The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Saturday, March 19, 2011

1954 Dodge Royal, Part I

I turned 14 in April of 1954 when I was in the 8th grade at Dan Mills Elementary School in Nashville. A lot happened that year. Here's an abbreviated list:

The U.S. tests a hydrogen bomb...
Supreme Court declares segregation in public schools unconstitutional...
Operation Wetback sends almost 4 million back to Mexico...
U. S. outlaws Communist party...
France throws in towel in Vietnam...
Words "under God" added to pledge of allegiance...
Rationing finally ends in England...
Three hurricanes hit U. S. in one year (Hazel one of worst of 20th century)...
First nuclear sub commissioned: USS Nautilus...
Boeing 707 takes maiden flight...
Tolkien publishes "Lord of the Rings: the Fellowship" and "the Two Towers"...
RCA all electronic color TV goes on sale ($1000)...
Swanson introduces TV dinners...
"White Christmas" premieres...
Joe Dimaggio marries Marilyn Monroe...
Elvis Presley releases his first record...

Listen to that first Elvis release, a rockin' "That's All Right Mama"



I read the Nashville Banner most everyday (and the Sunday Tennessean) and probably was aware of some of those events above. But, like most people, especially 14 year old boys, my mind was mostly on other things. I was definitely noticing girls and cars and I was thinking about what High School at Litton would be like. I definitely heard Elvis sing "That's All Right Mama" several times that year, probably played by Wayne the Brain on WMAK (or was it WKDA?)

At the time our family car was a 47 Plymouth Deluxe 4 door sedan (it was gray, not blue like the one in the pic). I liked the looks of it, lots of chrome on the dash and a nice center tail light on the trunk lid, even though I noticed it didn't stack up against the neighbors' big '53 Olds 88, the massive twin scoop grille of which I saw every morning when I looked out my window. Our aging Deluxe at 7 years old had lost most of its "luxe," and it was beginning to smoke.

One day Dad came in from a run (he was an independent truck driver--cabover White, 40' single axle trailer) and announced that after he got his sleep in, we were going out to get a new car. A Dodge. He didn't need to look at anything else.

This was news to all of us. Mother went into a panic about the cost of a new car and he spent some time easing her mind. She knew the old Plymouth was on its last legs. My brother David and I went running outside to find the neighborhood kids to brag to them about our good news. I don't know what went into Dad's decision making process; he always played any decision close to his vest, but it's very possible that he saw an ad one weekend on our 17" black and white Motorola TV. An ad like this



Or, maybe a magazine he was reading caught his eye.


Whatever convinced him, I'll never know. But I think he made a really nice choice. The one we got was not green, like in the ad above, but it was a top of the line Royal. It was wine red with a cream colored top. A real beauty. Clean, tight lines, properly proportioned, esthetically balanced, right out of the Virgil Exner design studios at Chrysler Corporation. Unfortunately it had no radio. Quite roomy inside but surprisingly small outside, if you look at one today. And one other thing, it had a 150hp Red Ram V8 with Powerflyte. It was a Hemi.

Chrysler had introduced the Hemi called a Firepower V8 on its top of the line cars in 1951. They used the knowledge they picked up when they built engines for the P47 Thunderbolt and the Patton tank during WWII.

This Royal was the car I solidified my driving skill in, had my first dates in, and filled up with .27 cent gas. I'll be telling more about this car in Part II, how our family took it to NY to visit my Aunt and Uncle that summer in 1954, how I raced it under an assumed name at Union Hill in 1958 (actually it wasn't much of a race), and got it up to 95 once on a TX highway in the moonlight that same summer. I'll tell about those stories and about how the car came to be mine at the end of my senior year of college.


4 comments:

  1. I had a '48 Plymouth Coupe, and a '55 Dodge Royal Lancer, along with three other Chrysler product cars. They used to make good cars back then!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Part II of this otta be REALLY good! ;-)

    As noted elsewhere, I'm a big fan of '50s era cars. The Ol' Man was a MOPAR kinda guy until he went to Ford sometime in the '60s... I think his '66 Mustang fastback was what made him switch.

    1954. I have hazy memories of that year, prolly because I was only nine. My Dad was stationed in Paris and our family car at the time was a Citroen sedan, which my mother HATED. I thought it was kinda cool, though, and called it the Corporal Car, for obvious reasons.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Scooney, Chrysler did make good cars in those days. I remember hearing, even as a kid, older folks saying that Chrysler products were dependable and had "good engineering." In '66 I bought a '50 Dodge 2 door sedan and drove it every day to grad school. Fluid drive. Started in cold and snow, you name it. We kept it for awhile when we moved to Columbia. I wish I still had it.

    Buck, The Mustang made a lot of people switch brands. Citroens have always interested me. The French are known for their sense of style and design, but that 2CV Citroen always looked a bit ungainly to me. It hadn't been too long after the war and maybe they didn't have their act together yet. But even the Citroen DS's which came later and which many people praised for it's looks did nothing for me personally, style wise. The couple who lived across from us in campus apartments in 1960 had a good looking little french car though. The Renault Dauphine. I wished many times I'd bought one of those rather than the Fiat which I've complained about before in these pages.

    ReplyDelete