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Unread 07-14-2010, 11:19 AM   #1
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Default Mopars Converge at Carlisle Chrysler Nationals

Californians may think they are in the thick of American automotive culture, but I bet Michiganders would disagree - if you've ever been to Detroit, you'd understand. But the nod may have to go to the East Coast because of the Carlisle Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania. Along with Hershey, this central PA location for years has been the hub for anyone looking for car parts. The flea markets have evolved into full-fledged car shows, and the best of the bunch is the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals.

See the massive photo gallery HERE!

July 9-11, 2010 were the dates for this year's Carlisle Chrysler Nationals, and with over 2,000 cars and no daytime rain, it was the place to be to find that elusive DeSoto part or view the debut of a recently restored rarity. If you're not in the know, Mopar has an actual meaning - it means "Motor Parts" and is Chrysler's parts division from way back when. Anything related to Chrysler, from Plymouth all the way up to Imperial, is a Mopar. Captive imports like Simca (a French company that is no more) are Mopars. Are Mitsubishis Mopars? Hell, no! But a Mitsu like a Plymouth Arrow would be considered such, especially since Arrow funny cars were campaigned in the 1970s.

Mopar fans have reputations that precede them. Generally speaking, Mopar fans tend to bear the brunt of all the negative stereotypes of motorheads and the dirt-under-the-fingernail guys who relate better to a wrench than a wench. The closer truth is that Mopar guys are like any other but feel an independent spirit that doesn't exist with the Chevrolet fraternity . . . and if you check out the cars, you possibly may see why. Personally, I don't find Mopars any different than a Ford is to a Pontiac, but the Chrysler Corporation has been through so many ups and downs since the introduction of the 1934 Airflow that one can't help but be impressed by the company's tenacity and audacity.

Take this 1957 Plymouth as a perfect example. Nostalgia suggests that the '57 Chevy is the quintessential 1950s American car, but when this Plymouth came out, it was more impressive than the Bow Tie in every way - it was sleeker, lower, wider, and had quasi-quad headlamps. There even was a packaged performance car - the Fury - that was offered only in an off-white color. Below is a similar '58, which was the inspiration for Stephen King's Christine.

Chrysler couldn't make enough of its "Forward Look" cars, and that was the impetus of Chrysler's reputation for poor reliability. Ads at the time proclaimed "Suddenly it's 1960!" and Chrysler would wish it was true because the integrity of the 1957-58 cars almost ruined the company. On the other hand, the great GM designer Harley Earl was so taken (or taken aback) by Chrysler's 1957 offerings that he made his design teams go back to the drawing boards and start anew. This is why GM's 1958 cars were one year-only designs and why the 1959 Cadillac had higher fins than any other car ever. However, back at Plymouth, their 1959 face lift lost much of the previous years' grace.

Virgil Exner, Chrysler's chief designer whose designs turned the industry upside-down, now was the one who was out of touch with reality. While trends were moving away from the excesses of the 1950s, Exner continued to think the Atomic Age was in full force, resulting in cars like the 1960 Plymouth. Engineering features like unit-body construction and the new "Slant Six" ended up being overshadowed by the fact that the folks who ran Chrysler were off their rockers, and it got worse for 1961 as the Plymouth looked like it was the bug that ate Tokyo and then spit it out.

Soon after, Pontiac took over Plymouth's traditional spot in third place in the industry. Remarkably, the problems would continue into 1962 (more on that later), but what we are left with are cars that are totally unique, loaded with gimmickry, and have character in spades - let's look at some more Chrysler products from the Virgil Exner era!

Here's the car that started it all, the Chrysler 300. Introduced as the 1955 C-300, this is the 1956 300-B, which had new finned rear fenders. This is also the first car to exceed one hp/cid, despite what Chevrolet claimed in 1957 - you could get up to 355 hp from its 354. It's Plymouth Fury cousin - the first year of this model - also was loaded with power and style.

Dodge's cars tended to be the least graceful of all of Chrysler's brands - at least up front - but that doesn't mean it was lacking in style, as this '58 Custom Royal proves. Additionally, Dodge didn't have a packaged supercar like Plymouth, Chrysler, and DeSoto (with its Adventurer). Instead, it had the D500 package, which was available on most models. By 1960, Dodge was faring better than Plymouth, but it still suffered from "Virgil Exner Syndrome" for better or worse.

Dodge's saving grace was the new Dart series, a team of shorter wheelbase Dodges that offered value with typical Dodge style (the compact Dart you may be more familiar with debuted in 1963). However, there's no doubt that the Dart cannibalized Plymouth sales. Aside of the different wheelbase from the Matador and Polara, there were differences in grilles and fins.

Moving on to Chrysler, its 1957 iteration was an impressive automobile - the mightiest of vehicles that led the industry in horsepower and presence. The similar '58 was almost as cool, but much was lost with the heavily facelifted '59s. There were no '57s at Carlisle, but here's a '58. Then compare the '59's fins - no contest for me!

I feel Chrysler - along with DeSoto - returned to form for 1960. This is supported by the fact that the Chrysler 300-F is arguably the best of the breed among 300 collectors. The '60 DeSoto was very similar, but it would be the last full model year for this brand as it was folded soon after the '61s were introduced. It was a good thing, as they looked strange, yet the similarly strange Chrysler marched on.

That's a 1960 Imperial beside it. While the Imperial managed to avoid some of Exner's excesses, it could not completely avoid them either. Perhaps the most excessive Imperial was the '61, which had the biggest fins ever on a Chrysler product plus retro free-standing headlight. The following car is a '62, which was shorn of its fins but kept those gimmicky headlights. Beside it is a 1981-83 Imperial.

But let's digress from the history lesson and get to the core of the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals - the flea market! Mopar folks are known for commanding mucho dinero (or beaucoup dollars for you Frenchies out there) for their parts, but it stands to reason when the Hemi is king. Here's a few of the more interesting finds upon which I stumbled.

Cragars are about as common as Camaros, but this one is quite hard to find because it has the small bolt pattern that was necessary for A-bodies like Darts and early Barracudas. It won't fit this original tire pictured, which is correct for an E-body Barracuda, especially one with a Hemi. However, this one isn't good for concours judging because it was manufactured in 1975 according to the date in the rim. However, if your inclinations lean towards Red, White, and Blue (remember, Chrysler bought AMC in the 1980s!), then these "Machine" wheels should do the trick for you.

During the muscle car era, if you ordered a 440 or Hemi 4-speed car or those motors with an automatic and 4.10 gears, you automatically received a bullet-proof Dana 60 rear.

Red fender liners may be better known for 1966-67 GTOs, but these are for a 1968-69 Barracuda fastback and coupe (the convertible had different rear wheel wells). They are rare and desirable, plus they look neat when installed. Seller claimed he found them on a Mod Top basket case. (What's a Mod Top? Stay tuned!)

If you have a 1970 Road Runner, GTX, or Sport Satellite that's coded for the P6K4 burnt orange bucket seat interior, then the complete vinyl set above may be of interest to you. So now it's time for you impatient HEMI fans to stop being restless - here's your turn! Does a set of 1965 Race HEMI heads whet your appetite? How about the carbs that help compete the puzzle?

However, those are far from the neatest discoveries in the fairgrounds. Stand back and behold, Mopar-philes, for the biggest score of the weekend:

These are blueprints for the infamous Shaker hood scoops from 1970! The first one is for a 383, which are extremely rare since most came on 440 Six Pack and HEMI cars. (They are a bit more common for 1971, although still rare.) The second one is a stillborn 340 Six Pack Shaker. Why was it stillborn? Because this motor was installed only in the Challenger T/A and AAR 'Cuda, and Chrysler decided to use different hood designs with these engines. No, these blueprints are not for sale, but a vendor was kind enough to show me his stash.

Virgil Exner's final nail in the coffin were the 1962 cars. In the false belief that GM was downsizing its cars, Chrysler engineers reduced the size of its Plymouths and Dodges. While a practical point of view suggests that these cars used their size more efficiently than the competition, the public clearly felt that bigger was better. Plus, there still was that Exner funkiness, which certainly didn't help.

1962 Plymouth Fury

These cars - internally known as B-bodies - were heavily face lifted for '63 by the design team of Elwood Engel, who was hired from Ford. The cars looked more conventional, but still had a long way to go when compared with contemporary cars of the period.

1963 Plymouth and Dodge

By 1964, they were completely mainstreamed. No one could pick on Plymouth or Dodge now! Take this '64 Sport Fury as an example - it's as handsome as other 1964 cars, and it also has the suds to compete with Brand X due to its 426/365 (otherwise known as the Street Wedge) that sits in- between the front wheels. I don't know how many were built in 1964 like this, but 65 of its 1965 equivalent, the Satellite, were built.

And it's a funny thing about 1965 - those "downsized" full-size cars became intermediates. Meanwhile, Chrysler introduced "proper" full-size C-body Plymouths and Dodges using the Fury and Polara/Custom 880/Monaco names, respectively (you'll see some of them later in the article). The B-body intermediates continued to be the Plymouth Belvedere but added a top-line Satellite. For the Dodge, the Coronet name was revived.

This 1965 Belvedere I is one of 128 with the 426 Street Wedge

Bigger things started happening in 1966 with the advent of the Street Hemi. The B-bodies were given another heavy facelift, exemplified here by this 1966 Coronet 440 convertible. The "440" part was the nomenclature for the trim level, not the engine, as there was the base Coronet, Deluxe, 440, and 500. And while the 440 engine made its debut in 1966, it wasn't installed in the B-body until 1967 when Chrysler's answers to the GTO was introduced, the Plymouth GTX and Dodge Coronet R/T.

You can see it's been a wild ride for the Chrysler Corporation through 1967, yet the fervor that Mopar aficionados have is beyond reproach. This is what makes the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals - and being into Mopars - so appealing, yet the appeal continued beyond 1967. Take the 1970 Barracuda as an example: There were three versions - the base Barracuda, the performance 'Cuda, and the luxurious Gran Coupe. They varied by trim, but they're easy to differentiate. The base Barracuda had a body-colored rear panel, while the 'Cuda's was black and the Gran Coupe's was "Astrotone."

A sub-series of the 'Cuda was the AAR' Cuda, which was a special performance model to homologate and paying homage to their Trans Am racing efforts. About 2,500 were built, all with the 340-6 engine, black fiberglass hood, strobe stripes, and side exhaust (except for emissions-wary California). This one stands out because it's painted in "FM3" Moulin Rouge, a special mid-year color. Car also has the "A21" rubber front bumper, but it originally wasn't available with this color. Of course, the '71 version of the Barracuda garners tons of looks because they can be just so damn over-the-top. This 'Cuda 340 ragtop is painted in Curious Yellow (named after a Swedish art house/porn movie) and has the famous Billboard stripes.

Dodge's version, the Challenger, was also well represented. Introduced in 1970, it actually sold better than the Barracuda. The performance version was called the R/T, and a buyer had three stripe choices - traditional Scat Pack bumblebee, side stripe, or nothing. Of course, you can see the inspiration for today's Challenger.

One of the things I admire about the Mopar hobby is how their fans embrace anything Mopar. Take this 1972 Challenger as an example. It looks somewhat plain, is painted in the kind of green that hasn't aged well to contemporary eyes, and doesn't have "the look" that makes you get whiplash when it passes you by. However, this car has the high performance 340 engine and a Hurst Pistol Grip 4-speed, a combination more common on the Challenger Rallye.

There's a little bit for everyone at Carlisle's Car Corral - from the rare (and overpriced) to the affordable (and rare). Here's a variety of what you could find:

Jeff Spicoli, your car has arrived!

"Q5" was an optional color in 1969, but this Swinger 340 has the "V08" trim waiver because it was ordered with a blue interior, which wasn't a recommended combo

This car was used on Nash Bridges

This 1966 Satellite has a HEMI and some race history too

This 1968 Sport Satellite convertible needs tons of work, but only 70 were built with the 383 4-speed combo

Nearby, in the T Building, is the showcase for this event. You'll find several themes plus some of the most impressive restorations on hand.

Born an Imperial, grown up as a movie star!

Only 99 Challenger R/T rag tops built had the 440 Six-Pack engine

This 1971 Challenger R/T also is a 440 Six Pack car and shows its new-for-71 stripes and rubber bumpers

What's better than a '70 'Cuda? One that drives like a 2010 'Cuda!

This is one of 48 Dart GTSs modified in 1968 by Grand Spaulding Dodge in Chicago. They removed the 383, dropped in a 440, and called it the GSS.

Agent Orange gasser based on '65 Belvedere wagon

The Challenger T/A and AAR 'Cuda registries had their own display too. As the stripes for both cars were only available in black, they look quite dashing in black paint; take particular note of the T/A with the gorgeous red interior!

In the building next door was a new, intriguing exhibit. Called "Barn Finds," these cars have been in deep storage for quite some time. Some were interesting, while others were absolutely fantastic, such as this 1-of-30 HEMI GTX with a sunroof. Price new was over $6,000, which was Cadillac, er, Imperial money!

This 1970 AMX had the standard 360

1969 Dart Swinger 340 was converted in 1970 by a University of British Columbia professor to run on propane

With over 2,000 cars on the show field, there was plenty more to check out. But I wanted to take some time off from the cars and check out some boats! A great example is this 1970 Chrysler 300-H modified by Hurst. All 500+ cars came with 440 TNT power (the same engine as Plymouth's Super Commando and Dodge's Magnum), white and gold paint, a special hood, and a fiberglass spoiler.

That was also the year of the last of the big Mopar rag tops. While Plymouth's roster once included the Fury III and Sport Fury, by 1970 there was only the Fury III. This one has a 383, as evidenced by the badges on the hood. Compare it with the '68. This one is extra-special because not only does it have a 383, but it's paired to a 4-speed. While not as fancy as the Sport Fury, it's a more interesting car because it has a bench instead of the Sport Fury's standard bucket seats.

From the same generation is this 1967 Chrysler New Yorker. When I think of the top-line NYer, I think of something a dentist would drive. However, the '67 has these furious curves and bends that seem to imply motion when there is none.

Moving along to the A-Bodies, I caught glimpse of this '67 Barracuda Formula S. This was an ultra-rare 383 convertible, which looked great with its overhead stripe. By 1969, with the success of the Road Runner, the very same El Cheapo formula was used for the Barracuda. The result was the 'Cuda 340 and 'Cuda 383; midyear, a 'Cuda 440 was introduced. Three hundred sixty were built, and it's estimated that only 60 of those were a coupe like this (what else?) green one.

Photos by Alan Munro

Dodge's top compact was the Dart GTS, but the El Cheapo formula was used in 1969 to create the Swinger 340. This example has the mid-year "F6" Bright Green color plus the car-azy paisley vinyl top, which was branded as the Mod Top on Plymouth's Barracudas and Belvederes. Come 1970, the GTS would be no more and the Swinger 340 would carry on as Dodge's performance compact. But, for 1971, that would change with the advent of the Demon 340. Dig the orange seats on this one!

Photos by Alan Munro

The most successful Mopar muscle car ever was the 1969 Road Runner. There can be no doubt that Mopar was the only company from Detroit that had the marketing cojones to name a car after a cartoon (and include a horn that goes "beep-beep!"). This example has the optional matte black hood stripes and side stripe, but what's most notable is the Kelsey-Hayes "recall" wheels. They look good, right? But they would crack and the screws would come loose, so their rarity makes them prized among collectors. They are now being reproduced, bringing them to a wider audience. Another wheel - one of a different feather (pun intended) - is this nifty promotional disc. It remains stationary while the wheel turns.

Also in 1969 was the introduction of the A12 package, which means a Road Runner with the "440 6bbl." or Super Bee with the "440 Six Pack." All cars received this fiberglass lift-off hood without any hinges. Not only was it a neat gimmick, but the hood was engineered to grab the most air possible; wind tunnel testing showed there was a static boundary of air on the surface of the hood, which rendered most hood scoops useless. The A12's design overcame that by snagging air above the boundary. Plymouth's upscale supercar, the GTX, didn't benefit from the A12 package. However, it benefited from tough looks and upscale trimmings inside and out. Standard was the 440-4. with the HEMI optional. The 1968 and '69 are similar but it's the stripes of the '68 that make it interesting, giving several permutations with stripe colors in black, white, red, blue, or green.

Dodge's version of the GTX was the Coronet R/T. Rag tops always numbered under 600 for all years, and HEMI rag tops are among the rarest HEMIs ever built. This '68 has the standard "power bulge" hood, which later was joined by the Ramcharger ram air hood for 1969. The Coronet R/T always had different taillights from its cheaper brother, the Super Bee. The Coronet R/T's trim level was akin to the Coronet 500, so they always shared the same taillights. Compare these 1969 and '70 models and you'll see there's more to these cars than just a different standard engine.

The F6 Bright Green Bee above also has the Spring Special package, which was a promotional item consisting of value-packed items like the "N96" Ramcharger hood and "M46" side quarter scoops. However, they were painted black with the this package.

While the Super Bee was Dodge's version of Plymouth's Road Runner, Plymouth had nothing equal to the Dodge Charger. It debuted in 1966 as a sporty, trendy fastback with buckets and console, but sales plummeted in 1967. That all changed in 1968, when a mighty new design came about and caught notice of everyone. In the Mopar ranks, people either prefer the '68 with its round taillights, the '69 with its full-width taillights and split grille, or the '70 with its loop front bumper and numerous stripe choices. For me, it's 1969 all the way - check out this this "T3" Light Bronze "survivor." Also, notice the bumblebee stripe? It's an R/T so it would have that standard, although about a third of them were deleted as an option; a huge R/T badge would replace the stripe on the rear flanks. However, for 1970, this changed because R/Ts had new fake door scoops with R/T identification. A new stripe option was the longitudinal stripes.

The Charger was redesigned for 1971, and while it is nearly impossible to match the popularity of the 1968-70s, they have come into their own as being a better, more mature driving machine. They also are the swan song because come 1972, there would be no more Hemi or high compression engines. This gold example is a rare color for an R/T, plus it has the optional hidden headlights. Compare it with this green '71 GTX, Plymouth's version of the R/T. This one is packin' Pachyderm Power (a nickname for the 426 Hemi is "Elephant Engine") but, unlike the sunroof car above in the Barn Finds, this "GF7" Sherwood Green example has the rare rubber bumpers.

For 1972, the GTX was no more, relegated to an option package for the Road Runner when the 440 was ordered. Styling was changed ever so slightly, and a new stripe package was available on Air Grabber-equipped cars. Option "V24" ran from the rear deck and all the way around the Air Grabber bubble. Then, for '73, the Road Runner was facelifted and received a low-performance engine standard, in this case a 318. However, the GTX package soldiered on, giving Mopar fans 440 power when even the E-body Challenger and its Barracuda cousin were limited to the 340. Unfortunately, the 440 was available only with an automatic.

Most interesting of all the displays at the Carlisle Chrysler Nationals is the mock dealership in the old John Deere dealership. This display is the brainchild of Ed Buczeskie, one of the guys at Carlisle who keeps the cogs well lubed. While the cars inside are impressive, they wouldn't be so impressive if it wasn't for the folks who keep things real and authentic, from the window signs outside to the marketing material inside - take a look back at 1970!

Cool, eh? And dig that silver Road Runner. Did you know silver was not a regular production color for this car? Someone special ordered it. If that's not enough, how does a 440-6 and a 4-speed grab ya?

Yes, it's been a long weekend for the Mopar faithful. They surely know how to show love to a brand that has had its trials and tribulations, but always emerges unscathed. The highs are as high as any Detroit automaker has had, and the lows have been one step removed from the company's demise. The fans of Chrysler and its sister brands should be saluted for showing their dedication in preserving some of the best to come out of Detroit . . . so let's go celebrate at Hoss's, where everyone eats after a long day!

1969 Plymouth Sport Satellite wagon with a HEMI transplant

1969 Plymouth GTX and Dodge Dart Swinger 340

1969 Dodge Super Bee

1970 Dodge Charger R/T

Y'all have a good night now, y'hear?

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