When we featured this glorious car back in the spring of 2018, little did we realise it would turn up as one of our heat winners, never mind become overall winner of this year’s Footman James and Kingstown Shipping Car of the Year at the NEC Classic Motor Show. Here’s a quick reminder… Words: Nigel Boothman. Photography: John Colley.
1957 Dodge Custom Royal By Royal Command
If you had $3635 to spend in 1957, a Dodge Custom Royal Super D500 was still $1000 less than the cheapest Chrysler convertible − it was basically the same car − and $1500 less than the least ex pensive rag-top Cadillac. Good value, wouldn’t you say? All the exterior flash which distinguished it from Coronets and Royals was included in the price, along with fully-carpeted floors and bench seats wrapped with brocade for the seating panels and vinyl around the bolster areas. Best of all, you got 310bhp from two four-barrel Carter WCFB carbs feeding the hemi heads on that 325 cu in V8.
The first owner of this car racked up a few dollars more on options: There are six-way power seats, an electric clock, a radio and, most ex citing of all, the Highway Hi-Fi record player. We think this was the first factory-fitted in-car record player, brand new in 1956. It aimed to overcome the problems of playing records in moving cars by using specially-pressed discs rotating at 16-and-two-thirds rpm and with 550 grooves per inch, giving 45 minutes of music despite being the size of a seven-inch single. Good in theory, but Chrysler felt the pinch from warranty claims and cancelled it after 1958.
We wouldn’t get to see this one without Gary Sanders. Gary is really a Harley-Davidson guy, but had a hankering for a four-wheeled classic, so he went to see this one in the flesh, in Phoenix, Arizona: “The dealer said it had been through a two-year restoration, but the previous owner developed health problems and it was being sold without being used,” he says. “I went right over this car for a couple of hours and I just couldn’t fault it, so a deal was done and I brought it over in a container.”
After a long rebuild and zero use, a few teething troubles were inevitable: “The brakes pulled badly to one side,” says Gary. “I rebuilt them and it’s much better. I also fitted new tyres; some radials that look exactly like the original cross-plies. It’s made a big improvement to the car’s behaviour on the road.” Gary has had that amazing Highway Hi-Fi converted to play 45 rpm singles, while the valve radio now also picks up Bluetooth signals. It’s one of many things that Gary enjoys about driving the Dodge.
“At 60mph on the dual carriageway it’s brilliant. It stops well and it picks up with a surge of power. The convertible top is an exceptionally good fit so it’s surprisingly quiet at speed with the roof up. ”Perfect? Well, almost. “The car has Lancer emblems on each tail fin; there’s a lance and a shield with the outline of a knight’s helmet. Someone approached me at a show and said, ‘Do you know your Lancers are pointing the wrong way?’ It was news to me… so I swapped them over.” It was a winner already; we think you’ll agree.
Highway hi fi used special, but short-lived , records. Gary Sanders with his gorgeous Dodge. Super D500 Hemi-headed 325c u in V8 with two four- barrel Carter carbs. Push-button transmission was a Fifties Mopar trademark. D500 engine was the top offering. A two-year restoration has resulted in an ‘as-new’ interior. Dual headlamps arrived in 1958.