Is the 1966 Plymouth Belvedere the “least junked car in America”? That’s what a story from www.LACar.com (“Car Culture Ground Zero”) said, when it hit the internet recently.
Here’s the story, courtesy of LACar.com: www.lacar.com/?p=15890
Steve Sommers’ ’66 Satellite convertible is an eye-grabber that we featured in Mopar Muscl
Let’s take a body style-by-body style look at that midsized Plymouth line’s popularity, a line that—like its Dodge counterparts—had a major styling overhaul for 1966, with Elwood Engle-era slab sides, tall greenhouses and angular body lines like the ones that graced the all-new full-sized ’65 C-Body Mopars, and would also be seen on the updated A-Body compacts for ’67.
2-door hardtop: Thanks to Richard Petty’s win in that year’s Daytona 500, the newly-restyled midsize Plymouth hardtop got a lot of exposure—and continued getting it with the success of Richard and other Plymouth drivers (especially Paul Goldsmith and Jim Hurtubise) in NASCAR’s top division that year. Add in the success of USAC stock car drivers like Norm Nelson (who won eight races in ’66, en route to that series’ season championship), and the Belvedere hardtop was seen—in race trim—in plenty of newspaper and magazine post-race reports, and Plymouth print ads, that ran through that summer.
This ad graced the back cover of Motor Trend, HOT ROD, and other car magazines during the
What’s not to like about them? An engine lineup that ranged from the reliable and economical 225 Slant Six, through the 318 Poly (making its last appearance that year), to the low-deck 361 and 383-inch B engines, to the 426 Street Hemi. Transmissions that included Ma Mopar’s bulletproof Torqueflite automatics and A-833 4-speeds. A huge trunk and plenty of interior room—with seating for up to six in the bench seat-equipped Belvedere II hardtop. Those elegantly tapered rear roof pillars. All that at a price competitive with the Bowtie and Blue Oval mid-size cars.
But those sales competitors didn’t stand a chance on the speedways of NASCAR’s top division. In the 49 points-paying races in 1966, Plymouths won 12, with the mid-sized Blue Ovals MIA until mid-season, and Bowties almost invisible, save for a couple that didn’t run the full GN schedule.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday…and look great any day of the week.
Terry Brown’s ’66 Belvedere I was little more than a shell when builder Darren Tedder star
2-door sedan: The lightest of the five ’66 Belvedere body styles, the 2-door sedan made its name as a roomy yet low-priced “move-up” from compact cars, given that it was only offered in low-line Belvedere I trim. (Or what there was of it.)
But the “box top” 2-door had another thing going for it: That elephant on the option list known as the 426 Hemi. In race trim with drivers like Jere Stahl, it became the latest success story in the Stock and Super Stock classes at drag strips across the country, showing its competition (usually same-year Dodge Coronets, or ’62-’65 Max Wedge and Hemi-powered Mopars) their back bumpers as they lit the “WIN” lights.
4-door sedan: The biggest seller among the Belvie body styles that year, the 4-door sedan was what a lot of budget-minded new car buyers picked, for many of the same reasons given for the hardtop above. It didn’t have the tapered rear roof pillars of the hardtop, but there was lots of room in the Belvedere I and Belvedere II sedans—and, like all but the Hemi-powered Belvies, they came with Chrysler’s 5-year/50,000-mile powertrain warranty, then the gold standard in owner protection.
The first shot from the pilot episode of Adam-12, filmed outside LAPD’s then-new Rampart D
Four-door Belvies were also favorites in fleet circles, with police and taxicab versions of the Belvedere I--which used an extra-reinforced unibody, plus heavy duty powertrain and chassis parts--seeing service from coast to coast. Fleet managers loved their low purchase price and cost of operation, while those who drove them daily loved their handling in city traffic, and the response when they hit the “GO” pedal. (And that was the taxi version!)
The police version of the ’66 Belvedere gained its biggest following among cops like those of the Los Angeles Police Department, which specified 383 4-barrel engines in their patrol Belvies. Combined with a heavy-duty 727 automatic and HD suspension, they were more than a match for any big-powered civilian car. (That, and their Motorola 2-way radios.) Stories abound of people back then who were deterred from doing anything stupid in traffic by the sight of a black-and-white Belvedere in their rear view mirror—and by the sound that an LAPD 383 made when the secondaries on its 4-barrel carb opened up!
Looking like it’s ready to take on the Shopping Center Slalom is this ’66 Belvie wagon, sp
Station Wagon: This was a major sales battlefield back then, with every U.S. manufacturer represented in the midsize-wagon segment of the new-car market. The Belvedere wagons combined all the features of the sedans with a big cargo area (with tapered rear roof pillars!), and added a regular-production chassis and powertrain combo that made these wagons formidable competitors in many a suburban Stoplight Grand Prix or Shopping Center Slalom.
In recent years, as the supply of project-ready two-door Belvies has diminished, more people are turning to the wagon as a cruiser and weekend fun car, one that can accommodate any engine from the Slant Six through the Hemis (426 and the modern ones) under its hood, but with room to carry the family to events, along with pop-up shelters, folding chairs, coolers and anything else needed when show-going.
Convertible: Even though there weren’t a lot of them made in ’66, either in bench-seated Belvedere II or bucket-seated Belvedere Satellite trim, the droptops have a special something all their own, to go along with the styling, powertrain and other highlights the steel-topped ones had (and still have). Something that likely led to more than a few of them seeing only warm-weather duty, stored away during the winter or heavy-rain seasons, which in turn led to their survival to this day.
There’s one item in the LACar.com story that stands out: “Today, there are approximately 200,000 1966 Belvedere automobiles produced, according to PJC (Planet Junk cars, and their database of 33,000 junked cars, per the LACar.com story).
But, according to The Standard Catalogue of American Cars 1946-1975, total 1966 Plymouth Belvedere production was 189,252. That leads to a discrepancy of 10,748 cars, which we hope are out there somewhere. Maybe a bunch of those are still stashed in garages around Southern California, away from the ravages of salt-laden coastal air and the searing summer sun.
Two views of a ’66 Belvedere Satellite convertible that’s been in Mopar Muscle twice, most
Maybe there were some big rental-fleet purchases that weren’t included in Ma Mopar’s production total. (This writer remembers seeing bunches of Belvie IIs in the rental lots at Detroit Metropolitan Airport back then, so that may be a possibility.)
Regardless of how many were built, or how many are left, the LACar.com story indirectly hits on one fact—that the ’66 Belvedere line is now solidly in the “keeper” category of vintage cars, sought after by car people of all ages to build into the Mopar of their dreams—or to re-create the one they had years ago!