How Dodge Works

1954, 1955, 1956 Dodge Cars

The Royals were performance cars. This Royal Lancer is from 1957.

Dodge paced the 1954 Indianapolis 500, and trumpeted its selection with 701 replica pace-car convertibles called Royal 500. Priced at $2,632 apiece, they sported Kelsey-Hayes chrome wire wheels, "continental" outside spare tire, special ornamentation, and a tuned 150-bhp Red Ram. A dealer-installed four-barrel Offenhauser manifold was also available, which must have made this a screamer, though Chrysler never quoted actual horsepower.

The Royal 500 symbolized Dodge's rapid emergence as Chrysler's "performance" outfit. And indeed, the division was rolling up more competition successes. Lincoln is famous for its dominance in the Mexican Road Race of these years. Less widely known is the fact that Dodge overwhelmed the event's Medium Stock class in 1954, finishing 1-2-3-4-6-9.

After suffering poor '54 sales along with sister divisions, Dodge came back with a vengeance. Bearing Exner's first-generation "Forward Look," the all-new '55s were flashy but not overdone, the work of Exner lieutenant Murray Baldwin. They were bigger as well as brighter, with all models on a 120-inch wheelbase. Series comprised six and V-8 Coronets and V-8 Royals and Custom Royals.

The last, the new line-topper, offered four-door sedan and three Lancer submodels: sedan (a midyear arrival), convertible, and hardtop coupe. The old six, which had been coaxed to 110 horsepower for '54, now packed 123 bhp. The Red Ram was bored to 270.1 cid, good for 175/183 bhp; an optional "Power Package" with four-barrel carb delivered 193. Dodge prospered with greatly increased '55 volume of nearly 277,000 cars, but rivals also did well in that record industry year and Dodge couldn't budge from eighth place­.

An interesting '55 footnote was "La Femme," a Custom Royal Lancer hardtop coupe painted pink and white. As the name implied, it featured custom accoutrements for m'lady, including a folding umbrella and a fitted handbag in the backs of the front seats. La Femme returned for '56, but response was minimal and few of these cars were produced.

Most '55 Dodge Lancers wore tiny chrome rear-fender trim suggesting fins. For '56 Highland Park offered sharply uplifted fenders, and Dodge wore them as well as any. Two-speed PowerFlite, the firm's first fully automatic transmission, had arrived with lever control in '54. Now it had pushbuttons in a handy pod to the left of the wheel.

Besides revised frontal styling and new interiors, Dodge '56 also advertised a stroked "Super Red Ram" V-8 with 315 cid and 218 horsepower, versus 189 for the returning 270. The evergreen six now offered 131 horses. Available across the board was the first of the now-famous "D-500" options. For '56 this was just a four-barrel carb that provided 230 horsepower.

However, a Chrysler historical publication also lists a four-barrel 315 with higher compression (9.25:1 vs. 8.0 elsewhere), good for 260 horsepower. Other '56 developments involved a new Lancer four-door hardtop sedan in each series, and a "spring special" Golden Lancer, a D-500 Custom Royal hardtop coupe with Sapphire White/Gallant Gold exterior and harmonizing white/black/gray interior.

For more on the all-American Dodge, see:

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  • Dodge Used Car Reviews and Prices