The Chrysler Corporation Restructures
Chrysler models in the 1970s changed only in detail, but midyear, Chrysler introduced the first Cordobas: a Newport hardtop coupe and sedan with paint, vinyl roof, bodyside moldings, wheels, and grille all colored gold, plus unique "Aztec Eagle" upholstery. A well-equipped Newport 440 hardtop also arrived with TorqueFlite, vinyl roof, and other extras as standard.
A reminder, but not a revival, of the great letter-series in 1970 was Chrysler's 300-H. The "H" stood for Hurst, maker of the floor-mounted shifter used for the TorqueFlite automatic. Performance goodies abounded -- special road wheels, white-letter tires, a tuned 440 V-8, heavy-duty suspension -- set off by a gold-and-white paint job, custom hood, trunklid spoiler, special grille, pinstriping, and unique interior. Only 501 were built. Also appearing for 1970 were Chrysler's last big convertibles, a Newport and 300 that saw respective production of just 1124 and 1077 units. They've since become minor collector's items.
Vast changes in corporate administration were evident by 1969-70. Quality control had become an end in itself as engineers struggled to correct Chrysler Corporation's poor reputation in that area. On the administrative side, Townsend had consolidated Colbert's old decentralized structure and moved to strengthen divisional identities between Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth. Still, the firm would travel a very rocky road in the '70s.
The Chrysler brand stayed with its basic 1969-70 formula through 1973. Style variations through '72 came via easy-change items that became a bit tackier with time. The '73s gained blockier lower-body sheet metal and a more-conventional front, with bigger bumpers per federal requirement.
New for '71 was a low-priced Newport Royal subseries with standard 255-bhp 360 V-8, an enlarged version of the corporate small-block engine introduced in the mid-'60s. A stroked 400-cid version of the 383, more adaptable to emissions tuning, replaced it for '72, then disappeared with the 360 and all Royal models.
Other Chryslers relied on the 440 with added emission controls that sapped power, which was down to 215 bhp by '73 -- though that was in more-realistic SAE net measure, not the old gross rating. A popular new addition for '72 was the New Yorker Brougham: two hardtops and a sedan with lusher interiors and a $300-$400 price premium over the standard issue.
Overall, Chrysler did fairly well in this period. Sales fell to around 177,000 for 1970-71, but recovered to nearly 205,000 for '72, then to 234,000-plus. Nevertheless, Chrysler still couldn't seem to beat Cadillac, trailing GM's flagship every year in 11th place.
Sales sank mightily in the wake of the first energy crisis despite a completely redesigned crop of 1974 models, still on a 124-inch wheelbase but about five inches shorter than the "fuselage" generation. Styling was crisper but more slab-sided, announced by pseudo-classic square grilles, a period fad that Chrysler had studiously avoided before.
Engine options and horsepower were down: 185/205-bhp 400 V-8s for Newport and Newport Custom, 230/275-bhp 440s for T&C wagons, New Yorker, and New Yorker Brougham. The last was now quite like the Imperial, which was again being marketed as a Chrysler but was still registered as a separate make. After '75, Imperial actually became a Brougham via the badge-engineering so long practiced by Chrysler -- to the confusion of customers up and down the corporate line.
Few in Highland Park had foreseen the energy crisis, which only accelerated the buyer resistance to big cars that had been building as a result of galloping sticker prices. Sales of the record-priced 1974s dropped to 1970 levels, and a two-month backlog quickly piled up, yet chairman Townsend refused to slash prices. Instead, he slashed production.
By early November 1974, corporate sales were down 34 percent -- not as bad as GM's 43 percent loss, but more serious, as Chrysler's fixed costs were spread over much smaller volume. The results were employee layoffs and an unsold inventory of 300,000 units by early 1975.
Finally, Chrysler offered something no one in Detroit ever had: cash rebates -- essentially paying people to buy. Other automakers had little choice but to follow. It amounted to throwing money away in an attempt to lose less on the balance sheets, but it was a necessary, if drastic, step. That big backlog cost Chrysler $300,000 a week.
For more on the amazing Chrysler, old and new, see:
- Chrysler New Car Reviews and Prices
- Chrysler Used Car Reviews and Prices