Let's admit it, most of us are fans of the musclecar's golden era-1966 to 1971. This five-year period comprised the advent and demise of the Street Hemi, the Six Packs, the wing cars, the package cars, and the Rapid Transit and Scat Pack programs. The years prior to and following this horsepower-enriched period also featured many interesting vehicles. Rarely, however, do these machines garner the same level of attention, with the exception of the Max Wedge/Hemi race cars and certain luxury models.
Once in a while, however, you come across something that just seems different. Pictured here is a Dodge Custom Royal Lancer circa 1956. From a styling standpoint, it probably had nothing on the Charger or Challenger (though Virgil Exner took an Esquire magazine Design award for his '56 Chrysler Corporation lineup), and under the bonnet is an engine that displaces less than the 318 Poly. The flat white paint and hand-lettered racing info would be considered tacky in most restoration circles. But, what makes this car important is that it is the only D-500-1 NASCAR-type Dodge still known to exist in unaltered form. Moreover, the owner of this car, Tim Dupont of Golden, Colorado, actually drives it on the street occasionally.
To understand it all, one needs to go back to 1955, when Tim Flock took Carl Kiekhaefer's Chrysler 300s to the NASCAR Grand National Championship. Accordingly, Kiekhaefer had serious pull with President W.C. Newberg and the factory. With the December release of the D-500 Dodge street performance models (based on the Custom Royal and Coronet) for the '56 model year, plans were made to supplement the big NASCAR 300s with a special Dodge package. In early January 1956, Dodge Division announced an upgraded version called the D-500-1. This package consisted of additional severe-usage parts for the already stout D-500 cars. So Kiekhaefer, working in conjunction with Dodge, tooled up some very unique pieces for homologation purposes in circle track racing as part of this option list.
As built, the new Heavy Duty D-500 models came with a 315-inch Dodge D500 Hemi engine. This mill was set up with 9.25:1 compression, one WCFB Carter four-barrel carb, and rated at 260 horses. The D-500-1 Extra Heavy Duty release had an engine parts option that included a proposed cast-iron dual-carb intake and exhaust pieces. Due to porosity problems while casting, Dodge had to forgo doing the intakes itself. Given a Dodge part number, Kiekhaefer's Mercury Outboard manufacturing concern then quickly created an aluminum 2x4 inline intake for this engine (rumored to be approximately 75-100 pieces total, but at least 20 were required by NASCAR for that year's February beach race) that mounted two WCFBs and listed for a very hefty $425.50. A set of special-design four-bolt exhaust manifolds (quantity unknown) also came through the parts conduit with Dodge part numbers for this option on the D-500-1, and the 315-inch Hemi engines got hotter cam selections and a 211/42-inch exhaust system.
Test driver and developer Danny Eames used this basic package (at stock compression, not the NASCAR legal 10.0:1 configuration) to get a documented 276hp dyno reading, while other sources reported even higher numbers. Incidentally, this test, done on March 9, 1956, is the first recorded instance of these 211/42-inch exhaust items actually being used; correspondence between Eames, Chief Engineer Robert Engles and Dodge New Car Sales Manager Bert Carter dated February 2 (prior to Daytona) did not include this with Kiekhaefer 2x4 outfits. Indeed, the intakes were shipped to Volusia Motor Company in Daytona Beach and distributed by Eames and picked up by racers coming to the event. The exhaust manifolds mentioned in the D-500-1 dual-four package release letter of January 12, 1956, are not relisted in the later February 2 material, leading to the assumption that they were not ready yet.
Underneath, D-500-1 models received a new Maximum Duty Chassis, which was the Imperial line's heavy-duty suspension and handling components (about the only stock Dodge parts left were the special D-500 steering knuckle, standard tie-rods, and drag link). This also included larger Imperial brakes and wheel rims, and stronger rear-ends that could be had in ratios from 3.07 to an unreal 5.83.
The package worked well, to say the least. Eames took the NASCAR current U.S. production-car acceleration record at 81.78 and the Flying Mile record at a 130.57 average. The only thing that kept it from being the leader of the pack was Keikhaefer's own desire to keep the 300 in the limelight for another season (Buck Baker won the crown in a 300B). Nonetheless, the car would play a critical role in giving the Mercury Outboard's team a 16-race win streak during the year. It would also, quite ironically, give Dodge its final Grand National victory until 1960 when Jack Smith won an event at Martinsville, Virginia, late in the season. The cars were definitely the dominant players in short-track racing that season.
Meanwhile, the cars were getting thrashed on the drag side. Drivers Ed Lyons, Arnie "The Farmer" Beswick, and a handful of others were killers on the strip. Lyons went undefeated that year and took home the world's first-ever Super Stock crown at the ATAA World Series of Drag Racing in Cordova, Illinois, a class where the D-500-1 models took first, third, fourth, fifth, and seventh. In NHRA that year, all factory optional equipment cars were factored into the Gas Coupe/Sedan division; Beswick won C/G at the Safety Safari's Regional Drags in Oswego, Illinois, while Al Perrenond of Independence, Missouri, won that class at the NHRA Missouri Valley Regional Drags in Sioux City, Iowa. Lyons reportedly ran as quick as 14.1 with the package, amazing for the era.
The background on this example isn't completely clear. Tim, a landscape developer who plows Rocky Mountain snow in the winter, got off a cold night's work in 1993 and saw an ad for a "D-500 Dodge" in the morning paper. Despite the early hour (before 7 a.m.), he called the number and convinced the owner (a body shop man) to let him see the car right away.
"A friend of mine was with me," says Tim, "and he thought I was nuts when he saw this thing. It was pretty rough; the engine wouldn't idle and the body had sections of primer. But it was a real D-500, though, which I had wanted for a long time, and I left the little money I had with the owner as a deposit and went to go get the rest. By the time I got back, there was a whole crowd of people waiting to see the car and the phone was ringing off the hook!"
Truth be told, at that time, very little was known about this package, and Tim assumed he'd gotten a standard D-500 (which was rare enough) that somebody had swapped a '57 dual-quad intake onto. He drove the car for a few years, but eventually decided it was time to rebuild the engine. It was then that the car's uniqueness began to show, beginning with the aluminum (rather than steel) intake and huge-for-'56 exhaust manifolds. Then there was the 831/44 Chrysler 300 rear that featured Dodge spring perches, and the giant 12x2.5 Imperial brakes that had allowed the cars to be very efficient on short tracks, and were once said to be almost on par with those found on European sports cars of that era.
"As this went on, I began to realize that this was a very special car," says Tim. "Nobody had seen some of these parts before, even though they had factory numbers on them. Dennis Kennedy, who is one of the foremost experts on D-500s, actually flew out here from Ohio after I told him about these things. The exhaust manifolds were something that many people up to that time knew about but believed had never been created for production."
According to Chrysler Historical's build records, the car was a special-order Dodge created on May 18, 1956, and had been shipped to Standard Motor Company in Denver. Looking over the build card, it may have been scheduled as a power steering/power brake model, but on the running section of the card are delete codes for the power equipment and add codes opting for the manual. It is believed that the power steering was a mandatory delete due to the larger exhaust manifolds. Information is scant, however; there are several codes on the build sheet that nobody has been able to identify.
It has also been stated that the 2x4 induction system was probably in the trunk, as this installation voided the Dodge warranty according to one reliable source. Nonetheless, Dodge advertised its availability in a large D500 brochure after the March 9 test, and Dodge memos show Eames was dyno testing the setup into April with recommended jet changes and 10.0:1 compression heads. One factory publicity photo clearly shows the dual-quad setup and a NASCAR Purolator air cleaner on a new race car. A former Dodge engineer Tim spoke to several years ago recalled that he had done eight D500 2x4 intake installations at the factory. Regardless of who did what when, to get a special-order car like this pushed through, somebody needed pull with Highland Park.
How had the car survived? Tim only knows what the body-shop man told him at the time he bought it. Apparently, the car came from Idaho to Denver as the prize possession of an 18-year-old car enthusiast who bought it at a local auction by a former racer. The body-shop man's recollection was that the D-500-1 car had been one of several '50s Dodge race cars at the auction, but this was the one car that had not been raced heavily and was the only true survivor. The young man worked on the car for several months, getting the body ready for paint, but suddenly had to return to Idaho. He needed reliable wheels for this trip, so the body man swapped him a '66 Chevelle SS for the Dodge. Though his intention was to finish the job, after a few years, the body man finally just decided to sell it, and Tim got there first. Based on some of the options and visible changes (such as tucked-away rear wheel lips for tire clearance), it is possible that this car was used more for drag racing than circle track events, which is why it still remains intact.
Once the engine was out, the machine work was done by friends Maynard and Brian Mills at FloDyne Racing Engines in Denver, who specialize in circle-track work. The Mills were dedicated to helping get the car back on the road and double-checking and balancing the parts. Chris Nielson reground the cam, Comp springs were added, and a set of BSR pistons were put in the bores. This package is good for 5,800 rpm-quite a lot in '50s-era Hemi terms.
Tim has also done bearing replacement on the trans (a three-speed manual with overdrive), but it retains the original 11-inch B&B-type clutch. The trans is special in that it is stamped DSX, which apparently was the unit used for export taxicab with larger pinions and heavy-duty parts. He replaced the rear shocks and added the white paint and fictional racetrack lettering to it not long after he got it. Somebody had done minor reupholstery work to the seats (cloth inserts in the front seats), and Tim added new carpeting to replace an older non-OEM installation. A set of sportier deluxe Lancer Spinner hubcaps replaced the originals. Basically, however, the rest of the car is close to survivor status.
"When Dennis came out to see the car, he said it needed to be completely and totally restored," Tim recalls. "Then, a few weeks later, he called me back and said, 'You know, I've been thinking about this, and that car is so original, it should probably be left the way it is.' I agreed with that; it's very special in that regard."
The D-500-1 disappeared at the end of the '56 model year, and the unique D-500 cars were rated higher in horsepower but much heavier due to the '57 restyling. The D-500-1 Extra Heavy Duty option was superceded by a 354-inch 300B-powered D-501 package, but this did not have the balance and performance to make the numbers the original versions had. Arnie Beswick was back in Oldsmobiles (and Lee Petty was also there), Danny Eames took a job driving Thunderbirds for Ford, and Carl Kiekhaefer left the NASCAR world behind for good. Lurking in the near future was the AMA-mandated ban on racing involvement, meaning a D-500 car would have been out of the question anyhow. Thanks to Tim Dupont, this very unique performance machine is actually on the street.
A Symphony In D-MajorCruising around in cars as interesting as Tim Dupont's Dodge Custom Royal Lancer is not an opportunity one gets every day. The weather outside of Bandimere Speedway was less than perfect, but Tim agreed to take the car out on the I-470 Expressway so we could get a few action shots (he had driven, not trailered, the car to the show from nearby Golden). The bottom line was, we didn't get a ride this time due to the need to get the images shot, but thought you might like to hear some of his thoughts on the car.
"The first thing you need to remember is that this is a dual-quad Hemi car. What that means is that it doesn't have a whole lot off the line, even with the 4.10 gears. When I want to hear the engine or show someone the performance, I get up into Second gear, release the overdrive, and then punch it. It will pull very, very hard through the rpm range as those two carbs begin moving air."
The factory offered a list of NASCAR-legal parts for the D-500-1 during the course of the model run. One was a 1.55 gear cluster to replace the factory 1.68 Second-gear ratio, which was probably too close to the first gearset. On the parts sheet, it states this replacement set is a Mopar-available OE part for a '41 Plymouth crashbox! Obviously, Engineering was figuring out how to get the most out of the package. The optional set was left in the trunk for the new owner to install.
"The three-speed with overdrive is an interesting combination. It's like having two three-speed transmissions, because the OD works with every gear."
In terms of handling, Tim has owned other '50s-era Mopars, so he really knows the difference the Imperial parts make. Not that he's looking to take the car up the Pike's Peak Hill Climb, but the D-500-1 is a much better handling car than, say, a Desoto or similar Coronet from the same era. When Tim does get the car out on the open road, it probably looks like just another half-restored beater making its way across the Front Range to most onlookers; little do they know...
Wait, I Thought That...The '56 D-500 cars have been among the hardest to understand. This is due in part to the confusing published reports at the time, and the variety of releases done. Research by Dennis Kennedy, Karl Pippart, and others have given a clearer picture of what really happened. Regardless, the D500 was always considered a separate Dodge model using existing body designs, and was priced accordingly. Hopefully, the following timeline will give an idea of how it went.
Nov. 7, 1955: Standard new '56 Dodge models announced.
Dec. 22, 1955: New D-500 option (D63) announced for Custom Royal and Coronet.
Jan. 12, 1956: D-500-1 optional competition (D63-D-550-1) package announced.Jan. 29, 1956: Original D-500 Heavy Duty can now be purchased in four-doors and wagons by special order only (police units).
Mar. 9, 1956: New D500 Special announced, available in all models and body styles. This is a Light Duty D-500 without the suspension changes or D-500-1 optional equipment. D500 Hemi, dual exhaust, and 12-inch CenterPlane brakes left as standard equipment.
The D-500-1 was not an option, but an actual special-order car created for racing by the engineering department. The various marketing attempts done by Dodge's sales department to broaden the D-500's availability diluted this fact. It remains, in the minds of many, the first true package musclecar from Detroit, featuring horsepower, durability, and safety upgrades.
SourcesDupont paper collection; Dennis and Karen Kennedy, "A Winner: 1956 Dodge D500 Not Forgotten," WPC newsletter; Karl Pippart III, "Red Rams and Swept Wings," Mopar Muscle, Dec. 1998. Drag Racing Pictorial, Fawcett Books, 1957. Richard Petty, Grand National, Berkley Books, 1971. Lyle Engel, The Complete Book of Stock-Bodied Drag Racing, Scholastic Books, 1970.