My Favorite Chrysler Story – The 1962 Dodge Custom 880 Series

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I have been fascinated by the ongoing upheavals of the Chrysler Corporation, where they come up with some great product, only to face certain doom a few years later. One of their star products was the Chrysler Airflow, and the public didn’t seem all that interested when it was introduced. This one brief moment in Chrysler history dictated a very conservative design history within the corporation for the next two decades until the flamboyant 50s when Virgil Exner brought them into design prominence. His tenure was brief, and once again Chrysler was on the brink. With Corporate boardroom shenanigans, and with errant information about their competitors, Chrysler debuted what is widely viewed as a flawed product line in the form of smaller Dodge and Plymouth models that looked peculiar. This left the Dodge and Plymouth dealers without a full-sized standard car to compete with Ford or General Motors.

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The 1961 Dodge Dart and Polara, and the 1961 Plymouth Fury, Belvedere, and Plaza were among the strangest styled cars of the year, and it has been remarked that the designs were finished without the approval of Virgil Exner, who was recovering from a heart attack when the cars were designed. Be that as it may, these cars transitioned between the wild tail fins of the late 50s, to what was suppose to be cleaner lines of the 60s, and the transition wasn’t successful. Take this Polara for example; The front end is bulbous, with a concave grill that doesn’t seem to really belong. The rear end isn’t a styling masterpiece either, with a reversed tailfin, and a tail-lamp that seems to be grafted into place. It looks as if three different styling committees designed this car… Front, middle and rear.

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Ah, but the interior were also… well, different. Chryslers of the late 50s and early 60s were pure push button heaven (or hell, depending on your point of view). There were five for the Transmission, five for the Climate Control system, and at least five for the optional radio. Remember, there were also levers for the lights, wipers, temperature control, and the Park mechanism for the transmission. The instrumentation included a see through speedometer during this time period, and there were four other instruments located just below to monitor fuel, oil pressure, amperage, and engine temperature. The rear-view mirror was located on top of the instrument binnacle, and in some models, a squared steering wheel.

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But these bizarre 61 models were only small problems… The soon to be revealed 1962 models proved a disaster. You see, Chrysler was desperate to keep up with GM, and they received some information that GM was going to downsize their full-size models, only the information wasn’t about those models… It was about the soon to be introduced mid-sized cars. The 1962 Plymouth and Dodge models were based on a 116 inch wheelbase (The full-sized cars were on a 122 inch wheelbase). The looked like upsized Valiants, and were not particularly good looking. At the same time, Chrysler introduced the Newport, and less expensive model that replaced the discontinued DeSoto models, and was actually a best seller. The Chrysler Plymouth showrooms offered a full model range, from the Valiant, to the down-sized Plymouth, Newport, larger New Yorker, and the Imperial. This left the Dodge dealerships without a full-sized car, and they demanded one now.

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It was Elwood Engel, hired away from Ford, who was charged by the new Chrysler president, Lynn Townsend, to bring Chrysler Styling back into the mainstream. One of his first jobs was to re-introduce a full-sized car back into the Dodge fold. This was a crash program, with the intent of bring a new model to the showroom by early spring of 1962… a mere six months. The engineers cobbled up a test mule using a 1961 Dodge Polara front clip mated to a 1962 Chrysler Newport, and painted the car Black. The best way to define a car during this time period was ornamentation, and it has been written that Engel sat in a room with the mule, and various nameplates, badges and other brik-a-brack lying on the floor to see what he could do to come up with an acceptable look. The front Body-side molding was new, but it had to tie in with the Newport molding used on the rest of the car.

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Examples included: 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. 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.

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The exterior was festooned with Dodge’s new delta-shaped “fratzog” logo, which appeared on the grille, trunklid, and wheel covers. The 1961 Polara front end was not an actual carryover to the 880. 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. It has been written that the tooling dies for the hood were simply altered to eliminate the louvers, so any replacement sheet metal for the 1961 models didn’t come with the louvers. The grill was also altered slightly. 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.

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A miracle was accomplished. The car that wasn’t introduced in the fall of 1961 was ready almost 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.” 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.

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So here we are, describing some of the most unusual cars within Chrysler at that time, and to what end? Well, there are currently two 1961 Dodge Polaras offered on eBay, and one 1962 Dodge 880. How about that for a tie in. Here is a beautiful 1961 Dodge Polara 4-door sedan with factory A/C! According to the listing:

Dodge took pride in their 1961 Dodge Polara, and this car was one of their finest. Polara was the only model offered on the longer 122-inch wheelbase. The Polara, which featured more desirable trim treatments and interior fabrics. This fine example has factory A/C and all the extras like remote rearview mirror, radio, power brakes, and steering. Fitted with new wide whitewall tires this car runs great! There were many great accessories offered as options on the 1961 Dodge that suited every owner’s individual needs. Some of these were pushbutton TorqueFlite transmission, pushbutton heater and defroster, pushbutton radio, electric windshield wipers with variable speed, and all windows with Solex safety glass with a shaded band that reduced glare. Included in certain Dodge models was an all-vinyl interior. In the six- and eight-cylinder engine models, an air conditioner was available that heated in winter, cooled in summer, filtered pollen and dust from incoming air, and provided dehumidification. This car has it all for a great price!!!

Top bid so far is $7,850, with an unmet reserve. See the listing here:[sc:ebay itemid=”271127271124″ linktext=”1961 Dodge Polara Sedan with A/C” ]

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This is a 1962 Dodge Custom 880 4-Door Sedan and it looks fantastic. This is a Black Sedan, just like the Mule in the Chrysler Styling Studio, and according to the listing:

What can we say about this car, we are big fans of these 4 door sedans with attitude! This Dodge is in unbelievable condition from the 361 Cubic Inch V8 to the terrific interior to the body to the chrome grill that simply smiles at you. Try to find a Dodge 880 Custom Sedan in this condition, good luck. This is effectively a one owner all original car. Mechanically, what can we say. Get in and drive it home. It starts immediately, shifts nicely into gear with the push button transmission (very cool), and off you go. Be careful though because you will stop traffic due to people wanting to see the car. It drives great, it shifts great, it stops great, and it has that look that gets you noticed.

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The interior, well again, very good. The seats feel good, the carpet is very good to excellent, the dash is in great shape, the steering wheel feels good in your hands, and overall you can get in and drive it to get dinner right now. The body is just as nice as the rest of the car. There are some nicks here and there, but other than these the bottom of the car is nicer than most new ones. Everything is good to go and the body is very good to excellent.

Top bid for this car is $2,952, again without meeting the reserve. See the listing here: [sc:ebay itemid=”390518967302″ linktext=”1962 Dodge Custom 880 Sedan” ]

So what do you think about the Dodge Polara that was transported into a Dodge Custom 880?

8 Comments

  1. If the seller thinks that heavily stained front seat constitutes an interior in "very good" condition, it calls into question the condition of the rest of the car.

    1. I was going to say the same thing. Then I looked again and it is only the driver's seat area that is stained. With the shade and pattern of the staining, I'd say that the owner was a person who perspired heavily and/or didn't use the air conditioning. Although perspiration smells can be shampooed out of the imitation whatever fabric, the stains cannot. But so far, that car is in good shapen..certainly enough to warrant a new seat cover.

      1. Most cars in 1962 DID NOT HAVE AIR CONDITIONING. There were no Starbucks in 1962- men did not drink lattes. Life would have been very difficult for you.

  2. I can remember a '62 Dodge magazine ad that included a tease for the upcoming 880 at the bottom of the page, showing a black silhouette of the car.

  3. "…and it has been remarked that
    the designs were finished without
    the approval of Virgil Exner, who
    was recovering from a heart attack
    when the cars were designed."
    First and second part of the sentence are unrelated?
    The black one is gorgeous!

  4. Personally, I prefer the 1963 Custom 880. The front end was restyled to eliminate the "droopy" look. That and the 1962 Chrysler are two of my favorite Mopars from the 1960's.

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