In my opinion, the dumbest mistake American Motors ever made was not buying Jeep earlier. Doing so would have made them a world-class automaker. The failure to buy Jeep in 1963 was probably a main factor in their eventual takeover by Chrysler.
In 1953, Jeep builder Willys-Overland’s assets were assumed by Kaiser Industries as a way for Henry and Edgar Kaiser to salvage something out of their doomed Kaiser-Frazer company. At the time, Kaiser-Frazer was losing vast sums of money while Willys-Overland was a money-maker, and it seemed likely to remain so for a long time because it had essentially no competition in the four-wheel-drive market.
Willys could price its vehicles without worrying about being undercut by another company.Under Kaiser, the renamed Willys Motors greatly expanded its profitable overseas businesses. By 1963 it was a major stockholder in the two largest automobile and truck builders in South America: Industrias Kaiser Argentina (IKA) and Willys-Overland Brazil (WOB). IKA built Kaiser, Rambler, and Renault automobiles, and would soon create its own IKA-branded car. IKA also produced large numbers of Jeep-branded vehicles. Meanwhile, WOB also built Jeep vehicles along with the Willys 2600, a restyled and improved version of the old Aero Willys. Both companies were so significant that at the conclusion of the 1963 model year they had produced a total of 94,500 passenger cars and Jeep vehicles, more than Jeep produced in America. Suffice it to say, IKA and WOB were very profitable.
Sometime around 1959, Kaiser Industries’ Vice President Edgar Kaiser contacted Roy D. Chapin, Jr., who he knew, to ask if AMC wanted to buy Jeep. The Kaisers had found they didn’t really enjoy the car business. They had been badly shaken by the failure of Kaiser-Frazer and were anxious to sell Jeep to concentrate on businesses like extractives: things dug up from the earth. Chapin went to his boss, George Romney, with a proposal that AMC acquire Willys Motors.
The HEMI V8 engine began life in 1950, spanning three generations across a whopping 70+ years! The Chrysler Corporation initially manufactured its notorious V8 engine to tackle GM’s 5.0-liter Rocket 88 performance V8 and Ford’s disastrous Flathead V8 engine. Despite having a mountain to climb, Chrysler had a trick up their sleeve.The HEMI V8 engine, past and present, operates with eight hemispherical-shaped combustion chambers, allowing Chrysler to fit larger valves, increasing power. A hemispherical design also reduces the surface area within the chamber, limiting heat loss. In turn, the dependable HEMI V8 design transports its superior air-fuel mixture far more efficiently than its fellow V8 cousins, making the HEMI V8 engine the most efficient way to develop large amounts of power with a V8 format.Sadly, the revered HEMI V8 formula will retire at the end of 2023 as Dodge looks to switch to a more efficient propulsion method to replace today’s increasingly troublesome V8 engines. Be that as it may, now is the perfect time to cast our beady eyes across the HEMI V8 engine’s incredible lifespan, powering automotive icons from Dodge and Plymouth, all the way down to the grunty pickups from RAM and questionable SUVs from Jeep.
1951-1958: First-Generation Chrysler Firepower HEMI V8 Engine
The first ever HEMI V8 arrived with a different name, the Firepower V8. Chrysler unleashed their original HEMI V8 engine in 1951 due to their experience building hemispherical engines for the military. The 331 (5.4-liter) V8 developed 180 hp, powering iconic Chrysler nameplates such as the New Yorker and even went on to feature across the failed Imperial marque. It’s worth noting that Ford’s Flathead V8 produced around 110 hp, and GM’s Rocket 88 could reach 135 ponies in 1951. Meaning, Chrysler had the most powerful V8 engine among the big three.Perhaps even more interesting, the Firepower V8 became the chosen power source for the world’s loudest siren! The Chrysler Air Raid Siren, built between 1952-1957, produces a brain-melting 138 decibels, drawing power from a 5.4-liter Firepower HEMI V8 engine. Sirens aside, only three of Chrysler’s four automotive brands used the Firepower V8 HEMI engine.Chrysler and their later “Imperial” luxury marque operated with Firepower V8 engines ranging from 5.4-6.4 liters in size. The most powerful arrived in 1957, developing an incredible 375 hp aboard the Chrysler 300, displacing 6.4 liters. Chrysler’s efforts quickly became a favorite for dragsters of the era thanks to their Carter WCFB dual four-barrel carburetors setup and hydraulic valve lifters, allowing their 1957 luxury 300 models to reach the lofty heights of 375 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque! In fact, the Chrysler 300 could go from 0-60 mph in around eight seconds in 1957!
1951-1958: DeSoto And Dodge HEMI V8 Engines
DeSoto and Dodge also got their greasy paws on the Firepower HEMI V8 engine. DeSoto rebranded the V8 engine, the “Firedome” V8, and remained a step behind the flagship Chrysler cars. The DeSoto Firedome V8 had a maximum power output of 345 hp from their 1957 5.6-liter iteration of the HEMI V8 engine.Ironically, by today’s standards, Dodge featured the weakest version of the first-gen HEMI V8, maxing out with their “Super Red Ram” HEMI developing just 260 hp aboard their Coronet and Royale models.
The most fabled of HEMI engines, the 426 HEMI, saw a return of the hemispherical V8 engine in 1964 solely for racing purposes. Despite being the second HEMI V8 engine, the 7.0-liter titan was the first to wear the “HEMI V8” name within Chrysler marketing materials.Chrysler’s 426 HEMI V8 quickly got to work, dominating the NASCAR championship at the hands of racing royalty such as Richard Petty and David Pearson. Chrysler fitted the aptly named “Elephant” to Plymouth Belvedere models initially, and luckily for gearheads, NASCAR quickly had the engine banned.
Homologation Street Hemi (7.0-Liter)
Chrysler’s 425 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque second-generation HEMI engines were too much for NASCAR. Sadly, due to complaints from Ford and a change in homologation rules, the vast 800 lb V8 engine got pushed out of the 1965 NASCAR season, leading Chrysler to create production variants of the notorious HEMI V8 to return to the track. Luckily for us, that resulted in the A102 Street HEMI, responsible for powering some of the most prolific muscle cars between 1966 and 1971.Chrysler’s Street HEMI V8 arrived with a pair of four-barrel AFB carburetors and a reduced compression ratio of 10.25:1 compared to 12.5:1 produced by its racing counterpart. By producing a street version of their notorious V8 engine, the HEMI returned to racing for the 1966 season.Some of the most notable muscle cars featuring the 426 HEMI are scarce gems today, such as the Dodge Dart HEMI, Dodge Charger R/T, Plymouth Superbird, and Plymouth Cuda. The 426 HEMI engine arrived in small numbers, rocketing Mopar’s greatest muscle cars from 0-60 mph in around five seconds, while shattering the quarter mile in under 14 seconds. Unfortunately, a little-known event called the “oil crisis” retired the legendary 426 HEMI V8 post-1971.
2003: Third-Generation “Eagle” HEMI V8
Back in 2003, while under the stewardship of DaimlerChrysler, the HEMI V8 engine made an astonishing return, replacing the Magnum engine series to return Chrysler’s character of old. The “Eagle” HEMI featured a two-valve pushrod design partnered with an electronic throttle control system, developing a hearty 345 hp from its 5.7-liter displacement.The returning HEMI eventually grew to 6.1 liters for SRT-branded models, arriving with a forged crankshaft and lighter pistons. Further upgrades to the 6.1-liter saw a cast aluminum intake manifold and a wholly revised coolant channeling system to aid the performance block. However, best of all, the 6.1-liter HEMI V8 produced a somewhat familiar 425 hp at 6,200 RPM, just like its 426 HEMI predecessor
2011: Apache HEMI V8
Another engine condemned, the “Apache” HEMI V8, arrived in 2011 and featured onboard a limited number of “392 HEMI” badged cars. This 6.4-liter iteration of the Eagle HEMI pays homage to the HEMI V8 engines of old, developing a hearty 525 hp thanks to its additional high-strength forged aluminum pistons. The 392 HEMI replaced the 6.1-liter performance V8, going on to feature within limited SRT models, such as the Durango and Challenger SRT 392 models. In fact, the Apache HEMI even replaced the 5.7-liter HEMI engine across Cab-Chassis RAM Pickup trucks post-2016.
Estate sales and country auctions typically offer bargains for anybody willing to step away from the limelights of headline-grabbing auctions dedicated to collector cars. Then again, Mopar’s wing cars seem like they’ll sell for noteworthy prices regardless of the venue, as we saw when an unrestored 1970 Plymouth Superbird sold for more than $200,000 over the weekend.
According to Terence N Teeter’s obituary, the NASCAR and Mopar fan who lived in West Alexandria, Ohio, “could and would work on just about anything,” but with a CNC business to run, he always had “a lot of incomplete projects around the old homestead.” Many of those projects were vintage Hemi V-8s – he had at least eight Red Rams, 331s, and other first-generation Hemis in various states of assembly – though he also had a disassembled 383-powered 1966 Dodge Charger undergoing restoration as well as the Superbird.
According to its fender tag and its broadcast sheet, the B5 Blue Superbird came from the factory with a 390hp 440 Six-Barrel engine, Pistol Grip-shifted four-speed manual transmission, 3.54-geared Dana 60, heavy-duty suspension, bucket seats, white vinyl interior, and black vinyl top. Of the 1,935 Superbirds built, 308 came with the Six Barrel/four-speed combination. At some point it had lost its fender scoops and had its nosecone molded to the front fenders, but little seems known about the car prior to when Teeter, then 22 years old, bought it in 1981 with 27,000 miles on it. He got to put another 9,000 or so miles on the odometer before parking it to take the intake and heads off the 440.
Photos of the Superbird show much of the car intact but in need of some work. Aside from the disassembled engine, the front bucket seats have significant rips at the seams while the hood is missing much of its paint. “We believe we have everything,” the auction listing claimed.
Teeter, his wife Susan, and their son Ben all died within two weeks of each other from COVID complications in December 2021, leading to this weekend’s estate sale conducted by Kirby Lyons Auctioneers in Greenville, Ohio. While chatter among the wing car community made it seem like the Superbird could sell for well below market value, hope for a bargain seemed to vanish once bidders filled the Kirby Lyons facility. Bidding opened at $50,000 and quickly ramped up to $170,000. Disbelief among the crowd seemed to start around the $185,000 mark, with the car ultimately selling for $203,000.
For 20 years, a veritable pandemonium of Hemis powered everything from modern muscle cars to trucks and SUVs
While many cars and trucks of the Eighties and Nineties dispelled the notion that American performance died off with the original muscle cars, it took an entirely new engine—one more powerful and less expensive to produce than its predecessor—to reignite the horsepower wars and usher in a new golden age. The Hemi V-8 has since become a standard-bearer for Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, and Jeep vehicles, and its basic engine architecture has spawned more than a dozen configurations, some of them difficult to discern from others. For that reason, we’ve put together this spotters guide to the third-generation (or gen 3) Hemi family of engines
What Sets the Hemi Apart
Teased in the 2000 Chrysler 300 Hemi C and the 2001 Dodge Super8 Hemi, the new 5.7-liter Hemi (Chrysler stylizes it as HEMI, but for expediency’s sake, we will not) debuted in the 2003 Dodge Ram pickups, featuring a deep-skirt cross-bolted iron block, aluminum heads, overhead valves, 4.46-inch bore spacing, the same bellhousing bolt pattern as the Chrysler LA-series V-8s, coil-on-plug ignition, composite intake manifolds, multipoint fuel injection, and that controversial head design.
Like the second-generation 426 Hemi, the 5.7L Hemi heads featured a camshaft in the block, opposed valves for a true crossflow design, twin spark plugs, and rocker shafts. The third-generation Hemi did not, however, feature a full hemispherical combustion chamber. Instead, Chrysler’s engineers decided to flatten either side of the combustion chamber to improve combustion efficiency and emissions. Some might argue that doesn’t make the engines true Hemis, but then again, the Hemi V-8s of yore were massive, heavy engines that cost a lot to machine and that wouldn’t meet modern-day fuel-efficiency or emissions requirements
Even though prevailing internal combustion engine design called for multiple valves operated by overhead camshafts (indeed, one of the engines the Hemi replaced, the 4.7L PowerTech V-8, used single overhead camshafts), the Hemi stuck with a two-valve, pushrod design. As they did with GM’s LS-series V-8s, critics scorned that layout as antiquated and unable to meet power, mileage, and emissions demands. However, Chrysler’s engineers made the most of it by taking Tom Hoover’s advice to relocate the camshaft upward in the block, thus shortening the pushrod length and improving valve train geometry.
What’s more, as Allpar reported, the Hemi proved less expensive to manufacture than previous hemispherical-head designs, which meant the engines could turn a profit just as easily as they could turn into ad copy gold.
After debuting in the Ram truck line, by 2005 the Hemi migrated to the LX-chassis cars (Dodge Charger R/T, Dodge Magnum R/T, Chrysler 300C) with the same 5.7-liter (345-cu.in.) displacement but a few changes. Truck engines—rated at 345 horsepower in the Ram, 335 horsepower in the Grand Cherokee, Durango, and Aspen—continued to use their own intake manifolds that mounted the throttle body atop the manifold. Meanwhile, car engines—rated at 350 hp in the Charger Daytona R/T and 340 hp in the other cars—moved the throttle body to the front of the intake. The 2005 car engine revisions also saw the introduction of the Multi-Displacement System, which deactivates four of the eight cylinders at cruising speed to improve mileage.
The most significant revisions to the entry-level Hemi came in 2009, with the so-called Eagle 5.7L Hemi. The 3.917-inch bore and 3.58-inch stroke remained the same, but Chrysler engineers added new heads, which reduced the combustion chamber volume from 85-cc to 65-cc and which flowed better with square intake ports and D-shape exhaust ports; Variable Camshaft Timing, which advances or retards timing by up to 37 degrees; larger intake valves; beefier connecting rods; a 58-tooth crankshaft sensor wheel; and a 10.5:1 compression ratio. The Eagle Hemi also features an active intake manifold with a flapper door that switches from long intake runners to short runners at higher rpms. The end result: anywhere from 360 to 375 horsepower in cars and SUVs and anywhere from 383 to 395 horsepower in Ram trucks.
Note that Chrysler engineers also built a version of the Eagle 5.7L specifically for the 2009 Durango and Aspen hybrids. These used a special camshaft and still used EGR valves after Chrysler had eliminated EGR from all other Hemis. Poorly received when new, the likelihood of coming across one of these in the wild nowadays is slim.
To identify one, look for a “5.7L” cast into the side of the block just above the oil pan mounting surface.
Along with the 2005 changes to the 5.7L, DaimlerChrysler also introduced the first SRT-8 engine that year, the 6.1-liter (370-cu.in.) Hemi. More than just a bump in displacement thanks to a larger 4.055-inch bore, the 6.1L featured an aluminum intake manifold (the only third-gen Hemi that didn’t have a composite intake manifold), forged crankshaft, D-port cylinder heads with 74-cc combustion chambers and 2.08-inch intake valves and 1.60-inch sodium-filled exhaust valves, aluminum exhaust manifolds, bigger fuel injectors, oil squirters aimed at the underside of the pistons, and a more aggressive camshaft. Combined, these modifications make for a nice heritage-inspired horsepower figure of 425 (in the SRT-8 versions of the 300C, Magnum, Charger, and Challenger; 420 in the Grand Cherokee SRT-8). Look for a “6.1L” cast into the side of the block just above the oil pan mounting surface.
Rather than upgrade the 6.1L as with the Eagle 5.7L, in 2011 Chrysler engineers replaced the 6.1L altogether with the 6.4-liter Hemi, also sometimes referred to as the 392 or the Apache, an engine that technically debuted in 2010 on the Challenger Drag Pack cars. Along with the displacement increase (the result of a larger 4.090-inch bore and a longer 3.72-inch stroke), the 6.4L benefited from a 10.9:1 compression ratio, 2.14-inch intake and 1.65-inch exhaust valves, the 6.1L’s oil squirters, an even more aggressive camshaft, and an active intake manifold like that found in the Eagle 5.7L. Initially rated at 470 horsepower, the 6.4L bumped to 485 horsepower in 2015 with the introduction of the Scat Pack cars (Grand Cherokee and Durango SRT versions of the 6.4L bumped too, but just to 475 horsepower; the 6.4L in the Wrangler Rubicon 392 produces 470 horsepower). All 6.4L car and SUV engine intake manifolds have a front-mounted throttle body angled toward the driver’s side of the vehicle. Look for a “6.4L” cast in the side of the block.
At roughly the same time that FCA bumped the output of the 6.4L, it also made the larger Hemi available in the Ram 2500 and heavier trucks. Essentially similar to the 6.4L used in the cars and SUVs, the truck version used a BGE (Big Gas Engine) block with improved casting processes, higher nickel content, and a slightly more rigid design. Horsepower figures varied from 366 to 410, depending on the application. Look for a “BGE” cast into the side or back of the block and an intake manifold that angles the throttle body toward the passenger’s side of the vehicle.
Chrysler’s venerable lightweight is a durable, versatile option
Although the cast-iron TorqueFlite three-speed transmission had been available as early as the 1956 300C and Imperial models, a smaller, more economical version, the light-duty TorqueFlite six, or A904, was first released in 1960 for six-cylinder engines. The A904 transmission could very well be considered the grandfather of most of the Chrysler automatic transmissions to follow.
First introduced for use with the push-button dash controls, the early 904s still used a cast-iron bellhousing and a ball-and-trunnion-style output yoke, but the physical dimensions and weight were smaller than that of the older TorqueFlites. They did not use a flex plate to attach the torque converter; instead, the crankshaft on the six-cylinder engines had a large eight-bolt flange to attach to the torque converter.
Flex plates and linkage shifting were added for the 1963 model year, and the output shaft was converted to a standard slip yoke in 1965, the same year the larger-cousin 727 was released. A904 transmissions were original equipment on all 170, 198 and 225 six-cylinder engines, as well as the 273, 318 and 360 (two-barrel) V-8 engines until 1978.
Derivatives of the 904 include the AMC Torque Command 6, the A909 (a 904 with lockup converter), the A500 (904 with a fourth gear added to the rear of the case), the Baby 904 (Mitsubishi-based compacts, the Arrow and Colt), the A998 (904 with an extra friction plate, usually found in 318-equipped vehicles), the A999 (904 with two extra friction plates, for 360 V-8 engines) and the 30RH (904 with computer-controlled lock-up converter often used in Jeep applications).
Gear ratios remained the same from its inception until 1980: 2.45:1 first gear, 1.45:1 second gear, 1:1 third gear and 2.22:1 reverse. First gear was dropped to 2.74:1 and second was lowered slightly to 1.54:1 when this wide ratio gear set was used in all 1981 and newer 904 transmissions. All 904 transmissions up to 1977 had a hydraulic 10.5-inch converter, although the 1977 models used a low-slip converter of similar size. 1978 and newer 904s all used a 10.5-inch lock-up converter.
Even with a Storied Name, the Compact K-Derived Ragtop was a Gamble for Lacocca
When Lee Iacocca left the Ford Motor Company and joined Chrysler in 1978, he was faced with rebuilding a car company on the verge of bankruptcy. One of the reasons for the company’s lack of capital, he claimed, was that the corporation’s diverse number of platforms—five in production at the time —shared few common parts, which in turn had created a complex manufacturing and inventory conundrum.
Correcting Chrysler’s fortunes would require a streamlined system of production already in practice in Germany and Japan: fewer platforms with a broad array of shared components, most of which were hidden from buyer’s eyes. While Iacocca stood before the U.S. Congress making his appeal for the great “Chrysler bailout” in 1979, his engineers were busy developing a new chassis: The K-car platform.
The new front-wheel-drive K-platform debuted as the compact Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant in the fall of 1980, replacing the recall-plagued Aspen and Volare in the divisions’ lineups. Each of the new “K-cars” were offered in two-door and four-door sedan body styles, as well as a station wagon, in various trim levels. It was a clear shift for the corporation, with more aerodynamic and fuel-efficient vehicles aimed at lowering the buyers’ operating costs while simultaneously reducing production costs.
No sooner had the K-car begun to roll off dealership lots across the country when the parent division began to adopt the chassis for a reimagined LeBaron, set to be introduced for 1982. Like its corporate siblings, the new LeBaron was to make use of the existing two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and wagon—but a storied, luxurious name needed, perhaps, just a bit more, and this is where adaptability came into play as part of Iacocca’s engineering directive.
The Chrysler brand had not offered a convertible since the 1970 model year. Encouraged, in part, by a rebounding economy, Iacocca felt there might be renewed interest. To test the waters, he had a LeBaron two-door coupe sent from the St Louis, Missouri, plant to California, where it was modified into a “non-functional” convertible. Once completed and displayed at several auto shows — where it was met with strong interest— Cars and Concepts, based in Brighton, Michigan, was contracted to manage the conversion of two-door coupes into convertibles for the posh LeBaron (and the new Dodge 400).
Cars and Concepts was chosen from a list of aftermarket firms based on their competitive price, coupled with a full-service package of engineering, manufacturing, and after-sale support. Just as important, the company was deemed to have a proper concept of how to build convertibles in the new decade. As one would expect, Cars and Concepts did more than just hack off the roof of a two-door coupe. Approximately 34 separate steps were undertaken to complete the complex conversion, most of which included the necessary sheetmetal surgery and intricate body reinforcement required.
Thus, when the reimagined Chrysler LeBaron was officially unveiled for 1982, the entry-level luxury car was available in two-door coupe, four-door sedan, and convertible guises. Having shed its former boxy look for aerodynamic sleekness without sacrificing elegant trimmings, the all-new LeBaron was announced as, “Lee Iacocca’s dream to combine high mileage and luxury in a series of cars,” in ads pitched by actor Ricardo Montalban.
With the redesign came refreshing fuel-mileage estimates of 25 in the city and as high as 40 on the highway. Such numbers were made possible in part by a Chrysler-developed 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine (equating to 135 cubic inches) rated at 84 horsepower and 111 pound-feet of torque offered as standard equipment, save for the LeBaron Town & Country, which received the otherwise-optional Mitsubishi-produced 2.6-liter four-cylinder. A four-speed manual transmission was standard, though an automatic was optional.
Naturally, the LeBaron convertible was to be the ultimate in luxury further touted in Chrysler brochures and ads: “The convertible exudes an elegance, a sense of style that starts at the tip of its highly stylized grille and continues through to plush interior appointments. No other car is causing so much excitement.” That said, a luxury tradition was maintained when Chrysler offered the line in the upscale Medallion series, as depicted by this Mark Cross edition currently under the care of Ted DeHoogh of Sioux Center, Iowa.
In the late 1980s, Chrysler transformed its Town & Country, and most other station wagons it produced, by reimagining them into its first-generation minivans, built on the front-wheel-drive S platform and sharing powertrain with Lee Iacocca’s ubiquitous K-cars. That’s notable because for most of the time leading up to then, the Town & Country was a massive, luxury-packed conventional station wagon with a longitudinal layout and an overall length that stretched right out of sight. The Chrysler minivans rocked the automotive world as few new cars before them had done, defining a new way to carry people and their possessions.
The redefinition of the wagon erased some of the attributes that made Americans love big station wagons in the first place: Gobs of big-block power, enough to ferry a full family across the continent with their belongings in back and whatever was left over in a trailer bobbing along behind. It’s a portrait in time that defines the postwar American dream as thoroughly as a tract house in a newly plowed suburb. A big station wagon is an iconic automobile. Given the way most of them were used hard by their owners and the owners’ hordes of kids, finding a survivor today is a definite occasion.
The exact mileage of this enormous 1973 Chrysler Town & Country nine-passenger station wagon (which means a rear-facing third seat) is unclear, though the owner thinks it’s on the light side of 100,000. Its condition is both original and phenomenal: Virtually everything, right down to the 3M woodgrain on the sides, is just as it was when the monstrous wagon rolled out of the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit in September 1972. All the owner says he’s had to do is gently touch up a little bit of woodgrain and one rock-chipped body piece, and then figure out its complex climate control’s vagaries.
According to widely accepted records, Chrysler built 14,687 copies of the nine-passenger Town & Country wagons for 1973, the highest total for fuselage-body wagons in that premium model range. Look inside, and you’ll find an unusual non-patterned cloth interior in prime condition, and a cargo area that’s devoid of scuffs and gouges from skidding objects and careless feet. It’s fully loaded with options, lacking only power windows, surprising for a car that was sold new in Arizona.
Again, fewer than 15,000 were built. Where are you going to find a survivor with this level of originality, options, and non-abused quality? In your dreams. Or, if you’re particularly fortunate, in the car corral at the AACA Eastern Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hank Hallowell, who lives in Hershey and owns this nearly perfect Chrysler, bought it there just minutes after also buying a late “Letter Car” from Chrysler at the same sale.
“It’s my favorite Town & Country, to be truthful,” Hank explains. “I prefer the front end of the 1973; it’s the only year without the chrome loop front bumper, and it has the Chrysler New Yorker front end because the industry was heading toward a more formal, classic look. The New Yorker front looks majestic on the Town and Country. Plus, ’72 and ’73 were the only years for the fuselage-body wagon with fender skirts, which enhance the lines of the car dramatically.”
Kim Barnes has a memory from her youth, of riding her Sears Sting-Ray-style “banana seat” bicycle past Friedman Chrysler-Plymouth in Des Moines, Iowa. There, in the showroom, was a yellow Mod Top Barracuda. About a block away was Des Moines AMC, which had a red, white, and blue Hurst SC/Rambler in the showroom. “I was obsessed with both cars, especially the yellow Barracuda,” she recalls.
Like other seven-year-olds of that time, Kim was a big fan of The Partridge Family and she collected Partridge Family trading cards. At the same time, she secretly collected trading cards of her favorite automobiles, too. “I had one of the yellow Mod Top Barracuda, as well as a blue Satellite Mod Top, in my collection,” Kim says.
One day, Kim rode by the dealership and the Mod Top Barracuda was gone. Her obsession with the unusual car continued. She certainly had no idea at the time, but a yellow Mod Top Barracuda would become part of her automotive stable nearly 50 years later.
Marketing specifically to woman buyers was nothing new. Dodge toured a pair of concept cars in 1954 called Le Comte and La Comtesse —specially modified Chrysler Newports with glass roof inserts. While Le Comte was finished in “masculine” colors, La Comtesse was painted Dusty Rose and Pigeon Gray—ostensibly to appeal to women.
Response was favorable and Dodge offered the La Femme, based on the Custom Royal Lancer, as a midyear “Spring Special” in 1955. It was finished in a Heather Rose and Sapphire White exterior color combination, while the interior was upholstered in cloth featuring pink rosebuds on a silver-pink background, with pink vinyl trim. Included was a fully accessorized keystone-shaped purse, along with a matching raincoat, rain bonnet, and umbrella.
Considered a sales success, La Femme returned for the 1956 model year, this time in Misty Orchid and Regal Orchid. The interior was quite lavish, with a unique white cloth highlighted by purple and lavender, a special headliner with gold flecks, and loop pile carpeting in various shades of purple and lavender. Once again, a raincoat, rain bonnet, and umbrella were included (but no purse) for the 1956 model year. Sales numbers were never reported but it is estimated that some 2,500 cars received the $143 option over two years.
In the late-night hours of July 26, 1956, about 40 miles off the coast of Nantucket Island and nearing the end of its transatlantic journey from Italy to New York, the luxurious ocean liner SS Andrea Doria collided with another ship in heavy fog. Fifty-one people were killed, a number that would have been much higher had the Doria not remained afloat for 11 hours before it slipped below the water’s surface to its final resting place.
Considering the loss of life, less attention was given to the cargo that went down with the ship, but Chrysler Corporation quickly crafted a press release, matter-of-factly sharing the details of an “idea” car—the Norseman—that had been lost while making its way to America from Italian coachbuilder Carrozzeria Ghia.
Calling the car’s pillarless design “revolutionary,” the press release acknowledged that the Norseman “must be considered a complete loss.” And then, oddly, Chrysler shared that the car was “covered by insurance.” The New York Times reported that the automaker invested $200,000 into the project, the equivalent to $2.1 million today. What Chrysler didn’t say in its press release was that it could never recoup the time and effort that went into creating the four-door hardtop sedan: 50,000 hours of research and labor, two years in design, and another 15 months to build it. All gone, thanks to the the unfortunate confluence of bad weather and certain regrettable decisions.
SS Andrea Doria
The SS Andrea Doria was a source of great national pride when it was launched in 1951. Named for a 16th-century Genoese admiral, it was considered the largest, fastest, and (supposedly) safest of all Italian ships when it took its maiden voyage in January 1953. The opulent 29,100-ton ship had a normal capacity of 1200 passengers and 500 crew, and it had successfully completed 50 transatlantic voyages when it left the port of Genoa on July 17, 1956—with 1706 on board—and headed west to New York City. In an odd coincidence with the more famous RMS Titanic, which sank in 1912 during what was to be Captain Edward Smith’s final turn at the helm before retirement, Cpt. Piero Calamai was taking his final tour on the Andrea Doria before moving to its sister ship, the SS Christopher Columbo.
Nine days into the journey across the Atlantic Ocean and less than 300 miles from New York, dense fog made it difficult to see beyond the bow. Regardless, Calamai maintained a speed of more than 20 knots in the heavily trafficked area while the ship’s crew became completely reliant on radar.
Meanwhile, the MS Stockholm, having recently left New York for Sweden, was fast approaching in the same shipping lane, heading east. The Stockholm, less than half the size of the Doria but designed with a reinforced ice-breaking bow, was also operating solely by radar due to the heavy fog.
Both ships were aware of the other as they drew closer, but it was later revealed that the Stockholm’s radar was set to a different range, so the Doria was actually closer to the Swedish ship than its crew realized. Nevertheless, it was Doria Cpt. Calamai’s decision to turn his ship to port—not starboard, in accordance with maritime rules—that proved fatal. With both ships turning in the same direction, the Stockholm struck the Doria at an almost 90-degree angle.
Below deck was the Norseman. Designed by Chrysler’s engineering division and built by Ghia, Chrysler claimed the concept “incorporated more structural, chassis, electrical, and styling innovations than any other ‘idea’ car every designed by Chrysler.”
The automaker’s press release added:
“Although the car was intended to have as great structural strength as today’s automobiles, it had no posts or pillars to support the roof. This was accomplished by means of structural cantilever arch, which curved upward from the rear of the frame and over the passenger compartment of the car.
“Glass surrounding the passenger compartment was uninterrupted, with the exception of the two arches of steel curving upward in the rear. In addition, there was a 12-square-foot panel of glass in the rook that was power operated and slid forward, leaving the roof over the rear seat open.
“All major body panels on the car were made of aluminum, as a result of research in advanced structural techniques to reduce weight. It had a sharply sloping hoof, unswept tail fins, and a covered, smooth underbody for aerodynamic efficiency.”