on its wheels, as if it were tied down for shipment on a car carrier. This exaggerated the thickness of the bodyside, as did the shallowness of the side windows and the diminutive roof perched above the belt.

This was the essence of the "look" the Plymouth designers were striving for -- a mammoth, protective, almost armored car in its visual weight, looking as if it were silently slinking along just inches above the roadway.

What emerged in sheetmetal, however, was something less. Bland and colorless seem to be the adjectives that describe the 1969 Plymouths. (This blandness also engulfed the redesigned big Dodge as well.)

The Fury's bland appearance was most assuredly not due to any lack of talent among the Plymouth stylists. Plymouth exterior styling was headed by Gerry Thorley, who reported to Chrysler-Plymouth design executive Dick Macadam. "Mac," as he was known, was to become styling vice-president in 1974 after Engel's retirement in 1972.

This 1969 Plymouth model wears horizontal lamps to accommodate the bigger bumper.
This 1969 Plymouth model wears horizontal lamps
to accommodate the bigger bumper.

On the firing line was former Chrysler design executive Dick Clayton. Clayton was then manger of C-body styling in the Plymouth Exterior Studio and would oversee the styling of all big Plymouths from the 1968 to 1972 model years. It was under his direction that the 1969 Fury was developed.

Clayton readily admits that the 1969 Fury was not the car he wanted. Theme development was long and difficult. For example, resolving the lower character line in the bodyside proved particularly onerous until one day John Herlitz said, "Run it back and fade it out."

When Clayton realized that the 1969 wouldn't ever be all that he wished it to be, he concentrated on saving the bodyside for use on the 1970 he hoped to do. This, itself, was a risky bit of business. The stylists were also hampered by the threat of looming federal regulations regarding bumper impact standards.

"We wanted to do the 1970 in 1969," he recalls. Indeed, early shots of the clays show a loop front bumper with stacked headlights, the over/under lamps evolving the look of the 1965-1968 cars. Instead, he got ordinary horizontal lamps and a "chrome log."

Bumpers were comprised of a simple section drawn across the width of the car, virtually flat in plan view. Product Planning executive Harry Chesebrough dictated this after being grilled by a Congressional committee during a trip to Washington.

Stung by criticism of easily damaged, non-protective bumpers, Chesebrough stormed into the styling studios upon his return demanding flat, protective bumper planes front and rear. Unfortunately, this assured that the 1969 Plymouth (and Dodge) were virtual boxes in plan view. Plymouth's distinctive four-year-old vertical dual headlights were jettisoned in favor of more easily protected horizontal lamps.

At first, the stylists attempted to reprise the the 1968 grille, with its relatively narrow horizontal opening and body-color panel between the opening and the bumper. While the metal panel looked solid, it was actually perforated to admit air to the radiator.

Photos of clays for the 1969 illustrate two variations on this theme, the most distinctive being a "barbell" design in which a thin, car-wide opening was interrupted by rectangular shapes framing each headlight.

The surface above the barbell was hood; the undercut surface below body-color perforated metal. But what made it to production was a much less inventive wall-to-wall horizontal aluminum grille, the center texture of which resembled a Speidel watchband.

"It was really bad," Clayton admits. "We struggled with that grille until finally Mac said, 'You guys are out of time -- just do it!' But the Sport Fury/VIP diecast grilles were OK. We pushed for them so they'd be in the budget for the 1970 car, when we hoped to do a better job." Thus Sport Fury and VIP models boasted more expensive diecast grilles with an eggcrate texture and veed in plan view.

Rears were similar to the fronts, having rectangular taillights in a horizontal band immediately above the bumper -- two lamps on the Fury I and II, four on the Fury III, Sport Fury, and VIP lines. The hood and deck lid were flat, with both head and taillights having the appearance of being tucked up under a low forehead, adding to the massive look.

This was in sharp contrast to the elaborate loop bumpers on 1969 Chevrolets and Pontiacs, especially the latter's exaggerated, Endura-covered center prow.

Later in the model year, when the big Plymouths weren't selling as well as hoped, the front end ironically came in for much internal criticism. "Fixes" were initiated mid-year to add more substance, more interest, more something.

For more on the 1969 Plymouth, continue on to the next page.

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