Dodges of 1955: Looking back at the Forward Look
I suppose that writing about your favorite car is as easy as talking about yourself. In the past fourteen years of 1955 Dodge ownership I have accumulated a rich collection of literature and other information about the 1955 Dodge, a car for which I personally have a great deal of admiration. Here, then, is a close look at Dodge's high watermark in styling for the 1950s.
Virgil Exner and styling
1955 was the year of a complete styling turn-around for Chrysler. Virgil Exner had more influence on this styling renaissance than any other single individual at Chrysler.
Exner is a story in and of himself, serving Loewy staff (1938-1946), Studebaker styling (1946- 1949), head of advanced styling at Chrysler (1949-1952), and finally director of styling at Chrysler (1953-1961). The Loewy group at Studebaker included such styling all-stars as John Bird (went to GM), Ernie Barns, Jack Aldrich, Holden Koto (all went to Ford), and John Reinhart (went on to Packard). Exner brought years of experience with him when he arrived at Chrysler. The Exner-designed 1952 Imperial Parade Phaeton served as the styling prototype for the 1955 models.
Following World War II, the American car-buying public was purchasing everything on wheels. This boom in sales caused K. T. Keller to believe that Chrysler cars were properly designed (big on the inside, small on the outside). In reality, Chrysler was successful in spite of itself. Sales in 1953 began to tell the bad news and by 1954 car sales were so bad that some new Chryslers were boot-legged onto used car lots just to keep sales from flickering out completely. Because of production lead time, Exner was restricted to dabbling with ornamentation on the 53 and 54 models while preparing for the big year - 1955.
Part of the preparation for 1955 was a Tex Colbert $250 million, one hundred year loan from Prudential. This money was used to integrate production processes, buy new plants, and install automated equipment. The entire Chrysler management structure was overhauled to form divisions that would be mildly competitive with each other. Colbert and Keller called in Virgil Exner and his "Forward Look." Chrysler called it the "Hundred Million Dollar Look," and the result was a dramatic increase in sales with styling years ahead of the competition.
Exner worked primarily on the Imperial, Chrysler, and DeSoto while Maury Baldwin designed the 1955 Dodge. There are enough similarities in these designs to convince me of an Exner influence: split grilles, sweep spear side trim, windshield shape and incline, rear overhang, and general body proportions to name a few. It is also interesting to note that the Dodge grille is very close to that of the 53 Studebaker, designed by Bob Bourke under Lowey. Since Exner was at Studebaker during an earlier design period, it appears to be possible that both the 55 Dodge and the 53 Studebaker grilles have a common lineage.
Body and models
The 1955 Dodge was a totally new car with 120 inch wheelbase and length of 212.1 inches (6.6 inches longer than the 1954 Dodge). The V8 engines were bigger at 270 cubic inches and a polysphere was added to complement the Hemi. A 230 cubic inch six powered the economy Coronet line. The flair-fashioned Dodge had a wraparound windshield and very clean styling lines.
There were ten body styles and three series: D55-1 Coronet V8 (D56-1 Coronet six cylinder) D55-2 Royal V8, and D53-3 Custom Royal V8. The basic body styles were: two door sedan, four door sedan, two door hardtop, two door wagon, four door wagon, and two door convertible. Lancer trim, introduced at mid-year, and the La Femme, expanded the body styles to a total of ten. All hardtops and convertibles were called Lancers, and a little bit of confusion in identifying the various models creeps into the picture.
1955 Dodge Coronet
The Coronets are the easiest to spot. All Coronet cars have the script "Coronet" on the front or rear fenders. The Coronet wagon has the script "Suburban" on the rear fender in lieu of "Coronet." The two door hardtops are Coronet Lancers, but merely have "Coronet" on the front fenders. Body styles are: two door hardtop (V8 only), four door sedan (V8 or 6), two door sedan (V8 or 6), two door wagon (V8 or 6), and four door wagon (V8 or 6). The four door Suburban was also sold.
1955 Dodge Royal and Custom Royal
The next step up are the Royals. All Royal models have the script "Royal" on the front or rear fenders. The Royal wagon has the script "Sierra" on the rear fender in lieu of "Royal." The two door hardtops are Royal Lancers and may have either "Royal" (early model year) or "Royal Lancer" (middle and late model year) on the front fenders. Body styles are: two door hardtop, four door sedan, and four door wagon. The polysphere V8 was standard on all Royals, the six was not available.
The flagships of the Dodge line are the Custom Royals. The body styles are: two door hardtop, four door sedan, and two door convertible. The early model year two door hardtops have "Royal Lancer" on the front fenders; the middle and late model year have an additional "Custom" medallion on the front fenders. The same holds true for the convertibles. The four door sedan has "Royal" on the rear fender with a "Custom" medallion (early model year) or "Royal Lancer" and a "Custom" medallion on the front fender (middle and late model year) along with other Lancer trim. If it sounds like the early model year Custom Royal Lancer and the late model year Royal Lancer two door hardtops are similar, you are correct. However, the Custom Royal Lancer has chrome rear fins, similar in appearance to those on the 1954 Dodge Royal. These fins are not on the Royal Lancers or the Coronet Lancers. The Custom series also has unique taillight bezels and backup light bezels plus a deluxe interior. The fender fins and sweep spear side trim were added to the late model year Custom Royal four door sedan trim package.
The La Femme
The La Femme is a special trim option with Heather Rose and Sapphire White color combinations. A matching cape, boots, umbrella, shoulder bag, and floral tapestry-like fabrics are the feminine niceties available with this Custom Royal package. There are compartments built into the back of each front seat for stowing all of this gear. This model is not so unusual when one considers the frequency of women, and women drivers, in the 55 Dodge sales literature. The hidden message seems to be "this car is easy to drive" and "this ear is for both husband and wife." My grandmother tooled around town in my 55 when it was new, and my wife just loves to drive it (at least that is what her friends tell me).
Paint and trim
1955 was the year for some very gaudy paint combinations. The Studebaker Speedster was a classic example. Dodge teetered on the brink of bad taste with a green exterior and yellow interior combination, but never had clashing primary colors on the exterior. Surprisingly, metallic colors pre-date 1955 by at least five years, so there are some metallics in the Dodge color lineup. There are thirteen basic colors from which to choose. There are sixteen two-tone and sixteen three-tone color combinations to make a total of 45 different exterior color schemes. The two-tone will have the top and taillight housings one color, with the rest of the car the other color, or the top, hood, trunk, and taillight housings will be one color while the fenders, doors, and front would be the other color. Within the three-tone combinations, the upper color and the insert color could be swapped, adding an additional 15 color combinations. Along with the variations in the two-tones, the total number of color schemes is 76. A car with one of these 31 variations may appear to be a repaint as not all of the trim was off of the car when the factory varied the color scheme.
Interior colors are blue, green, black, or yellow. Seats are covered in Jacquard fabrics in these colors with Cordagrain on seat backs and other areas of wear. Cordagrain is a vinyl material that matches the headlining and dash insert color as well as the upper color on the door panels. Interior panels are two-tone, with the Custom Royal series using chrome trim and chrome insert panels to separate the two colors. The rubber trim around the rear window is painted to match the headliner in the Custom Royal series (1 did not know this in 1970 when I took the rubber paint off in an attempt to make the interior look stock). Sales literature shows the dash insert color appearing on the glove box chrome handle, but I have never seen one like this. The glove box handle does not have an appropriate place to paint the insert color, so this may have been simply an artist's rendering like so many details in the literature. The sales literature also shows the insert color of the taillight housings and rear stone deflector extending up to the stainless steel trim just below the trunk opening. In all of the cars that I have seen the insert color is on the taillight housings, rear stone deflector, and top only. This is very critical when restoring a three-tone paint scheme.
Late model year 55 Dodges will have a plate with paint and trim codes mounted on the cowl under the hood in the engine compartment. The early model year cars did not have this plate, and this plate is not shown or described in the 55 Dodge shop manual. However, the plate is described as the body number plate in the owners manual. The serial number is on a separate plate on the left door jam.
The engine serial number provides the enthusiast with a better idea as to when the ear was built. For example, a Custom Royal four door sedan, serial 34934003 with engine D553-80369, is car number 194,003 with engine 79,369. This car was sold in September, 1955. Since all V8 models were built with the same style of serial numbers, the engine number is the car was built in the series. of car 34934003 looks like this:
The 1955 Dodge accessory list is quite impressive. The accessories on my Dodge are marked with an asterisk.
1955 Dodge Accessories
- Power Steering, reduces steering effort 80%
- Power Brakes, reduces braking effort 35%
- 4 way power seat, allows 5 inches fore and aft.
- 3.12 5 inches up and down.
- * Power Pack, four barrel carburetor and dual exhausts
- Spinner Wheel Covers
- * Full Wheel Covers (I have seen one Custom Royal with the small covers.)
- * Jiffy-Jet Windshield Washer (foot pump operated) Wire Wheels
- * Rear Seat Speaker
- Spotlight/mirror, left or right or both
- Air Conditioner
- * Deluxe Plastic Steering Wheel (I believe this is the two-tone wheel.)
- * Parking Brake Light Underhood Light
- * Map Light
- * Glove Box Light
- Outside Rear View Mirror (dual mirrors standard on all Lancers)
- Backup Lights (standard on the Custom Royal series)
- * Tinted Windshield
- * Electric Clock (mine still works)
- Turn Signals (standard on Royal and Custom Royal series)
- Continental Kit
- Rear Window Defroster
- Variable Speed Off-Glass Parking (on Royal and Custom Royal series) Power Windows, 2 or 4 windows
- * Day/Night Rear View Mirror
- Radio: 9 tube signal seeking, * 8 tube pushbutton, or 6 tube manual tuning
- Heater and Defroster (probably standard on Royal and Custom Royal series)
- Bumper Guards, right - middle - left
- Wipers (standard)
The superior design of the electrical system becomes evident when one realizes that all of these accessories, except two, are controlled by circuit breakers which automatically reset. Even the lights and overdrive transmission are on circuit breakers. This means that any electrical failure of a vital system that is intermittant will not stop the car, but allow safe travel to a repair area with no fear of electrical fire. The clock has a three amp fuse and the radio has a fourteen amp fuse, and that is all for the fuse department. The wiring leaves a bit to be desired as it is a combination of vinyl and varnished cloth insulated wires. The cloth insulation really causes some mechanics to scratch their heads.
The eight tube radio is superb. It is not as sensitive to power lines as are transistor units (the first all-transistor radio in any car was optional on Chrysler and Imperial for 1955). The tuning is crisp and fade in-and-out rarely happens. On a clear night I can easily pull in stations from over a thousand miles away. The tube warm-up period and the drone of the vibrator are continual reminders that the radio is drawing fourteen amps and has internal voltages of 270 pouring out of the power transformer. Of course it is a lot of fun to fiddle around with.
The clock in my Dodge is still running after all of these years. I cleaned it once (instead of every six months as recommended by the shop manual) and I may clean it again by the year 2000. The clock has a solenoid which winds it up when a set of contact points close, usually every 3 or 4 minutes. The solenoid makes a loud "clink" and the clock light flashes on every rewind.
All 1955 Dodges have full instrumentation. The instruments have black, faces with white numerals and pointers:
- Ammeter, -50 - 0 - +50 (-65 to +65 for heavy duty generator on convertible and air conditioned cars).
- Fuel Gauge, usual F and F marks. Speedometer, 0-120 mph
- Oil Pressure Gauge, 0-80 psi, mechanical actuation.
- Water Temperature Gauge, electrical actuation.
The ash tray is designed to look like a gauge and is located in the dash. The headlight switch is also designed to look like a gauge and contains a separate lever for adjusting instrument panel light brightness. It, too, is located on the dash. The switches along the bottom of the dash are heater blower, defroster blower, ignition, wipers, and cigar lighter. This makes for a very clean dash. When the parking lights are turned on, the ignition switch is illuminated. There are two idiot lights - green for turn signals and red for high-beam indicator. The single turn signal indicator bothers some people, but it is easy to get accustomed to.
The heater controls are simple to use. The heater/defroster is designed to be used in conjunction with the cowl vent. There are two summer doors under the dash which allow vent air to bypass the heater. When closed, the fresh vent air is forced through the heater core. There is a two speed heater blower and a two speed defroster blower which are not required at highway speeds, but may be used in city traffic to accelerate the air flow. They may also be used to regulate the flow of air to the Windshield for defrosting purpose8. In very cold weather the summer doors may be opened and the cowl vent closed to allow for recirculatjon of the air in the car. In addition to the adjustable cowl vent, there is a conventional temperature control switch to regulate water flow through the heater core. This unit really puts out the heat, it is very effective. The one drawback is that the summer doors are not controlled from the dash, and the novice driver (or anyone with short arms) needs to stop the car in order to adjust these safely. However, they were designed to be closed once each fall and opened once each spring.
The air conditioning system is simplicity itself. There are two controls, one for blower speed and one for cooling. The blower has three speeds (low, medium, high) and the cooling may be set at one of three levels (cold, cool, none). The evaporator and blower are mounted in the trunk above the rear axle. Vents on the rear fenders allow one part of fresh air to be mixed with two parts of air in the car. At high speed the blower moves 300 cubic feet of air per minute, changing the air inside the car every 1 1/2 minutes. The cool air enters the car through grilles in the package shelf. Chrysler engineering was able to avoid the use of clear plexiglass deflectors commonly found in the Brand X cars of this era. The fender vents are opened and closed with levers inside the trunk. Like the summer doors under the dash, they are designed to be opened in the spring and closed in the fall. The air conditioning compressor has a forged crankshaft and forged con- fleeting rods - very rugged. The compressor is driven by two belts, another example of what some may call "over engineered."
There is a lot of stainless steel trim on the car: window mouldings, rocker panel mouldings, and side trim in particular. The remainder is die cast: medallion bezels, headlight doors, taillight bezels, parking light bezels, backup light bezels, all script, and the fake hood scoop. The plethora of die cast was a nightmare to restore on my ear. I have had bronze castings made of some pieces by using the original part as a buck, and bronze will last as long as the stainless and is a breeze to plate. The thin stainless steel side trim and the rocker panel trim are attached by clips and studs. All of the other trim is attached by studs. There is an extensive use of gaskets to seal out water, and the car is literally bolted together.
1955 Dodge engines
There are three engines used in the 55 Dodges - the Getaway Six, the Red Ram V8, and the super Red Ram V8. The flathead six displaced 230 cubic inches. The Red Ram V8 was a polysphere (single rocker shaft) and was used in the Coronet V8 and Royal series as standard equipment. The Super Red Ram V8 displaced 270 cubic inches (like the Red Ram V8) and had hemispherical combustion chambers. This engine had double rocker shafts and old timers called it the "double rocker" instead of the more familiar "Hemi." The Hemi is standard on all Custom Royal series and is optional on all Coronet V8 and Royal series cars. The two V8s share many internal components, and will accept manifolds and other components from the 53 and 54 Dodge Hemi of 241 cubic inch displacement. The six is a flathead and definitely not state-of-the-art for 1955. I have driven both Red Ram and Super Red Ram Dodges and can honestly say that there is a marked difference in performance. The late fifties were a time of inflated horsepower figures, but the 1955 figures were based on engines with accessories and were even a bit conservative. The Super Red Ram could be ordered with the power package (4 barrel, dual exhaust) which puts it way out ahead of the Red Ram in terms of power.
The horsepower figures were measured with these power consuming accessories: generator, water pump, manifolds, fuel pump. The Red Ram has low friction valve locks to allow for valve rotation while the Super Red Ram does not have a special provision for valve rotation.
The power package is a very rare option. The Carter carburetor is of a surprisingly modern design with metering rods on the primary jets and velocity valves controlling air flow to the secondaries. This is very similar to the Carter AFB, the carburetor used on the 426 Hen-Is. Dual exhausts were also part of the power package. No other modifications were made to the engine when the power package was installed.
The weakest part of the V8 engine is the crankshaft. Even though the cranks are forgings, they are prone to breakage. Mine broke between the number four main bearing journal and the number seven and eight connecting rod journal. I know of at least seven other 55 Dodge owners who have experienced similar problems. My car did, however, give me a warning of impending trouble with low oil pressure. There were no "funny" noises until it cut loose, and then there were plenty of new audio sensations. So watch that oil pressure gauge and believe what it says. The crank looks structurally sound; I believe that the trouble is in the Dodge bearing materials. A good after market bearing should be used during a rebuild. The cranks can be welded back together and made into interesting lamps.
1955 Dodge transmissions
There were three transmissions available in 1955: three speed manual, three speed manual with overdrive, and two speed automatic PowerFlite. There were no special transmissions for 6 and V8, they were all the same except the clutches. The three speed is so simple that the shop manual covers it in fourteen pages. The .7:1 overdrive is more complicated, and requires 31 pages of explanation. The PowerFlite, my favorite, occupies 84 pages of the shop manual. All of these transmissions have a tailshaft parking brake which simplifies the rear brakes. 1955 was the only year for the automatic transmission lever mounted on the dash, although Corvair used that location for awhile.
The PowerFlite transmission is air-cooled, as is the torque converter. The absence of a vacuum modulator enhances the simplicity of this unit. On the V8 car a full throttle upshift occurs at about 60 mph. Kick-down will occur all the way up to 50 mph. One of the idiosyncracies of the design is a very high (260 lb/sq.in.) fluid pressure when the transmission is in reverse. The life of the PowerFlite can be extended by first shifting to drive (foot on the brake) to cut the engine idle speed and then go into reverse. I have been doing that since my rear band broke and it seems to work great. During a rebuild, transmission life will also be extended by installing the kick-down cushion spring in the trash can, not in the PowerFlite. This spring softens the shift by momentarily holding the transmission in low and drive during kick-down, and really puts a strain on the internal components.
One of the nice things about the PowerFlite is that it comes with the four pinion rear axle. The four pinion unit is the stronger of the two offered in 1955 and, when coupled to the PowerFlite, will last forever and a day. In 1956 the four pinion axles were high performance options. 3.54 is a standard rear gear with the PowerFlite, 3.73 is an optional ratio. Manual transmission sixes got 3.9, 4.3 with overdrive; the V8 counterparts received 3.73, 4.1 with overdrive. These are the two pinion units and do not appear to be as strong as the four pinion units.
Dodge suspensions, 1955
The 1955 Dodge suspension consists of leaf springs in the rear and coil springs/king pins in the front. King pins are like ball joints that can only rotate in one plane, that is to say the front wheels do not appreciably change their axis of inclination as they turn and travel over bumps. It is like having an elbow where your shoulder goes. The V8 cars have an idler arm that is parallel to the steering gear arm for complete steering linkage symmetry. There are 21 grease fittings, 23 if you count the plugs in the rear axle for wheel bearings. Steering ratios are 22:1 in the six and 27:1 in the V8 cars. Even with the eighteen inch diameter steering wheel there is noticeable effort involved in pointing the Dodge in the desired direction of travel at low speeds. Power steering uses a 16:1 ratio and is truly a small step away from being effortless.
The 1955 Dodge is a car that is representative of the fifties. It was the last year for a six volt electrical system and the next to the last year for king pins and fifteen inch wheels. It was the first year for three-tone colors and the last year for bolt-on chrome fins. Six adults can ride in the car in comfort with all of the luggage in the trunk. The 20 quart cooling system and six quart oil capacity (sixes as well as V8s) are some of the over-engineered aspects of the car which helps to insure trouble-free driving. All of the engines love low octane gas and will be running long after today's modern iron has detonated itself into the boneyards.
Canadian Dodges of 1955
Dodge placed eighth in sales in 1955 with 320,948 cars built in the USA and Canada. Chrysler captured 17% of the market as a whole, up from 11% in 1954. There are four Canadian models: Custom Royal, Mayfair, Regent, and Crusader. These models are the basis of 15 Canadian body styles. The Custom Royal is a USA Dodge of the same series, while the other three are Plymouths with a Dodge front. Contrary to some writings, Dodge and Plymouth did not share major sheet metal. The Mayfair is powered by the 241 cu. in. V8. A 228 Cu. in. six, and optionally a 250 cu. in. six, powers the Regents and Crusaders. The Canadian cars have a 115 inch wheelbase and are 207.4 inches long.
Our 1955 Dodge has a good home
by DICK & JOANN ROCHE
Over the years (last 25) I have been blessed with the opportunity to own and drive some marvelous examples of Chrysler engineering and styling.
In 1955, as a lad of 17, 1 had a summer job at the local Dodge-Plymouth agency here in my hometown of North Hollywood, California. Driving a mint '48 Plymouth at the time, I, nevertheless, longed for one of those sleek Custom Royal Lancer sport coupes with the power-pack "Hemi." Hummrnmm, but at $1.25 an hour? Part time? Forget it! However, good ol' Dad, who then and still is, an auto buff and Chrysler supporter, was also interested in this Dodge. We had in the garage a new '54 Royal 4 door ... I could tell dad wanted this 2 door. So I began to "work" on him, and lo, he went for it! We ordered her with white top, cameo "saddle" and black lower body. Fitted with factory skirts she looked low and sleek! The 270 cubic inch hemi had the 193 hp "power- pack" option and moved the car very well, and got good mileage on regular, as well!
Dad kept the car for two years, and get this, drove it 2,000 miles! In 1957, he went for a new Plymouth Fury, as it had considerably more power and handled better; more like a family sport car. Who got the near new Dodge? You guessed it! With an income that could handle such things as cars and girls, I found the Dodge just what I wanted! And as a side note, in 1958 found the girl, too. But that is another story, except to say that the Dodge, named "Big Red" by now, passed into my hands with 2,000 miles in July, 1957 and by January, 1961, when JoAnn and I got married, "Big Red" had 37,000 on the ticker... What does that tell you?
"Big Red" as I sit here writing this, all from memory, I find a wave of emotion sweeping over me. Ever get emotional over a car? Well, if you haven't, it's kind of hard to explain, and maybe it cannot be explained, but it can happen, it did We spent 17 years with that car. Some good times, like our courtin' days, when we would ride to San Diego for the day, dinner and a long easy ride home in the evening, the little Hemi pulling us along, with never a miss. We got chased once, on a lonely road at night, and outran the jerk. He finally gave up at about 95 indicated, and we kept going for awhile 'til his lights faded away.
Our first big trip came up in the summer of 1962. In company with JoAnn's fine mother and father, the four of us left for British Columbia, Canada and a visit to the most beautiful country anyone could imagine, along the "Sunshine Coast", and a chance for me to meet new members of the family. A dream trip for young Richard and JoAnn that was to turn into a nightmare!
I was happy to have the opportunity to drive my wife on this trip. In fact, it was the first real long haul I had ever made, so it was a new experience for me. The Dodge was in mint condition with about 45,000 miles on the odometer. A fresh tune and complete vehicle check was done, some by me, some by the agency. Loaded and on the road at first light we made Redding the first night. First error; rushing things. Should have taken it easier! Second day, bright and beautiful! I'm setting there fat, dumb and happy with the speedo indicating 75 mile after mile. Fully loaded the car still handled well and passing was a snap, as 90 would come easily if required, and it was now and then! Shortly before Cottage Grove, Oregon, the wife said to me, "Do you hear a funny sound?" I listened.. .and a cold chill went through me! Never could I have imagined such a thing happening.. . not to me... not to "Big Red" as she had dumped #2 rod and was hammering herself to death!
Switch off and a long coast into a gas station. The local Oldsmobile-Chevrolet - Tractor agency was kind enough to repair the car and get us going the next day. Oil pressure was never enough and the engine only lasted 'til December of that year when it had to be completely rebuilt using a new crank. That was an expensive and sad lesson for poor Richard! But wait, the trip wasn't over yet! We had a good visit and saw lots of good scenery. More so, if you could count 12 days of solid rain as a good opportunity to see the country!
Coming home, we took a side trip to Crater Lake National Park. Here again, not enough experience took its toll and we blundered into another storm. We should have turned back but we pressed on up the mountain with driving rain and low oil pressure. We got to the top.. .and could see nothing! Without leaving the cozy warmth of the faithful car, we left, deciding to exit to the east, into Klamath Falls. Doomsday was about to descend in the form of 20+ miles of fresh oil and gravel road, not marked, no warning signs, and hidden because of the rain. Only when about 5 miles into it, did I notice the car handling poorly so pulled off to check! The sight of my jewel, the best thing we had at that time in our young lives, sitting aside the road with a ton of wet rock and oil packed under the fenders, coating the once gleaming engine and chassis, and the finish! Like an asphalt road it felt, solid rock and oil to the door sills! I felt like weeping then and there.
We made it to town and got a quick steam cleaning on the engine and chassis, which did little good, and made for home. I remember well that it took me about three months of hard labor, scraping and picking the rock and oil from that chassis, and painting it all over again. The finish came out okay after a careful bath in gasoline, then rubbing compound and finally about three coats of wax!
The years went by and the miles piled up. Other cars came on the scene and went away. This old Dodge was a combination of happiness and frustration and at times I got fed up with fooling with it and some of its cranky systems. Other times I got all sentimental while looking at her sturdy lines and thinking "we've been thru a lot together." We had!
With the coming of the 1970s the ol' bus was about to become a collector's item. She was putting in an appearance now and then at a show and I found that no other '55 Dodges were turning up to accompany her on display. I couldn't understand the scarcity of the '55 since she was a handsome machine. By 1975, I was feeling that a change might be in order. All of us in the family had many fond feelings for "Big Red" to be sure, but she was difficult to maintain to my exacting standards as I was feeling the need for a change of pace after almost exactly 20 years of fooling with this car. So it was, with some regret, that we decided to offer the car if we could find a good home for her. Yes, it was a difficult decision, believe me. In the spring of 1975, just about two months short of us having spent 20 years together, she was sold and ended up in the ownership of actress Lily Tomlin. It is my understanding that Ms. Tomlin is a member of the WPC Club, and if so, maybe will read this article.
In summary, this ol' Dodge was a sturdy, well engineered and well built automobile, overall. She had her weak points to be sure. The most severe was the bottom end of the engine. The rod bearings were just not big enough to stand "hard" driving very well. I knocked out the bottom end twice in just a few years of highway driving, both times while running at speeds of 80 - 100 m.p.h. and never could understand why I had so much trouble, when, as some of you know, the 1954 Dodge with about the same engine (a 241 hemi) set all kinds of records for speed and endurance on the salt flats and won its class in the Pan American Road Race in '54.
Some of the weak points with this car were the power units; brakes and steering. I was always losing the brake booster and that was expensive and hard to find. The power steering was a royal pain with constant leaking and poor response and road feel and that was enough to make me consider pulling it out a time or two, but I never did. Good points included the Powerflyte two speed transmission (it was excellent) -- without a moments trouble in over 110,000 miles of driving. The body was sound and well built as was the interior. Quality control was fine and the chrome was superb!
When we sold the ol' girl she had about 114,000 (I believe) miles on her chassis. The three-tone paint had long ago given away to basic black. The chrome and glass were all original and except for a few rock chips (mementos of those many miles of open road) the entire car looked like it came off the dealer floor just a while ago. The interior had been kept stock looking as only the seats had been re -- worked using a stock as we could find type of material except in all black. The headliner and carpets were original and perfect as was the dash and other trim. And speaking of the dash, that instrument panel had to be one of the handsomest of any on an automobile to date. It was beautiful and functional. I even liked the little touch of labeling the fuel and generator gauges "FUEL" and "AMPS" rather than "gasoline" and "generator" as in other makes. It seemed more professional in approach. A small point but I remember it.
As I set out to write this article, I did so because we have had a lot of good times in "Big Red," and a lot of memories, mostly good memories. We never had an accident, the car never was hit or damaged. She carried our family safely over about 40,000 miles of vacation trips all over the western states and deep into Canada several times. Do we miss her? The answer is yes, of course, and JoAnn said only this evening that she wished now that we had kept her and had found a place to park her so that we could take a ride now and again just for old times sake. I think the same thoughts but you often make a decision that seems best at the time, and it was, for us best at that time, but now
If anybody sees a black Custom Royal Lancer sport coupe, probably still sporting fender skirts and California license HEV 622, serial number 34845775 -- well, say hello for us will you?
(written in 1980) .
See Dodge cars of 1954!