Auto sales are continuing to run at a near record clip but the interest in Detroit has now switched to the yet-to-be introduced 1963 models.
Final prototypes have been built and are currently being operated on auto company test tracks and on remote roads across the country. Tools and dies have already been delivered. Tentative introduction dates are set. Advertising and promotion programs arc under discussion and ballyhoo is well underway for the National Automobile Show set for Detroit this October.
What can the fleet user expect from Detroit this fall? To get this answer, Automotive Fleet went to Detroit for a behind-the-scene look at the 1963 models.
Last fall fleet users received a big bonus from Detroit in the form of such functional improvements as new economical engines, extended oil change and chassis lubrication intervals and seat belt anchors. While "under the skin" improvements still play an important role in Detroit's thinking, much of the emphasis in 1963 will be on styling.
Actually, the emphasis on styling is somewhat logical. Automakers would be hard-pressed to obsolete last year's functional improvements. Most of the engineering improvements will be refinements on last year's innovations.
The biggest styling changes are clue at Chrysler Corp. and its officials are making no bones about it. This, in itself, is unusual. Traditionally, automakers are close-lipped about new models.
Chrysler's stylists and engineers have been working overtime to bring massive changes that are being spearheaded by the company's new director of styling, Elwood Engel. Engel, brought over from Ford Motor Co., was largely responsible for the 1961 and 1962 Lincoln Continental.
When Chrysler obtained Engel from Ford last November, the general belief was that he would not be able to accomplish much for the 1963 model year because work on these cars was too far advanced.
But it appears that Chrysler gave Engel a blank check to accomplish his mission and he is getting results by burning the midnight oil.
Lynn A. Townsend, Chrysler president, is so enthused with the prospects for the 1963 models that he recently told a private group of Chrysler foremen and superintendents that the company will have "a complete tear up" of its cars for 1963.
Chrysler board chairman George H. Love expanded on Townsend's comments recently by saying "very important changes are being made."
Virgil Boyd, Chrysler's new sales vice president (obtained from American Motors) says that "substantial sheet metal and size changes" will be made in the 1963 models.
While the Chrysler officials have confined themselves to generalities, Automotive Fleet has learned some specific details about the 1963 Chrysler Corp. line.
Key to the new styling theme at Chrysler is to put the two divisions-Chrysler-Plymouth and Dodge- in separate sales categories.
To accomplish this, the Dodge Lancer will be increased in over-all size and placed on a 111-inch wheelbase. The Plymouth Valiant will remain on a 106.5-inch wheelbase. A new styling treatment will differentiate the Lancer from its look-alike Plymouth Valiant.
The standard Dart will have its wheelbase increased from the present 116-inches to 119-inches. The Plymouth will remain on a 116-inch wheelbase. Then there also will be the Custom Dodge Custom 880 and Chrysler on a 122-inch wheelbase. The New Yorker will be 126.
This styling shift would give Chrysler an entirely different lineup and gives the two divisions different size cars instead of competing with each other. They will have competition for the same sized cars at Ford and General Motors.
It means the Valiant will compete with the smallest compacts and the 111-inch wheelbase Lancer will go up against the Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile compacts.
The Plymouth will be competing in the intermediate field with the Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor and the Dodge Dart will be back in the Ford Galaxie Chevrolet Impala field.
The biggest Dodges and regular Chryslers will compete in the medium-price class with Oldsmobile, Buick and Pontiac and the big Chrysler New Yorker and Imperial will be for the upper class.
Styling changes include a new T-Bird-like roof line and rear end for Dodge models. The Chrysler and Plymouth are also in for some new rear quarter treatment. The grilles on all models will be reworked.
The 1963 Chrysler lineup should get Chrysler back on the fast sales track. It will give the company size categories that Ford and General Motors started striving for two years ago and now have.
All of the cars in the General Motors stable will receive a new styling treatment despite the fact that CM currently is accounting for more than half of all new car sales. The styling change is in line with GM's philosophy of new body shells every three years.
Styling at GM will be switched from the present "box like" treatment to what may be termed "bottle" type"-more bulging and a bit more pointed. Sloping rooflines will be featured on several GM cars.
At Chevrolet, the Corvair Monza, currently accounting for more than 70 per cent of Corvair sales, will get the big stress. This means some of the other Corvair models will be dropped out, the same as the station wagon was recently.
Such a change will put the Corvair in the specialized transportation class, permitting Chevrolet" to promote its new compact, the Chevy 11, to a greater degree.
The big news at Buick will be the introduction of the Centurian, a four-passenger bucket seat job aimed at the Ford Thunderbird. The Centurian will be on a 116-inch wheelbase, compared with 113-inches for the T-bird and 123-inches for the Buick LeSabre. Those who have seen the new Buick say it is a real bomb, with a fast sloping rear end treatment.
At Ford, the intermediate Ford Fairlane and Mercury Meteor will branch out from their present two-door and four-door sedan models to a full line, from stations wagons to convertibles. Convertibles are also due for the Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet. Styling of the classic Lincoln-Continental will remain largely unchanged.
American Motors Corp. will continue to follow its policy of "styling continuity and stability" but will have a few more changes in sheet metal than in previous years.
Studebaker-Packard has redesigned the greenhouse area on the Lark for a slimmer silhouette. Door posts on sedan models have been cut down in size. Station wagon models will have a new rear end treatment and a new rear window arrangement.