As the 1958 Plymouth Suburban has been well-covered at CC by Kevin Martin here in 2020 and by Steve Crutchfield here more recently, I won’t try to duplicate their fine efforts. Instead, I’ll expand on the painful incident I briefly related in my introductory bio with some family (mostly automotive) background added for interest.
Much ink has been spilled over the years regarding the indifferent build quality of Virgil Exner’s new-generation “Forward Look” cars which Chrysler Corporation debuted for the ’57 model year (and mildly face-lifted for the recession year of 1958). In this case, though, I’d like to defend their less-than-stellar build quality. If the body integrity of our family’s ’58 Plymouth Suburban had been any tighter, I might not be typing this missive with both hands today.
I suppose my parents opted for the relatively rare two-door Custom Suburban because they were afraid that their already car-obsessed five-year-old son might open a rear door at speed. Remember, this was long before child seats were widely used. And seat belts? The market’s apparent disdain for Ford’s 1956 seat belt option ($9 then, about $102 today) has been documented elsewhere, and the first Volvo equipped with three-point belts didn’t arrive until August 1959…
At any rate, I remember clambering into the second-row seat of the Plymouth, steadying myself by grabbing the passenger’s-side B-pillar just as my mother, getting into the passenger’s side at the same time, accidentally closed the door on my chubby little fingers. Fortunately, no lasting harm was done. My memory is a bit hazy after all these years, but I’m pretty sure that ice cream was somehow involved in the recovery process.
I don’t remember much about our specific ’58 Suburban, just that it was primarily black with a white roof and “Sport Tone” trim separating a white spear on each lower body-side. There was a V8 under the hood, most likely the base 318, as the gold-tone grille-mounted “V” proudly proclaimed. To a five-year-old, the most unusual features of the wagon’s black-and-white embossed vinyl interior were its space-age push-button transmission controls and dashboard-mounted inside rear-view mirror.
The Suburban was purchased new from Heckman Motor Sales, Inc., in Ossining New York, on June 27th 1958, very near the close of the model year. Heckman was probably in a hurry to move the last remaining ’58s before the face-lifted ’59s started arriving the the dealership. I’m guessing that my dad likely got a decent deal on our two-door wagon, which replaced the ’51 DeSoto of last Sunday’s post. It was the only vehicle in the family, since Mother commuted to her Doubleday job in NYC via train from our Westchester County home and didn’t need a car. Indeed, she didn’t even hold a driver’s license at the time.
That would all change when Mom accepted the position of chief copy editor at Silver Burdett, a northern-NJ textbook publisher. We moved from Croton-on-Hudson, New York to Morris Plains, New Jersey in 1959, and not too long after that, the family fleet changed again, a subject to be examined in next week’s COAL…