In the fall of 1956, new car showrooms
around the country were buzzing with excitement as dozens of new models
were revealed for the throngs of car-crazy Americans. There can be no
doubt, however, that the boldest new designs adorned the brands marketed
by Chrysler Corporation.
The styling genius behind the all new
look for all Chrysler lines, including the Plymouth, was Virgil Exner.
After using the phrase "The Forward Look" for the introduction
of the 1956 models, 1957 brought "Suddenly It's 1960".
1957 represented the most significant styling changes in the company's
history in that it affected each and every automotive make and model.
With sweeping fins, aero-dynamic silhouettes, and bigger, more powerful
engines, Plymouth was keeping up with its main competition, Ford and
At the entry level for car buyers was the
new Plymouth line-up that featured a full compliment of series and
models. Everywhere you looked inside the dealership for these
cars, the sales theme of "Suddenly It's 1960" was touted
everywhere. During the model year Plymouth saw a total of 762,231
units produced, which was a 46% increase over the 1956 production
The euphoria of being "suddenly
1960" wore off towards the end of the model year when a serious
recession hit the United States. It was about the same as the
introduction of the Edsel, and part of that make's failure was due to
the tight spending many new car buyers were imposing upon themselves.
For the 1958 model year, the bubble burst
for all automakers as sales plummeted from their all-time highs for
1957. Plymouth was hit especially hard, seeing model year production
drop by 318,432 units, or a 41.7% drop from the previous year. Styling
changes were minimal in 1958, the biggest news being the incorporation
of a quad-headlight system that was sweeping the industry that year.
For 1959, Plymouth received fairly
extensive restyling, which in this writer's opinion, was a vast
improvement. As America's economy improved in late 1958, so did the
picture at Plymouth, with production rising to 458,261 units -- still
below record levels, but an increase of 43.9% from 1958.
1960 saw Plymouth introduce a dramatic
re-styling that took the good points of 1959 and exaggerated those
features almost to the point of absurdity. Just as fins were being
subdued at GM, Plymouths reached new heights. The Forward Look
now looked outdated. As a result, the production of the full-size models
that year dropped to just 253,430 units, or falling by 44.5%!
Saving the Plymouth name was the
introduction of a new compact model, the Valiant. While this car was
technically a stand-alone make, it was marketed through Plymouth dealers
and eventually took on this trusted brand's nameplate. With the Valiant
totals rolled into the full-size Plymouth's, the sales total rose to
447,722. Even with this higher figure, Plymouth slipped to fourth place
in automotive sales as Rambler passed them by fewer than 2,000 cars.
Prices had also been a factor during this
time. When the 1957 model year began, the Belvedere four-door sedan
equipped with the base 8-cylinder engine listed at $2,385. This same
model jumped up to $2,512, or a little over 5.3%, while in 1959 another
increase took the most popular Plymouth to $2,559. Due to a
line-up shuffle though, the 1959 Belvedere sedan was not the top-line
series with those honors going to the new Fury series, and that
four-door sedan had a base price tag of $2,691, which was a hefty 7.2%
From 1957 to 1960, Plymouth was offered
in three basic series or trim levels. In 1957, those looking for
economical transportation found the Plaza best suited their needs. It
offered basic sedans and station wagons. The Savoy was the mid-level
series, offering both sedans and a hardtop, as well as a higher level of
trim in the station wagon, or Suburban line. Taking the top honors in
the line-up this year were the Belvedere's. Lots of flash, a little more
trim, and a full range of body-styles, including the only convertible in
Another special model offered as a
sub-series in 1957 was the performance-oriented Fury, offered only as a
two-door hardtop with a 235 hp 318 cid V8. As an option, a
dual-quad 318 V8 churning out 290hp was also offered, and these are
quite rare today, as they were when new.
In 1958, the Plymouth line-up was very
similar with Savoy, Plaza, and Belvedere series, offering the Fury as a
sub-series. New to the line was a larger 350 cid V8, offered with
dual-quads, and belting out 305 horses. A not-too-successful option made
available in the first part of the year was an electronic fuel-injection
system, that proved to be a failure. Eventually, Plymouth dealers
recalled all units equipped with this system and made retrofits to the
conventional four-barrel Carter carburetor, as well as refunding the
difference between the two systems, about $175.00.
For 1959 Plymouth offered a new Golden
Commando 395 V8. Taking a cue from other makes, the "395" did
not indicate either the displacement nor the horsepower, but was based
on the foot-pound torque ratings that were generated by the 361 cid, 305
horsepower V8. The Plaza series was retired, with Savoy taking on the
economy model mantra. Belvedere was dropped to mid-series, and a new
Fury series were the new top sedan and wagon models. For convertible
buyer, and those who wanted a sporty hardtop the Sport Fury was
available with more trim, flash, and options.
As touched on earlier, Plymouth was
graced with the arrival of the compact Valiant for 1960. For full-size
car buyers the 1960 line-up was similar to 1959. Unfortunately, Plymouth
dropped the special Fury Sport editions. A new option for Plymouths this
year was an optional "Ski-Hi" rear window that was available
on both the Belvedere and Fury two-door hardtops. The window cut
deeply into the rear of the roof, outdoing GM's bubble tops for the airy
WHERE DID THEY ALL GO?
Plymouths from this time period are very
much sought after by collectors today, but are not too plentiful in
supply. As new cars, the new Forward Look models suffered from
severe quality control problems. Premature rust-out helped a
number of Plymouths from this era leave the road early.
One of the weakest points in these cars,
especially the 1957 models, was the substandard interior soft trim
materials used. Often a Plymouth just a few month old, was in the
dealership for complete front seats reconditioning. On the outside, the
anodized aluminum trim pieces were prone to speedy corrosion which led
to lower resale prices.
Mechanically, Plymouth was a fairly
reliable unit. Up to 1958, the flat-head in-line six on base models was
an engine that had been around since the early 1930s. When the first V8s
in Plymouth appeared in 1955, they used conventional advancements for
the day, proving to be quite reliable. Often the car's body would
deteriorate long before the
mechanics of the Plymouth gave up the ghost.
Resale values of the Plymouths when they
were new also contributed to their early demise. By 1961 a 1957
Belvedere four-door sedan had dropped in value substantially more than
its main competitors, the Chevrolet Bel Air and Ford Fairlane 500. This
trend continued each year, seeing the values drop far ahead of competing
Ford and Chevy models. Between lower resale prices, physical problems
with the body, soft-trim and even some chassis problems, many of the
Plymouths from this era were destined to be prematurely scrapped.
THE MARKET TODAY
In the mid-1970s when cars from the 1950s
started to catch collector's interest, Chevy's and Fords were snapped up
as quickly as they were recognized for being something special.
Plymouths, and for that matter other Chrysler lines from the
"Forward Look" era, were largely passed over except for the
very special models.
While Chrysler 300 letter cars and DeSoto
Adventurers were being snapped up left and right, Plymouths were left
behind. The Fury models from 1957 and 1958, especially those with the
optional dual four-barrel intakes, were appreciated and collected by a
few dedicated hobbyists. Unfortunately, a large number of these cars had
been sent off to the parts yards many years before their counterparts
from Ford and Chevrolet.
Current value guides indicate that
several Plymouths from this era, especially the Fury and Belvedere
hardtops and convertibles, have appreciated by up to 35% since 1995.
Current pricing guides place top values on these cars in the $20,000 to
$28,000 for convertible models. On
the auction block these cars are rare sights, and often sell above those
figures. Some recently advertised early Fury hardtops are approaching
the $30,000 mark. Of course, you can ask whatever you want.
We don't see too many selling at that price.
For latest values, click here
At the 1999 Barrett-Jackson sale in
Scottsdale, Arizona, a fully restored 1960 Fury convertible equipped
with the dual four-barrel intake system was placed on the auction block
and traded hands for an amazing $50,000! No, that doesn't make all
Fury convertibles worth that much!
These cars offer a lot of flash, and some
speed to go with it. Lesser models, the Plaza, Savoy, and Belvedere
sedans can make great economical collector cars. However, before
purchasing one of these vehicles be sure you check the body condition,
chassis integrity, and mechanical operation.
With Daimler-Chrysler's announcement that
the Plymouth name would be phased out by the end of the 2001 model year,
it is unclear what affect it will have on collectible Plymouths.