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Plymouth cars of
1958: More of the same

by Jim Benjaminson. Copyrighted by Jim Benjaminson. Reprinted by permission.
Originally published as a printed book by Motorbooks International.

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Hungrily looking forward to another year as good as the last one, Plymouth dealers gazed upon a car that at first glance had few, if any, changes. Like the 1950 compared to the 1949, it was easy to assume there were few differences between the two cars. In its December 1957 issue, Motor Life commented, "If any could get by in 1958 without a major change, that car would be Plymouth."

In an era when change for the sake of change was prevalent, there were gripes from some dealers that the cars hadn't changed enough. Often when a stunning design is introduced the next year's remake spoils the original-not so with the 1958 Plymouth. What few changes were made were mostly for the better. Unfortunately for the industry-and the country-the nation was gripped by a short economic downturn since labeled the "Eisenhower recession."

Sales for the first half of 1958 were the lowest since 1952, year-end totals nose-diving from 6,113,000 cars in 1957 to 4,258,000 for calendar year 1958. Chevrolet sales had managed to pick up by 2.2% based largely on Chevy's all-new car. Plymouth sales dropped 1.6%, while Ford sank 2.9%. Chrysler corporate sales were off by 47%.

Plymouth managed to hold onto the third-place sales ranking it had fought so hard to gain back in 1957. Buick was having its own troubles, reeling from the unpopular styling of its 1957 cars. For 1958, Plymouth's challenge would come from Rambler.

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Two of 1957's most criticized features were changed for the better. The lower bumper pan was replaced by a lower grille that matched the upper section in an opening reminiscent of the Chrysler 300 grille. The other change came in the form of real dual headlamps, which had now been legalized in all forty-eight states.

Adding the second sealed beam meant Plymouth had to find somewhere else to mount the parking lamps, which they cleverly nestled under the headlight brow above the twin lamps. On the edge of the hood rode a winged ornament with "Plymouth" embedded in it while the grille had a prominent "V" ornament (V -8 cars only). For the first time since 1928 the Mayflower did not appear anywhere on the car.

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If there was a downfall to the 1958 design it was the taillights. The fin-filling lens of 1957 was replaced by a chrome spike (Plymouth called it a reflecting tower) that was supposed to reflect red from the taillight over the aluminum panel inside the fin blade, the taillight taking the place of the round back-up lamps of the year before. The backup light, now a single unit, was built into the center of the rear bumper.

Belvederes all sported Fury-style side trim flowing from the front fender at an angle toward the rear of the car before kicking up to reach the tailfin's upper edge. Two-tone Sportone versions could have this area filled with silver anodized aluminum trim much like the gold trim used on the Fury, or the spear could be painted a contrasting color. Belvederes without Sportone trim had a single stainless spear running from front to rear in a straight line. These cars, when two toned, had the roof painted to contrast with the lower body.

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The Savoy Sportone mimicked 1957 DeSoto trim, forming a forward-pointing arrow along the bottom of the body. Savoys without Sportone had the same horizontal stainless trim as the plain Belvederes, The Plaza, normally the plain Jane of the group, had an abbreviated stainless strip running from the forward edge of the front door back to the bumper as standard (on later cars only) with an optional Sportone forming a spear covering the doors. When two toned, the roof and spear were painted colors that contrasted the body's.

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Buyers were given their choice of a Belvedere Sport Coupe, Sport Sedan, four-door sedan, two door club sedan, or convertible. Savoys offered the same line-up with the exception of the convertible; Plaza buyers were given just three models to chose from, a four-door sedan, two-door club sedan, and the rear-seatless two-door business coupe based on the club sedan body. As usual, an optional rear seat was available for the business coupe.

Station wagon buyers weren't overlooked, as wagon sales grew to 28.3 percent of production. At the top of the line was the Sport Suburban in either six- or nine-passenger form corresponding to the Belvedere, followed by the Custom Suburban (Savoy trim) four door in six- or nine-passenger format, and a Custom (Plaza) four-door six-passenger wagon. Two-door, six-passenger wagons could also be had in Custom or Deluxe trim. All models were available with choice of 6- or 8-cylinder power with the exception of the Belvedere convertible and Fury. Later in the model year it was announced that the Custom Suburban had become the first station wagon to ever lead body style sales in the Plymouth line. Before the end of the year, the Savoy four-door slipped past to edge the wagon out 67,933 to 61,790 for that honor.

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In its final year as Plymouth's factory hot-rod, the Fury (advertised as the "Star Of The Forward Look") gave customers the choice of two V-8 engines-the standard 290 hp Dual Fury V-800 318 or the new 305 hp Golden Commando 350, both sporting dual four-barrel carburetors backed by a 10-1/2 inch heavy-duty clutch manual transmission or three-speed TorqueFlite automatic.

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Getting power to the pavement fell to heavy-duty torsion bars, shock absorbers, and rear springs, and high-performance 8.00x14 inch nylon tires on 6 inch wide wheels.

Fury's trademark upswept side spear was shared with the Sportone Belvedere, the difference being that the Fury's trim was gold anodized. Other anodized gold trim included the grille and hubcap centers. Inside, a custom two-tone beige, cocoa, and gold interior replaced the previous gold on white. Sun visors and instrument panels were padded, and the speedometer topped at 150 mph. New for the year was a switch to Buckskin Beige from the traditional egg-shell white of the 1956-1957 Fury.

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Interior differences to the rest of the line were minimal, the most noticeable change coming in the movement of the rear-view mirror-still mounted on the dash panel but moved forward from the windshield molding. Belvedere four door and club sedan upholstery featured blue, green, coral, or black "Reflections"-pattern, metallic threaded Jacquard fabric with bolsters of dark blue, dark green, or black vinyl with the blue, green, or coral seats; white or red vinyl with black seats. Sport Coupes and Sport Sedans used blue, green, coral, or black "Calypso"-pattern, metallic threaded Jacquard fabric with white vinyl bolsters on all colors, with red bolsters available for black seats. Convertibles used blue, green, coral, or black "Wove-naire" ventilating vinyl with white vinyl bolsters, red again available on request with black seats.

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Savoys were fitted with blue, agreen, or black "Star Cluster" Jacquard fabric with bolsters of blue or green with seats of the same color; white bolsters were used with black seats or red if requested regardless of body style. Plaza buyers had the choice of blue, green, or black "Textured Moderne" Jacquard with beige bolsters used on blue or green seats, black bolsters with black seats. Sport Suburbans got the Savoy "Calypso" interior pattern and colors, Custom Suburbans the convertible's "Wove-naire" vinyl in blue, green, or black, while Deluxe Suburbans came in a single shade of beige on black "Sequin" pattern ventilating vinyl with beige bolsters.

Few changes were made under the hood-the PowerFlow Six struggled on for one more year, developing 152hp at 3600rpm. The base V-8 was the Fury V-800, a 31Sci 225hp two-barrel which was standard on all models except the Fury. Like its four-barrel cousin, the Fury V-800 with Super Pak (250hp) could be mated to the straight-stick trans-
mission (with or without overdrive), PowerFlite, or three-speed TorqueFlite. The Dual Fury V-800, also a 318 but with 9.25:1 compression and dual four-barrel carburetors, was exclusive to the Fury and could be mated only to the standard transmission without overdrive or TorqueFlite.

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Making a one-year-only appearance was the Golden Commando 350. This dual-carbed, 10:1 compression ratio V-8 developed 305hp at 5000rpm, churning out 3701b-ft of torque at 3600rpm. Based on the Chrysler "B" block introduced in 1958, the engine would later be more familiar in its 383, 426, and 440 forms (in addition to the later 361 and 400 versions). The 350 shared the same transmission options as the Dual Fury V-800.

Last but not least among engine options was the "soon to be available on any Plymouth except station wagons" Golden Commando with fuel injection. This powerplant was cataloged in the dealer data book as a "limited-production, optional engine designed for and offered to a select group of high-performance enthusiasts who demand an engine that's truly out of the ordinary [mating] fuel injection with the most advanced high-performance engine available in its field."

Designed and built by Bendix, the "Electrojector" system proved to be more fancy than fact. Published specifications rated the fuel-injected Golden Commando at 315 hp, with the same torque and compression as the standard Golden Commando. Exactly where the trouble lay with the Bendix system is not known. As an attempt to catch Chevrolet and Pontiac's mechanical Rochester fuel injection systems, the Bendix system proved a failure, so much so that the few injected cars in public hands were recalled and the units removed.

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A new performance option for 1958 was the "Sure-Grip" differential. Sure-Grip prevented the momentary spinning of the wheels when poor traction was encountered. With the high-performance cars it also assured equal traction in getting the power to the roadway. Sure-Grip could be ordered with any engine from the six to the Golden Commando and with any transmission combination except overdrive. Then coupled to the six with either standard or PowerFlite, the rear axle ratio was 3.73; 318s with stick or PowerFlite also got the 3.7:3 ratio, but with TorqueFlite the standard ratio was 3.31 although 3.73 could be ordered. The Golden Commando with manual transmission also used the 3.73 ratio, but TorqueFlite's standard ratio was 3.31 with the option of 3.73. Cars built after mid-May with Golden Commando and standard transmission had the ratio changed from 3.73 to 3.31 across the board.

Also new in 1958 was the Carter AFB four-barrel carburetor, with reduced height, aluminum castings, and a throttle body integral to the main body. The step-up rods, pistons, and springs were also more accessible, and could be serviced without removing the air horn. On Plymouth, Dodge, and DeSoto cars, they used crossover automatic chokes; on Chrysler and Imperial, they used integral automatic chokes. The venturis were replaceable.

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Cars built with standard transmissions after February 21 received an all-new transmission providing more positive detent feel, shorter shift lever travel, and different ratios. The transmission housing, shift rods, and levers were also changed and did not interchange with earlier transmissions. These new transmissions were stamped with identifying letters: code letters LA for use on standard 6- cylinder cars, LB on 8-cylinder cars, LC for 6-cylinder cars with heavy-duty transmission, and LD for both 6- and 8-cylinder overdrive cars. A new, compact full-time power steering system also debuted.

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Motor Trend
and Motor Life both road tested several 1958 Plymouths, Motor Trend pitting a Fury against an Impala and Fairlane 500 and later testing a Belvedere Sport Sedan (both Plymouths had the 305 hp Golden Commando engine). Motor Trend also briefly drove a Savoy while Motor Life tested both a Belvedere Sport Sedan and a 6-cylinder, overdrive-equipped Savoy Club Sedan.

In Motor Trend's three-way comparison, Plymouth picked up "poorest front seat" honors. All three cars received bad marks for rear-seat entry and egress. Plymouth was easily picked as the best handling but with the harshest ride. Considering the Fury had a heavy-duty suspension, this was not surprising. All the Plymouths tested by both magazines walked away with top handling honors though all noted the cars had a tendency to wander when buffeted by side winds. Plymouth's three and a half turn lock-to-lock steering gave it the ease of handling award compared to Ford's four and a half and Chevrolet's five turns. Other accolades included good assembly and finish, good cornering and the "finest brakes in the industry." Road testers, however, faulted the TorqueFlite transmission calling it too "sensitive," preferring instead the smoothness of PowerFlite.

Performance comparisons of the three cars varied-the Chevrolet had a 280 hp V-8, the Ford a 300 hp and the Fury a 305 hp. Overall gas mileage in stop-and-go driving gave Chevrolet top honors at 12.7 mpg, with Ford in second at 10.3. The Fury returned a dismal 8.4 mph. Highway driving brought similar results-Chevrolet 14.6mpg, Ford 13.4mpg and Plymouth 10.6mpg.

Zero to 60 mph tests showed Plymouth at its best, the Fury zipping to a 7.7 second run, followed by the Chevrolet in 9.1 seconds, with Ford bringing up the rear in 10.2 seconds. Quarter-mile times were much closer; while the Ford wasn't recorded in this test, Plymouth barely nipped out Chevrolet, reaching 86.5 mph in 16.1 seconds to the Impala's 83.5 mph in 16.5 seconds.

Nearly all of the road tests were conducted with the biggest V-8s, except for a July 1958 Motor Life road test of a 6-cylinder overdrive Savoy Club Sedan. Motor Life's comments on the car were "good basic transportation" with a "marked air of austerity." The Savoy six recorded an overall average of 18 mpg and lumbered through the 0-60 mph trial in 16.2 seconds. Commenting on the car, Motor Life concluded, "Owning a Plymouth six instead of a V- 8 unquestionably will result in saving some money in purchase price (the V-8 cost an additional $107) and operating and maintenance costs but the difference is so slight it will be worthwhile to only a few. Echoing the other magazines, Motor Life called the Plymouth's handling "magnificent." Road testers' preference for the V-8 echoed the buying public's-the Mound Road engine plant celebrated building its one millionth V-8 engine June 8.

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Motor Trend's gas mileage results in comparing the Fury against an Impala and Fairlane 500 didn't reflect the mileage most people could expect from a Plymouth. For the second straight year, Plymouth captured the two top places for low-priced cars in the Mobilgas Economy Run. Mary Davis, who the year before had taken top honors, had to settle for second place behind Pierce Venable - his car averaging 20.0088 mpg to Davis' 19.9897. Two cars scored higher mileages, but Venable's 48.3264 ton/mpg was the determining factor in being declared overall winner. Davis' car turned in a 48.1801 ton/mpg rating.

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A new code system was introduced with the 1958 models, replacing the familiar "P" numbering system. Unknown to the general public the system had gone into effect years earlier, assigning a specific letter code to certain model years, presumably so competitors wouldn't know exactly what model year was being referred to should they hear of a development for a certain series of cars. The first cars to receive the code were the 1949 models, coded "C." Corresponding letters progressed through the years, skipping the letter "I," making the 1956 cars the "I" series. Hence 1958's new code system began with the letter "L," followed by "P" for Plymouth. Number codes were used to designate engines-"1" for 6-cylinder, "2" for V-8 cars. Following these letters and numbers was another letter designating price class-"L" for low prices, "M" for medium priced and "H" for high priced.

The lowest priced Plaza series became an LPl-L (six) or LP2-L (eight). Savoys were LP1-M or LP2-M and Belvederes LP1-H or LP2-H. The Fury used the V-8 Belvedere designation of LP2-H. In succeeding years, the first letter would move one step up the alphabet, the 1959s becoming the M series cars.

The code letters L, M, and H were used internally and did not appear in the cars' serial numbering system, which was also changed to reflect the new model codes. Under the new system serial numbers began with the first two code letters-L for 1958, P for Plymouth, followed by numbers "1" or "2" to designate 6- or 8-cylinder power. Serial numbers for all series began at 1001 and worked their way up. To designate which assembly plant the vehicle had been built in another code letter was added behind the model designation-except on
Detroit-built cars. Thus, a 6-cylinder car built at Detroit would read LP1-1001, while a similar car built in Evansville had a serial number of LP1E-1001. These code letters were simple enough-E for Evansville, L for Los Angeles, N for Newark, Delaware, and W for Windsor, Ontario.

Midway through the model year a "Silver Special" package was introduced on Plaza two- and four-door sedans. Consisting of Sportone trim with anodized aluminum insert, front fender and door moldings, special metallic silver roof paint, full wheel covers, whitewall tires, directional signals, electric wipers, windshield washers, and "Forward Look" emblems pirated from the 1956 Plymouth, the two-door Silver Special was to sell for $1,958 in 1958. Another mid-year addition was the four-door Deluxe Suburban six-passenger wagon.

There were also mid-year changes to the front pans located between the body and bumper, as noted by Chrysler stylist Jeff Godshall in a 1988 Plymouth Bulletin:

According to sales catalogs, both upper and lower grille pans were originally painted body color. Apparently this caused a problem in the plants. When the 1957 Chrysler Corporation .Annual Report was published on February 13, 1958, the Plymouths pictured had argent lower grille pans instead of body color. But when a Ross Roy Confidential Bulletin was issued March 14, 1958, both the lower grille pan and the center upper grille pan were painted argent, although the upper grille pans beneath the headlights remained body color. This last paint scheme was identical to that used on the 1957 Plymouth.

This was probably the easiest to paint in the plants, since the grille pans were not part of the basic body and thus were a problem to paint body color. On both the 1957 and 1958 Furys, the upper and lower grille pans were painted the special Fury body color.
Despite reduced sales, Plymouth remained in third place. Virgil Exner, having returned to work after an illness (when he took ill in 1957 it was feared he would have to retire permanently) would be called on to redesign the 1957 bodies one more time.

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