The Plymouth Savoy cars of the 1950s and 1960s
The Plymouth Savoy debuts in 1951 as a Plymouth Concord model
The Plymouth Savoy made its debut in 1951, as a sub-model of the Concord; it was a premium version of the popular Suburban wagon. 1951 was the first year of unique and distinct car names for every Plymouth, including Concord, Cambridge, and Cranbrook, vs the prior alphanumeric codes and Deluxe / Special Deluxe schemes. Yet, all Plymouths were essentially the same car with different levels of trim; they even shared a single engine.
The basic design of the car was conventional; the welded steel body sat on an arc-welded frame with double-channel box-section side rails and five crossmembers, with the convertible having an X-member design. The floor pan was channeled and ribbed, and box-section reinforcements were provided around window and door openings. A baked enamel finish completed the package, with the final car tipping the scales at around 3,300 pounds.
The suspension used springs, similar to the Ford and General Motors vehicles of the time, while the rear sat on leaf-springs. Steering used a worm and ball bearing roller gear, with symmetric idler arm linkage and rubber-isolated pivots; ball-joint steering knuckles aided handling.
The Savoy’s first engine was the Powermaster-6, which carried over largely unchanged from 1950. Features of the dressier Savoy version of the Concord wagon model included chrome trim around the windshield and on the window divider strip. Additional brightwork was applied to the beltline areas, front and rear, on the sides, as well as rear fender stone shields (stainless steel) and tailgate hinges. The dress-up package was rounded out by a set of full wheel covers and whitewall tires, but due to Korean War time restrictions (which hit chrome especially hard), not all options were available at times.
The cost of the 1951 Concord Savoy was a hefty $2,182, and the vehicle tipped the scales at 3,184 pounds. Though the model was called the Concord Savoy, it used the Suburban model body and seating layout.
The Plymouth Savoy gets nameplates
In 1952 Savoy became somewhat more distinct, officially becoming a separate model, though it was still a dressed up Suburban wagon. Along with its brethren in the Plymouth line-up, the Savoy model could lay claim to some 46 improvements, which included a newly designed engine combustion chamber; improved launching due to changes in the transmission; better brakes, shocks, wipers, and washers; and an overdrive gear, added in spring 1952.
Individual production figures for the Savoy were lumped in with the overall Suburban wagons, and therefore the only production total available, 76,520, is a combination of Savoy and Suburban production figures. The 1952 Savoy listed for $2,287, and weighed in at 3,165 pounds.
The Savoy was moved up into the higher class Cranbrook series in 1953, as the Concord was dropped; the Savoy used Belvedere (the hardtop version) interior styling, with better quality materials for the upholstery and trim. Brightwork was essentially that of the Cranbrook model. A two-tone option was offered, which gave the buyer the choice of a white roof, and solid lower body coloring. The fuel filler cap was relocated from the rear, to the left rear quarter panel. The base model sold for $2,187, and weighed 3,170 pounds. The Savoy wagon used the Cranbrook interior.
Tip-Toe shifting was offered for the 1953 model year; it was what many have come to know as Plymouth’s Fluid Drive Transmission and was not an automatic transmission. There were 12,089 wagon models produced by Plymouth for 1953 across all models, with no breakout for the Savoy.
The Savoy breaks out of the wagon
Chart courtesy of the Plymouth Bulletin
In 1954 the Savoy was shuffled around again, as the Cambridge and Cranbrook were renamed. It was $5 less costly; and it became a distinct model in the Plymouth Division, positioned just above the base model (the Plaza), and still relying on the flathead six. (All Plymouths in these years were essentially the same vehicles with different trim and features).
For the first time, the Savoy was now offered in a Sedan model, called the Club Sedan, and as a coupe. In base model form, the Savoy Club Coupe sold for $1,835, and weighed 2,986 pounds. Options included a two -tone paint scheme, with the roof being the lighter color; a fully automatic transmission (the 2-speed Powerflite); power steering; and in March of 1954, power brakes.
The Club Sedan production total for 1954 was 25,396 units, and the Club Coupe drew 30,700 sales. Overall, though, 1954 was not a good year for Chrysler Corp, nor the Plymouth Division, which suffered nearly a 40% drop in sales.
1955 saw a dramatic change in styling for Chrysler products, and Plymouth being among the winners. The new Forward Look styling, created by Virgil Exner, put Plymouth back in 4th place for 1955, and gave the Savoy a fresh new look. The coupe was dropped, but the Club Sedan remained and was joined by a four-door sedan; the Club Sedan accounted for 74,880 units sold, and the four-door Sedan accounted for 162,741 units sold.
The brakes were good, the front drums increased to 11 inches, the rears remaining at ten. Power brakes were an option, as are air conditioning, power windows and power seats, but all were rare on Plymouths.
Somewhat controversial was the new dashboard, which put two gauges in front of the passenger in order to achieve symmetry; and which featured a shifter built right into the dashboard. While dashboard-mounted shifters would be used in the 21st century, modern ones were not placed behind the steering wheel, a somewhat awkward location. Customer complaints would have an effect in 1956.
In 1956, the Savoy models added a suffix to the P series model designation, becoming P-28 for the six cylinder models, and P-29 for the eight cylinder model. In the V-8 offerings, the 180 horsepower, 270 cubic inch V -8 became the standard V-8 offering for the Plaza and Savoy models. Once again, the time worn Flathead six was the base engine offering in Plymouth models.
One could also order a Hi -Fi Record Player, if they so chose to do so. 1956 saw a new 12 volt
electrical system in Chrysler product cars, and the Powerflite 2-speed automatic was back again as an option,
but now it was controlled by pushbuttons, a feature that would last until 1963.
Models for 1956 were the Savoy Sport Club Coupe, the Club Sedan, and the four-door Sedan. The Sport Club Coupe was a Hardtop, in base model trim, selling for $2,233, weighing 3,275 pounds, and sold in both the six and V-8 versions, with 16,473 units sold. The Club Sedan listed for $2,086 in base trim, and sold 57,927 units for that year.
The six cylinder Savoys had a horizontal bar through the rear trunk medallion, and the V-8 models had a V emblem on the Hood, and a V through the Trunk Medallion. Once again though, the four-door outsold all other Savoy models, bringing in 151,762 orders for the 1956 model year. The price for the base model Savoy four-door was $2,129, and it weighed 3,295 pounds.
A major feature change for 1956 was a dashboard redesign; while the basic appearance and construction was the same, gauges which had been placed in front of the passenger were replaced by heater controls (maintaining the symmetry), and two gauges were replaced by warning lights so they could fit within the design. The result was a car that presented information as needed, but made it harder for lone drivers to adjust the heat. The automatic transmission control was moved from its awkward on-dash, behind-the-wheel location to pushbuttons on the left; while the mechanical buttons were reliable, many found it hard to adjust to the new position.
A major restyling took place across the Chrysler product line-up for 1957, and a brand new front suspension system was employed, called Torsion Bar Suspension. So successful was this new front suspension system that it remained the mainstay of Chrysler front suspension design, until well into the 1970s.
The 1957 Savoy and its companions jettisoned the outmoded styling that had characterized Plymouth since 1950, and shot forward three years — “Suddenly, it’s 1960,” claimed the ads, and for good reason. GM’s famed styling boss, Harley Earl, was called onto the carpet when the Plymouth catalogue arrived at General Motors’ headquarters. Ford was caught equally off guard.
Chrysler Corporation had completely changed its car lines, dropping the bodies that had been brought out for 1955 and replacing them with the designs heralded as Virgil Exner’s best. Unfortunately, the cars were rushed into production, and while they sold extremely well, they also made many enemies and permanently destroyed Chrysler’s reputation for quality and reliability. Rust was everywhere, parts broke off, and customers were lost. Chrysler would have been much better off in the long run had the 1957s bombed in the marketplace.
1957 was a major year for other reasons; not only did Chrysler regain styling leadership and lose its reliability reputation, but a new suspension system appeared which would keep Chrysler on top in handling until the mid-1970s. This was the torsion-bar suspension, a unique approach to a system on some high-end cars, including Packard and some European imports, but never on a mass-production, mass-market car.
The system, including redesigned rear springs, was called Torsion-Aire. It was carried through, with numerous tuning changes, into the 1980s, finally disappearing in 1989 with the last Chrysler Corporation rear-drive (and, for that matter, the last V8-powered) cars. The system allowed owners to easily raise and lower the front suspension, but more importantly improved both ride and handling. Critics proclaimed Plymouth and other Chrysler brands to be the handling champs in their classes for years to come.
1957 was also the debut of the all-important TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which opened up Plymouth to many new buyers who rejected both manual transmissions and the two-speed PowerFlite. As if to show that Chrysler was on a roll, the TorqueFlite dominated automatic transmissions for the next two decades, and was sold to both American Motors and to high-line European makes; technology from the transmission was reported licensed to Ford as well. The TorqueFlite would quickly earn a reputation for durability and efficiency which remains to this day, allowing automatic-equipped drag racers to win against manual-transmission cars.
Other new items for 1957 included a longer wheelbase for the Suburban model wagons. The sedans were 118 inch wheelbase, and the wagons were 122 inches. The Savoy was now offered as a Club Sedan, four-door Sedan, two-door and four-door Hardtop model. All were available with the Flathead six, and a 301 cubic inch V-8 was available in the Savoy models, in either a 2-bbl version, or a 4-bbl version. The 2-bbl V-8 was rated at 215hp, and the 4 -bbl V-8 was rated at 235hp. For 1957, the Savoy again remained a step up level from the more pedestrian Plaza mode l. The Club Sedan production for 1957, was 55,590, the cost in base trim was $2,364, and the coupe weighed 3,335 pounds. The 2-dr Hardtop Savoy sold 31,373 units, cost 2,329, and weighed 3,335 pounds. The four-door Hardtop Savoy accounted for only 7,601 units porduced, sold for $2,417 in base model trim, and weighed in at 3,480 pounds. The production leader for the 1957 model year in the Savoy model, was the four-door Sedan, which sold 55, 590 units, sold for 2,364, and weighed 3,340 pounds. The V -8 models carried a distinguishing V emblem on both front Fenders, just ahead of the wheels.
For 1958, there were few apparent changes, and they were largely to address problems. Quality was dramatically improved, as it had been through the 1957 model year. The lower bumper pan was replaced by a lower grille matching the upper section, and real dual headlamps were built in, with the parking lamps moving to a small spot above the twin headlamps.
While 1958 wasn’t a banner year again for car manufacturers, Plymouth did manage to hang on to its 3rd place sales position in the industry. The Savoy was back again, offering a 2-dr Sedan, a 2-dr Hardtop, a 4- dr Sedan, and a four-door Hardtop. Engine choices were the carry over Flathead six, and the 318 V -8. The 2-dr Sedan sold 17, 624 units, was priced at $2,362 without any options, and weighed in at 3,360 pounds. There were 19,500 2-dr Hardtop Savoys built, which listed at $2,436 with the V -8, no figures available for six cylinder versions, if any were produced. The four-door Sedan Savoy accounted for 67, 933 units produced, was priced at $2,413 with the V-8, and weighed in at 3,400 pounds. The four-door Hardtop version of the Savoy, sold only 5,060 units, was priced at 2,507, and weighed in at 3,475 pounds.
1959 saw the Savoy become the base model in the Plymouth camp, with the Plaza having been discontinued. The base engine was the unchanged Flathead six, which after 1959, would no longer be offered in any Plymouth model. V-8 engines included the 318 again, in 2 -bbl and 4-bbl versions, along with a Golden Commando V-8 option, referred to as the Gold Commando 395, a reference to its 395 f oot pounds of torque it developed. Transmission offerings went from a 3 -spd manual, a 2-spd Powerflite automatic, and a 3-spd Torqueflite automatic. Also available were swivel front seats, headlight dimmer, and a self dimming Rearview Mirror. Savoy offerings included the 2-dr Business Coupe, accounting for only 1,051 units produced, selling for $2,143 and weighing in at 3,130 pounds, the Savoy 2-dr Sedan, which sold 46,979 units, at a base price for the V-8 version of $2,352, and weighing 3,425 pounds , and yet again the top seller, the Savoy four-door Sedan, which had a production total of 84,274 units, and equipped with a V -8, was priced at $2,402 list in base model trim, weighing 3,390 pounds with the V -8. Basic options were Power Steering, Power Brakes, and Automatic Transmission.
1960 saw the Savoy occupying the entry level position in the Plymouth Division when it came to retail sales, replacing the low-end Plaza. The Savoy would remain in this position until the end of the model’s existence, with the exception of the compact Valiant (once it was made into a Plymouth, instead of being a standalone brand).
Brand new for 1960 was the Slant-Six, which was developed for a few reasons. First, Chrysler had been working on an all new compact model, called the Valiant, and the company wanted a fresh new engine for that model, not too mention for the rest of their 1960 models offering a six. The old flathead was getting left in the dust by the competition, and it just didn’t lend itself to the new styling Chrysler wanted to employ for the Valiant, a lower hood line.
V-8 engines now came in 318, 383, 361 and the Golden Commando 395 version. Another first for Plymouth in 1960 was the use of unitized body construction, and in the six cylinder full size models, the automatic transmission had an aluminum case. 1960 was also the last year for generators in the full sized Chrysler product line -up, which included the Plymouth Savoy.
The Savoy came basically in two forms for 1960, the 2-door, and 4-door sedans, no hardtops this model year. There were 26,820 2-dr Savoys built, they sold for $2,379 in base model trim, with a V-8, and weighed 3,490 pounds. The four-door Savoy came in with a total of 51, 384 units built, sold for a list of $2,429 in base trim, with a V-8, and weighed 3,500 pounds. My 1960 Plymouth four-door Savoy, with a slant six and Torqueflite automatic, listed for $2,675, and my Dad paid $2,100 for the car at the time of purchase on June 13, 1960.
For 1961, the Savoy would still only be offered as a sedan, with either two or four doors; it was positioned above the commercial Fleet Series. Under 19,000 two-doors sold, with under 45,000 four-doors. The four door weighed 3,465 pounds; pricing started at $2,381 with a V8 two-door. The PowerFlite was now history, with only the Torqueflite carrying on. (The following chart is from Plymouth.)
In 1962, the Savoy returned with a wagon, two-door sedan, and four-door sedan. 12,710 wagons were sold with a starting price of $2,717, and 3,390 pounds of heft. 18,825 two-doors and 49,777 four-doors were sold in 1962, with engines carried over: the Slant-Six, 318, and Sonoramic V-8. The transmission offerings were the 3 -speed manual, and 3-spd Torqueflite automatic. The lineup stayed the same for 1963, with the 361 or 383 V8 available in addition to the 318 and slant six. Four door production rose somewhat, while wagons and two-doors remained fairly constant. Options included power steering and brakes, and the rare air conditioning, which may not actually have been installed in any Savoy.
1964 was the Savoy’s last year; it was little changed from 1963 and had the same models and engines, except that the brand new 273 V8, designed to fit the compact Valiant/Barracuda, was now available, as was a four-door floor-shift manual transmission. The two door, with a higher production of 21,326 units, started at $2,332 with V8, at 3,205 lb; the four-door sold 51,024 units, starting at $2,388 and 3,210 pounds; and the six and nine passenger wagons sold 12,401 and 3,242 units respectively, with the six passenger starting at $2,728 and the nine-passenger at $2,829. The nine passenger wagon was a hefty 3,600 pounds.
The Savoy model enjoyed a 13 year model run, starting out as a sub-model of the Concord for 1951, and graduating into a model series of its own in 1954. Like many Chrysler Corporation vehicles, its positioning was not always consistent; and it was dropped while still moderately popular. By 1964, though, the Valiant was far and away Plymouth’s big seller.