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by Shannon Mafodda
In 1958 the Dodge division of the Chrysler Corporation of Detroit,
Michigan started out with three models: the Coronet, Royal,
and Custom Royal. These models used the same turret as some Desotos,
but had a distinctive body style of their own. All were essentially similar, with different trim lines and features.
The Coronet was the base model. It didn’t
have as much chrome as the other two models, which was especially
noticeable on the front with the lack of “teeth” and dress work. They also had a different rear bumper bar which had little rubber stoppers on the corners. Ironically, the Coronet had been the top Dodge model from 1949 to 1953.
The majority of Coronets had the Getaway 6, a mighty
engine in its time, which produced 123 gross horsepower (similar to, but replacing, the “Powerflow Six”). They also
came out with the 325 cubic inch Red Ram V8, built at Mound Road, a good one to drive. The 361 V8 was optional. These were polyspherical-head engines, similar to the original Hemi but with cheaper heads.
There were two automatic transmissions. The first was the PowerFlite push button two speed transmission, with a 1.72 to 1 first gear comparable to the GM PowerGlide (second gear was 1:1). The other automatic was
the new, modern 3 speed TorqueFlite automatic, a big step up.
The Lancer was a hardtop version of the Coronet, sold with two or four doors; later in the year, Dodge launched the Regal Lancer, a two-door hardtop using a 350 cubic inch V8 as its base engine. Other body styles were two and four door sedans, and convertibles.
The next 1958 Dodge was the Royal, which came with the 325 Poly V8 engine, dubbed just “Red Ram;” the 361 was optional, even then. It was sold only as a sedan or in Lancer form — as a hardtop.
The Custom Royal was the top of the line. Even in its base configuration, the Custom Royal was a special car.
It came standard with the Super Red Ram 350 V8. The 350 is a big block engine in size, but a small
block in cubes. The engine came out of the factory with 10 to 1
compression and a mighty 300 brake horsepower (gross) in its four barrel version. (The Canadian version used a 354 Poly.)
From its fully machined crank to its raised
single plane manifold, this engine was made to rock. It came standard
with a two barrel WW series downdraft carburetor, which was okay but it
needed a bit more throat; an optional four barrel version complemented the engine better.
Another other engine option, coded D500, was a 361 V8 with a 4 barrel carb, very similar
to the 350. The Dodge workshop manual refers to this engine as a
360 (a later, completely different 360 muddied the waters somewhat). It came with a dual contact distributor, and was said to produce 300 horsepower.
Just a dozen Dodges were sold with a new Bendix electronic fuel injection system; the cars were recalled and carburetors were put in.
The majority of 1958 and 1959 Facel Vegas, the French cars with
Dodge running gear, had D500 engines and boasted a top
speed of 175 mph. A twin four-barrel version, using Carter WCFB carbeturors, produced 310 hp.
The Custom Royal also had great deal more chrome work and included
the trickiest exhaust tips I have ever seen. They bolted to the rear
bumper and had little louvres on them; they are quite rare.
The Custom Royal also had the Knight’s Head emblem on the front
guards, steering wheel and the hubcaps (also a rare item). Most
vehicles came out of the factory as two tones, I have seen red and
white, blue and white, black and white and dark green and light green.
I have seen some single colour cars such as all black and bronze, but
you don’t see them as often. In fact, the Custom Royal is a rare sight
on the roads of Australia. I have been told that there were only 200
hundred factory RHD vehicles exported to Australia from America. They
were mainly vehicles made up of various parts with small changes in
chrome work and options.
The options on the Custom Royal were air conditioning, power
steering, electric seats, power windows and — most impressive — a kerosene
heater in the back seat (Canada only); they also had different engine
options which could turn your Custom Royal from a cruiser to a screamer. Body styles were a six-passenger sedan, two and four door hardtops, convertible, and two-door Regal Lancer. A Spring Special included a grille medallion, different side molding and rear fin trim, and “blackout” headlights.
As for wagons, there were also three series. The two-door Suburban was the base trim, comparable to the Coronet; then came the Sierra, comparable to Royal, and the Custom Sierra, the equivalent of the Custom Royal. Dodge only made around 20,000 wagons for the 1958 model year, according to the Standard Catalog of Chrysler. They started at $2,930 and went up to $3,314 for the nine-passenger Custom Sierra, vs $2,495 for the base Coronet and $2,985 for the base Custom Royal sedan.
Worldwide, Plymouth remained the #1 Chrysler Corporation brand, with 387,617 sales, but Dodge was gaining ground, building 133,953 cars for the model year. Coronet was clearly the sales leader, with 77,388 made versus 21,000 or so Custom Royals, 15,500 or so Royals, and around 20,000 Suburban and Sierra wagons.
The D500 model is profiled here.
Chrysler 1904-2018 •
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