Dodge cars of 1954: Meadowbrook, Coronet, Royal
Dodge celebrated its fortieth year with the Royal V8, which it called the most luxurious car ever to bear the Dodge name, and with completely new interior styling, more than a dozen body modifications, and several major engineering advancements. There were three series - Royal, Coronet, and Meadowbrook. The Coronet and Meadowbrook had a choice of V8 or flat-head six; the Royal was a V8 only model. There were eleven new colors and 14 two-tone combinations.
Advances included a compression boost to the Red Ram V8 engine, from 7.1:1 to 7.5:1, resulting in a ten horsepower hike (to 150 gross hp; the Meadowbrook V8, though, stayed at 140 hp). 1954 was also the first year for the PowerFlite two-speed automatic transmission, and for a new full-time power steering unit. The six cylinder engines got a smaller compression boost, from 7.0 to 7.25:1, raising power from 103 hp to 110 hp (gross). The standard three-speed manual transmission continued, with or without automatic overdrive.
Chrysler wrote in 1954: “PowerFlite, which requires no clutch pedal, combines a torque converter and a two-speed planetary gearbox in a smooth-flowing driving operation. It is 100 poounds lighter than the heaviest competitive unit, and contains 110 fewer parts than the most complicated of these. Dodge engineers claim it will deliver more accelerating power more smoothly than any other transmission. Neutral and drive are on one lovel of the selector level. Reverse and low gears, on a higher level, are selected by a slight lifting of the lever and sliding left or right. This makes it possible to select a driving range by feel. Also, because reverse is next to neutral, it eliminates the dangerous practice of switching directly from drive to reverse.”
Lanny Knutson wrote: “The engineers had done their homework well in creating this two-speed planetary gearbox with a torque converter. It started in low, unlike some Fordomatics, shifting into high at eleven miles per hour. It could also be manually held in low, and the car could be push started without any damage. Its one drawback was the lack of a Park position or a lock-up in Reverse. This made an effectively operating parking brake a necessity. Consequently, the latter was changed to an internal-expanding unit mounted on the transmission tail shaft as was the external-contracting brake on the manual gear box.”
Mike Peterson wrote: (From the Walter P. Chrysler Club magazine - first printed 1980. Reprinted by permission.)
There were no special transmissions for 6 and V8, they were all the same except the clutches. ... All of these transmissions have a tailshaft parking brake which simplifies the rear brakes. The PowerFlite transmission was air-cooled, as was 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 going into reverse. 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. 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.
With its new compression, the Royal was able to establish 198 new AAA stock car records at Bonneville, holding more AAA records than any standard American car had ever held. Dodge also supplied the Indy 500 pace car for 1954.
Inside, the instrument panel was done in “Leathertex,” with a grainy, leather-type finish on top to reduce glare, and a softer, smoother finish on bottom; the color was the same on top and bottom. (Instrument panels were colored to match the exteriors). A combination of high seats, large windshield, wrap-around rear window, and rear fins allowed the driver to see each of the four corners of the car.
The full time power steering was optional on all models, and used a simplified linkage-type mounting which was less complicated, more compact, and easier to service than other systems. Dodge vice president R.C. Somerville said that 80% of steering strain was eliminated to reduce fatigue. The “full time” tag meant that the system was always assisting, unlike some competitive systems that only worked after hand pressure had already been exerted. It also acted “as a hydraulic shock absorber, cushioning the steering wheel from road bumps.” The power unit was connected between the steering gear arm and tie rods, and anchored to the frame. If the pump failed, full manual control was still available.
Still optional were turn signals, radio, backup lights, windshield washers, and power brakes; air conditioning was also optional.
Limited 1954 Dodge specifications
Chassis on all the Dodges for this year was a double-channel, box-section frame with independent front suspension with coil springs; the rear suspension used semi-ellipitcal grooved leaves for rear springs. Oriflow shocks were used; hydraulic brakes had Cyclebond lining, and wheels had safetey rims. Power was transmitted via Hotchkiss drive to the hypoid rear axle. Weight varied from 3,195 pounds (base model Meadowbrook) to 3,605 pounds (Coronet wagon).
In 1954, the Red Ram - an overhead valve V8 - produced 140 hp at 4400 rpm, with 220 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, in the low-compression Meadowbrook. The bore was 3 7/16 inches, stroke 3.25 inches, for a total of 241 cubic inches. It used a rotary oil pump and shunt-type oil filter.
The wheelbase on the Coronet convertible, sport coupe, and Suburban two-door was 114 inches (the same as 1954 - and 1939 - Plymouths), for a total length of 196 inches (except Suburban, 191 inches) and width of 73.125 - 73.5 inches (making them a little shorter than the 2006 Dodge Charger, and one inch less wide, and on a six inch shorter wheelbase). Height was 60 inches for convertible, 61 for coupe, 62 for Suburban. The Sierra four-door had a 119 inch wheelbase, but only a 196 inch overall length; width was just over 73 inches, height about 62 inches.
The Meadowbrook had 7.1 x 15 inch wheels, a 17 gallon gas tank, a wheelbase of 119 inches, length of 205.5 inches, width of 73.5 inches, and height of 62 inches.
Top speed with the straight-six engine should have been over 80 mph. The straight-six had a rear axle ratio of 3.73 (manual) or 4.1 (manual with overdrive), and was sold as a high-output option on the 1954 Plymouths; it reached 218 cid (3.5 liters).
Prices ranged from under $2,000 to nearly $3,600, varying depending on model and packages. Styling was conventional for postwar cars, but would change rather dramatically in 1955. In the Meadowbrook, 1954 brought a new grille and tail-light clusters, with other minor changes; only about 15,000 were sold. Coronet, which had been the premium Dodge, dropped down a little with the advent of the new Royal, and was essentially a Meadowbrook with chrome moldings and a full-body chrome strip, chrome rear-fender stone shields, and other minor cosmetic differences; this was the most popular Dodge for the year, with over 90,000 sold. The new Royal ran to about 65,000 sales, and basically took the Coronet and added emblems and chrome, and a standard V8.