Saturday, January 9, 2010

1960 Oddities: Two Cars Weren't What You thought They Were

In 1960, Chrysler and Ford Motor Company introduced two cars that weren't what we've come to think of them as.  Above we have the 1960 Valiant.  Notice that the brochure cover says "a new Chrysler Corporation automobile."  Nowhere does it mention the Plymouth brand name, because the Valiant wasn't a Plymouth, it was a make unto its own for 1960.  Its own make?  Well, Chrysler was going through some stuff in 1959 (not unlike 1979 and 2009 - do we see a pattern?) which involved killing off DeSoto while denying it all the while, an insider CEO scandal and a sales fight that pitted the new Dodge Dart against everything that Plymouth made, when it should have been fighting off Pontiac and Mercury - its traditional role in Autodom's hierarchy. 

What to do with Valiant, Chrysler's compact entry into the 1960 market place?  Well it was originally going to be a DeSoto, but but with that brand on life support (it succumbed in the fall of 1960 as a single model auto line), Valiant had to go someplace else, and Chrysler decided that since Dodge was getting its full sized budget priced Dart line, why not toss a bone to Plymouth.  But Dodge dealers got wind of it and still smarting from the 1958 recession that killed off middle priced car lines, and they cried foul.  So Chrysler - which had already promised Valiant to its Chrysler Plymouth dealerships (and the few Plymouth stand alone dealerships it had) and played a game of semantics on them.  The Valiant was a stand alone make for 1960.  Not a Plymouth - it was a Valiant, period.

While this kept Dodge dealers confused for about five minutes, Chrysler got another bright idea  - they announced that Dodge dealers would get a compact for model year 1961 and named it the Lancer.  Lancer's would be based on the Valiant.  Problem solved, right?  Oh, no - we still have this Valiant issue, they remembered.  Well at some point during 1961 the Valiant quietly sprouted "PLYMOUTH" badging and all was well in the kingdom.  Chrysler executives started work on their next act of self mutilation and planned to hobble Imperial by making it more Chrysler like after spending millions of dollars making it something unique.

For your consideration, we now present...

...the Comet.  Note, on this 1960 brochure cover it is not the Mercury Comet, it just is Comet.  The story on this is that the Comet was designed after the 1960 Ford Falcon was locked down, and the Comet would be an Edsel model.  You remember the Edsel, don't you? It died five minutes after it was rolled out and the final Edsel, a 1960 Ford in disguise met its end in November 1960 - the same month, ironically, that Chrysler killed the DeSoto.

So...what to do with the Comet....what to do....?  With them ready to roll of the assembly line and fast, Ford had a better idea and just let them come off the line as the were - with model line designation, and no "Make", so to speak.  The decision was made that Comet would be sold by Mercury, but it remained its own make for 1960 AND 1961.  Then in 1962 someone must have tapped Henry Ford II on the ass and pointed out that the Comet was an orphan, and with no division taking responsibility for it (or claiming its sales - which were extraordinary) that it was just kinda wallowing.  So Ford waved his cigar and like that Valiant, Comet quietly became a Mercury when they started to badge as such in the fall of 1961.

So remember, if its before 1961 and its a Valiant, its just a Valiant.  If its before the 1962 model year and its a Comet, its just a Comet.

There, you just learned something!  Gold stars for everyone!


  1. i knew that about valiant, because i recall seeing the dealership signs


    but i did not know about comet. so i will consider myself enlightened.

  2. I doth protest. There is no way you are of that age. You must have seen it in a movie on the Late Late Early Late Show.