1961 Chrysler New Yorker Town & Country: Pillarless Finery
I’ve always loved hardtop station wagons, though they are few and far between. When it came to longroofs with no B-pillar, automotive history provided only a handful of options. The 1957–58 Buick Caballero, the 1957–58 Oldsmobile Fiesta, various 1957–60 Mercurys, and the 1960–62 Chrysler Town & Country. At least, if memory serves. Are there any others?
In June 2013, the AACA had its Grand National Meet right here in the Quad Cities, in downtown Moline, Illinois. There was no question of missing it, as the event was, and is, an easy ten-minute drive from home base. Many fine cars appeared at this particular event, including an excellent 1960 Valiant V-200, but my favorite car was this 1961 New Yorker Town & Country.
The ’61 Chryslers were facelifted versions of the all-new ’60 models that brought unibody construction to the entire corporate line. It was a big change at at time when most cars on the road still had full-frame construction, save for those funny little foreign cars that were starting to appear. Chrysler was ahead of the pack!
Naturally, the wagons were new as well, and they introduced a neat new feature: pillarless styling. Yes, you could get your Chrysler wagon as a hardtop model! In fact, that was all you could get, as no pillared version was available. It made the 1960 and later models look a bit more dashing than the previous pillared 1957–59 models.
Today, everybody seems to prefer crossovers to the traditional station wagon and I just don’t understand why. I rode in Volvo wagons all through my childhood, and I bought a Volvo wagon of my own, a 2006 V50 2.4i in 2007. It was a nice car. I drove it until a fantastic, low-mile Autumn Red 2004 Lincoln Town Car Ultimate appeared at Strieter Lincoln in late summer of 2015. It didn’t hurt that the Volvo was starting to have A/C issues.
These days, there are so many reliable, popular yet rather Dramamine-drenched motor vehicles you see on the way to the office or in various and sundry grocery store parking lots. I get it, they make a lot of sense to a lot of folks, and not everyone wants a sports car. But those cars are all very, VERY unlike this 1961 Chrysler, which has style in spades. These wagons and their brethren were the last Mopars to sport large fins without apology. They say, “I’m a wagon. I have giant fins. I have STYLE! Deal with it.”
While the 1962 models were largely the same, they became known as “plucked chickens” when those remarkable fins were surgically removed. All things considered, they actually looked pretty good, but I still prefer the 1960–61 Town & Countrys, though flossier New Yorker version is my favorite.
Yes, a Newport T&C was also available, but the crème de la crème was the plush New Yorker version, which retailed for a then-princely $4764 (for the six-passenger version) and $4871 (nine-passenger), and tipped the scales at 4425 and 4455 pounds, respectively.
As you’d expect, New Yorkers got lots of extra trim, and fancier interior appointments, including bright rocker and wheel lip trim, gold-accented wheel covers and emblems, and other chrome-encrusted finery. They were among the most expensive Chryslers as well; only the 300G “Letter Series” two-door hardtop and convertible were more expensive. They’re also among the rarest ’61 Chryslers. Only 676 six-passenger and 760 nine-passenger versions were built. That’s why you don’t see these at every car show, and why I was so excited to see this one.
The inside was just as fancy as the exterior, with cloth-and-vinyl seating, a clear Lucite steering wheel rim, and the most excellent Astro Dome instrument cluster—the coolest dash of the ’60s, in my opinion. And don’t forget the push-button Torqueflite automatic! I really liked the sapphire-blue and turquoise color combination of this particular T&C-and its matching interior trim.
This car also had factory air conditioning, according to the barely visible announcement on the rear-quarter window: “Air Conditioned by AirTemp.” The option cost $714 on wagons—nearly 15 percent over the price of the car.
The biggest difference over the ’60 model was the slanted headlights, similar to 1958-60 Lincolns. Unlike the fins, these would return for ’62. Under the hood was a 413-cubic-inch V-8 with a four-barrel carb, good for 350 horsepower. Dual exhaust was standard on wagons and optional on other New Yorkers.
This was such an excellent wagon. I wish the weather had been nicer, but unfortunately, intermittent rain spoiled the show somewhat. But it was most certainly worth the trip, just to see this car.
It was just starting to rain harder when I spied the beautiful Town & Country. I had never, ever seen one of these in person before, and the odds are decent that I won’t ever see another. They didn’t exactly grow on trees when new, and fifty-odd years of attrition has probably done in most of them. But I found one! It made my day, even with all the other amazing cars I saw and photographed.