Plymouth cars of 1957: Three Years Ahead
by Jim Benjaminson
. Copyrighted by Jim Benjaminson. Reprinted by permission.
Originally published as a printed book by Motorbooks International.
The ads trumpeted: "Suddenly - It's 1960!" and "1960 - Now, Plymouth is three full years ahead."
"In one flaming moment," read another, "Plymouth leaps three full years ahead-the only car that dares to break the time barrier! The car you might have expected in 1960 is at your dealers today!"
If the hyperbole was to be believed, the new Plymouths sitting in showrooms were originally intended to be 1960 models. In an unprecedented move, Chrysler Corporation had completely revised all five of its car lines, scuttling - after just two years - the new 1955 bodies. What the corporation trotted out in its place were Virgil Exner's best designs ever, not just catching up with perennial styling giant General Motors, but leaving "the General" far behind.
The effect of the new Plymouth sent shock waves through the styling halls of both GM and Ford. One story told of GM styling boss Harley Earl walking into the office of Chevrolet exterior designer C.J. MacKichan, throwing a 1957 Plymouth catalog on his desk and asking bitterly, "Why don't you quit?"
Dave Holls, now retired from GM design, recalled in a June 1992 Collectible Automobile
interview the effect the 1957 Chrysler lineup had on GM. "I never thought we beat the Plymouth. I don't think anybody appreciated these cars as much as we did at GM." The effect of Exner's "Flite Sweep" styling caused GM to drop, after just one model year, its 1958 bodies and redesign an entirely new line of cars for 1959.
1957 Plymouth styling and trim
"The Forward Look of Motion," trumpeted the dealer data book in describing the new look. And nowhere was the forward look more evident than in the wedge-shaped silhouette of the car. Low front fenders and hood, gently sloped windshield, a razor thin flat roof with tapered rear window, and rising fins created the wedge effect. Convertibles and hardtops complemented the styling best, four door sedans probably compromising it at its worst. Station wagons, which usually adapted worst to a design, came off sleeker looking than the sedans.
If the 1956 Plymouth had been airplane inspired, the 1957 clearly took its cues from space ships. From the eye-browed headlights to the unobstructed greenhouse to the smooth clean sculptured sides, the idea of an earthbound space vehicle was everywhere. A redesigned, flatter, wider, lower frame and a switch to 14 inches wheels helped drop the 1957 Plymouth 5 inches lower than comparable 1956 models. A longer wheelbase, up 3 inches to 118 inches (122 inches for station wagons), was still ½ inch shorter than the 1949-52 cars, although few would have believed it when comparing the two cars side by side. Likewise the 1957 was actually shorter than the 1956 it replaced.
Later in the year (during May production) the frame was changed, the inner side of the box section on both rails discontinued at a point beginning at the rear spring hanger and extending forward about 18 inches to the frame kick-up section.
Everything had been done to make the car look long, low, and wide. The hood effectively split the headlights at their center line. Original plans had called for real dual headlamps, a move that required approval from each of the forty-eight states. Eight states failed to ratify the change in time, causing Plymouth to mount a parking lamp inboard of each single headlamp.
A massive front bumper split the grille into two parts, the bumper bar rising up slightly as it crossed the middle of the car, giving a slight barbell shape to the grille. Above the bumper sat the regular grille of thin horizontal bars adorned with a rather abstract version of the Mayflower ship. Under the center part of the bumper was an ungainly looking vertically slotted underpan. If there was an Achilles heel in the Plymouth design it was this underpan; dealers and customers alike complained, and by mid-January the pan, originally sporting six vertical slots, was changed, dividing each slot with a thin vertical bar. An optional bumper guard also helped hide the offending pan.
It was at the rear of the car that Flite Sweep styling really came into its own. Taillamp lenses completely filled the slightly canted, finned rear fenders; between the lamps was a large expanse of smooth deck lid broken only by the deck lid ornament. Once again the name Plymouth would only appear at the front of the car.
Round backup lights again sat below the taillamps, reminiscent of the 1956 "jet pods." Rear bumper underpans swept up from beneath a split-level rear bumper that repeated, much more smoothly, the design of the front bumper. The center of the rear bumper was grooved, with a chrome extension cascading down over the rear body pans.
Side trim was kept to a minimum. Model names appeared on the rear fenders, a V on the front fender signified V-8 power. Even the hubcaps were smooth, coming to a peak at the center. These hubcaps would prove to be popular with the custom car crowd and saw use on many other makes than Plymouth.
Belvedere models were generally adorned with a single spear of stainless running from the front fender's tip to the rear of the car. A double set of spears provided a wedge for color contrasts that were usually painted the same color as the roof in two-tone applications; Savoys had to settle for a stainless strip beginning at the forward point of the front door, running back to a level point with the rear bumper.
On two-tone applications, a canted strip of stainless fell back from this horizontal molding to the rocker panel midway on the front door. The lower body area was painted to match the roof color in two-tone applications. The Plaza, reflecting its low-level status, was usually found without any body side moldings, although the Savoy trim could be added for two toning. Station wagons followed the same patterns as the car lines, the Sport Suburban getting Belvedere trim, the Custom Suburban Savoy trim, and the Deluxe no trim.
First year of the famous torsion-bar suspension: "the best handling American cars"
There was more to the new Plymouth than just style. Engineering had been busy as well, dropping the old independent coil-spring front suspension in favor of a torsion bar setup with ball-joint steeling. Torsion bars were not new (Packard had a complex four-wheel torsion bar setup in 1955 and 1956), but the Chrysler switch to the torsion system marked a first for a major American manufacturer.
With its new Torsion-Aire Ride
(there was no air in the system, but with GM and others ready to launch true air-bag suspensions it was obligatory to include the word "Aire"), Plymouth (and its Chrysler stable mates) became the best handling cars on the American roadways.
Racer Brown, writing in the May 1957 issue of Hot Rod
magazine, said, "The [weight] distribution figures closely approach some theoretical ideals of sports cars, but set a new standard for fullsized American passenger cars. After thoroughly wringing out the standard Plymouth on all types of road and under nearly every conceivable condition, I was ready to take on all comers and prove the Plymouth was the most road able passenger car ever built in this country."
went one step further and named Plymouth the best handling car in the country-eventually awarding the 1957 Motor Trend
Car Of The Year Award to Chrysler Corporation's five divisions based on "Superior Handling and Roadability Qualities."
was a combination of several re-engineered components, including the frame, wheels and tires, suspension, and steering linkage; it included two chrome steel bars mounted parallel to the inner walls of the front frame rails. The front portion of the bar was mounted to the lower control arms while the opposite end was anchored to the car's frame. As the suspension moved up and down the bars twisted, providing springing action.
Plymouth's superb handling also owed much to the redesigned rear leaf springs. Called "levelizer springs," they were designed with short, stiff leaves in front of the axle and long, soft leaves at the rear. The rear axle was also moved forward of center. This arrangement controlled rear-end "squat" under acceleration. Changing from the splay mounting used since 1953, the springs were now outboard of the frame at both the front and rear of the spring. This helped lower the car's center of gravity and improve rear stability. All models received four springs per side with the exception of heavy-duty suspensions and Suburbans, which had six leaves.
Plymouth brakes, which had always been a strong point, were redesigned and increased to 11 inches on all models (12 inches late in the year on police cars). Called "Total Contact" braking, a full floating shoe contacted the drum along its length and width for greater braking power. The shoe moved between two rigid steel center plane support plates to guide it evenly to the drum and prevent the twisting found in ordinary brakes. The flexible shoes conformed to the drum even if the drum was temporarily distorted by hard braking. Plymouth continued to be the only car in the low-priced field with two brake cylinders on the front brakes.
Plymouth cars - models and options
Plymouths remained model coded based on status and engine. Six-cylinder Plymouths were coded P30, the V-8 cars P31. Again a numerical designation indicated the series, 1 being a Plaza, 2 a Savoy, and 3 a Belvedere.
Belvedere buvers had their choice between a club sedan (two-door), four-door sedan, Sport Coupe (two-door hardtop), Sport Sedan (four-door hardtop), and a convertible, all with a choice of 6- or 8-cylinder power except for the convertible, which mandated a V-8.
Savoy buyers found one more model to choose from in 1957 with the addition of a Sport Sedan four-door hardtop, which joined the more familiar offerings of a club sedan, four-door sedan, and two-door hardtop Sport Coupe. Plaza buyers were still given three choices, a four-door sedan, club sedan, and the club sedan-based business coupe. True to tradition, the Plaza business coupe saw the least production of any 1957 Plymouth.
Station wagon buyers continued to be a growing segment of the market (14% of Plymouth's 1957 production), and Plymouth gave these buyers just what they wanted in the form of six different models. At the top of the line was the four-door Sport Suburban, available with either six or nine-passenger seating. The four-door Custom Suburban could also be had with six- or nine-passenger seating, while the two-door Custom Suburban and Deluxe Suburban offered only six-passenger seating.
The hot 1957 Plymouth Fury
The Plymouth Fury
didn't make its public debut until December 3, 1956. Like the first Fury, the car was designed as a high-performance, personal luxury car much in the vein of the Chrysler 300s and was available only in eggshell white with gold accents. Interior appointments included an exclusive combination of cocoa and beige vinyl with coarse, woven cloth inserts; chrome moldings; a 150 mph speedometer; special steering wheel; two interior dome lights; glovebox lock; safety padding package; and airfoam seat cushions.
Under the hood was Plymouth's most potent powerplant ever, a 290 hp 318 cid engine pumping 9.25:1 compression fed by dual Carter carburetors. Spent gasses flowed out low-restriction dual exhausts. Helping get the power to the road was a complement of heavy-duty equipment, including a 10-1/2 inch clutch plate for standard-equipped cars, heavy-duty shocks, heavy-duty 120 lb-in rear springs, and special 8.00 x 14 inch nylon black sidewall tires mounted on 6 inch rims. Chrysler's new three-speed TorqueFlite automatic was also available.
Torqueflite automatic debut
Chrysler may have fallen to the back of the pack before it finally offered a fully automatic transmission, but once in the fray, nothing held them back. Derived from the two-speed PowerFlite
, the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission
would go on to fame and glory. During the drag racing wars of the early 1960s many racers were astounded to find MoPar drivers using an automatic, rather than the obligatory four-on-the-floor. Coupled to the Fury's dual quad 318, TorqueFlite proved to be a popular option.
This is an aluminum-cased Torqueflite from a later year; in 1957 it would have had a cast iron case and tailshaft brake
TorqueFlite was optional on all P31-3 models and could be had on P31-2 or P31-3 cars if they were equipped with the optional V-800 engine. PowerFlite remained on the option list for all P30 and P31 models except those with the V-800 option (the V-800 option came on line one week after introduction of the Fury, essentially providing Fury power for any Plymouth body style). By the end of the year, Plymouth had sold a higher percentage of cars equipped with automatics than either of its two low-priced competitors.
V-8 buyers (Plymouth would also sell a higher percentage of V-8 cars in 1957 than Chevrolet or Ford) could choose between the 277 cid engine
, which now developed 197 hp, an additional 10 hp over 1956 thanks to a different camshaft and carburetor, or the Fury 301
. The 277 was available only in the Plaza. The Fury 301 was the standard V-8 in Belvederes and Savoys and optional in the Plaza. Looking much like the later 318, the 301 made a one-year-only appearance in 1957. The 301 was based on the 318 block
, but had the same 3-1/8 inch stroke as the 277 (the 301's bore was bigger, though). Like the Plaza's 277, the 301 could be had with dual exhaust.
| ||P-30 (Straight Six)||P-31: 277 V8||P-31: 301 V8||P-31: 318 V8|
|Gross Brake Horsepower||132 @ 3,600||197 @ 4,400||215 @ 4,400||290|
|Torque||205 @ 1,600||270 @ 2,400||285 @ 2,800|| |
|Bore x Stroke||3.25 x 4 5/8||3.75 x 3.125||3 29/32 x 3.125||3 29/32 x 3 5/16|
|Compression pressure||120-150 psi||125-165 psi|