Home Car Stories One Owner 1971 PLYMOUTH GTX- Gil Cervantes
1971 PLYMOUTH GTX- Gil Cervantes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Double Dragon
Wednesday, 26 December 2012 20:44

1971 PLYMOUTH GTX- Gil Cervantes

oneownercollectorcar.com

71 gtx 440 gil logo

Writing and photography copyright D. S. Brown, except for period photos of the GTX prior to and during restoration which are copyright Gil Cervantes.

Gil Cervantes would have loved to indulge himself in a new car but he had a growing family and a wife keeping an eye on the budget. Then a miracle occurred in fall of 1970. Gil's wife, Noelia was concerned about a Christmas trip they were taking from the Bay Area in California out to Texas at the end of 1971. Gil owned a 1964 Chevy and Noelia was worried that it might not make the trip,

"Maybe we should get a new car."

Gil didn't do a victory dance. He managed to keep a straight face while he somberly agreed that this might be a wise thing to do. Gil didn't have to be asked twice to get a new car! No way was he letting this opportunity evaporate. He immediately hustled down to a new car dealership with Noelia in tow.

71 gtx 440 gil front

Gil had his mind set on the toughest Chrysler he could locate. He was tired of his brother always beating him with nothing more than a 318 two barrel 1970 Barracuda. After looking at his brother's tail lights too many times, Gil had formed the opinion that Chryslers were fast and tough. Gil had further decided that he too wanted a Chrysler. But he wouldn't stop at a 318.

71 gtx gil cooper motor co hayward california

Gil and Noelia pulled into Cooper Motor Co. Chrysler-Plymouth in Hayward, California in fall of 1970. The pictures above and below are taken 40 years later at the now vacant dealership showroom with the GTX back where it was first sold from all those years ago.

71 gtx 440 gil looking across cooper motor co lot

To see a story on this dealership look under 'CALIFORNIA/OAKLAND Outskirts' in the DEALERSHIPS section of this website.

Gil knew he had found his new car the instant he walked into the showroom and spotted a green 1971 GTX. The GTX that Gil lusted for was a brand new car, produced in August of 1970. It was one of the first 3,000 cars pumped out of the Los Angeles assembly plant for the 1971 model year. The GTX itself was an entirely new model for 1971 with a very sleek redesigned body.

Gil saw it on showroom floor and said,

"That's the one I want."

Noelia immediately balked at the car. Gil insisted. The salesman piped in and stated that the GTX was the "premier premium Plymouth model" which is quite a mouthful. The salesman was repeating Plymouth's sales literature which had always marketed the GTX as a 'gentleman's musclecar'. It came standard with 440 and heavy duty everything. Noelia didn't care,

"It's a tank!"

She couldn't imagine driving such a big car and maintained resistance against buying the GTX. Gil wasn't taking no for an answer. The GTX 440 guaranteed that Gil could beat his brother's 318 anytime he felt like it. Gil used the car's size as a selling point explaining that as the kids got bigger and the family got larger the GTX would be able to handle any expansion for years to come. And of course, a Super Commando 440 was absolutely necessary to haul a large family and their luggage.

71 gtx gil 440 super commando engine

Noelia finally crumbled and Gil became the proud owner of a brand new GTX. 1971 was the last year for a stand- alone GTX series. After 1971 the disintegration of the musclecar market forced the GTX name to become a mere option on the Roadrunner instead of a separate series. 1971 also marked the final year of operations at the Los Angeles assembly plant where Gil's car was built.

71 gtx 440 gil fuselage angle

Its unfortunate that time had run out on the musclecars because the 1971 GTX was one of the best looking ones of all. The first year for the GTX in 1967 produced a good looking car, but the Belvedere 'B body' platform is restrained in appearance. Yes the GTX was a true musclecar mechanically with suspension and engine upgrades (the GTX didn't come with less than a 440) but external appearance said 'Belvedere'. The flip up racing gas cap, mock hood scoops and Satellite trim provided clues for those 'in the know'. Over at Pontiac, no clues or insider knowledge was needed to spot the GTO which was still leading the musclecar race due to intoxicating imagery.

In 1968 the looks of the GTX picked up when the Belvedere got a redesign. This was also the first year of the Roadrunner based on the bottom grade Belvedere trim using 440 heads on a 383. The GTX was built off the upscale Satellite trim level. The low priced Roadrunner provided the same overall lines as the GTX for less money with acceptable performance. The standard GTX was equipped with extra trim and bucket seats and packed killer 440 performance. Despite the superiority of the GTX over most musclecars, including the base Roadrunner, the Roadrunner did so well filling a price gap that it even threatened King GTO. The Belvedere body carried over for 1969 and 1970 with minor adjustments.

Then Chrysler caught on to some GM styling tricks. GM had split their intermediates into two groups for the 1968 redesign. The four door sedans had a higher rear roofline and 116 inch wheelbase. The two door cars used a shorter 112 inch wheelbase to mimic pony car lines with short deck/ long hood and a flowing fastback rear window. By separating the practical from the stylish, GM rid themselves of compromise. Chrysler also shed the restraints of trying to please everyone with their new 1971 intermediate 'B bodies'. The four doors received practical headroom in back and a longer wheelbase which freed up the two door to become an absolute stunner.

71 gtx gil passenger side

The final piece of the puzzle is one of the all time high points in Chrysler design called "fuselage styling". When the full sized Mopars went to fuselage styling in 1969 they became incredible looking cars. The 5 MPH bumper standards made the fuselage 'loop bumpers' unworkable, so Chrysler dropped the fuselage look from 1974 full size Mopars, robbing the cars of their mystique. The full size Mopars were at the end of a styling cycle as well, so it had to happen, but when it did it marked the end of an era for classic full size Mopars.

Two years after appearing on the full size Mopars, the fuselage philosophy was applied to the 1971 intermediates with great success. The loop front bumper and rounded under side profile still looks great today. John Herlitz is credited with the 1971 Satellite design, and he is also the author of the incredible 1970 Barracuda. With two great scores like that his name should be as well known as Bill Mitchell or Larry Shinoda.

Sadly, the musclecar phenomenon had run out of gas by now and a mere 2,626 GTXs were built on this incredible new platform. In 1972 if you ordered a 440 in your Roadrunner it was called a Roadrunner GTX, but the GTX was no longer a stand-alone model. The dribbling away of the musclecars was a shame because the 1972s carried over the great looking 'B body' fuselage style.

Years ago I owned a fantastic looking big block Gold 1972 Satellite. Even a regular Satellite looks like it is going 100 MPH standing still because of the bodylines. No matter how many times I walked around my 1972 Satellite I never encountered a bad angle or false line. The Chrysler 'B body' hit a high-water mark with that design. Funnily, when Chrysler got a bit more conservative with the two door Satellite for the 1973 and 1974 model years, the sales picked up.

I also logged some time cruising in a blue 1974 Satellite. The 1974 was still a good looking car, but the squared off front end didn't look quite as smooth. The irony is that the 1972 was more futuristic looking than the 1974 which seemed to have suffered a regression of styling. This body style kept on for several more years with revisions and later saw the base Fury name applied to it. No one was fooled that this was a Fury. The unique body shape says Satellite.

The aerodynamic bodylines of the new 1971 Satellite body provided the GTX with increased top speed. The slippery body coupled with the potent 440 produced a very fast car. Back in fall of 1970 in California at the Cooper Motor Company that thought was foremost in the salesman's mind. He held the keys in his hand and hesitated before handing them over to young Gil. He was mindful of the brute power of the GTX he had just sold and cautioned Gil,

"Be careful with that car!"

Gil's answer was an impressive burnout down the road beginning on the edge of the dealer lot and carrying on for blocks. The 440 was capable of literally tearing the tires right off the rims and Gil finally lightened up on the gas to save the rubber.

Here are the remains of Gil's build sheet for those of you who love to decode cars. The VIN significant digits have been removed.

71 gtx 440 gil build sheet

The first sequence of the VIN decodes as follows:

R= GTX
S= Special Price Class
23= 2 Door Hardtop
U= 440 4 barrel 370HP
1= 1971
E= Los Angeles assembly plant

Here is the fender tag with the VIN sequential number on the bottom right corner removed for internet privacy.

71 gtx gil fender tag

The bottom line reads from left to right as follows:
Engine code E86= 440-4 bbl
Transmission code D32= Heavy duty A-727 TorqueFlite
Car line/ price class and body type RS23= GTX special price class two door hardtop
Engine code model year U1E= 440 4 barrel 370HP built in 1971 at Los Angeles assembly plant
The blank space is where the six VIN significant digits were.

The second line from the bottom reads left to right as follows:
Lower body paint color GF7= Sherwood Green Metallic (Dodge called it Dark Green Metallic)
Trim code P6F7=
Interior paint color GF7= Sherwood Green Metallic (Dodge called it Dark Green Metallic)
Month and day built 902= September 2, 1971.
Vehicle order number is 044136

The third line from the bottom reads left to right as follows:
Upper body color GF7= Sherwood Green Metallic (Dodge called it Dark Green Metallic)
Build for Country U= USA
AO1= Light package
A04= Deluxe light package
B51= Power brakes
C16= Console with woodgrain panel

The fourth line from the bottom reads left to right as follows:
C55= Bucket seats
G33= Outside left side remote racing mirror
J45= Hood tie down pins
J52= Inside hood release
L31= Hood/ fender mounted turn signals
M21= Roof drip rail moldings

The fifth line from the bottom reads left to right as follows:
M25= Wide sill moldings
M31= Belt moldings
M91= Luggage rack
N41= Dual exhaust
N97= Noise reduction package

The sixth line from bottom which is the top line on the tag reads left to right as follows:
R11= AM radio (2 watts)
V21= Performance hood treatment
V7W= Accent stripes, white
END= End of sales codes

The GTX was a terrific car and yes, Gil blew away his brother's 1970 Barracuda without trying. His brother got the last laugh however, because Gil was buried under his financing on the $4,500.00 car. Gil was working full time but after his car payments he was stone flat broke every month. The GTX proved to be good for Gil's health. Gil quit drinking and smoking because his car payments left no money to engage in either activity anymore!

71 gtx 440 gil hood pins

Gil's new GTX was a really good looking car. It came with hood pins, blacked out hood scoops with 440 callouts, pinstripes, mag wheels, buckets, console, three spoke steering wheel, full gauge package and of course the Super Commando 440 engine.

71 gtx gil driver seat

In the photo below of the scoop, the right side of the picture is the front of the car. The notch above and to the left of the scoop is a turn light confirmation that flashes when you put on your turn signal indicator.

71 gtx 440 gil hoodscoop

The GTX also carried a very useful option for a man with a family: the optional chrome luggage rack. Gil himself would have special ordered this on a car if he was putting it together himself, but it was already on the car courtesy of Cooper Motor Company. You sometimes saw these luggage racks mounted on the early shark Corvettes which made sense since they had virtually no space behind the rear seats and no glove box. But the GTX has a decent sized trunk and interior which makes the luggage rack superfluous for most owners, except for family guys like Gil.

71 gtx gil luggage rack

When Gil took the family on the Christmas Texas trip that luggage rack proved to be invaluable. All the way to Texas Gil could only use the outside driver's side mirror to check traffic. There were so many suitcases piled up and tied to the rear of the car on that luggage rack you couldn't see out the rear view mirror!

On the road south to Salinas in caravan with his brother's Cuda, Gil discovered another practical aspect to his new GTX. Both the brothers had amassed equal sized families who filled up the cars with about the same amount of luggage. They both gassed up at the same place before leaving. After cruising at a good clip they stopped for gas where both brothers were astounded to discover that the 318 Barracuda needed 3 more gallons of gas to refill the tank. The Barracuda with its smaller 318 was working harder to schlep all those people and luggage at high speeds thus consuming more gas than usual. The GTX's huge 440 was unaffected by the loads and speed, loafing all the way to Salinas using the same amount of gas that it always did. This is a truism proved time and again in the GAS LOGS section of this website. See the story on the 1967 Pontiac Beaumont in GAS LOGS for more information about the phenomenon of big engines delivering better economy on the highway than smaller engines.

Gil discovered to his great relief that his new GTX has a Sure-Grip rear end. He was following a friend from Texas on a snowy winter night down Highway 90 when suddenly the friend's car spun out of control as it hit black ice. Gil put the GTX into first gear without touching the brakes and the limited slip differential kept it straight while engine braking slowed down the GTX.

The GTX has heavy duty suspension but no spoilers which contributes to the limiting factors of how fast it can be comfortably taken. Gil had it up to 120 MPH but the float was too scary. The GTX 440 had plenty more in it and was willing. Aside from no spoilers, Gil's GTX was riding on bias ply tires and factory shocks.

71 gtx 440 gil rally wheels goodyear polyglass

Although wind lift is probably a large factor, I suspect that the bias ply tires made the biggest difference. I frequently went for lengthy sustained full throttle runs in my 1972 Satellite which had traveled 106,000 miles. It was stable at well over 120 MPH even on rough narrow country roads, but it benefited from advanced modern shocks and radial tires.

Conversely I rarely drove the 1974 Satellite fast. It too had 100,000 miles of use, new shocks and radials but it seemed to have a lot more slop in the steering. The suspension was wobbling sideways like a collapsing matchbox. This car was two years newer than the other one but it was so vague that it became terrifying by the time you reached 90 MPH. I've encountered the same variance between other individual cars of the same model. A lot of it is due to the nature of the mileage. Stop and go driving, lots of maneuvering and parking will wear out parts and obliterate the precision from your steering a lot faster than straight line cruising.

Most of Gil's GTX mileage occurred at speeds well out of the range that incurs float or terror. Most of the life of Gil's GTX involved daily grind driving that wears parts out. Noelia drove to and from work about 30 minutes a day on stop and go routes. The heavy punishment of stop and go driving didn't agree with that big old 440 which soon got cantankerous. Noelia complained that it had been running rough so Gil engaged in the time honored ritual of clearing out the secondaries on a highway blast. That was all it took to set things back to normal. The 440 is a very forgiving and flexible engine and much more streetable than the Hemi which requires expert tune-ups. Gil praises the 440 for being trouble free. It was still running fine when the car was parked. The shot below is of the engine after 15 years of daily driving.

71 gtx gil 440 engine prior to resto

After a decade and a half of family duties the GTX was driven less and eventually parked in 1986 pending some bodywork. California sun had baked the paint, particularly on the roof.

71 gtx gil 440 hood scoop surface rust prior to resto

Above is a shot of the proud 440 badges tarnished with minor surface rust from decades of searing California sun blasting down.

71 gtx gil before resto rear luggage rack

In the photo above the number on the California blue plates has been obscured for internet privacy, otherwise the photo is just the way the car sat after taking a beating from the relentless California sun. The metal license plate holder says Cooper along the bottom followed by a small Chrysler logo. The tires are the ubiquitous B F Goodrich Radial T/As. The roof rear deck and rear window area have suffered some surface rust.

71 gtx gil interior prior to resto

The car sat for some time before the task of rebuilding could be undertaken. Gil had kids as well as other cars and his fishing hobby. Gil's hot rod was the biggest time sucker and took him well off track from the GTX restoration project that was pending.

71 gtx gil restoration jallisa at work

Finally in 2006, Gil's granddaughter, Jallisa provided the impetus to rebuild the car. She performed most of the restoration work and is now the primary driver. So, although Gil was the one who bought the GTX, it was mainly driven by his wife and then his granddaughter! The mileage reads 72,677 miles right now. The odometer likely turned 172,677 during the 15 years of daily driving the car racked up. Nowadays the occasional pleasure cruise is the most the GTX does.

71 gtx gil 150 mph speedo

When Gil had his engine in the machine shop he insisted on having his 440 engine rebuilt to stock specs and resisted the lure of hidden upgrades. He wants his GTX to drive and feel the same as it did when he first smoked it out of the dealership 40 years ago: no more, no less.

The 440 has plenty of kick when you get on it and has a nice rumble. The 440 still provides surprisingly reasonable gas mileage for a big block, thanks to its bone stock specs. Driving on some secondary roads but mainly Interstates the GTX used a quarter tank to cover 60 miles during the OOCC photo shoot. The GTX has a 20 gallon tank meaning that it used roughly 5 gallons of modern low energy California gasoline to cover 60 miles which is about 12 MPG.

The car rides very smoothly at regular cruising speeds even with the Goodyear Polyglass tires. The transmission was also rebuilt. There is a torque converter vibration that comes on at certain speed ranges that Gil wants to address. Once that is sorted out the car will be entirely up to his standards so that he can enjoy the car exactly the way it was when it came out of the factory. Maybe the car would run faster and handle a bit better with modern pieces, but Gil prefers to enjoy the car for how he remembers the car and for what it is: a 1971 GTX. Every aspect of his GTX has been kept factory correct in appearance and performance.

After 42 years of ownership Gil is pretty happy with the service received from the car and he is pleased with the restoration. His adherence to factory correctness is admirable. It is an interesting experience to ride in factory correct cars. Subtle differences in ride, tire whine, engine racket and suspension behavior all add up to a specific 'vibe' or feel for a car. Mopars are rarely left in correct condition so its getting tougher to experience the original musclecar experience these days.

UPDATE: Although Gil enjoys the occasional cruise in his GTX, it's not getting used a lot. It's time for him to pare down his belongings and the GTX is up for sale with a price of $85,000.00. See the FOR SALE section for more information.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 12 March 2016 10:02 )