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by David Zatz
Dodge celebrated its fortieth year with the Royal V8, which had more luxury cues, new interior styling, some body modifications, and several engineering advancements. There were eleven new colors and fourteen two-tone combinations.
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. The one V8 engine was a Hemi, then called a “double rocker;” Chrysler stood apart by using a 331 cubic inch Hemi, pushing out 235 hp (up from 180 in 1951-53), while Dodge made do with, at most, a 241 Hemi.
On Coronet and Royal, buyers gained ten horsepower to 150 gross, thanks to a mild compression boost to the Red Ram V8 engine (from 7.1 to 7.5:1). 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). In 1955, buyers would be faced with a choice of 183 and 193 horsepower engines, a much larger leap, and by 1957, Dodge would be at 285 and 310 — and still far below Chrysler.
1954 was also the first year for the PowerFlite two-speed automatic transmission — Chrysler’s first true automatic — and for a new, full-time power steering unit. The standard three-speed manual transmission continued, with or without automatic overdrive.
The press release for the Powerflite noted: “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 [note their choice of comparisons]. Dodge engineers claim it will deliver more accelerating power more smoothly than any other transmission. Neutral and drive are on one level 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.”
Auto historian Lanny Knutson, a somewhat more objective source, wrote, “The engineers had done their homework well ... 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 [major] 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.”
The six and eight cylinder engines shared the same transmission, except the clutches; they had a tail-shaft parking brake. Full throttle upshift on the V8s waited for around 60 mph, with kickdown available up to 50 mph. The fluid pressure was, however, very high in reverse; so it helps when shifting in or out of reverse to spend some time in neutral and let the engine speed drop first.
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. 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, despite pretensions to luxury, were turn signals, radio, backup lights, windshield washers, power brakes, and air conditioning.
All the Dodge cars rested on a double-channel, box-section frame, with an independent front suspension using coil springs and a rear suspension using semi-elliptical grooved leaf springs. All around, the company fitted Oriflow shocks, hydraulic brakes with Cyclebond lining, and Safety-Rim wheels. As usual, the powertrain had a Hotchkiss drive to the hypoid rear axle. Weight varied from 3,195 pounds (base Meadowbrook) to 3,605 pounds (Coronet wagon — wagons were typically much heavier and more expensive, so a typical Dodge sedan would be far closer to the Meadowbrook).
In 1954, the Red Ram overhead valve V8 produced 220 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm; the low-compression Meadowbrook had 140 hp (at 4,400 rpm), while the others boasted 150 hp. 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), with a length of 196 inches (except Suburban, 191 inches) and a width of 73.125 - 73.5 inches. By comparison, the 2006 Dodge Charger was a little taller, one inch wider, and on a six inch longer wheelbase.
The height was 60 inches for the convertible, 61 for the coupe, 62 for the Suburban wagon. 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.
Despite the flat-head six engine’s age and low horsepower rating, it was reputedly able to beat 80 mph. The 218 cid (3.5 liter) engine had a rear axle ratio of 3.73 (manual) or 4.1 (manual with overdrive), and was also available as a “high-output” option on the 1954 Plymouths.
Prices ranged from under $2,000 to nearly $3,600.
Styling was conservative, but would change dramatically in 1955.
1954 brought a new grille and tail-light clusters, with other minor changes, to Meadowbrook; 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, chrome, some nicer trim, and a standard V8.
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