Evidence of the influence of the "rocket age" on American automobiles. Chief designer Virg
The 325ci polyspherical V-8 was dubbed the "Red Ram" by Chrysler marketing executives. Not
It was 1945, and Harry Truman had just been sworn in as president and was quickly given the grievous prediction of the war in the Pacific if drastic measures weren't taken. So with a heavy heart, Truman gave the OK for the deployment of the hydrogen bombs, Fat Man and Little Boy, on the strategic cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima--and with two blinding flashes the world changed.
By the middle of the '50s, America was enjoying the bounty of post WWII. Living costs were low, homes were cheap, highways connected the nation's coasts, and jobs were plentiful. Japan was working hard to introduce their small appliances, electronics, toys, automobiles, clothing, and steel into the U.S. But twenty years later, it would be alleged that much of this government-subsidized imported steel was melted down from the wreckage of the two devastated Japanese cities. Testing proved that the smelting process for iron does eradicate all radioactive properties, but the bombed steel did suffer from high levels of iron (a natural oxidizer), which was notorious for causing premature rusting. Unfortunately, this subsidized steel was sold to the then-largest consumers of steel--the American automotive industry. Chrysler took it particularly hard and their reputation suffered with many automotive historians and enthusiasts.
In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower was re-elected for a second term, the economy was still climbing upward, jobs were abundant, rock `n' roll was dominating the airwaves, and the "rocket age" was in full swing with the Sputnik satellites launching in October and December.
Chrysler executive Tex Colbert bristled with pride as Chrysler, once known for their drab designs, lackluster sales, and mediocre performance, now dominated race tracks and appeared in more driveways than ever before. Much of this was attributed to corporate designer Virgil Exner. Virgil had perfected his signature tailfins from previous incarnations. He claimed the fin design was, in fact, functional, acting as a stabilizer at higher speeds, when in reality the design trend was more of a gimmick fueled by the nation's interest in space travel and exploration. The Chrysler, Dodge, De Soto, Plymouth, and Imperial lines all shared most of the same styling cues, including low beltlines, steep shark fins, and sleek two-door hardtops.
Chrysler's variety of powerplants was also impressive. The 375hp 392 Hemi was the champion of the lineup, and equally valuable motors were available, decreasing in cubic inches and horsepower with their cost.
Though designs remained slightly unchanged from the previous model, except for cleaner grilles, greater variations in trim and chrome packages, and a general gravitation towards quad headlights versus the previous dual, Chrysler saw a massive drop in sales overall. Chrysler's avant-garde electronic fuel-injection system was a failure, only coming equipped on 16 cars, most of which were swapped back to dual-quad carburetors by dealerships. Sales plummeted by nearly 50 percent. too much inner-brand competition among Plymouth, De Soto, and Chrysler existed. Dodge did remain as Chrysler's performance label, offering the most power in the smallest package amid a corporate gravitation away from the Hemi. In lieu of the semi-hemispherical headed plant, the 361 wedge-design V-8 was offered across the line. In addition, Dodge offered a polyspherical 325 V-8 that served as a potent entry level V-8 for most consumers, ranking in at 252 horses. Dodge's cleaner grille, available power, and sturdy everyman's styling, allowed Dodge to retain some status as it was passed up by higher-end Plymouth Furys and Chrysler 300s.
Optioned with the rare Custom Royal badging, this particular '58 Dodge convertible stands as an amazing testament to the artistry of these cars. Dodge, though labeled as Chrysler's low-cost performance line, was not beyond the niceties and amenities of its higher-end brethren. This Royal Custom came with the flashy push-button TorqueFlite three-speed automatic transmission that was in its second year of production. The interior was all but borrowed from an Imperial with power steering, power windows, a push-button transistorized radio, electronic clock, and padded dashpad. Chrysler was bent on offering the newest in technology in their automobiles and felt that electric power was the wave of the future. Chrysler vehicles offered the first electromechanical door locks, as well as an automatic speed control named Auto-Pilot, though not found on this particular drop-top. This Royal does offer twin swept-back antennas, as well as dual chrome exhaust tips, Solex tinted glass, dual staunch mirrors, and deluxe bumper guards, though all the acres of chrome upfront makes the idea of additional bumperettes seem unnecessary.
John lives in the middle of the rust belt in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, but somehow his '58 Dodge is spotless. There is not a speck of rust on this 50-year-old machine, which is pretty incredible considering the kind of steel it is crafted from, as well as being a 50-year-old convertible. In addition to this '58 Dodge, John owns a list of machines that would make any Mopar enthusiast drool: a '33 Chrysler Imperial four-door in all original paint, a '58 Dodge Custom Royal hardtop, a '58 Chrysler 300D convertible, a '70 Hemi 'Cuda, a '71 Dodge Challenger 340 convertible, an '89 Chrysler TC Maserati convertible, a '93 Viper R/T, a Viper GTS, and an '02 Plymouth Prowler.
An option for the previous model year, the quad headlight was made standard for 1958. gril
John, a Norfolk Southern locomotive engineer, has been around massive icons of American machinery his whole life, so when he spotted this gold-on-black convertible at the Chryslers at Carlisle show eight years ago, he wanted it, but the timing was not right. The sellers--a mother and son--explained their late husband/father had restored the car as best as he could without sacrificing most of its originality. John took their phone number home, but lost it.
Last year, John was walking into the Carlisle show grounds and saw the very same '58 Dodge on the back of a rollback bed truck. It seems the mother and son had held onto the car. For the past eight years, John thought he had missed his chance at getting the gorgeous convertible, but there it was right before him again. This time a deal was made, and the rare-optioned Dodge--a beautiful example of American craftsmanship--is now another trophy in his collection.
'58 Dodge Custom Royal Convertible
John Rudy • New Cumberland, PA
Mopar Power Engine: 325ci polyspherical Red Ram V-8. Capable of 252 hp, this powerplant features an unusually designed cylinder head that survived until the Max Wedge design in 1963. Though overshadowed by the 392 Hemi, the Red Ram was hailed as a superior option over the 392 Hemi, offering better torque responsiveness than the Hemi. Transmission: The year 1958 was the second year for the TorqueFlite 727 automatic; the gearbox was controlled by a dash-mounted push-button shifter arrangement made famous by late-'50s and early-'60s drag racers. Rearend: A Chrysler 8-3?4 Sure Grip with street-friendly gears. Horsepower & Performance: Factory rated at 252 ponies, the Custom Royal was not as potent as a 392-equipped Fury or 300D for the model year. It was viewed more as an economical powerplant, but it was more than capable of moving the big Royal down the highway.
Sure Grip Suspension: Chrysler's innovative suspension design broke new ground in 1957 and again in 1958. Utilizing front torsion bars, it allowed Chrysler vehicle's superior handling and steering responsiveness. The rear suspension uses a pair of semi-elliptical leaf springs. Power-assisted steering on this '58 makes for additional gains in handling and cornering. Brakes: Drums at all four corners, which given the vehicle's bulk, makes short-response stopping a little dicey. Wheels: Factory 14-inch steel rims with Lancer spinner hubcaps fit with plenty of room under the large wheelwells. Rubber: Standard white-wall reproduction tires, 7-1?2-inches wide. This car was meant to cruise the miracle mile, not hit the slalom.
High Impact Body: Though crafted out of inferior U.S. subsidized Japanese steel, this convertible has remained rust-free. The previous owner had undertaken a long restoration to bring this Dodge back to its previous luster with all possible original trim and chrome. Since the aftermarket hasn't jumped on these Mopars like the shoebox Chevrolets and Fords, the Custom Royal is pretty much still wearing all the factory badging. Paint: Before John Rudy got his hands on this machine, the original owner undertook the labor of restoring the '58 convertible. He opted to retain the originality of the Royal by repainting it in the original black with gold inserts. Interior: Since nobody is reproducing electroluminescent gauges, the original owner simply kept things as original as possible. The black and white vinyl seats are the same as the factory installed in 1958. The seats may sag a little where the driver sat, and the carpet may be a little worn in certain places, but it's still the original materials. With power windows, a transistor radio, push-button shifter, and nearly every other cushy comfort Dodge had available for the model year, it's more like driving a trendy New York condominium than an automobile.