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."
What really got Bob's attention was the more-potent powerplant than the Poly under its hood-a 392-inch, Chrysler "FirePower" Hemi! "The Hemi's been in it for probably better than 25 years," Bob says. "It came from Indiana, and it's my understanding that it was a 1/4-mile racer at one time." That also explains the low gears in the swapped-in 8 3/4-inch rearend that made the Hemi sing a little too much. "It had 3.94 rear gears in it when I bought it, so it was not a freeeway car at that time," Bob recalls. "Since then, I've changed them, because I like to drive it. So, I put 3.23s in it." He also re-wired the entire car and updated its new-for-1956 twelve-volt electrical system.
He also had to make a sheetmetal change when an unobservant truck driver crunched the Fury's left front fender and bright trim. This led Bob into the used-parts business. "I started calling all over the country," he says. "I would get hold of some guy in Ohio, and he'd say, 'I don't have any, but this guy in Florida has some.' He'd give me that number, and I'd call him. 'No, I don't have any, but a guy up in New Jersey....' I must have made a dozen of those phone calls, and I didn't find any. Finally, I found a guy near San Francisco who had a whole bunch of parts, and he wanted to sell it all. I said, 'Is it in pretty good shape?' and he said, "Yes, some of it-it's original, I have some other stuff, and I have some other Furys, if you want any other parts.' I said, 'Can you meet me tomorrow?' I jumped in my truck, drove up there, and I bought everything that he had." He wound up with enough chrome and anodized-gold trim to do a dozen Furys, selling off the excess after he got his car fixed. "But, I have new gold trim that I'm still trying to sell, but it's in sheets. All you have to do is get your tin snips out and cut it in the pattern that you want."
Another noticeable change is inside the Fury's cabin. Bob had the seats reupholstered with the exact style of "Jacquard-weave" cloth-with one big difference. "Instead of using vinyl, I used leather-the same color and everything," says Bob. "I went to my upholsterer and asked, 'Can you match this?' and he said, 'Yeah.' Then, my wife said, 'I'd sure like to have leather in there instead of vinyl,' and he said, 'Sure, I can match the color to the original.' He also upholstered the trunk.
Some of the "bells and whistles" that Bob's Fury has includes its original dash with a factory 6,000 rpm tach, plus later additions like air conditioning and four-wheel disc brakes. "It didn't stop before," Bob says of its OEM 11-inch drum brakes. "I got tired of that. You had to drive three miles ahead of yourself, then somebody would cut in front of you-that was terrible. For the front, we actually got a Chrysler kit and modified it. In back, because it has the 8 3/4-inch rear end, those were pretty much bolt-on. Now, it stops!"
And it goes. "It's a very comfortable car," Bob says when asked how it drives and rides. "Before I changed the rear gears, the engine was screaming at 60 mph with those 3.94s in it. Now, since I changed them, it's taching out at about 2,200-2,300 rpm, and you can cruise along at 70 miles an hour." But there's one original item that takes some getting used to in the 21st Century: the pushbutton controls for the Fury's PowerFlite automatic. "The frustrating thing about that is it doesn't have a Park," Bob says. "You have to learn how to drive all over again, when you drive with that. That's because you have to stop, put your emergency brake on, then you put it into Neutral."
One other thing Bob's noticed about his Fury: The attention it draws. "There's no 'Plymouth' marking on the back of the car-all it says is 'Fury' and 'PowerFlite,' and that's it," he says. "So, you can see people when they pass you, they're turning around and looking at the front of it, because they don't know what kind of a car it is." He adds that, on the show field, a lot of people come up at car shows and say, "You know, I've never seen one of these cars-I've only seen pictures of it."
If you're looking to picture any Exner-era Mopar in your collection-like Bob's '56 Fury-he has a word of caution. "One of the biggest problems that you'll have is finding parts," he says. "There's a couple of junkyards around, including one outside Phoenix, and all they handle is old Mopars, and they've got everything in the world. That's where I got my replacement fender. The guys were very nice to work with, and we did everything over the phone. You have to make friends and find out where these places are."
'56 Plymouth Fury
Owned by: Bob Garman, Oak Hills, California
- Engine: If the original 240hp 303-cubic-inch Poly was good enough, the 392-inch Chrysler Hemi that's under the hood now is even better.
- Transmission: The original two-speed PowerFlite automatic, which Ma Mopar also used in Hemi-powered '56 Chryslers.
- Rearend: A previous owner swapped the original one for a later 8 3/4-inch one, which Bob updated with a 3.23 rear gear set replacing the 3.94s that were there when he bought it.
Just like in '56: Front kingpins/coil springs and rear leafs. ('56 was the last year before front torsion bars went in company-wide.)
Brakes: OEM 11-inch drums gave way to modern four-wheel discs.
Wheels and Tires: Instead of the stock 15x5 1/2-inch wheels (and wheel covers shared with the '56 De Soto Adventurer) and bias-ply tires, Bob's Fury wears billet Budnik wheels on each corner, shod with 70-series Nitto radial-ply tires.
Original '56 Plymouth two-door hardtop body had crash damage repaired before new or better-condition chrome and gold-anodized lauminum trim went on.
Paint: Eggshell White, the same color that all '56-'58 Furys came in.
Interior: "Chair high" seats now wear leather with original-style "Jacquard weave" cloth inserts. Dash features full instrumentation, including 0-6000-rpm tach, plus a Mercury air conditioner under the dash.