Back when American-owned car companies built American cars for American people, Chrysler had a brand that it sold through all three of its dealer networks as a competitor in the "low price" field: Plymouth. From their 1928 introduction onward, Plymouths were known for their solid engineering, dependability, and value for the dollar.

Come the early 1950s, when it came to styling and performance, Plymouth was known for...solid engineering, dependability and value for the dollar. They didn't have the rap that six-cylinder Chevys had then--that a good horse could beat a Chevy, at least for the first mile.

The "low-priced" marketing strategy changed when the 1955 lineup reached the nation's Dodge-Plymouth, De Soto-Plymouth and Chrysler-Plymouth dealers. For once, styling was clean and contemporary, from the highest-priced Imperial all the way down to the "most-affordable" Plymouth. But there was another surprise in store for Plymouth-its first-ever V-8 engine. Thanks to the "Forward Look," All Chrysler brands showed huge sales gains in 1955 over 1954, especially Plymouth.

But the crew in Highland Park didn't rest on its laurels. They had even-more-radically restyled cars in the works for 1957, and a few tricks up their sleeves for the '56s. In Plymouth's case, that meant a new four-door hardtop body style, 12-volt electrical systems, improved door latches, pushbutton controls on the dash for the available PowerFlite automatic transmission, a designed-and-engineered-by-Plymouth V-8 (instead of the one "borrowed" from Dodge for 1955), and-most noticeably-the rear quarter panels were sharply creased at their top, into a pair of fins that made the '56 Plymouth look much longer than the '55, though in reality the '56 was only one inch longer.

But that wasn't all, especially when Ma Mopar liked to introduce "spring specials" with new colors and features to bring potential buyers into the showrooms. For 1956, the "special" that wore a Plymouth badge was the Fury, an Eggshell White two-door hardtop that wore lots of eye-grabbing gold anodized trim inside and out, had full instrumentation on its dash-or, at least a very good set of gauges by 1956 standards-high-zoot upholstery (with gold threads) covering its "chair-high" seats, and a high-horsepower version of the new "Hy-Fire" Plymouth V-8. Made by Chrysler Canada Limited, this 303-cubic-inch "Polyspherical" engine delivered 240 horsepower in stock form, or 270 hp when fitted with Ma Mopar's "High Performance Package," Plymouth's first-ever power kit (comprising two four-barrel carburetors on an aluminum intake, special air cleaners, a high-performance camshaft and lifters, a hand choke kit, plus all needed hardware) that joined the option list in the spring of 1956.

Instantly, the car that had been the (perceived) favorite of old maid school teachers and librarians, now looked like something you'd see Playboy Magazine's "Playmate of the Month" driving. The Fury-which sat an inch lower than "regular" Plymouths-helped Plymouth hang on to fourth place in the U.S. sales race in 1956 (trailing Chevy, Ford, and Buick), even though its sales were down 37 percent from 1955. Sales were down for just about every U.S. car maker that year, following a record-smashing year in 1955.

Bob Garman's '56 is one of those first-year Furys. "A friend of mine in high school, back in 1956, had one of these things," he recalls from his Oak Hills, California, home. "I told my wife, 'If I ever find one, I want to buy it.' I finally found this one up in Big Bear. I basically bought it on the spot, because I wanted a '56 Fury, and you don't see them for sale. Once in a while you do, but usually when you see any early Furys for sale they're '57s or '58s, not '56s."