If you’ve been reading Curbside for a while, you’re probably familiar with the tragic tale of Chrysler Corporation’s rushed-into-production Forward Look cars for 1957. Sure, they looked great, rode and handled great, had plenty of visibility, and set a totally new styling direction for the industry. Sales were way up! But quality suffered, and the cars were noted for mechanical problems, leaks, rattles, and early rust-out. As a result, almost none survived beyond the mid-1960s. Which is why I was astonished to find this pristine example for sale on eBay. But were the ’57s really that bad?
First of all, let’s get it out in the open–I love the 1957-61 Forward Look Mopars, even the “controversial” ones like the 59-60 Dodges and the 60-61 Plymouths and Imperials. A 57-58 De Soto is truly sublime. Now I also love the Fords and Chevys from the same period, however it has kind of bugged me that while Chevrolet built only about twice as many cars in ’57 than Plymouth did, today the ’57 Chevys outnumber the Plymouths by, I don’t know . . . 30 to 1? In fact, the ’57 Plymouth probably has the worst survival rate of any car of the ’50s. Could this be the reason . . .
Research by Consumer Reports (April 1963) based on owners’ surveys shows a lot of black spots for Plymouth. The Fords were almost as bad. Now compare that to . . .
But that’s not the whole story. Popular Mechanics also surveyed ’57 Plymouth owners, who for the most part really loved their new Plymouths:
What a step UP these Forward Look ’57s must have been to drivers trading in their plodding, somewhat clumsy 50-54 Plymouths. And, you may be happy to know, a solid 2/3rds majority of new Plymouth owners liked the fins. So if fins = more sales, then 1958, ’59, and ’60 cars industry-wide shall have even bigger fins. Makes sense to me.
So maybe most of the ’57 Plymouth’s maladies didn’t show up until years later. Which undermines the theory that low customer satisfaction with the ’57s cratered sales for the ’58s. Incidentally, half of respondents plan to buy a new Plymouth from the same dealer once again. That may or may not be a good return rate.
So let’s get back to why this splendid Desert Gold and white Belvedere is so special. First of all, it’s a ’57 Belvedere 4-door sedan, the first one showcased on Curbside. And, as we all know, sedans often don’t receive the kind of love and attention that a convertible or hardtop might. That’s another sticking point with me–I appreciate (and often prefer) sedans like this. I like the gentle, sloping curve of the roof; and the fact that these are the true nostalgia cars–the ones most often seen in “the good old days.” And for personal ownership, they’re the most practical.
And talk about low survival: Plymouth built 110,414 of these Belvedere 4-door sedans. If there are 11 left in the U.S.A. today that are about this good, that’s one in ten thousand. So this may be the “fairest among ten thousand,” to quote the Song of Solomon.
When you look at the photos of this finely restored Plymouth, you wonder why so few hobbyists/collectors decided to preserve an example of one these for their very own. The overall shape, the artful details, the engineering advances all make for a really attractive package.
How about that fantastic steering wheel and dashboard! I like how the transmission push buttons are finely framed in gold.
Gold fabric on the seats! We’re approaching Cadillac/Lincoln/Imperial levels of luxury here!
That’s a 301 V-8 (not a 318). Manual steering and brakes. I predict low-speed parking maneuvers will not be so carefree and easy.
One thing I don’t like about this car–those dopey gewgaws on the headlights have got to go–NOW!
So there it is–one of the lucky ones. What can I say? It’s a harsh world out there, especially when you’re a low-priced family sedan with planned obsolescence built in. Suddenly, it was 1960 . . . then 1970 . . . and now–2020? I can’t even.
So here’s a fun idea: find a pristine and original example of a car with high production numbers which, because of high attrition, is almost impossible to find today. We kind of did that with “The Great Vega Hunt”, but as I recall most of the examples we found weren’t all that pristine or original. But in my opinion cars like this Plymouth are the “ultimate” Curbside Classics–the fascinating ones that should not have survived so well, but somehow have.