1965-1966 Dodge Phoenix - Aussie Original

By: Joe Kenwright

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Presented with a full goody bag of American C-body bits, Chrysler Oz created a plush and unique Plymouth Fury/Dodge Monaco fusion

 

1965-1966 Dodge Phoenix

In the December 1966 road test of one of the most desirable Dodge Phoenix models assembled in Australia, Wheels mused "why Chrysler doesn’t call a spade a spade" when "the Phoenix is more Plymouth Fury than ever."

From Unique Cars #320, Jan/Feb 2011

As more ’66 Furys arrive as LHD imports, Aussies are now discovering that even if the local 1965-66 Phoenix looks like a Plymouth Fury from the outside, it was premium Dodge on the inside. 

dodge-phoenix-1.jpgFury body, Charger wheel covers

In 1966, the local Dodge Phoenix had some of the best front seats on the market, at a time when locally-built US cars were renowned for the worst. Fully reclining bucket seats with retractable headrests fitted as standard were radical for 1966 and went some way to justifying the Phoenix’s extra price over the smaller-engined Ford Galaxie and Chevrolet Bel Air. The big round instrument pods shared with the US Dodge Monaco not only looked classier than the ugly and cheap-looking Plymouth Fury dash but housed more instruments than usual, too.

| Read next: 1962 Dodge Phoenix review

dodge-phoenix-grille.jpg’66 Phoenix shared its grille with the ‘66 Fury. The ‘65 grilles were also identical

So why didn’t Chrysler Australia simply assemble the 1965 Dodge in the first place? If the answer is simple, the solution was more complex. Most US models dismissed in Australia as ‘Yank Tanks’ at the time were, in fact, smaller medium models offered with six-cylinder engines for the budget US buyer. In standard trim, none were good enough to justify a local price tag hiked by currency restrictions and high duty. In the US, they were similar to what the Vauxhall Victor, Ford Consul or Hillman Super Minx were to Australians – under-powered, smaller family cars you bought when you couldn’t afford a Holden, Falcon or Valiant.

This placed Tonsley Park in a real dilemma. The stoic badge-engineered Dodge, De Soto and Plymouth local range based on the budget US 1953 Plymouth had a strong rural following. After these had morphed into a single Chrysler Royal range based on the same 1953 model, it was way past its use-by date by 1964. The Aussie Chrysler Royal concoction (Royal was a US Dodge badge) had a 115-inch (2921mm) wheelbase. This was an exact match for the Aussie Ford Customlines and Chevrolets derived from the 1955 US cars. All have a loyal following to this day as they made ideal long-distance family cars.

plymouth.jpg1965 Plymouth Fury was local Dodge Phoenix in all but name. And interior!

As the average US model inched towards a ground-snagging 120-inch (3048mm) wheelbase from 1957, all local companies had to buy time until the US could offer models more suited to the Australian bush.

Ford skipped its 1957-58 US models while Chrysler imported lavish full-sized models from Canada and covered the rural market with an updated Royal. Holden stayed with US model changes then plugged the gap below its growing American models with a ritzier Vauxhall Cresta. Ford then maintained a token US presence with two versions of the cumbersome 1959 ‘tank’ Fairlane until the compact Fairlane arrived in 1962.

| Buyer's Guide: 1960-1964 Dodge Phoenix

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Bloated full-size US models left room for local Ramblers and Studebakers to move in for the kill. They offered rural buyers roomy US comfort but were compact enough for local bush roads.

By 1959, local Chrysler operations had little to offer. A new 1960 Dodge Dart, based on a shorter wheelbase Plymouth to compensate US Dodge dealers who had lost their Plymouth franchise, was the reprieve. Coupled with the smaller Chrysler Royal and Simca Vedette, the top-shelf Phoenix version of the Dart kept Chrysler’s local assembly lines moving. It offered wealthy farmers Dodge pizzazz that Plymouth couldn’t.

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The Phoenix was a huge success in the US and attracted wild annual restyles under Virgil Exner. But when Chrysler downsized its ’62 models anticipating a smaller Chevrolet range – almost killing its US operations – this actually worked in the Australian division’s favour.

The 1962 Phoenix shared its wheelbase with early ’50s US models and the compact Fairlane but, with a much wider track and lighter mono-construction, it was seriously quick for a US model. After its styling linked it to the local success of the R-series Valiant, the Phoenix quickly restored confidence in large US Chryslers.

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As Chrysler scrambled to make its US cars bigger for 1963, Exner styling was scrapped for a much simpler look under Elwood Engel, who had been lured from Ford. As the Dodge Dart became a long-wheelbase version of the Valiant in ’63, the new Dodge Polara could return to a longer wheelbase similar to the 1960 models. Chrysler Australia was happy to continue it under the Phoenix badge, by now recognised as a prestige nameplate.

By 1964, it had become painfully apparent in the US that the mid-range Dodge Dart was doing far more than cover Plymouth’s absence from Dodge showrooms. It was cannibalising Chrysler from within. Because this car accounted for 88 percent of US Dodge volume, it not only brought sales of the profitable full-sized Dodge range to a standstill, it was also killing Plymouth. Only the Valiant was keeping Plymouth alive.

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This left Chrysler no choice but to hand over the next 119-inch (3023mm) wheelbase Dodge Polara model exclusively to Plymouth for 1965. This stunning range topper – badged Fury – was not only Plymouth’s biggest model ever, it was a desperate bid to add some brand cachet.

As a result, Dodge’s full-size ’65 car became the 121-inch (3073mm) wheelbase Polara/Monaco, with the Fairlane-sized Coronet introduced to plug the gap left by the old ’64 Polara. It was an inspired move. US Dodge sales soared, and the Fury prompted a dramatic two-year Plymouth turnaround. Yet it left Tonsley Park in a quandary.

dodge-phoenix-seats.jpgDoehide vinyl shared with AP6 Regal; dash from top-shelf US Dodge Monaco; fashionable stacked headlights

Because so many parts from top-shelf Plymouth, Dodge and Chrysler ‘C’-bodies were interchangeable (despite their different wheelbases), the Aussies were offered the chance to configure their own C-body model and create another Phoenix to maintain continuity with the 1964 Polara-based model that came before it.

Because the Plymouth Fury was now the only model with the old Dodge Polara wheelbase, it became the starting point, but the plush new Monaco cabin and trick Monaco/Charger wheel covers maintained the Phoenix’s prestige.

dodge-phoenix-interior-2.jpg‘66 Phoenix with its legendary seats

Coupled with the new ICI Doehide sponge-backed vinyl and top-shelf carpet Chrysler was using for the AP5/AP6 Valiant Regal, the final result was way beyond the US Fury.

An added benefit was that despite very different local Chrysler and Dodge nameplates, the Valiant and Phoenix were now tied to the same US Plymouth range. Although the 1965-66 Phoenix closely resembled the Ford Galaxie of the era and sported the XK Falcon’s bodyside recess – courtesy of ex-Ford man Engel – it also had close visual and engineering links to the AP6 and VC Valiants. By 1966, it also provided a prestige context for the VC’s classy new twin-dial instrument panel.

dodge-phoenix-brochure-2.jpg‘65 Monaco was top Dodge coupe. Shared its lavish dash with Aussie Phoenix

Phoenix also shared the Valiant’s better-handling but harsher-riding torsion-bar front end, but unlike other ’65 US models, it stayed with a leaf-spring rear. When these big US models often performed a LandCruiser’s role on a farm, it was far easier to upgrade leaf springs for heavy towing than coils. The end result was that Australian buyers (and Chrysler’s South Oz workers) were the real winners.

 

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