Curbside Classic: 1959 Chrysler AP2 Plainsman – Happy Accident

One day a while back I took a long stroll to the beach. On my way I managed to capture a host of CCs, but this one in particular stuck out. First I’ve ever seen of this wagon.

But that c-pillar seems familiar.

In 1951, Chrysler Corporation US took control of the Australian arm, which was running a distance behind the big two here in sales. For 1953, they used the US Plymouth Belvedere four-door as the basis for a number of models under the various marques. And being the Australian way, they built their own ute version.

Plans for 1957 featured a more bespoke offering. A number of prototypes were prepared over a sedan platform being developed in Australia; AP1 (Plymouth), AS1 (DeSoto), and AD1 (Dodge). They were to be differentiated by trim, with the Dodge earning a body-coloured split grille divider sitting in the shorter front clip.

At the last minute it was decided to combine the three models into one sold through all dealers – Chrysler Royal.

What they didn’t have was much money.

This meant the longer lower wider finnier US range for 1957 was out of their league.

What they got instead was the grille bars from the US 1957.

Sitting in the front clip from the US 1955.

At the rear, US 1956. But note the c-pillars.

The Australian 1957 Chrysler AP1 was built over the US-sourced P25 1953/54 body. Australia had continued with this through 1956, and it was to be used as the basis for the new 1957 model. Fender sheet metal was shaped according to the US 1955/56, but the cabin from the earlier donor had to be retained.

A Plymouth Belvedere was the starter, and some c-pillar/rear window action from its contemporaneous seniors was added.

Presto. Back to the Future.

Launched in February 1957, this first series was coded AP1. At some point ‘P’ stopped referring to Plymouth and started meaning Production. The Royal sedan was given a name not used by Chrysler since before the war.

The wagon got something newer – Plainsman.

It earned its name from a showcar. The Plymouth Plainsman complemented the Flight Sweep I & II and T-bird-targetting Falcon on show from Chrysler Corp in 1956. It had caught the sportwagon fever from the Corvette Nomad, a fever also sweeping through Europe. It’s not as outlandish as some, if a little awkward. The thick v-shaped c-pillar does a great job as the central motif in profile.

But because it was based on pre-1957 proportioning, this was a briefly visible effort.

That keystone c-pillar was tried over the US 1957 bodies, and looked the part. Up top is the Plymouth Cabana. That one looks like it could be a two-door with shortened passenger cabin. Beneath the DeSoto in four-door hardtop.

In the end the US 1957 got that c-pillar ever so subtly.

The Plainsman’s thick V would not actually appear on US Chryco wagons until 1960, with the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Lancer. The outline was retained, but a window inserted.

The thing is, the Valiant/Lancer used this window shape as a matter of volition, whereas the Australian Plainsman came to this c-pillar courtesy of the sedan.

And so, by a happy accident the emerging wagon option had a similar treatment to the US Plainsman. Good naming opportunity.

A similar issue afflicted the Vauxhall PA Cresta estate built by Friary of Basingstoke, Hampshire, using the sedan’s doors. The Humber sedan had a similar rear greenhouse, but Rootes managed to give its wagon something more in keeping.

The original Plainsman concept car actually made it to Australian roads. As Kurt Ernst over at Hemmings tells it;

Because the Plainsman was built by Ghia in Italy, the clock on its time in the United States began ticking immediately upon its importation. At 18 months, Chrysler was faced with the choice of paying import duties or shipping the car overseas, and it opted for the latter. The Plainsman’s first foreign port of call was Cuba, where a bank president used it as his family vehicle before selling it to a Chrysler export manager, also living in Cuba. When Castro came to power, it soon became necessary to flee the country with all due haste, and the Plainsman’s plus-size cargo area surely proved beneficial for the run to the border.

The export manager’s next assignment was Australia, and the Plainsman followed him down under. To meet local regulations, it was converted from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, and during his time in Australia the original drivetrain was swapped for a 375-hp, 440-cu.in. V-8 mated to a TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which remains in the car today. Retirement brought the export manager back to the United States, and the Plainsman once again made the journey with him.

In late 1958, the Chrysler Royal got a makeover. It was called the AP2 series, and lasted through to early 1960. The face had a bit more brash, and the sidesweep more dash.

The sedans came with extra fins mounted on top of the previous gen; they were apparently an option but efforts to find an original example wihout them appear fruitless.

We also got a ute for AP2 called the Wayfarer, with the raciest roofline of the three.

Our hero car is an AP2 model from early 1959. I found it in a car rental yard, but it’s not for the taking.

It’s a daily driver; starting up easily at request. One of 220-odd Plainsmen against 1200 Wayfarers and 13,000 Royals.

I’m not seeing anything else like this on the road. The odd converted hearse but no big three or otherwise standard wagon. I love seeing wagons so it’s been a bit of a drought.

That gold V sitting in the grille means this is a V8. That callout is US Plymouth, and its appearance on these Chrysler models is apparently an AP2 thing only.

The AP1 was initially powered by two flahead sixes; the US 230 with manual or Canadian 250 with PowerFlite. Eventually the 230 was phased out.

In late 1958, the AP1 got a 313 cu in V8 which continued in the AP2. I’ll leave it to those better informed to discuss this image.

Paul mentions that it’s closely related to the 318 poly, but barely the same thing. I couldn’t find any images of a Royal racing in period, and only this dust up from the 1970s of Greg Nicholas at Narrogin Speedway. This particular V8 made its way into an AP6.

The South Australian Police used Royals in their fleet. Mostly because Chrysler was headquartered in that state. None of the other state police seem to have followed suit.

It saw more use as an ambulance. These sorts of oversized rears were the norm over here, and continued into the 1970s sitting on F-series Fords.

The hearses have far more refined rear greenhouses. Thanks to CC’s own William Stopford, at bottom is one is in profile. The Plainsman itself also served hearse duties, but I couldn’t find an image of one as such.

It was also available from the factory as a van with the handles removed from its rear doors.

It’s a tad homebake. Squarecut upper with thick frame, outer hinges on the lower.

The roof is the big giveaway. The Plainsman was built in the Chrysler factory, and not sent to a specialist body builder. Those ribs are the result.

Inside, stepped wheel wells at differing diameters. This gives it a taking width of 45 inches. With tray and rear seats down, 95 inches of carrying length.

But it was up against some hard competition.

There were two Fords, a very expensive and expansive Ranch Wagon that was actually brochured for this market, or this smaller and handsome British-based estate.

The Mk2 Zephyr and Consul had a wagon body developed here in Australia. Unlike the Abbott-bodied Farnham Estate seen on this and the previous generation back in the UK, the Australian wagon had a winding down rear window. Introduced in 1958, it was built until 1962 but by then the Falcon wagon was going strong.

The General had even nicer wagons. Holden had got to the factory longroof in 1958 as well, but called it a Station Sedan. The FE/FC shape is one of our best, and the wagon really nailed it.

Or you could get the best-looking of all the Big Three; batwing at special order.

The Plainsman was dropped from the AP2 range sometime in 1959. It never penetrated the Australian consciousness as the Falcon and Kingswood station wagons were soon to do.

It’s as exotic to me as it is to you.

This beautiful period shot of an AP1 is thanks to sv1ambo.

In 1960, the AP3 was unveiled. The face now sported canted stacklights, and went back to a simpler flat grille. The ute remained for a while, but it was a Royal sedan as the last registered in 1964. Production effectively stopped in 1961, because Chrysler needed the capacity for its new model.

1962 would see the Plymouth Valiant introduced to this market. It was a large sedan compared with our ‘standard’ British cars and even the Holden, but was never built in Australia as either two-door or wagon.

To 1959, Chrysler Australia would bring over CKD units of post-57 Plymouth, DeSoto and Dodge cars in very small numbers from Canada. From 1960, they created the local Dodge Phoenix which was initially a rebadged Dodge Dart before being a rebadged Plymouth Fury from 1965. This too was a sedan-only arrangement, although special connections might have wangled a longroof.

After the demise of the Plainsman in 1960, the only factory wagon Chrysler Australia could offer the public was from the just-taken-over Simca.

In 1963 the Chrysler Plainsman got a successor with a natty little v in the c-pillar, and a new name. Valiant Safari.

The Chrysler Plainsman never really had a chance.

But as with all old vehicles today, it is a simple and genuine pleasure to see such a rarified creature in the real.

Further Reading

Great articles on the AP1-3 at allpar.com

1953 Plymouth Cranbrook by Jason S.

1955 Plymouth Belvedere Suburban by Paul N.

1957 Plymouth Belvedere by Laurence J.

Ozmoparloiteration by Don A.