1956, 1957, 1958, 1959 Dodge Cars

Nineteen-fifty-six was a down year for all Detroit, and Dodge built 240,000 cars to again run eighth. But helped by torsion-bar suspension, all-new styling, and more power for '57, Dodge would climb to seventh on volume of nearly 288,000.

Carrying Exner's "second-generation" Forward Look, the '57 Dodges were longer, lower, wider, and more aggressive-looking, with a massive bumper/grille, lots of glass, and high-flying fins (ads called all of this "Swept-Wing" styling). Wheelbase stretched to 122 inches, where it would remain through 1961. The Hemi was again enlarged: bored this time to 325 cid. The result, depending on compression and carbs, was 245-310 bhp. The '57 D-500 option was a 354 from junior Chryslers, tuned for 340 bhp. The old six got another seven horses for its ultimate total of 138.

The D-500 package was Dodge's answer to the limited-edition supercars at sister divisions -- available for any model right down to the plain-Jane Coronet two-door. Shocks, springs, and the new-for-'57 front torsion bars were all suitably firmed up for what Motor Trend magazine called a "close liaison with the road" -- handling that put D-500s at the head of their class. V-8s delivered brisk-to-blistering go.

Even the relatively mild 245-bhp mill could scale 0-60 in about 9.5 seconds. For '58 the D-500 package replaced its complex Hemi with a less costly 361-cid wedgehead V-8. The wedgehead delivered 305 or 320 horsepower. Optional Bendix electronic fuel injection boosted power to 333, but it was unreliable and the few that were sold were probably replaced by carburetors.

A mild facelift with four headlamps and revised trim marked the '58 Dodges. The line was a rerun until February, when a spiffy Regal Lancer hardtop coupe was announced as one of the "spring specials" so long favored by Chrysler marketers. Some of its trim items were also available on lesser Dodges, including lancer-head grille medallion, blackout headlamp trim, and rather contrived bodyside/fin moldings.

Sensibly left alone were 1957's new Torsion-Aire Ride and optional three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission that had earned near-­universal praise -- and buyer approval. Both would persist at Dodge and throughout the corporate camp for many years.

Now in its final season, Dodge's 325 Hemi packed 252/265 bhp for '58. A 350 wedgehead offered 295 standard horsepower in Custom Royals and V-8 wagons. Although 1958 was disastrous for every Detroit make, Dodge fared worse than most. Model-year production plunged to 138,000 as the division barely finished ahead of Cadillac.

But Dodge shared in Detroit's modest 1959 recovery, building about 156,000 cars and rebounding from ninth to eighth in the volume stakes. Sales might have been better had it not been for a rather heavy-handed facelift marked by droopy hooded head-lamps and misshapen fins above suggestive thrusting taillamps. Revised interiors could be newly furnished with swivel front seats, semibuckets that pivoted outward upon opening a door.

The venerable flathead six was in its final year. V-8s, now wedgehead only, comprised a new 326 with 255 bhp for Coronets; a 305-bhp 361 for other models; and a big new 383 with 320/345 bhp. The last-named was that year's D-500 -- and not cheap. Both were thirsty, but it was the age of 30-cent-a-gallon gas and the market still craved performance (if not quite as much as before the '58 recession).

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