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.
More expensive to restore than a Ford or Chevy
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 Chevrolet.
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 numbers.
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, Plymouth's 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 The "Forward Look" now looked outdated.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 no longer the top-line series. That honor now went to the new Fury series, and that four-door sedan had a base price tag of $2,691, which was a hefty 7.2% increase. The special status of the earlier Fury's was no more, but you could still option one up for serious get up and go.
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 the line-up.
Another special model offered as a sub-series in 1957 was the performance-oriented Fury, offered only as a two-door hardtop with a 235hp 318ci 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 350ci 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 cabin award..
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.
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.
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! 2019 update:Well, now they are -- and then some. #1, well optioned convertibles fetch $100,000 now, with 2dr hardtops about 50-60% of that. The '57 and '58 Fury hardtops are the exception, and can also hit $100,000. These rarely show up at auction and they have quite a following, so we suspect many trade hands privately.
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. Values may spike a bit initially, but a bit of the "orphan curse" may affect them long term.
(C) Copyright 2000- VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved. This article first appeared in the May 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.