COAL: 1958 Plymouth Sport Suburban – The Martin Family Truckster

01 58 Plymouth

1958 Plymouth 9-Passenger Sport Suburban (all photos by Russo & Steele)

(first posted 1/25/2014)    When I looked at Russo and Steele’s list of cars to be auctioned at its 2014 Scottsdale event I was knocked out to see the exact car my dad had purchased for our relocation from Andover, MA to Mexico City, Mexico in 1958: an Iceberg White over Arctic Turquoise Plymouth Sport Suburban.

This car is listed as a second owner, older restoration, capable of 800-mile trips with no problem. I should hope so. For five years our Sport Suburban was our annual means of getting from Mexico City to Massachusetts and Illinois on our annual home leave. In pre-interstate days my parents would routinely drive 600 or more miles a day. The Sonoran desert isn’t a place you want to linger.

02 Rear View

Biiig Car

Whereas the non-station wagon Plymouths in ‘58 rode on 118” wheelbases, the station wagons were a whopping 122”. Great long distance cruisers, but not exactly “sporty.”

On our car the rear tailgate window could be controlled from the driver’s seat, from the rear seat, and by key from the tailgate. Nicely thought out.

03 Rear Interior

The penalty box

The third row seat was used occasionally by us kids, but more often than not, my fellow little league teammates and I would share the rear end of the wagon with our baseball equipment with the rear seat folded flat. My dad was the team manager. It was a great platform from which to flip off following drivers. I’m not sure if my dad understood why some of the passing drivers were so pissed off. As a dad doing soccer mom service I learned from some of my son’s teammates that girls had “baginas,” whatever those were. They must have thought that I was deaf.

On our long home leave trips, I would often hole up in the back with the luggage and read Zane Grey or other mind candy.

04 Interior

The cockpit

This was pretty much the way our car looked, with power steering (the first car my dad had with this option), the push button TorqueFlite, AM radio and heater. That was about it as far as options went.

06 Engine

The lusty Golden Commando

My dad’s car came with the 2 bbl 318 rated at 225 hp. I saw it nudge the 100 mph mark on more than one occasion in northern Mexico. My 1960 Plymouth with the same engine and transmission was good for an indicated 104 mph. A friend’s dad’s 1958 Belvedere 2 dr hardtop had the Super-Pak 318 with a 4 bbl carb and 250 horses. I was envious.

The engine in the Russo & Steele car is the 305 hp Golden Commando 350 with dual quads. Ethyl Corp’s “Brief Passenger Car Data” for 1958 indicates that this engine was capable of 315 hp with fuel injection, as does the Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980. I don’t recall Plymouth, or the Chrysler Corp, ever having offered fuel injection in this era. Any thoughts?

58 Plymouth Inv

When heaters were still options

Just found this. Although the total price for the Sport Suburban was $3700, you can bet my dad, a real horse trader, didn’t pay that much. The used car allowance was for my dad’s 1956 Olds 88 two-door sedan, probably with close to 60k on the clock. I can’t believe a dealer would pay that much for a car with so many miles. In ’58, 60k was an awful lot of miles. My dad, as a salesman for Socony Mobil in the northeast, put about 30k a year on his cars which is why we generally got a new one every year.

58 Plymouth Owner s

Depends upon your definition of “for keeps”

Our family owned the Sport Suburban from 1958 until 1961. It made the annual Mexico City to Illinois trip each of those three years. On the last trip in 1961, it blew its engine in Nevada, MO due to a blown head gasket. The first thing my dad always did when we spent our first night in Texas was to get and oil change, a radiator flush, and fresh antifreeze, of course, at a Mobil service station. The head gasket would have been fine but the flush cleared out a corroded channel in one of the head gaskets, permitting antifreeze to seep into one of the cylinders. Antifreeze is not a very good lubricant.


We limped on to Aledo, IL after my uncle replaced the head gasket at a Chevy dealer in Nevada. I later got to help him tear down the engine. Mein gott! Do you know what high ash content oil does to an engine? It took a half hour to just to scrape the gunk out of the valley beneath the intake manifold and another several hours to wire brush the crap off the intake valves. The Plymouth made it back to Mexico without incident where it was replaced by a new ’62 Mercedes 190 with a rolled and pleated leather interior. That car was a game changer. Who knew you could have a great riding car with terrific handling? End of story.