1968 Plymouth Fury III

One Gone Plymouth!

This Fury III Fast Top reminds us that full-size Mopars also ruled the roads in 1968.

{I wrote about and photographed this car for the April 2009 issue of Cars & Parts magazine.}

A hundred years from now, historians will pore over mountains of car magazines and unanimously conclude that the only automobiles sold in the mid- to late-1960s were small and intermediate models with big block engines, stripes, spoilers, scoops, and near-useless back seats.

1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling)1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - Our feature car’s extra-cost Super Commando 383ci V-8 came with a four-barrel carburetor. This 330hp option only added $144 to the Fury III’s price – roughly twice the cost of the two-barrel, 290hp Commando. Ahhh, the days of cheap horsepower!1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling)1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling)1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - Plymouth’s Safe/Flight instrument panel was recessed deeply into the Fury’s dashboard in 1968. Small overhead lights made it easy for drivers to find switches at night.1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling)1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - A true six-passenger two-door, the Fury III came standard with two thickly padded benches wearing biscuit-pleated vinyl and high-sheen nylon.1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - Plymouth introduced its “Fast Top” to the Fury line in 1967, but only on Sport and VIP two-door hardtop models. By the time this ’68 was built, the semi-fastback with the formal C-pillar was available on the Fury III.1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - A gigantic trunk is one benefit to having a car that covers so much of the earth’s surface (17.75 bumper to bumper, with a front track of 62 inches).1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - The Fury III, Sport, and VIP came standard with the rear fender skirts. Deluxe wheel covers (seen here) were standard on the VIP, but could be ordered on other Fury models. The quarter-size side marker lights were newly mandated for 1968.1968 Plymouth Fury III (Photos Brad Bowling) - You may have noticed that the steel rims on this month’s cover car are not hiding behind a factory coat of “ignore me” matte black paint. Instead, the stock wheels brazenly poke out from the edges of the deluxe wheel covers in a bright crimson, which was not available on any Fury package in 1968. So, what’s up with the red wheels? During its restoration, the car’s owner wanted to add a custom touch, but one that could easily be “put right” should he ever sell the car.

“Here’s the evidence,” they’ll say, pointing to thousands of publications from the 1980s through today with covers featuring Yenko Camaros, Cobra Jet Mustangs, and Hemi ‘Cudas converting rear tires into clouds of carbon emissions.

We can’t blame these yet-to-be-born Poindexters for getting it wrong. There is so much attention paid to ‘60s musclecars that nine out of 10 vintage American car magazines seem devoted to John DeLorean’s GTO and its offspring. (Disclaimer: this figure is not based on scientific research, but seat-of-the-pants observation.)

Hard as it may be to believe, folks did drive – and fall in love with – big, roomy, comfortable, and good-looking cars in the 1960s, and Plymouth’s Fury was one of the most successful full-size car lines of the period.

The Fury began life in mid-year 1956 as a feature-packed sub-class of the high-end Belvedere V-8 P29-3 series. It was to Plymouth what the 300 sport coupe was to the 1955 Chrysler line – the crème de la crème, the big cheese, all that and a bag of chips. Wearing an exclusive off-white paint scheme, tapering gold side trim, a gold-finished grille, dual exhausts with chrome deflectors, and a raft of features that would cost extra on lesser cars, the Fury was available only as a two-door sport coupe.

That first Fury sat atop a 115-inch wheelbase (a carryover from the Belvedere’s ’55 restyle) and measured 204.8 inches overall. It was powered by the biggest plant in Plymouth’s arsenal, a 303ci, 240hp V-8. The company advertised its full-size line as being “the biggest car in Plymouth history…longer, lower, wider!” Despite its status as the most expensive ’56 Plymouth at $2,807 (a base Belvedere six-cylinder club sedan cost $800 less), buyers took home an impressive 4,485 Furys.

In 1957, Plymouth again offered the Fury exclusively as a two-door sport coupe, this time powered by a base 299.6ci, 235hp V-8 or optional 317.6ci, 290hp plant wearing two four-barrel carbs. Accompanying a fresh body design, the Fury had its first size increase to a 118-inch wheelbase and 206.1 overall length. Sales of the $2,900 hardtop gained momentum, as 7,438 were ordered.

Still a Belvedere sub-series in 1958, the $3,032 Fury retained its sport coupe-only format. The only powerplant offered was the 317.6ci V-8 from the previous year, but detuned to a single four-barrel with 250 horsepower. Wheelbase and length were unchanged, and sales dropped to 5,303 units.

Although it continued to share the Belvedere chassis and body, the high-price Fury became its own series in 1959, and could be ordered as a four-door sedan, four-door hardtop, or two-door hardtop – ranging in price from $2,691 to $2,771. Through some corporate shuffling, the Belvedere became Plymouth’s medium-price model, and a premium-priced Sport Fury popped into place at the top of the food chain for 1959 only. The base Fury engine across the board remained the 317.6ci V-8, now with a 230hp rating from its two-barrel carburetor. The Sport Fury, available as a two-door hardtop or convertible, gained a four-barrel and 30 horsepower. Regardless of flavor, the Fury/Sport Fury stretched to 210 inches on its 118-inch wheelbase. Sales for the year registered 82,030 Furys and 23,857 Sport Furys, for a total of 105,887.

All Plymouths received dramatic styling changes for 1960, including wing-like front fenders and feature lines that wrapped around the front corners of the car to create the appearance of an indented cove ahead of the wheel opening. This year marked the first time a six-cylinder was available with a Fury; any Fury except the convertible could be ordered with Plymouth’s 225ci, 145hp Slant Six. The base V-8 was carried over from ’59, and Fury prices ran from $2,540 to $2,932. Wheelbase was unchanged, but overall length shaved off 0.6 inches and Fury sales for the year decreased to 55,487.

For 1961, a major re-design by Virgil Exner (who experienced a heart attack during the process) left Plymouth with a line of cars whose appearance can charitably be described as “controversial.” The Slant Six and base V-8 were carryovers, and nothing changed in the model lineup. Prices ranged from $2,575 to $2,967. Wheelbase and length were identical to the previous year, but Fury sales shrank to 54,215, contributing to Plymouth’s fall from fourth place in U.S. sales to seventh.

Legend has it an anticipated GM downsizing for ’62 (that never materialized) is responsible for the smaller Dodge and Plymouth products that model year. The Fury was shortened considerably, shrinking the wheelbase to 116 inches and overall length to 202 inches. Slant Six and base V-8 engines did not change, and station wagons were available in the Fury line for the first time (with an overall length of 210 inches). A premium-priced Sport Fury returned in two-door hardtop and convertible form, carrying the Fury’s base V-8. Prices ranged from $2,563 for a Slant Six four-door sedan to $3,082 for a Sport Fury convertible. Fury sales dropped to 41,927, and Plymouth built 5,555 Sport Furys for a total of 47,482 for the year.

Plymouth added three inches to the 1963 Fury passenger car body, which grew to 205 inches, although wagons nudged up to only 210.1 inches overall. Base engine choices were unchanged, and so were prices, which ranged from $2,563 (Slant Six four-door) to $3,082 (Sport Fury convertible). The increase in size was reflected in sales for ’63 – Plymouth produced 75,493 Furys and 15,319 Sport Furys, for a total of 90,812.

The Fury went into 1964 with the same 116-inch wheelbase, but a slight increase in overall length to 206.5 inches (211.5 for wagons). Once again, the Slant Six was standard on only the cheapest Furys – the four-door sedan and two-door hardtop – and had no change in size or output. The Fury’s base V-8 for ’64 was a 318ci model rated at 230 horsepower. (This year’s “LA” block 318 with wedge-shaped heads was identical in displacement to the poly-head “A” block V-8 Plymouth used from 1956-67, but featured lighter construction.)

The Sport Fury returned in two-door hardtop and convertible form. Stickers ran from $2,573 to $3,095. This slightly larger model gave the line its best sales year ever – 88,218 Furys and 27,553 Sport Furys, or 115,771 in all.

For 1965, a year that signals what Fury collectors consider to be the third generation, both car and nameplate experienced tremendous growth. The Belvedere, from which the Fury originally sprang, became Plymouth’s intermediate-size offering. Plymouth created a mind-boggling array of Fury models – Fury I (the low-priced version), Fury II (medium-priced), Fury III (high-priced), and Sport Fury (premium-priced) – representing 15 body style and trim level combinations. A stripped Fury I with Slant Six power went for $2,401, and the top-line Sport Fury convertible demanded $3,164. The convertible body was only available in the Fury III and Sport Fury. No matter the body style choice, passenger car Fury wheelbases increased to 119 inches, and overall length stretched to 209.4; wagons rode on 121-inch wheelbases and measured 216.1 inches bumper to bumper). The restyled ’65 was notable for its four vertically stacked headlights – a layout it would keep for the next four model years. With the gain in size came a spectacular sales boost. Plymouth sold 285,330 Furys and 44,620 Sport Furys, for a total of 329,950.

Model year 1966 was marked by a mild facelift for Plymouth’s full-size Fury and, incredibly, an additional level was shuffled into the deck. Plymouth retained the previous year’s Fury I, II, III, and Sport Fury, but created the luxury-oriented VIP to fill a category created by Ford’s successful ’65 LTD. Although considered one of Plymouth’s high-priced models, the VIP actually cost more than the premium-priced Sport Fury. It was available only with V-8 power – the base 318ci, 230hp plant could be upgraded to a 440ci, 365hp “Commando” big block with four-barrel carburetor – and only as a two-door or four-door hardtop. “Plush” best describes the VIP treatment, with its woodgrain inserts, thick carpeting, fender skirts, rear seats with center armrests, and special identifying side moldings and VIP badges. Fury prices ranged from $2,426 (a two-door Fury I sedan) to $3,251 (a Sport Fury convertible). VIP two-doors were $3,069, and the four-doors, $3,133; there was no convertible in VIP trim.

The Fury’s wheelbase remained 119 inches for ’66, and overall length stretched another .4 inches to 209.8. Wagons retained their 121-inch wheelbase; six-passenger models stayed at 216.1 inches overall, but nine-passenger versions sprouted to 217.4. Sales likewise increased to 294,548 Furys (including VIP models) and 35,941 Sport Furys, for a total of 330,489 cars in all Fury lines.

An entirely new style of Fury greeted Plymouth buyers in 1967, and the five different series carried over from ’66, running from a low of $2,473 (Fury I two-door sedan) to the peak of $3,279 (Sport Fury convertible). The Fury’s four headlights and grille were deeply recessed into the slab-sided body, and a semi-fastback “Fast Top” roof became available on Sport Fury models, where it cost $29 over the price of a regular hardtop in that series. At 213.1 inches in length, the ’67 was the biggest Fury ever, and base engines remained unchanged from 1965. The 440ci, 375hp four-barrel V-8 was a $268 option on most Fury models. The wagon wheelbase grew to 122 inches; six-passenger models were 216 inches overall, and nine-passenger versions were 217.3. In spite of its growth spurt and Richard Petty’s highly publicized 27-win season on the NASCAR Grand National circuit in Plymouth products, the full-size line experienced a sales dip to 285,729 Furys, 31,581 Sport Furys, for a total of 317,310.

Changes to the body for ’68 were thorough, but not radical. The Fury received a new decklid, rear quarter panels, and rear doors; a new grille rode up front under a flat hood that no longer wore a stand-up ornament. Plymouth did very little tinkering to its five-tier model line, although the VIP treatment could be given to six- and nine-passenger wagons, and the Fast Top roof became available in Fury III, Sport Fury, and VIP models. Plymouth brochures depicted color drawings of the “27 models of the big-size Fury.”

The ’68 base engines remained the 225ci, 145hp Slant Six and 318ci, 230hp V-8, but Fury owners looking for more pep had their choice of a 383ci, 290hp Commando V-8 with two-barrel; 383ci, 330hp Super Commando four-barrel; or the 440ci, 375hp Super Commando four-barrel. Prices ranged from $2,591 (Fury I two-door sedan) to $3,517 (nine-passenger VIP wagon).

Wheelbase and overall length were unchanged on the standard Fury line; six-passenger wagons were 216 inches overall, and nine-passenger models measured 217. Plymouth sold 323,253 Furys and VIP models, and 26,204 Sport Furys in 1968, for a total of 349,457 units. The success of its full-size models put Plymouth back into fourth place among domestic automakers – right behind Chevrolet, Ford, and Pontiac – and won the company an 8.1 percent share of the market.

The Fury had some more growing to do, pulling in to 1969 on a 120-inch wheelbase (122 for wagons) and a garage-stretching 214.5-inch overall length (219.1 wagons). The brick-shaped beast still offered everything past Fury owners had enjoyed – a passenger compartment as large as an auditorium and a choice of V-8 engines that included the 375hp Super Commando 440 – for a reasonable $2,701 (Fury I two-door sedan) to $3,718 (Fury III nine-passenger wagon). This would mark the final year when record size equaled record production for Plymouth; the company had its best full-size annual sales tally ever, with 366,625 Furys, Sport Furys, and VIPs going to new homes.

After ’69, though, Plymouth and the rest of the industry found it harder to sell the giant models to a public that had so many mid-size, sporty, and – gulp – foreign choices. To quote modern financial news analysts, Fury sales figures “trended downward” quickly from 1970 until the nameplate was transferred to the mid-size Plymouth model in 1975.

Bob Wilson, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, sees the ’68 Fury as being the ideal combination of size and style from Plymouth. His opinion may have been influenced by his purchase of a new Fury III hardtop in 1968, which he enjoyed for 200,000 trouble-free miles before letting it get away in 1980.

Regretting his decision almost immediately, it took Wilson 15 years to locate its replacement, which would become this month’s Cars & Parts cover car after a half-decade of hard work and parts chasing.

In “rough but complete” condition when he bought it from a parking lot in Sanford, North Carolina, the Fast Top Fury needed a lot of work to achieve the condition you see on these pages. Wilson replaced a dented quarter panel and fender, the floor of the trunk, all of the interior (except the original seat frames), trim, mirrors, window handles, door handles, windshield, backlite, and 1,000 or so minor bits. He refurbished the 383 Super Commando V-8, rechromed the bumpers, and had the car repainted to match its original Mist Green.

Wilson goes to five or six car shows a year to show off the restoration, and has put only 2,000 miles on the Plymouth since completing it.

All the attention Mopar musclecars garner at shows and in the press might lead one to ask, “Where’s the love for Plymouth’s full-size Fury?”

Look at the photos of Wilson’s ’68 Fast Top. We say, “Here’s the love!”

SIDEBAR: Size Goes Up – Sales Go Up!

With gasoline flowing freely after World War II, and with no outside competition to speak of, American cars grew in power and size like the radioactive lizard that became Godzilla. This growth was encouraged by a marketplace that, during the period between 1955 and 1970, seemed to determine the quality of an automobile with a yardstick. It was often the case that an increase in overall length meant a rise in sales. After 1970, size increases generally reduced sales. Plymouth’s Fury is a good example of this trend. Here is a chart showing how the full-size Fury performed in sales based on its size increases or decreases.

During its first 14 years of life, any time the Fury gained in size, it gained in sales, except for 1967. When size decreased (or remained unchanged), sales decreased, except for 1968. From 1970 on, size changes seemed to play no role – sales just declined until the nameplate was downsized in 1975.

YEAR             WB/LENGTH            (CHANGE)    SALES           (CHANGE)

1956               115/204.8                         n/a              4,485                   n/a

1957               118/206                               +              7,438                      +

1958               118/206                         none              5,303                       -

1959               118/210                               +          105,887                      +

1960               118/209.4                             -            55,487                       -

1961               118/209.4                      none            54,215                       -

1962               116/202                                -            47,482                       -

1963               116/205                               +            90,812                      +

1964               116/206.5                            +          115,771                      +

1965               119/209.4                            +          329,950                      +

1966               119/209.8                            +          330,489                      +

1967               119/213.1                            +          317,310                       -

1968               119/213.1                      none          349,457                      +

1969               120/214.5                            +          366,625                      +

1970               120/215.3                            +          362,131                       -

1971               120/215.1                             -          309,550                       -

1972 *             120/217.2                            +          263,191                       -

1973               120/223.4                            +          261,187                       -

1974 **           120/223.4                      none          120,404                       -

1974 122/219.9                             -

* All Furys came exclusively with V-8s from 1972-74.

** For 1974, the Fury I and II rode on 120-inch wheelbases; the Fury III and Gran Fury on 122-inch wheelbases. Overall lengths were 223.4 (Fury I and II) and 219.9 (Fury III and Gran Fury).

2 Comments

  1. Posted July 24, 2011 at 3:59 pm by Donald L. Clark | Permalink

    I’m ,trying to find ,origanal seat covers ,for my car .Its a 1968 plymouth fury 111 .I’m trying ,to bring ,it back to origanally . 518-529-6085

    • Posted July 25, 2011 at 10:04 am by admin | Permalink

      Donald, I will post your question here and see if another visitor has an answer for you. Brad

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