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The Australian Chrysler Royal, Plainsman, and Wayfarer

1959 Chrysler Royal - Australian car at Allpar

First part by David Hoffman; based on articles and brochures sent by Brendan Lepschi and by Mike Sealey's original article (following). Thanks, Brendan, for making all those copies and sending them from the other side of the world - and thanks, David and Mike, for putting all the pieces together. More photos will be added.

The AP1 (Australian Production 1)

Chrysler Australia, a combination of Plymouth, Dodge and DeSoto model automobiles, saw its share of Australian auto sales drop to a mere 5% in 1955. Ford and Holden were much quicker to take advantage of the post-war market. Chrysler Corporation, which had bought control in 1951 of the Australian company, needed something newer and more exciting to keep up with the more modern models of the competition. Buyers were turning away from the warmed over '53-'54 Plymouths (and their Dodge and DeSoto derivatives). Unfortunately, there were not enough funds to produce the brand new '57s sold in the States.

To bring their cars up to date without a complete retooling, Chrysler Australia made some fairly radical changes to its old bodies. The original plan included three separate lines, all based on the original '53 Plymouth with an added enlarged curved rear window. The Plymouth Belvedere, Dodge Kingsway and DeSoto Diplomat lines would all be continued in order to supply their three separate dealer franchises. Each would have styling similar to their American counterparts with fenders and chrome treatments borrowed from them to differentiate the Australian trio. A last minute decision by Chief Engineer Roy Rainsford called off the threesome and combined elements from each of them into the new "Chrysler Royal," the name of a popular Chrysler model going back to the thirties. To the company, it was the AP1.

"Australia's Car of Distinction" was introduced in February 1957. The design, a mixture of the styling themes of the 1954-56 US Plymouths and DeSotos, was touted as carrying the "Forward Look," Chrysler's corporate motto in the mid-fifties. From the rear, the Royal resembled a 1956 Plymouth, with long, sharp tailfins (Plymouth's first) and thin vertical taillights. The side trim was similar to that on the 1956 DeSoto with almost the entire lower rear quarter and a thinning sweepspear pointing to the front end painted in a contrasting color. The front of the hood featured chrome C-H-R-Y-S-L-E-R lettering over an egg-crate grille, all this topped by a large hood ornament. A script "Royal" was affixed to the rear panel. Even the new Chrysler logo (two overlayed "boomerangs") was included on the hubcaps.

Chrysler boasted that its car was first to bring four options to the Australian market: "Safety-Sure" power brakes, automatic overdrive, full-time power steering, and, of course Powerflite automatic transmissions activated by pushbuttons. Four color combinations were initially offered, each including "Moonlight" accents: green, gray, blue and tan. The interior was trimmed in vinyl with seating for four to six. The dashboard was made up with circular dials, including on Powerflite-equipped models, an extra pod holding the four pushbuttons.

At first, the car came equipped with Chrysler's reliable six-cylinder engine (230.2 cubic inches, 115 hp with manual transmissions, 250.6 cubic inches, 117 hp with Powerflite). After production had begun, it was decided that in order to better compete with the current Ford Customline, a V-8 was needed. To accommodate, the 313 cubic inch V-8 was imported from the Canadian subsidiary. Although this 220-hp engine was ordered on less than 500 Royals during that first model year, it eventually powered almost half the output.

powerflow six engine 313 Canadian V8

Transmission choices included a manual three-speed, a three-speed with overdrive on second and third gears and the Powerflite two-speed push-button automatic. The body on frame chassis stretched over a 115-inch wheelbase. A Plainsman version, described in the next section, was also available (the Wayfarer would not appear until the AP2).

Pricing was competitive with the most popular cars on the Australian market at the time. At £2071, it was £1 more than an automatic Ford Customline and £4 more than a Chevrolet.

The Chrysler Royal AP2

The 1959 Royal (the AP2) entered the market towards the end of 1958 bearing its perhaps most controversial styling change. The DeSoto-like side trim of the AP1 was dropped in favor of a chrome-surrounded spear similar to the "Sportone" '57 American Plymouth Fury. However, sitting atop the high fins were yet another set of fins "saddled" to them. These of course were inspired by those adorning the 1957-59 Dodges (and 1958 Packards!). The appearance of these fins were a matter of contention even within Chrysler Australia's styling department. A compromise made them "optional," but it is doubtful any left the factory doors without them.

Other cosmetic changes included a new horizontal bar grille in the form of a loop enclosing the parking lights on either end, a reversal of the block and script "Chrysler" designations on the hood and rear fender, and, on the V-8s, a chrome "V" centered on the grille. (The sixes and V8 also differed in that the bigger engines had more elaborate trim.)

Features of this car, according to the brochure, included:

  • Safety hydraulic brakes (two cylinders); optional power assist
  • Full time power steering
  • 35 cubic foot trunk
  • 15 1/2 gallon tank
  • Dual headlights with sealed beams
  • Dished steering wheel for safety
  • Non-glare instrument panel
  • Screened cowl vent
  • Pull-out door handles (similar to modern design)
  • Controlled ventilation
  • Suspended pedals
  • Full length side rail frame with four crossmembers for rigidity
  • Reinforced door and window frames
  • Nonparallel independent front suspension with shock absorbers
  • One piece sway bar
  • Rear suspension with long, wide semi-elliptic springs in non-parallel position to avoid sway
  • Semi-floating hypoid rear axle with fully adjustable tapered roller bearings
  • Synchronised suspension springs (rear springs react faster to "catch up with front spring action")
  • Large, wraparound rear window to eliminate blind spots
  • Automatic overdrive: "the conventional three speed gearbox plus three additional easy to use forward ratios which are brought into operation by accelerator control...saving 30% engine revs."
  • Optional PowerFlite pushbutton automatic

The Plainsman added a full width tailgate that doubled as a loading platform, and a completely flat floor level even with the rear seat folded down. The chassis was extra-strong to provide rigidity and withstand weaving. Length of the cargo bay was 50 inches, but with the rear seat folded and the tailgate down, that would become 95 inches.

The Chrysler Royal AP3

Even those flamboyant fins couldn't keep the Royal afloat very well. Sales dropped to 4404 AP2s from the AP1's 4748. To counter this drop as well as the newer, sexier Ford Fairlanes and Chevy Biscaynes and Bel Airs, the car needed another facelift and was given what to many was the best looking one yet.

1959 Chrysler Royal AP2 side view

The AP3 Royal, the final incarnation, was released sometime during the summer of 1960. Although the package remained basically unchanged, the radical end of the car shifted from the saddle-like tailfin extensions on the AP2 to the vertically stacked quad headlight system up front, a design not to appear on American Chryslers until 1961. The rear end took the taillight display from the '56-'59 US DeSoto, three round lenses going down the edges of the high tailfins. The chrome sidetrim borrowed again from the DeSoto, this time the '59, a broad check mark filled in with a contrasting color on the luxury V8's. An additional alteration, creases pressed into the slightly lowered roof, supposedly made that part of the car stiffer, safer and quieter.

The Royals had three lamps stacked one on another in the rear of the fins - the top and bottom were tail-lamps, the top doubled as a brake light, and the middle was amber and acted as both a turn signal and a backup light!

On the inside was a new ribbon-type speedometer similar to that in the then current Plymouth, sitting atop rectangular secondary instruments. As the 3-speed Torqueflite transmission had replace the 2-speed Powerflite, there were now five buttons spread out to the right of the speedo. Under the hood, the 250-c.i.d. Six and the 313-c.i.d. V8 remained the same. All this to little avail.

1959 Chrysler Royal AP2 Australian car interior

Australian Royal car instrument panel

In order to jump-start sales, they even lowered the prices. The new Royal was reduced to £1667 for the manual 6 to £1967 for the Torqueflite V8. Sales rebounded slightly to 4444.

The AP3 remained unchanged until well into 1964, when it was unceremoniously dropped.

The Plainsman and the Wayfarer

In addition to the Royal four-door sedans, Chrysler marketed two related, more utilitarian models, the "Plainsman Station Wagon," named after the Chrysler "dream wagon" of 1956 and the "Wayfarer," whose name harked back to the lowest-price Dodge line of the late forties. Basically both were Royal sedans forward of the "B"-pillar, with different roof, glass treatment and side panels behind. Neither sported the controversial added fin on the AP2 sedans. The Wayfarer, carrying a capacity of 1/2-ton, came as a six only while the Plainsman came with the V8 as well (192 sixes, but only 32 V-8s). Special commercial versions of the wagon were also sold for use as ambulances and hearses.

There were several commercial versions of the Plainsman. There was a 'panel van' version which was essentially the Plainsman without external door handles on the rear doors (these don't seem to have been very popular, judging from rego figures), but from what we know, hearses were simply standard Plainsmans with the rear seats removed.

Ambulances had specially built bodies and were not converted from Plainsmans as far as we know. A few custom built hearses (similar to ambulance bodies) also exist in the AP3 series.

The Wayfarer was an early example of the popular "utes," coupe/pickup combinations now seen everywhere in Australia. Both models are extremely rare; just 224 Plainsmans and 1,205 Wayfarers were sold between 1958 and 1960. The Plainsman was made in both AP1 and AP2 series, while the Wayfarer was made in the AP2 and AP3 series.

After 1960, there was a gradual thinning out of the "Royal" models; 1961 saw the demise of the Plainsman and by 1963, only the 4-door V-8 remained.

Amos Laird wrote: The Australian AP3 Wayfarer utility most certainly did come optioned as a V8, utilising the 313 cube Canadian mill. I own an original, complete with push button all steel 727 Torqueflite. From factory it also had power steering and the (V8 only I'm told) "Hollywood Flash" down each side.

I've also heard it has a slightly lower differential ratio than the sedan did, so (although untried by me), it in theory should muster a faster 400 metre time than the sedans 17.4 seconds. (If true, this of course would be of detriment to top end speed, when compared to the 125 MPH top speed of the Royal sedans). As much as I love em' , that would be like trying to steer the Queen Mary down Niagara Falls!

Conclusion

In 1960, Chrysler Australia introduced the Dodge Phoenix (in reality a Plymouth with Dodge's usual brand identifiers), which by 1962 sold 42 more than the Royal's 669, even though the Dodge cost more than 1/5 more. In 1960 also, the Vedette and Aronde, products of the newly acquired French concern Simca, were added. What really saved Chrysler, however, was the introduction of the Valiant, whose story appears elsewhere on this website.

Although the Royal was quite popular in its day, its charisma has not held up with modern day Aussie collectors and restorers. As in the US, Fords and GM (Holden) have proven more appealing to them (there is but one restored Plainsman in the entire continent!).

The flamboyant era in automobile design was coming to an end in both the US and Australia. Fortunately we can still look back to the times when a fin placed on top of yet another fin or a big two-tone checkmark were the height of fashion.

Chrysler Royal registrations 1957-1963

We have reason to suspect the accuracy of many of the following numbers.

1957 1958 1959 1960 1961 1962 1963 1964
Sedans - I-6 ? 1,421 1,542 1,509 635 208 ? 87
Sedans - V8 Under 500 848 1070 441 471 ? ? ?
Plainsman Wagon I6 116 63 13 - - - - -
Plainsman Wagon V8 - 32 - - - - - -
Wayfarer Utility 9 380 347 244 225 - - -
Panel Van - 59 7 1 2 - - -
Hearse/Ambulance 29 26 42 54 48 - - -
Total 1,575 2,950 2,999 1,375 9,541 ? ? ?

Sources:

1. The Australian Chrysler Royal, Plainsman and Wayfarer - by Mike Sealey in Allpar (see below)

2. RestoShop: 1958 Chrysler Plainsman. Australian Classic Car, 113:64-66, 114:28-29, 115:66-68.

3. The Royal Treatment: Australia's Chryslers of 1957-64, By Gavin Farmer in Collectible Automobiles, April, 1996

4. Darwin, N. (1989). The Chrysler Royal 1957-62. Restored Cars, 79: 5-7

Chrysler Royal: Car Review

I have owned over 37 cars but the memories of some stand out, the first being that of my first car. We have had a variety of Royals beforehand: a 1958 6 cylinder 2 speed auto which was mum's, a 59 six cyl manual, and a 1963 318 V8 auto. When I was 15, I bought the black 318 V8 Royal to rebuild. Even though she was only 6 years old she had bad rust on top of the wings and all four doors. She was running on 3 cylinders and we were dragged of by a friend in a 1964 Ford Anglia (how embarrassing).

Spare parts were a little hard to get even then (much later we bought two other wrecks for spares ). But after dad put in new plugs points and cleaned whatever had to be done, she flew. I can vividly remember after this first service Dad took it out on the road and planted it, to have the front wheels leave the ground in the roar of power (much to my delight) but only to hear a screaming noise coming from the front end as the fan was hitting the shroud The poor girl had broken engine mountings and the torque in the motor had shifted the motor over causing the front end to lift; needless to say we never got her to do a wheel stand again.

chrysler royal car reviews

My brother also bought a 1962 Royal with 313 V8 They were all aluminium block and heads if I recall. I can remember an instance when we went very hard into a corner and hearing a loud bang off the rear tyre learning later that the torsion bar on the front had snapped and left the car. If you say that Royals had body roll and understeer (they invented that, I'm sure), try driving without a sway bar.

Another fabulous part about Royals was their gearbox. The three speed Torqueflight was the wrong name it should have been Takeflight, they had the fantastic ability to not select the wrong gear if you pressed the wrong
button at speed. This in itself was enlightening to say the least, if you were under 9 MPH you could select the opposite gear, so being a young "rev head" going backwards to about 8 MPH you could then select Drive at the same time as hitting the throttle (the revs would go to about 3000 RPM then actually engage Drive). Consequently the best I did was 144 Yards of rubber in a straight line on bitumen (never told Dad for ages) but I think he worked it out as the tyres gave away the secret (the tyres were the original "racing slicks" 795/75/15/ 4 ply non radial Olympic) By the way the gearbox didn't failed for a further 15 years.

Original Article by Mike Sealey

The first generation Chrysler Royal was the AP1. This family of cars was the first offshore Chrysler line to have styling shared with nothing built anywhere else, and was originally meant to be badged as a Plymouth Belvedere, and accompanied by Dodge Kingsway (AD1) and DeSoto Diplomat (AS1) versions. Pictures of the styling treatments have survived and were included in Gavin Farmer's excellent Collectible Automobile article on these cars.

Chrysler Australia (formerly Chrysler DeSoto Dodge Distributors Pty. Ltd.) was having trouble competing with GM's Holden line and Ford's competing English models, having nothing that small to offer at the time. As a result of high tooling costs and a lack of consumer interest in the small number of 1955 Belvederes imported from Canada to test the waters, the 1953-54 Plymouth/Kingsway/Diplomat was continued fairly close to unchanged into early 1957. At some point these P25-based cars were upgraded to 12 volt electrics and adopted Smiths gauges.

The AP1 and its stillborn derivatives were a heavy restyle of the P25, with either 1956 Plymouth fenders or very good copies of them grafted on to the corners, and a new wraparound rear window to make the upper body appear more modern.

From the windows down, the AP1 looked very much like the 1956 Plymouth with the exception of a simple bar grille which looked much like that used on the 1957-58 Plymouth. The AS1 DeSoto mockup looked very much like the Plymouth-based 1956 DeSoto Diplomat, with the exception of side chrome and 2-toning very much like that seen on the fullsize 1956 DeSoto. This side treatment survived on the production Chrysler Royal AP1.

The AD1 Dodge mockup may have been the most interesting. The Plymouth-based export '55-'56 Dodge seen in Canada and other markets had a Dodge front clip mounted on a Plymouth body. This appears to be more expensive that Chrysler Australia could justify for the projected numbers, so the AD1 mockup had the Plymouth front clip with '55-'56 Dodge grille bars and what appears to have been a stamped metal divider in the middle of the grille cavity to try to replicate the Dodge grillework for very little money. This combo was awkward enough that its failure to reach production may have been a blessing. The AD1 mockup also had 2-toning similar to that seen on the '55 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer, except I'm not sure if the different colored panel on the senior Dodge hood made it to the AD1 along with the side treatment.

Very late in the development stages, it was decided that the Australian market could not support three separate versions of the same car. In fact, tooling had already started on AS1 trim when this decision was made. The production AP1 Chrysler Royal took what would have been the AS1 side trim and affixed it to the sides of the proposed AP1 Belvedere.

Apparently all Chrysler Australia dealers sold the Royal. This left a brief period where new Plymouths and new Dodge and DeSoto passenger cars were not offered in Australia, although Dodge, Fargo and DeSoto trucks (which shared their cabs with International trucks in Australia) appear to have continued on. Small numbers of Canadian-sourced Plymouths, Dodges and DeSotos reappeared in '58 and '59; more on these shortly.

While the AP1-AP2-AP3 family is often generically referred to as the "Chrysler Royal," this isn't quite accurate, as the family also included AP1 and AP2 "Plainsman" station wagons and AP2 and AP3 "Wayfarer" utes (Australia's car-based pickups, believed to be the inspiration for the domestic Ranchero and El Camino).

A Canadian-sourced 313 V8 was offered as an option late in AP1 production and continued through the last of the AP3s. V8 equipped cars had more elaborate side trim, and the AP2 V8s also had a "V" in the middle of the grille, which other generations may or may not have had. According to Australian writer Gavin Farmer, earliest stick-shift AP1s used the US-sourced 230 ci flathead six, while PowerFlite cars used the Canadian-sourced 250 flathead six that had powered 6-cylinder DeSotos and Chrysler Windsors on both sides of the border until '54 and continued in production in Canadian Plymouths and Dodges (and military-spec Power Wagons) for some years after. Eventually all six-cylinder Royals got the 250. Some 250s were also sourced from Chrysler's Kew plant in England.

The AP2 was introduced in late 1958 as a 1959 model. This seems to have been change for change's sake. The "Chrysler" script from the trunk/boot lid was relocated to the hood/bonnet, trading places with the "CHRYSLER" block letters that had been there on the AP1. AP2 grillework was a large chrome loop with parking lights at either corner, clearly influenced by the '57 DeSoto grille but not acting as a combination grille and bumper as on the DeSoto. Side treatment was much like that of the '57 Plymouth Belvedere, a plain chrome strip on sixes and a "Sportone" 2-tone treatment on V8s. The tailfins were taller and more controversial on most AP2s. They were extended by means of an add-on tailfin surrounded by chrome, and looked very much like a poor relation to the "saddle treatment" seen on '57-'59 Dodge fins. One source describes these added fins as an "option" that all AP2 Royals, or perhaps all AP2 Royal V8s, wound up with anyway. The pictures I've seen show an AP2 Plainsman (dropped from the line shortly after intro) with the saddle fin, while all AP2 Wayfarers I've seen managed not to get saddled with it.

Brendan Lepschi noted: "The two-tone paintwork was certainly standard on the V8s, but was also an option for sixes, although apparently not all that common. I've only seen one six with two-tone paintwork. The only other external (standard) feature for V8s was the 'V' in the grille, as mentioned...the V was an AP2 feature only, and did not appear on the AP1 or AP3."

"I have heard conflicting reports about the tailfins - some say they were optional, but every AP2 sedan I've seen, V8 or not, has them (including my six). They were promoted as "stabilisers to help keep you steady on the road" in the sales brochure! ... I can confirm that the AP2 Wayfarer utes and Plainsman wagons did NOT have the extra 'saddle' fin - this was a sedan-only feature, the reason being what I suggested earlier, i.e.: the body work in the utes and wagons was such that wasn't enough space either side of the existing fin to fit another one on."

"Plainsman wagons are as rare as hens teeth, but the one I've seen (an AP2) did not have the extra fin, nor is it shown on the Plainsman car illustrated in the AP2 sales brochure. I don't recall ever seeing any on the Wayfarers, either. With the wagon, it may not have been possible to fit the saddle fin in the first place, because of the body/window glass extending along the length of the existing fin - you need about an inch or so either side to fit the saddle, and I don't think there would've been enough space. The same may apply to the Wayfarer. "

The AP3 seems to have come out during calendar year 1960, and was restyled more heavily than in previous years. The grille became much busier and gained extra headlights. The tailfins and side treatment were redone to resemble those of the 1959 DeSoto, again with a plain checkmark denoting a six and a 2-tone checkmark denoting a V8. The AP3 Royal roof gained a couple of character lines that were said to make the roof more sturdy and therefore quieter. The ribbon speedometer from the 1960 Plymouth made its way onto the AP3 dash, and the 2-speed PowerFlite automatic was finally replaced by the 3-speed Torqueflite. The AP3 was built until 1963 or 1964, when it was dropped and not replaced. By that time Chrysler needed whatever plant room they could find to build more of the hot-selling Valiant.

Brandan Lepschi added: "This is true. A Restored Cars article quotes new car registration figures for the AP3 in 1964, so one presumes they were still being made in at least 1963, although the 'official' AP3 model run is 1960-1961."

He also wrote: "Sadly, the Royal is not all that popular in Australia with restorers. Aussie restorers have tended to focus on Holdens (obviously), some Fords (like the Customline, very popular), and American imports like the 55-57 Chevrolet while the poor old Chrysler Royals have mostly been ignored. That said, there are a number of restored ones around, mostly sedans, some nice Wayfarers too, and one lone Plainsman. The same can't be said of the Valiants, though - these are very popular with restorers and have a greater 'iconic' status in Australian motoring history than the Royal. Although expensive, the Royal was certainly popular when new, especially with country buyers. Testers of the day liked them, with a few minor reservations (including the saddle fin on the AP2!), and anyone that knows them always has positive things to say about my car and the model in general."

The South Australian police car at left is a '60-'64 Royal AP3. The stacked dual headlights are an AP3 giveaway, as are the back fenders with '56 DeSoto taillights laid out in a manner similar to the domestic treatment of the '59 DeSoto.

It appears that the only fullsize American Chrysler product available in Australia from '60 on was the Dodge Phoenix. I've found no references to Australian-market Plymouths after '59, although the '65 and later Phoenix was actually a Plymouth with Dodge badging. (Valiants were marketed in Australia either as Chryslers or as a separate make.) I've also found no references to Australian-market DeSotos after '59, even though the '60-'61 DeSoto Diplomat Custom was a clone of the Phoenix in those years, differing only in nameplates and side chrome.

Sources

"The Royal Treatment; Australia's 1957-64 Chryslers" by Gavin Farmer, Collectible Automobile magazine.

The Plymouth Bulletin, issue #223, March-April 1997. The Plymouth Bulletin is the official publication of the Plymouth Owners' Club.

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