It’s often claimed that as adults, car people are most attracted to the vehicles that made an impact on them when they were young. I personally believe that theoretical axiom to be true, as most of my favorite cars today are ones that date back to my childhood in the early 1970s.
And while my taste in early ‘70s cars includes a wide range of vehicles, including such disparate types as foreign sports and luxury cars to American muscle, I can unequivocally state that one car, in particular, made an unusually deep impression on me as a kid.
In fact, the car in question is part of one of my earliest memories: being pushed in a stroller as a toddler by my mom on the East Side of Manhattan and seeing a 1971 Amber Sherwood Metallic, B-body Plymouth Satellite two-door in front of our neighborhood bakery.
I have no recall of the intricacies of that car beyond that iridescent pea soup paint and wild grille, but as an adult, I’m aware that a particular variant of it happens to be one of the scarcest muscle cars in the world. And that’s why this month’s edition of Rare Rides will focus on the 1971 Plymouth Hemi GTX!
To trace the history of the GTX, one must actually begin by examining the history of the Plymouth Belvedere, the car that the GTX originally descended from.
Introduced in the 1951 model year, the Plymouth Cranbrook Belvedere was a low-priced, two-door, pillarless hardtop version of the Cranbrook that was aimed squarely at the market segment competition from General Motors and Ford, namely the Bel Air and Victoria.
Sharing the Cranbrook’s 118.-inch wheelbase and powered by the ubiquitous 218 cubic-inch Chrysler inline-six that packed a not-so-impressive 97 horsepower, the car yielded middling performance.
The car was a decent seller nonetheless and stayed in the Plymouth lineup through 1953 when the wheelbase was shortened, the exterior aesthetics updated, and the innovative Hy-Drive semi-automatic transmission added as an option.
1954 saw a number of small changes, including the addition of chrome tailfins, a new motor in the form of a 110 horsepower, 230 cubic inch straight-six and Chrysler’s PowerFlite two-speed slushbox as an option. The Belvedere was also now a stand-alone model in the Plymouth lineup and was made available in four-door, station wagon, and convertible forms in addition to the classic two-door.
The Belvedere was given a considerable update in 1955, featuring a completely new “Forward Look” design. This second-generation offered much more in the way of performance, with a host of V8 engines on offer, including the 241, 260, 277, and 303 cubic inch lumps. Also of note, the 1956 Belvedere could be had with the first push-button automatic ever offered on an American car.
1957 saw the release of what many consider the classic iteration of the Belvedere. Sporting flashy bodywork, tons of chrome, and gigantic tailfins, the car became the top model in Plymouth’s lineup. An even larger stable of powerplants would be offered, with 273, 301 “Fury”, 318, 340, and 350 cubic-inch “Golden Commando” V8 engines joining the previous offerings.
This gen would, decades later, become iconic thanks to the appearance of a 1958 Belvedere in the horror film classic, Christine, in 1983. Although the car was identified in the movie as the Fury trim variant, in reality, the cars used for filming were Belvederes.
Clean-sheet-of-paper redesigns were again bequeathed to the Belvedere in 1960, 1962, and 1965. In the latter year, the B-body Belvedere became the company’s mid-sized offering, with the Fury now riding on the full-sized C-body platform. Plymouth also expanded the Belvedere line with the addition of the Satellite trim along with the Belvedere I and II.
In 1967, Plymouth introduced another trim level to the Belvedere line in the form of the GTX. Billed as the “Gentleman’s Muscle Car” in Plymouth advertisements and available as a hardtop or convertible, the GTX was more than just a sticker and wheel package.
Plymouth’s furious, 375 horsepower, 440 cubic-inch “Super Commando” 4-barrel V8 came standard in the GTX, with the Hemi the lone engine option for a hefty $564 premium. An A-727 three-speed TorqueFlite was standard, with the A-833 four-speed available. An 8-3/4-inch diff with either 2.94:1 or 3.23:1 gears came with the 440 and 426 automatics, while the Hemi with a four-speed benefited from the beefier 9-3/4 Sure Grip axle with 3.54 gears.
Other unique GTX touches included heavy-duty suspension with torsion and anti-sway bars, larger brakes, dual exhaust, a blacked-out grille, non-functional fiberglass hood-scoops, optional stripes, a chrome, ”pit stop” fuel cap, and a unique, concave rear fascia.
Performance was outstanding, with the 440 cars reaching 60 mph in six seconds, and tripping the quarter in 14.4-seconds at 98 mph. Hemi cars were even more brutal, with five-second trips to sixty and 13.5-second quarter-miles at 105.0 mph possible. These figures cemented the GTX’s reputation amongst drag racers and hot-rodders and assured its place in the Belvedere lineup for several years to come.
A year later, in 1968, Plymouth yet again redesigned its intermediate B-Body cars. The Belvedere II was dropped in favor of the Roadrunner, a low-cost, high-performance stablemate for the GTX.
The sculpted flank look of the previous generation Belvedere line was ditched for more svelte, Coke-bottle styling with squared-off corners, beautiful fender character lines, and quad headlamps. In GTX trim, there was a new faux-vented hood, revised front and rear fascias, and standard rocker stripes with “GTX” callout.
The 1968 GTX remained available in pillarless hardtop and convertible trims, and while its mechanicals were largely identical to the previous generation, a healthy dose of interior luxury was added to the car’s hot performance to better differentiate it from the downmarket Roadrunner.
This included embossed bucket seats, vinyl upholstery, bright trim, and simulated woodgrain appointments pilfered from the Sport Satellite. “In a more subdued vein, the all-new GTX interiors are just as you’d want them to be: rich, yet simple,” stated a period brochure.
This luxury/muscle car gambit didn’t quite pay off as planned for Plymouth. While sales were not poor, the Roadrunner, with its cheap thrills, exploded out of the gate for 44,599 sales versus the GTX’s 18,940.
GTX sales dipped further in 1969 despite a light freshening of the fascias and the addition of the functional, dash-controlled “Air Grabber” hood, in large part because the Roadrunner was offered in a convertible for the first time.
Another light refresh failed to stir up interest in 1970, and Plymouth execs banked on a major redesign, scheduled for the following year, to stop the hemorrhaging.
1971 has long been considered the zenith for muscle cars in the Golden Era. Chevelles, Challengers, Mustangs, Trans-Ams, and GTOs all reached their aesthetic and performance heights that year. Plymouth pushed the outside of the envelope with the E-Body Hemicuda, and attempted to bat .1000 with big changes for its B-Body lineup as well.
For starters, the Belvedere name went the way of the Dodo, replaced by the Satellite which, as previously stated, had been a trim line of Belvederes. It was joined in the lineup by the Roadrunner and GTX.
The next big departure was to the platform. Two-door B-bodies now rode on a shortened 115-inch wheelbase platform borrowed from the E-Body Barracudas and Challengers. This would be the first time that B-Body two-doors and four-doors rode on different wheelbases.
The biggest change of all was to the body. Gone were the sharp, sixties-era cues of the previous two generations, replaced by a bold, new look that Plymouth called “Fuselage” styling.
Designed by the legendary John Herlitz, who was determined to break from the angular Mopars that he felt were awkward, the two-door Satellite, Roadrunner and GTX models were full of swoops and curves inspired by the looks of the F-4 Phantom fighter plane. The fresh and modern skin was accentuated by a bold “loop bumper” that completely surrounded the grille and quad headlamps. Similar treatment was afforded to the rear fascia. A wide rear track gave the car sumptuous and powerful-looking rear haunches.
As for the GTX in particular, power still came from the venerable 440 4-barrel V8, with the 385 horsepower, triple two-barrel carburetor-equipped 440 “Six-Pack” and 425 horsepower 426 Hemi available as options. All exhaled through dual performance exhausts.
While each of the motors had its plusses and minuses, and each has its own loyal cult of worshippers, the Hemi, not surprisingly, was the Holy Grail for straight-line performance addicts.
’71 Hemi GTXs came standard with the column-shifted TorqueFlite A-727 three-speed automatic transmission, with the shifter on the floor for console-equipped cars. An A-833 4-speed manual with a Hurst Pistol-Grip shifter was offered as a no-charge option.
The slushbox Hemi cars continued to be equipped with an 8 ¾” rear axle with 2.94 or optional 3.23 gears, while the four-speed cars still sported the heftier Sure-Grip limited-slip Dana 60, 9 ¾” unit with a 3.54 ratio, or a 4.10 ratio as part of the Super Track-Pak option.
”Extra Heavy-Duty Hemi Suspension” consisted of front independent unequal-length control arms, torsion bars, hydraulic shocks, and an anti-roll bar, with the rear occupied by a solid axle, staggered semi-elliptic six leaf-springs, and hydraulic shocks.
Standard brakes on the Hemi were 11” x 3” drums up front and 11” x 2 1/2” ones out back. Power front discs were optional and came with vented rotors measuring 10.97” in diameter. When equipped with front discs, rear drums would be 10 x 2.50-inches. Hemi cars were armed with either 14” x 6” or 15” x 7” Rallye or Magnum 500 style wheels shod with Goodyear Polyglas G70 x 14 or G60-15 tires.
Inside was plush by muscle car standards. The bucket seats and optional console were pilfered from the Barracuda, but the Hemi GTX was spared that car’s cheap-looking hard plastics and was instead treated with soft-touch vinyl and polypropylene surfaces everywhere. The dash was adorned with a considerable amount of faux-wood trim, and armed with a bevy of gauges and knobs. Eight interior colors were available.
Interior options were legion, and included such niceties as AM/FM stereo tape, tachometer, T-bar automatic shifter, power seats, doors, windows and accessories, and different steering wheel options such as the popular wood-grain “Rim-Blow” wheel.
Popular exterior options consisted of racing mirrors, stripes, blackout hood, a vinyl top, a sunroof, rear window louvers, hood pins, and a large rear spoiler. The pop-up Air Grabber fresh-air hood, an option on 440 cars, was standard on the Hemi.
Plymouth offered 31 exterior colors including the famous “High-Impact” colors such as In-Violet, Sassy Grass Green, Moulin Rouge, Lemon Twist, and Rally Red. The vinyl tops were available in white, black, green, or tan.
Sadly, the progressive, new styling didn’t strike a chord with the car-buying public and did nothing to improve the dwindling sales of the GTX. In 1971, Plymouth only managed to move 2,942 of them, with a mere 30 being Hemi-equipped cars.
This would lead to 1971 being the last year for the GTX as a standalone model. 1972 would see it become a trim level of the Roadrunner, and 1974 would see it disappear from the Plymouth catalog entirely.
As such, the 1971 Hemi GTX exists as one of the rarest muscle cars of the era. Proof of this is reflected in Hemi GTX prices today, with a low-mileage, heavily optioned car selling at the 2020 Mecum Auction in Kissimmee for $374,000.
Whoever the buyer was got one hell of a Rare Ride.