The Dodge Coronet from 1951 got an upgrade in 1953.

1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 Dodge Cars

Styling became a tad sleeker for 1951-52. Wheelbases were unchanged, but a lower grille opening, clean flanks, and faired-in taillights improved appearance. The most-visible '52 alteration was paint applied to the grille bar just above the bumper.

A revised 1953 lineup put a lone Meadowbrook Suburban wagon and other two-door models on the 114-inch Plymouth wheelbase -- thus reviving a stubby look; a 119-inch chassis supported six-cylinder Meadowbrook, Meadowbrook Special, and Coronet sedans and club coupes. But windshields were now one-piece, rooflines restyled, and trim moved around, all of which helped improve what were still slab-sided boxes. As with all '53 Chrysler Corporation cars, this facelift marked the first direct influence of new styling chief Virgil Exner, who'd come to Highland Park from Studebaker a few years before.

But the big news for '53 was the Coronet Eight, a new top-line group that consisted of long-chassis club coupe and sedan and "shorty" convertible, Diplomat hardtop, and two-door Sierra, all powered by Dodge's first-ever performance engine: the brilliant Red Ram V-8. Arriving at 241.3 cid, it delivered 140 horsepower but was capable of much more. In essence, it was a scaled-down version of 1951's new 331-cid Chrysler Hemi.

The company had long experimented with hemispherical combustion chambers and was now cashing in on what it had learned. Against other V-8s, the Hemi offered the inherent advantages of smoother porting and manifold passages, larger valves set farther apart, better thermal efficiency, ample water jacketing, a nearly central spark-plug location, and low heat rejection into coolant. Its main drawback was cost: far more expensive to build than, say, the 1955 Chevrolet 265.

Even so, the Red Ram combined with surprisingly low weight to make the '53 Dodges terrific stormers and fine handlers. They were even frugal with fuel: A Red Ram scored 23.4 miles per gallon in the '53 Mobilgas Economy Run. Other V-8 Dodges broke 196 AAA stock-car records at Bonneville in '53, and Danny Eames drove one to a record 102.62 mph on California's El Mirage dry lake.

Several interesting show cars also contributed to Dodge's now increasingly youthful image. Like others at Chrysler in this period, these were Exner designs built by Ghia in Italy. The first was Firearrow, a nonrunning '53 roadster with a unique frameless windshield; a road-ready version appeared the following year. In late 1954 came the evolutionary Firearrow convertible and sport coupe whose lines inspired the limited-production Dual-Ghia of 1956-58. The coupe proved quite stable aerodynamically, achieving 143.44 mph on the banked oval at the Chrysler Proving Grounds in rural Chelsea, Michigan.

Only detail appearance changes occurred on Dodge's '54 production models, but the Red Ram became available across the board, and a luxurious new top-line Royal V-8 series offered club coupe, sedan, convertible, and Sport hardtop coupe. Meadowbrook now listed six and V-8 sedans and coupes on the 119-inch chassis; Coronet added long-chassis four-door Sierra wagons and short two-door Suburbans, plus convertible and Sport hardtop as before.

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