Export Dodges and DeSotos of the 1950s

Australian exports of the 1950s (Mike Sealey)

1956 is unfortunately one of those years that falls through the cracks Down Under.

The way I heard the story, Chrysler Australia was producing '53-'54 Plymouths and Dodge Kingsway/DeSoto Diplomat clones locally in real time. In '55 they imported 20 new Belvederes, I believe with V8s. Don't know if that number included Diplomats/Kingsways or if there was a similar number of them brought over; in any event the Aussies weren't buying.

Chrysler Australia appears to have continued with the '54 models through early '57, when they were superceded by the Oz-exclusive AP1 Chrysler Royal, itself a heavily restyled '54 Plymouth ('56 Plymouth-like front clip and tail section, later including the Canadian 313 V8). RHD versions of current American stuff did not return until '58, when small numbers of Belvederes (all four door hardtops), Coronets and Firesweeps (all four door sedans) were brought over. I think the Australians got about 200 of each type in '58 and a similar number in '59 (including a RHD '59 Firesweep that sadly got blown up in one of the Mad Max movies).

Australia, as far as I know, never offered the '56 Belvedere/'57 Plaza/Savoy 277 V8 that our South African friend has in his Diplomat. (One of his problems has been persuading certain Poly 318 parts to fit his 277. My guess is that since it has a 277, it was probably built in the States, as I understand most of the foreign-sourced stuff was built to Canadian specs...)

I'd sure like to hear about the AP1/2/3 Royal and its Kingsway/Wayfarer derivatives from some of our Australian friends. Collectible Automobile did a good article on them a couple of years ago, and "Plymouth 1946-1959" by Jim Benjaminson mentions them as well, but these are the sole sources of what little knowledge I have of these Down Under MoPars...

DeSoto and Dodge models of the 1950s (Markko Longren, slightly edited)

The '56 DeSoto Diplomat is almost the same car as the '56 Plymouth. It's almost the same car, except the grille and trim.

DeSoto Diplomats and Dodge Kingsways were more usual sight when these cars were new than senior models, at least in Finland. Have you ever heard a Diesel DeSoto?? Yes, there were Perkins P4C Diesel engine available for '58-(61?) Diplomat. These engines were installed or the whole cars were assembled in Belgium. Diesel Diplomats (and Kingsways?) were popular with Scandinavian taxicab drivers.

Some senior models were not available in export market. For example, '57 DeSoto Firedome and '58 Dodge Royal were available only as a 4-Dr. Sedan, when I look at my export sales brochures.

The [Finland] importer of DeSoto was Berner, Inc. in Helsinki. When the DeSoto was demised, Berner imported Chrysler-Imperial-Plymouth-Simca cars in the '60s. Dodges were imported by Autokeskus-Bilcenter. In the '50s, Laatuvaunu imported Chrysler-Imperial-Plymouth.

Chrysler in Finland

A Chrysler mechanic, and a friend of mine, told me that once (late 1960s, or so) Chrysler had promised some kind of an airplane show (in the air) to the ten best Mopar dealers. It so happened that Berner (I think rather than Autokeskus) was among the ten best, so Chrysler arranged the show in Finland!

The same friend of mine knows a car which used to belong to Mr. Berner himself. It was unique in the sense that it's a four door sedan but with a hemi engine, a combination which was not available in principle but Berner had been able to arrange it for himself. The engine has been since mounted off the car but both the body of the car and the engine still exist. My understanding is that Mr. Berner was at one time also a member of parliament and a government minister. He offered good deals to the government so there were lots of Mopars in use by the Finnish state at the time. An elderly hobbyist told me this once. Indeed, according to many films and photographs I've seen, Mopars are present in official occasions.

DeSoto and Dodge instrument panels (Mike Sealey)

On an LHD DeSoto, there is more of a gap between the speedo (also a ribbon) and dials. There would also be a series name, i. e., "Firesweep", although export LHD MoPars (using the Plymouth dash in other makes) don't necessarily carry the Dodge or DeSoto name.

The Dodge dash has five dials (fuel, ammeter, temperature, oil pressure, and clock) below the speedo. A DeSoto cluster has four gauges in that location, with the clock (if so equipped) on the dashboard next to the radio. (A few had a Benrusmatic clock located in the centre of the steering wheel, but that was extremely rare; I've only seen that on one Adventurer, which was to the DeSoto what the E49 was to the Australian Charger.)

I've heard that RHD Plymouths and DeSotos from this era came with Dodge dashes, and have seen a photo of one.

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