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Let’s face it, the 1962 Dodges and Plymouths were not popular cars. Sure, a handful were built to introduce the 413 Max Wedge to the world of Super Stock drag racing, but for the most part these unusually styled cars were shunned to demolition derbies, taxi services (4-doors), rental fleets, and premature scrappage.
Based on the all-new down sized B-body platform - the press scorned their bony contours and odd details, calling them “plucked chickens”. Predictably sales fell by 20 percent versus their larger 1961 counterparts. It could have been a financial disaster but steady sales of the compact A-body Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Lancer (also bearing very unconventional sheet metal) cushioned the blow.
This may explain why a trio of Southern California hot rodders, Leroy Stuart, Bill Maggio and Mike Thermos, pooled their resources to build the blown, fuel 331 Hemi powered Brown Eye ’62 Plymouth match racer. The unflattering name and wacky construction indicates the guys were more interested in having fun than boosting the Plymouth’s image with drag strip spectators.
Before we make like proctologists and examine Brown Eye (sorry, couldn’t resist), let's learn a bit about how the ’62 Mopar line got screwed up in the first place. It is known that Virgil Exner was responsible for exterior styling at the time. This was the same guy who single handedly transitioned Chrysler Corporation styling from boring box-like machines to the exciting and profitable Forward Look finned beauties of the mid-Fifties. His work was so influential it forced GM and Ford to hastily re-think their design strategies.
For example, if you ever wondered why the 1958 Chevrolet styling cycle only lasted for one year, it’s because GM stylists got a look at the 1957 Chrysler product lines and knew their goose would be cooked if they didn’t re-think the entire Chevy design for 1959. The low, finned 1959 Chevy didn’t share anything with the ’58 – save for the new X-frame and driveline items. Exner’s work was that important.
So how did it all go wrong for ’62? After reading Peter Grist’s book Virgil Exner: Visioneer (available at www.velocebooks.com) we were shocked to learn that the lines, shapes and contours displayed on the 1962 production cars were initially meant to be applied to the larger C-body – where they’d have likely worked very well. It’s true. Exner’s styling department was working under the assumption that the larger C-body (as used under Dodge and Plymouth models since 1960) would be used to underpin the 1962 models as well.
But – and this has repeatedly been confirmed as fact – Chrysler Corp. second-in-command William C. Newberg was at a golf course with Chevy honcho Ed Cole in the summer of 1959. He misunderstood some remarks made about the upcoming 1962 compact Chevy II/Nova to mean that the entire Chevy line was being drastically down-sized for 1962. So Newberg immediately issued orders to reduce the size of the new 1962 Dodge and Plymouth cars.
What resulted was the mid-size B-body, and while variations of this new intermediate platform would go on to underpin everything from the Plymouth Road Runner to the Dodge Charger Daytona, the process of cramming Exner’s flowing lines onto this smaller package forced many compromises. In the end, the resulting ’62 Dodge and Plymouth mid-size cars were a sales flop and the blame was (incorrectly) placed on Exner’s shoulders.