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The 1956-1961 Dodge D-500 cars and performance packages

Custom Royal

To start with, the people responsible for the D-500 were as follows:

  • William C Newberg, president
  • Byron J Nichols, vice president
  • R. D. Engle, chief engineer for Dodge division
  • Danny Eames, chief test driver for Dodge.

Danny was hired by Bert Carter in 1953, and became very successful from 1953 to 1955 in their racing tradition, and had also brought home checkered flags from Bonneville and Daytona for Dodge. Danny was with Dodge division from 1953 to 1956. The Dodge racing efforts were guided by Danny working with Bill Bogan, chief engineer, and Dean Engal, assistant engineer; Danny was also special assistant to William C.Newberg's staff. That meant an open ticket for the development of the high performance program at Dodge.

Dodge D500

Dean Engal became chief engineer in early 1956 at Highland Park. Wally Zierer was general automotive engineer and was a great help in the 1953-55 racing program. Danny Eames "and his brains were an asset to my programs." Bolstered by those early victories and the experience, desire, not to mention the necessity of maintaining Dodge's performance image and competitive edge in the marketplace, the D-500 was born.

The new kids on the block have taken their lead from their big brother, the 1955 Chrysler 300 C. The Dodge D-500, Desoto Adventurer, and Plymouth Fury were all new nameplates for 1956, and were not performance options or dealer add ons. They were models, not option or packages.

SonoRamic Commando

We'll start with twelve examples of what the D-500 consisted of :

  1. Specific goals to satisfy the publics desire for a distinctive and prestigious automobile with levels of performance not possible with standard models.
  2. Introduction and release after initial standard models were announced to the public. ( Standard, November 7, 1955 and Dodge 500, December 22, 1955).
  3. Separate sales brochure and literature similar to the 300B, Adventurer, and Fury.
  4. Special high performance engine ( 260 and 276hp ).
  5. Special identification engine numbers ( D-500-1001 beginning ).
  6. Heavy duty chassis, suspension, and drive train components. ( New Yorker and Imperial).
  7. New designed D-500 steering arms and steering wheel rims.
  8. Larger exhaust systems.
  9. Ligher brake area/weight ratio ( 15lbs. per inch ). 12 inch Chrysler brakes.
  10. Restricted to specific body types and styles, engine and drive train components. (Initial release).
  11. Suggested a limited paint colors and schemes (2-tone "sandwich", only in Oriental Coral and Sapphire White ).
  12. Distinctive identification: medallions, emblems, and crossed checkered victory flags with 500 inset located on the hood (left front) and trunk (right rear).

Unless the Dodge carried these "Flags of Destination," you could not order the above items separately on a Dodge. So with this in mind let's continue the story.

Dodge D500 cars

The D-500 was capable of outrunning anything it went up against, so just as a reminder this car was not a package, power pack, or dealer add on. The D-500 was a model in every sense of the word. The fact that the 1956 D-500 set or broke a total of 306 standing records, and this was its first time out, also Dodge's first shot at building a car of this caliber.

Here's what Sports Car Illustrated had to say in August 1956. "It is designed from the ground up as a high performance road machine that can be used for commuting to work, for winning its class at the local Drag Strip, or for making a top showing in a tough rally or race."

d500 guages

There was another 500 in 1954, the Royal 500. This one was a pace car replica; production was 501. The Royal 500 was not a D-500 in any way. The 500 in D-500 was the number of cars that had to be produced to be accepted as a production car under NASCAR sanction , but those of us who really know about these cars know that they were produced on demand. The D-500 should not be confused with the Standard 1956 Dodge.

Racer Brown in Hotrod magazine (May 1956) said that the D-500 was named after the Indy 500; according to R.D. Engel and B.J Nickols this was just a coincidence.

dodge logoThe D-500 was released on December 22, 1955, first as a 2 door hardtop and convertible Royal Lancer, then in the Coronet line as a 2 door sedan club coupe, and as a convertible. The Coronet convertible was available, but it was not listed. It's possible that it was used for racing only.

The two versions of the Coronet (the 2 door sedan club coupe and the convertible) were available in full race form. They were also available with optional equipment but this model was the D-500-1, held back until January 12, 1956 to reduce confusion of the two D-500s. So on January 12, 1956 the D-500-1 became official.

On March 9, 1956 there was an announcement that boded ill for the D-500: the D-500 Special using standard Dodge suspension springs and even the standard 11 inch brakes. That was part of a letter that was releaced on March 9, 1956. This confused the identity of the D-500. The letter read, "We recently extended the availability of this equipment to include all V8 models and body types."

Now, this letter covers two separate issues: the Royal (V8 model) that the D-500 had never been offered on and was never intended on this model line. The D-500 was only intended for the Custom Royal and the Coronet, period. Now the Royal line was part of the D-500 series.

Just think of the mess that would have been made of the C300 if Chrysler had offered a C300 motor package in a 4 door sedan Winsor or a station wagon or worse yet, in anything, across the board. Well , that's what happen to the D-500 when the D-500 special was offered across the board, to include the 4 door sedan and 4 door hardtop Lancers and station wagons (bulletin B-J14) . The source of this information is B. J. Nichols (Feb. 28, 1993) .

This was a benchmark year not only for Dodge but the entire auto industry. The D-500 was and is a world class pace setter; what it stood for then is still true today. Vision is what set it apart , and made it the best. That's what December 22, 1955 and January 12,1956 were all about. On Dec. 22, 1955 was the birth of the 1956 D-500. Jan. 12, 1956 was the birth of the 1956 D-500-1.

On Jan. 29, 1956, the four door sedans and four door hardtops (Lancers) and station wagon (body types) were released into the initial D-500 series of Dec. 22, 1955, and March 9, 1956 the D-500 special was in more ways than one the biggest reason the package rumor got started: the rumor of the D-500 being a engine/suspension package/option, and this being because of the limited use of the D-500 equipment.

Now though all of this crazyness, there were some things to consider. Dodge had taken the D-500 from Dec. 22, 1955 to Narch 9, 1956, and created a three series of high performance factory hotrods that not only set records on the salt flats, but on the race tracks all over the world. This was an industry first, and was great for sales, however through all of this the original D-500 of Dec. 22, 1955 become a stepchild to the others and almost lost its idenity altogether.

The original D-500 was not so clearly defined as the 300B, the Adventurer, or even the Fury. The Dec. 22 1955 "B" bulletin (the initial release) said that they contained a redesigned Hemi powerplant, a new D-500 chassis with New Yorker chassis and suspension components, and indicated "initial" body types available.

Specifications, 1960

In 1960, the D500 model was good for 15 hp, 45 lb-ft of torque on the 361, and 5 hp and 35 lb-ft on the 383. All horsepower numbers are gross measurements.

 

D500 (1)

Super Red Ram

D500 (2)

Ram-Fire

Cubic Inches

361

361

383

383

Bore x Stroke

4.12 x 3.38

4.12 x 3.38

4.25 x 3.38

4.25 x 3.38

Compression

10:1

10:1

9:1

10:1

Carburetor

Dual 4-barrel

2-barrel

Dual 4-barrel

4-barrel

Gross hp

310 @ 4,800

295 @ 4,600

330 @ 4,800

325 @ 4,600

Max torque

435 @ 2,800

390 @ 2,400

460 @ 2,800

425 @ 2,800

Ram induction on the 1960 D-500 used air pressures that are always present in the manifold to make the engine breathe efficiently.  With a conventional manifold, opening and closing of the intake valves sets up an air pulsation in the intake passages. This pressure wave bounces back and forth and interferes with the fuel-air mixture. With Ram Induction, the length of each manifold passage was "tuned" (like a pipe organ) so the pressure wave was moving away from the intake valve when no fuel is needed - and toward the valve when fuel was needed.  This "ram" effect or "tuning" had its peak effect over a wide range of engine speeds.

The base engines:

The Super Red Ram V-8 engine used in Matadors, and the Ram-Fire V-8 engine used in Polaras, were identical except for displacement and carburetion.  Pistons, pins, rings, and connecting rods were selected from matching sets to meet precision standards for size and weight. These assembled components, together with the torque converter, were installed into the engine block and then electronically balanced.

A modified wedge design produced high turbulence for complete combustion and carbon reduction.  Compact and lightweight, the intake manifold had a two-square-inch direct path for the fuel-air mixture to travel. A choke well puts the sensing mechanism in the exhaust manifold crossover to provide precise action. A separated-branch design permitted a tight seal without gaskets. This central outlet location provided minimum back pressure, thus lengthening exhaust-valve life and adding power.

The crankshaft was supported from underneath by the sold metal of the deep-skirted engine block. The design also provided a stronger mounting for the transmission.

Pistons and compression rings were tin-plated to help fast engine break-in. The lightweight aluminum-alloy pistons were reinforced with steel struts for extra strength and to control expansion and contraction. Two compression rings and one oil ring assured a tight seal.

The crankshaft was billed as probably the most rugged, best balanced in the industry, up to 20 % heavier than those in competitive cars, with exceptionally large bearing areas to distribute load, and an effective, large vibration damper. Drop-forged connecting rods were stronger than the cast-steel connecting rods used by some competitors.

The carburetor included a special float to prevent flooding on turns. At low and medium speeds, only two barrels were used to minimize fuel consumption. Rear barrels kicked in at speeds above half-throttle.

Jim G. wrote, “I was researching a 1956 Golden Lancer (mid year debuted special edition Custom Royal Lancer) that I own which has the ‘elusive’ double carbureted D500-1 engine and maximum duty chassis. Thought you might want to know.”

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