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Car trim options date back to era of 60's muscle cars

The 1968 Plymouth Satellite was one of the

The 1968 Plymouth Satellite was one of the company's less popular muscle car options but offered buyers several different levels of trim. Credit:

Trim is in.

Head down to the local dealer with a particular car in mind and the first question you'll likely be asked is, 'Were you after a DX, LX, ES, ES-R, EX-R . . . or the ES-RXLi with the Sport, Leather, Chrome and Navigation packages?'

Stumped, you would ask for the differences to be explained and then, after a few sleepless nights comparing miles of spreadsheets, you would cross your fingers and make a selection.

It might be tough now, but the venerable "trim level" has roots nearly six decades deep and was (is) used as a method to offer prestige - and make more money - on a particular model or body style of car.

Things were done a little differently back then, however. Whereas today you could select, say, a Toyota Camry, and order the trim package of your choice, back in the late 1960s, those trim levels would probably have be given completely different model designations.

Take Chrysler's Plymouth division. For 1969, its popular 116-inch-wheelbase B-body design was entering the second year of production. There were five different engine sizes to be had - a 225-cubic-inch inline six cylinder and four V8 engines displacing 318, 383, 426 and 440 cubic inches - and four-door sedan, four-door wagon, two-door hard top, coupe and convertible body styles. And, although they were essentially the same car - from quarter panels and bumpers to suspension pieces and frameless Unibody construction - most were given their own model designations/names based on trim and engine size, kind of like today . . . only different.

Plymouth's base B-body model for 1969 was the Belvedere (the smaller, cheaper Valiant was an A-body) followed by the Satellite and Sport Satellite. The muscle cars that everyone is paying big bucks for these days are the Road Runner and GTX, the latter received a higher level of trim.

If you think it's tough selecting a new car today, imagine life back in 1969. Generally, three types of buyers went after Plymouth's big B-body. On the one hand, the trunk and interior volume worked particularly well for families looking to cram a lot space into their monthly payments. And, of course, go-fast die-hards couldn't get enough of the Road Runner and GTX performance cars which, starting around $3,000, could tear the tires clean off their 14x6 road wheels. The third category of buyer was perhaps the most interesting, simply because its members seemed to desire the look and feel of a performance car but with a lower sticker price, better fuel economy . . . and fewer speeding tickets.

The group was also interesting because there were so few people in it. It might actually surprise you to know that the Sport Satellite, especially the convertible, has a much lower production volume than the then-and-now-famous Road Runner. People who haven't even heard of a Sport Satellite convertible, won't be surprised.

In fact, the Sunfire Yellow model is just one of 85 produced with the 383 "Super Commando" four-barrel engine. One hundred others came with a two-barrel "Commando" 383 while the remainder of the 900 or so Sport Satellite convertibles produced that year came with the 318 V8.

Aside from badging, stripes and a muscular looking blacked-out hood, there's really little to outwardly distinguish a Road Runner or GTX convertible from a Sport Satellite convertible. In fact, with a 330-horsepower (five shy of the Road Runner's 383) Super Commando 383, the Sport Satellite ragtop was about as quick as a base Road Runner and offered more chrome around the wheelwells and special red-highlight grille and recessed tail lights. Trim-wise, the Sport Satellite fell somewhere between the Road Runner and GTX.

Because of this, it's a wonder more weren't sold. On the other hand, it was pretty tough sluggin' against the over-hyped Road Runner, which in convertible form sold in numbers that more than doubled those of the Sport Satellite convertible.

Plymouth's little-known, often forgotten convertible is living proof, that, from a dollars and cents standpoint, rarity doesn't always mean desirability or value. That is to say they're still relatively cheap to buy, despite being rare. However, as the pool of high-dollar Road Runners and GTXs dries up, the value of second-tier American muscle cars, such as the Sport Satellite, should head skyward. For now, if you can find one, they remain relatively affordable and gain just as much attention and respect at car shows as their more famous siblings.

Indeed trim is in, and if you were alive during the late 1960s, cars such as the Plymouth Sport Satellite convertible help you understand why.

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