Steve Magnante reveals a surprise of this rare 1963 Dodge Custom 880 hardtop

A classic carthis one Cleverness 880 Custom, gets an in-depth tour from real life gearhead, TV star and automotive legend Steve Magnante. In a junkyard in rural Massachusetts, this rusty classic Dodge stands unloved. An example from 1963 year. This early C-Body car shows the transition from the traditional opulence of the 1950s to the new 1960s designs that would lay the foundations for the rise of the American muscle car.

The Dodge Custom 880 seems a bit forgotten in the Dodge range of the 1960s. Not for good reason, but because the company regularly changed its naming conventions. You probably know the Dodge Dart. However, the name moved between platforms. In 1961, the Dart nameplate was on the full-size C-Body. Before it descended the platforms every model year until it became the legend of the compact A-Body based muscle car.

A forgotten Dodge, this C-Body classic has more in common with the Dodge Challenger Banshee EV than you might initially think.

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The Dodge Custom 880 marks the beginning of 1960s car design

The largest Dodge models on sale at the time, under the hood you will only find V8 big block engines. According to Magnante, Dodge built 28,266 Custom 880s. However, the one Magnante finds on this scrap heap is a bit more special. A two-door hardtop coupe is the rarest specification. After all, if most want a big car, they need it for practical reasons and prefer sedans and wagons. As a result, just under 3,000 Dodge 880s like this left Detroit.

While a fairly common classic car, even the best-preserved Custom 880s are relatively affordable. According to Classic, an aggregator of classic car prices, the Custom 880 retails for an average of $18,700. Convertibles and coupes have the highest price tag.

Visiting Burniston Auto Wreck Yard in Massachusetts, the model car builder and car enthusiast introduces us to one of Dodge’s least known models. But the 880 Hardtop is certainly not uninteresting. A custom 1963 model, the 880 predates the manufacturer’s gas-guzzling muscle cars such as the Charger and Challenger. Magnante walks us through the development of Dodge’s platform-based models that led the brand to only produce full-size cars. The 880 uses the C-Body that would underpin the Dodge Monaco and Polara for the next decade.

This example seems a bit over the top, with the elements stripping the paint off the vehicle and perhaps some sort of crash that took the car off the road. However, looking at the grille and interior that seem to stand the test of time shows the quality and effort that went into these old cars. It seems hard to imagine a Dodge of today being in such recognizable condition in more than 60 years.

At the time of the production of the 880, Dodge chief designer Virgil Exner ushered in a new era of car design. The evolution of the 880 seems to be the perfect example of this. Take the long, sweeping trunk. When the 880 was introduced, the car had fins at the rear. However, in 1963 the designers cut it back, creating a slimmer profile. The design motifs of the 1960s were slowly removed as Dodge effectively caught up with competition from Ford and Chevrolet under Chrysler ownership.

This is how much options cost on a classic Custom Dodge

Steve Magnante

This car contains the 361 V8, the base engine that found its way to the 880 with 265 hp. However, the car also had the 383, 413 and 426 engines. These were all mated to a 3-speed manual or Torqueflite automatic transmission, as was common for Dodge at the time. The Torqueflite transmission cost over $200. The 4-speed transmission would appear in the next 1964 model year.

Poking around under the engine Magnante highlights the car’s power steering, a $77 option. That doesn’t sound like much, but adjusted for inflation that’s a mighty $749.90 in 2022. Very few options on a Dodge today cost that much. But in the early 1960s, power steering seemed like the height of luxury. With an overall length of just under 5.5 metres, it’s hard to imagine driving this car without power steering, it just goes to show how far the technology has come.

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The 880 marks the age of the car and has single circuit brakes. With the fluid flowing around all the brakes in one system, if something did in fact go wrong, you would be without your brakes very quickly, unlike today’s modern anti-lock brakes. A rather terrifying idea in such a big, heavy car that weighs almost 4,000 pounds.

The construction of this C-platform car emphasizes the design differences of the classic Dodge. Magnante calls it “semi-unitized”. In fact, the front of the car and the fenders are bolted to the frame of the car. Everything for the firewall relies on some simple rivets to secure it to the car. The same goes for the back of the car and the trunk.

This Dodge has the Fratzog logo from Dodge’s Challenger EV

1963 Dodge Custom 880 dashboard
Steve Magnante

On this Dodge Custom 880 there is a rather interesting and relevant feature. Proudly mounted on the hood with the Dodge Fratzog logo. In 2021, CNBC reported that “Dodge will use a throwback logo called the “Fratzog” for its upcoming electrified vehicles”.

These are the round three Vs now featured on Dodge’s EV Challenger Banshee. These V’s form a triangle, but they do have curves. Designed under Virgil Exner, Dodge’s chief designer in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The decal signified a space-age future-oriented Dodge. Something the brand is eager to evoke once again as the industry moves into the EV era.

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