Finned Mopar Favourites - Buyers Guide

By: Guy Allen, Cliff Chambers, Spencer Leech, Photography by: Coventry Studios, Ben Galli

Presented by

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Not much was happening in the market for late-1950s Mopar cars until 1983 when someone decided to take Stephen King’s Christine to the big screen. From that day on, every 1957-59 Plymouth hitched itself to the movie car’s notoriety and money available for real Sport Fury hardtops doubled overnight

As new cars, Australia saw very few of these big Chrysler-made models. The Dodge Custom Royal arrived in reasonable numbers for local RHD assembly, as did the four-door Plymouth Belvedere. There were a few DeSoto Fireflite sedans but no Hardtops and Chrysler Windsors as new cars here were a non-event. A few perhaps accompanied US diplomatic staff or military personnel who were allowed to import cars duty-free.

These cars’ time as prestige transport had by the mid-1960s come to an end and there just wasn’t the enthusiast demand to encourage preservation. Big Plymouths and Dodges sometimes found second lives as tow cars, but once rust took hold it was almost invariably terminal. Those available today in Australia could be fortunate survivors but more likely recent imports. Prior to the 1990s, cars built right-hand drive were more valuable than those that needed to be driven on permits or expensively converted. Today with cars like these travelling minimal distances and are virtually never seen as regular transport, the location of the steering wheel has no influence on prices.

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Values do depend greatly on condition, specification and how detailed is any history accompanying the car. Original colours, correct pattern trim and major mechanical components enhance value considerably.

Finding a DeSoto of this vintage in Australia is challenging and not easy even in the USA. The embattled brand only sold 45,000 cars during 1959, including 602 Adventurer two-doors. One of those in decent condition could be worth $65,000 but that’s not a lot dearer than a Sport Fury in similar fettle.

Convertibles pack the real punch among collectors of finned Mopar iron. The Sport Fury soft-top is scarce but still offers value at less than A$100,000 for an excellent car. Those chasing a surviving Adventurer drop-tops (from just 97 made in 1959) will lighten their wallet by US$225,000 or thereabouts.

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See our reviews on 1959 Fined Mopars here:

Plymouth Sports Fury

Chrysler Windsor

De Soto Adventurer

Dodge Custom Royal

 

BUYER'S CHECKLIST

Body & Chassis

Body panels, replacement chrome and even glass for these cars will be almost impossible to acquire in Australia. Virtually any body panels that need replacement have to come from the USA and that involves sometimes astronomical freight costs. When choosing any car this age and value, pick one that has undergone a comprehensive and documented restoration or is a pampered original. With the car on a hoist, look closely at body attachment points, suspension mounts and the lower firewall. Examine front chassis members for kinks or signs of accident repair. From there the most important areas for scrutiny are roof edges and windscreen surrounds, sills and floors. Second-hand panels are available from overseas specialists but don’t expect anything rare or in good condition to be cheap. A DeSoto bumper said to immaculate was offered at US$2500. Windows, especially the side and rear, can be a challenge to replace and costly unless supplied locally. Prices for a new Plymouth windscreen ranged between US$290 and $475 but even domestic freight within the USA added $195. 

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Engine & Transmission

Unlike General Motors which tended to produce engines specific to one or maybe two Divisions, Chrysler shared power units between all of its associated brands. The 5.2-litre (318) V8 was the base engine for most of these cars and very easy to replace or rebuild. Most upmarket models, including Plymouths and Dodges sold in Australia, would have used the optional big-block 361 (5.9-litre) V8. It was derived from a 350 cubic-inch unit which was the basis for numerous Chrysler Corp engines stretching all the way to the monster 440. Dual four-barrel carburettor set-ups are desirable but scarce. Unless you happen upon a very rare manual model, all of these cars use Chrysler’s highlyregarded Torque Flite automatic transmission. Torque Flite is button operated, so run through the functions and make sure the tranny responds within a second or so. In perfect  condition the Torque Flite rates among the smoothest of older autos so be wary of one that thumps noticeably on down-shifts, vibrates or whines when accelerating. 

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Suspension & Brakes

These were the first full-sized Chrysler cars to have their front ends suspended on torsion bars and things did not go quite as planned. Bar failures occurred but mostly during 1957 which prompted a redesign and decent reliability thereafter. However nothing lasts forever and rust around the mounting points front or rear difficult to repair. A car that sends a cracking noise through the car’s structure when hitting sharp bumps or speed-humps is best avoided. Kits of ball joints, tie-rod ends and bushings are available ex-USA for under A$500. All drum brake set-ups are marginal for vehicles of this weight and conversion to front discs is worth considering. Parts to maintain the factory braking system are being remanufactured; new drums and shoes costing around $450 per pair. Just be wary of freight costs when buying overseas. 

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Interior & Electrics

Buying a car with a usable interior is equal in importance with avoiding a rust-bucket. These big Mopars are going to cost a lot if a complete retrim is needed so pick a car that’s still got some life left in the roof lining, door-trims, seat covering and springs. A seat that’s lumpy, rocking on its mountings or collapses under you during the test drive is going to need work beyond the capabilities of an average owner. Parts will almost invariably need to be imported - assuming they are even available. If the big bench seats in these cars won’t move in response to a tug on the fore-aft adjuster don’t force it. These seats twist on their runners and may need to be removed so the mechanism can be serviced. Some models will have poweroperated windows and seats, perhaps even air-conditioners, but parts they rely on could be more than 55 years old. If something doesn’t work, check the cost of repair or replacement. An unused Plymouth a/c evaporator was offered at more than $A1000 but a new air-con/heater control panel with the cabling was a snip at US$200 plus freight.

VITAL STATISTICS

NUMBER BUILT:
Chrysler 35,473
De Soto 687, Dodge 21,206,
Plymouth 23,857 (US sales 1959)
BODY: separate/chassis four-door sedan and station wagon, two-door coupe & convertible
ENGINE: various V8 with overhead valves, single or dual downdraft carburettors
POWER & TORQUE: 227kW @ 4600rpm, 533Nm @ 3000rpm (Sport Fury 361)
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h: 8.2 seconds, 0-400 metres 16.4 seconds (Sport Fury auto)
TRANSMISSION: 3-speed manual, 3-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars, control arms & telescopic shock absorbers
(f); live axle with leaf springs & telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: Drum (f) drum (r) some with power assistance
TYRES: various sizes cross or bias ply 

 

 


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