(first posted 1/31/2015) The 1956 “Power Look” Chrysler Windsor debuted just over 16 years before I did, representing a light update the 1955 “Hundred Million Dollar Look” Windsor Deluxe, as spotted by our own J.P. Cavanaugh last year.
There really was a new name for the Chrysler lineup every year, then.
The main change in appearance was a new grille for the Windsor—the higher-end cars kept the gridwork double grilles from 1955.
I searched for “1956” on a popular free classified ad service the next day and saw this very car for sale at $5500. An exhaustive search of the same service on the same day indicated that the Windsor is a bargain for a 1956 car, compared to a couple similarly priced engine-free Bel Airs sitting on a patch of dirt just barely on the right side of the junkyard fence.
There are signs of practical, economical restoration here: the original seat is re-covered in durable velour-type fabric. (It looks like mainly the excellent dash came out in the photos, though… Could that be the original radio?)
I think I like the painted rear bumper. Re-chroming is expensive, and the big chrome bumpers on 50s cars don’t do much for me.
Gray isn’t the most exciting color, but in this case, the absence of 2-tone and 3-tone, high-contrast paint seems to let you focus on the lines. The passenger cabin is rounded in the rear, in the traditional fashion, but it’s not bulbous looking. Years later, I would be liking the Series 1 Jaguar XJ-6 for having this kind of rounded “C pillar” area.
The front end of the passenger compartment isn’t quite as neat looking, to me.
As most folks here know, these cars were the beginning of Virgil Exner’s transformation of the looks of the American fleet. One detail beloved of the House of Exner is the resolution of the front quarters into the cowl and windshield.
And here it is again on the Valiant, altered to accommodate double headlights. My new pet theory about cars is that Exner-styled cars of undeniable, uncontroversial beauty would have taken over the world if the man hadn’t been required to design fronts for 4 headlights. He just couldn’t make himself de-emphasize the width of the goggle eyes.
Uncontroversial, I was saying? Oh, right, I’ll sit back down.
Nevertheless, I really like this Windsor, right down to the door handles JPC noticed on the 1955.
In addition to bold new styling, Chrysler was expanding its powertrain portfolio in the 1950s. 1956 was the last year for the 2-speed Powerflite transmission in the Windsor series; the 3-speed Torqueflite was first offered in the 1956 Imperial, and spread through the lineup in 1957. Chrysler also built a dedicated engine for the Windsor, and other humbler cars, beginning in 1955: the Spitfire Poly.
The original, 1951 Chrysler Hemi V8 is an engine with enough logic behind it to be understandable to people (like me) with limited understanding of the internal combustion engine.
“You want a cross-flow head, overhead valve engine? This is what it’s gonna look like!” Intake valve with a blue port, spark plug in the middle, exhaust valve with a purplish-red port. If you compare the pushrods in the left bank and the right bank, you can see there are two types of action, intake valves with rockers being pushed up toward the center of the engine (left), and exhaust valves with rockers being pushed down toward the ground (right). To hold the two rows (per bank) of rockers all in place, there were two shafts. The result was a big, heavy, expensive engine.
The Polysphere V8 was built off the same block as the Hemi (this is not true, of course, of the “A” Poly engine, originally created with Plymouth in mind and produced 1955-1966).
similar Plymouth/Dodge A-Engine Polysphere
The Poly provided a semi-cross-flow head with a single rocker shaft. The rockers for the exhaust valves are much longer than those for the intake, and the result is two separate rows of valves but one shaft. The other difference with the Hemi, also visible here, is the sparkplug near the bottom of the head.
Compared to the Hemi, the Poly had less area in the head for a combustion chamber, and consequently smaller valves. Both the Hemi and the Poly went against the grain of most American OHV V8 engines, which had their valves all in a row.
Beginning in 1958, Chrysler’s new flagship engine, the “B” (and the bigger “Raised B”) would continue the horsepower wars with the weapons of MoPar’s opponents: inline valves and higher compression. The wedge head of the B/RB engine would generate high compression through “squish”: a near-meeting of a flat piston top with the bottom compression chamber surface can concentrate, or squish, the fuel-air mix, for more complete combustion. There’s not a single recorded statement, that I could find, anyway, lamenting the loss of the Poly head design. The B-RB engine, and then the Light A (LA) wedge-head re-working of the smaller Poly “A” engine, created more horsepower per dollar, something that both manufacturer and buyer could appreciate.
The wedge heads in these engines were cheaper to make, lighter, and performed better. This quote from Chrysler Engine Development Engineer Pete Hagenbuch puts it succinctly:
..the performance improved by getting rid of the silly polysphere. A wedged chamber have some advantages… you can build in a lot of what we call squish, where the chamber is just part of the cylinder head surface and the piston has a flat area that matches up with it. Squish is why you can run 12:1 on a wedge head because without squish you would have to run 9:1. It gets the charge moving and mixed, moving through the chamber at high velocity, which means the flame travel is fast and there isn’t anything left to burn by the time it gets to top dead center where you expect the detonation. Anything that reduces detonation also helps reduce pre-ignition which is catastrophic.
The poly turned out to be as much of a dead end as the original hemi (except for racing and all-out performance use).
The 1956 Windsor’s 331 Poly made 225 HP with 8.5:1 compression, running through a 2-speed Powerflite transmission.
With a little effort on my part, I think it would be able to run pretty hard on those slot-mag shoes. Unfortunately, both spots in my apartment’s mercifully enclosed tandem parking are full. Your basic 21st century combination of professional school loans, and probable neighbor hostility to the inevitable wrenching activities, put this beauty in somebody else’s care.
I hope they’re thorough enough to figure out the final question: is this interesting mirror mounted correctly?
I think the polyspherical head’s conceptual successor might have been Ford’s ’80s CVH (compound vortex hemispherical?) engine, which had a similar goal — get the breathing of a hemispherical combustion chamber with only a single cam — but used a single overhead camshaft rather than pushrods. There were a bunch of versions of this engine (1.1, 1.3, 1.6, and 1.9 liters, off the top of my head), used in the Escort, Orion, et al. The CVH had reasonable specific output, but I don’t know that anyone ever said a kind word about its subjective manners.
Definitely not in Honda’s league. And my ’81 Escort’s transmission remained perpetually notchy, unlike its Mazda cousin. That car in general was under-engineered, as if developed on a tight budget independently of its Euro sibling. Its roadholding improved dramatically once I replaced those Broughamy struts.
A beautiful old car. Thanks for the article. I recall reading somewhere that the door handles were subsequently modified in response to the complaints from those with manicured nails. Beats listening to bureaucrats and bean counters, I guess.
I love 1955-56 Chryslers, they just seem so right. (I love 57s too, but after that things got a bit screwy.)
What a gorgeous car,much more attractive than the flashy 57s.
I think I’d walk up with 40 hundred dollar bills and see what the seller said. That would be a fun car in the four to five thousand range.
One small correction – the ’56 New Yorker had a similar full-width grille, but with a fine texture replacing the wide bars. The 300-B and Imperial kept the split grilles.
I’ve always found the 56 New Yorker/Town and Country grille more than the rest of the Chrysler line, even more so than that of the 55 New Yorker/Town and Country. 🙂
The Town & Country was available as either a Windsor or a New Yorker so it used both grilles depending on series.
Same here. The ’55 Windsor and New Yorker grilles were very fussy, and the rear end was much improved by the nascent tailfins, which also look quite good on the 300-B.
The Imperial, not so much. I don’t mind the fins, but they don’t work as well with the freestanding taillights. And it lost the full wheel cutouts, which really helped it stand out from the competition. Which I’m sure was one reason they got rid of them.
Coincidentally, one of few European automakers to use engines with polyspherical combustion chambers at the time was Fiat in all of its “big” models (1300/1500/1800/2100/2300). It’s also interesting to see how the 1964 Plymouth Barracuda kind of resemble the 1960 Fiat 2300S Coupè.
Thanks for a great article. This Windsor brings back memories of my Dad’s 55 New Yorker sedan. One of my earlist car memories as a youngster was trying to use one of those door handles. Hard to do as a 6 year old.
Surprisingly this Windsor still has its fragile horn ring intact.
Nice ride. I’d take a Mopar from that era over a same-vintage Ford or GM any time. I like the color scheme as well – it accents the lines of the car and along with the painted rear bumper gives it a minimalist look…but the wheels let you know that under the skin it’s a sleeper.
Whenever I see that car, I think of the Ropers from the tv show Three’s Company, but actually when they moved to an upscale neighborhood , and the show was called the Ropers.
Nice find! I do too like the painted rear bumper. And I would LOVE to have that cut away Hemi for my man cave 🙂
Restored to be a driver. I think I like it. I mean, I would prefer the rear bumper be chromed, but at least the paint job matches the car well.
I’ll take it, beanhole mags and all.
Good job describing the all the heady details of these engines.
I love the look of this with the wide whitewalls and slotted mags. I think I’d go to the expense of getting the rear bumper rechromed if it was mine though.
The original Chrysler hemi wasn’t a complete dead end. They brought the concept back in the ’60s to win stock car races, which they did quite effectively until rule changes made it obsolete. I’ve also read that the big wedge engines used in the letter series cars were actually more expensive to produce than the previous hemis because they needed so much greater precision in assembly and to be tuned so much higher to match or exceed the hemis’ performance.
Hmm; I’ve always only read the opposite. For instance, the hemi’s combustion chamber had to be machined, unlike the poly and the wedge. Everything I’ve read indicated that the reason Chrysler dropped the original hemi was because of of the high costs of manufacturing the heads. Which explains why they went to the poly, and then the wedge. And why the second hemi (426) was so much more expensive then the 440 wedge.
I can’t even imagine what unusual “precision in assembly” was required. And as regards tuning, the RB was built in a variety of tuning levels, but most of that was in the induction systems, as Chrysler was big into ram manifolds at the time. Other than that and the usual component upgrades.
That’s what I’ve read – higher cost, and weight.
Is it possible that the cooking Hemis used in cars meant to be daily drivers for the leisure class were more expensive than the needed to be, not to mention more finicky than they needed to be, while the high output Hemis used in the Letter Series Chryslers were less expensive than the most radical 413 and 426 wedges that replaced them at the top of the range? Could it be that 275 hp Hemis made no sense whatsoever while 390 hp Hemis did?
Well, yes, inasmuch that the letter series 300 hemi engine was the same engine internally as the one used in the New Yorker and such. The only difference would have been the intake manifold and carburation, and possibly a different cam. Nothing suggests that these cars had a different head, for instance.
The original hemi was not designed as a primarily high performance engine like the 426 hemi. It was a well-built engine, and able to take the higher output of a better induction system, but otherwise the same. So the only cost difference would have been the intake and two carbs instead of of one.
So yes, the original hemi was expensive to build, regardless of which output level.
But I still don’t get why the higher-output wedge engines could have been more expensive than the hemi. The letter series car engines were the same as the RB engines in the rest of the Chrysler line, except also for better induction. The 300 series engines were not some special engine otherwise; it was the RB, with more carburation, and better exhaust headers, in some cases.
I don’t know what you read, and theoretically anything is possible, but it goes against the grain of the whole point of getting rid of the hemi, due to its production expense, something that has been documented widely and repeatedly over the decades.
FWIW, not everything that’s been printed is true (or logical).
In my experience the earlier Chrysler hemis were not finicky. The 392 hemi in my well-used 1957 New Yorker had enough slop in the timing that it couldn’t be tuned on a scope, but if I set it by ear it ran well enough to not need the plugs changed for 8-10000 miles.
Once on a really cold day I started it and heard this god-awful noise so shut it down right away. A look into the radiator confirmed what I’d suspected: not enough antifreeze, so there was this slushy-looking ice. The noise would have been the fanbelt trying to turn the water pump pulley that wouldn’t turn. After the weather warmed up, I found that the motor ran fine with no apparent ill effects. Whew.
But the wedge engines weren’t finicky either; Some demo derby guys told me that they’d keep running if they still had a gallon of water and a quart of oil left in them. Maybe not running all that well, but running….
Although the engine itself might have been cheaper to produce, I could see where the installation and expense of those ram-tube manifolds and accompanying carb linkage would ultimately make the letter-series car engines just as pricey as a Hemi.
It’s a shame that Chrysler couldn’t make the letter-series last just one more year. It would have been interesting to see how the 426 Hemi fared in that application.
Agreed that the ram version might have been more expensive. The 1959 300 E didn’t have that; it just had conventional intake, yet it was faster than the hemi 300s. So the ram induction was not necessary to make the 413 equal or faster to the 392 hemi. In fact, the long standard 30″ rams didn’t increase hp or the top end at all; it boosted torque in the mid range. The short ram version was essentially a racing engine, and very few were bought for the street. It was modified in other ways.
The point being that the 413 didn’t need the ram induction to outperform the 392; and the non-ram 413 was undoubtedly cheaper to build than the hemi.
My favorite fins. Great looking car!
Who’s the Philistine who drove that ugly silver thing almost up onto the Chrysler’s rear bumper?
It’s a BMW, and it’s miles away from the bumper compared to how close their drivers get when they’re in traffic!
I really like the lines of these 55-56 Chryslers. They manage to escape the things I always hated about the stereotypical ’50s car’: over-chromed, preposterous tail fins, and gaudy grilles/bumpers. These are much more cleanly styled in the vein of early 49-51 Fords/Mercuries. Much like the Engel era Mopars these may have looked a bit ‘dated’ in their day but to my eye it looks like they didn’t fall for the awful fads and trends of their time either. Now Exener’s ‘forward look’ styling…..UGH.
Agreed, unlike most 50s cars I don’t immidiately find myself in some 1950s flashback, there was a more timeless class to these, very European. The basic design would look appropriate(plus/minus a few details) ten years later.
BTW I like the whitewall/mag wheel look, makes both the tires look sporty and the wheels look classy lol
A few corrections. My source is the Mopar engine bible, by Willem L. Weertman, “Chrysler Engines 1922-1998”. Valve sizes for poly and hemi were the same. Quoted horsepower and torque for Poly A and Wedge LA are also the same. The attached picture shows the spark plug orientation of the poly is away from the exhaust valve – my understanding is that is bad for effective flame travel. A negative for the poly design and the A/LA is the keeping of the extreme Hemi lifter bore angle leading to side loading of the bore. A positive of all the poly designs (there are four different engine blocks using the poly configuration) is the I-E-I-E-I-E-I-E order kept from the Hemi rather than the E-I-I-E-E-I-I-E later used on the wedge designs which are more prone to overheating.
For many years the 1956 Chrysler 300 B was my favorite dream car. When I finally got the chance at a collector car auction to sit in the drivers seat of one, I discovered the ergonomics are awful compared to modern cars. But it’s still a gorgeous automobile, and even a four door Windsor is very handsome.
A good article on a nice old car. I’ve always liked this generation of Chrysler products. My grandparents had a ’56 Plymouth, and I also had a neighbor that had one as well. And when I was a teenager in about 1974 I had a friend who had a ’56 Fury. When he was ready to sell it I sure did want it, but I just could not make it work. To answer a couple of your questions, yes that is the original radio. As for the mirror, your question challenged me as my memory was not real clear in that area. So I did some research on the old car brochures website. I only found one car in the ’55 or ’56 Chrysler brochures that had an outside mirror, and it was mounted on the door. So, on this car I think that is an aftermarket mirror. However, starting with the new body style in ’57, they did mount them on the fender. That lasted through the ’64 model year on Chrysler’s, and ’66 on Imperial’s. And starting with the ’59 Imperial you could get them with remote control.
Outside mirrors really did not become popular until the sixties, when the interstate highways became common place. I remember my dad always liked them, but we lived in Alaska where it was difficult to keep the back window clear of snow and ice, so the inside mirror view was often blocked.
The 1950’s were the “golden” era of OHV design experimentation and evolution. Since there were no computers capable of modeling combustion, the engineers speculated and experimented. Buick used the pent roof “nailhead” design, Chrysler the hemi and poly, Chevy experimented with an unusual design for the 348-409 series, with the combustion chamber in the block instead of head. Ford and other GM divisions as it turned out, already had it right.
About the same time, the oil companies needed to find a market for high octane alkylate aviation gasoline that was no longer needed as jets replaced pistons in military and commercial aviation. So, simple to build, big-bore, super high compression “wedge” engines took over in the ’60’s. Chrysler engineers looked at aircraft engines for inspiration and the result was the hemi, but aircraft engines needed high octane fuels even with modest compression ratios, not just because of air cooling, but huge bores and open chamber heads without “quench”, 1930’s state of the art.
Is this the best looking American car of the 1950s?
And did it have the longest pushrods?
I think it is stunning car by design.
The 56 Chrysler may be my favorite 1950s car. At least today. Far better looking than the 55.
Another downside to the Gen1 hemi was the relative lack of low-end torque.
Full agreement that the ’56 was much better-looking than the ’55. I’m not overly fond of the “power look” grille on these Windsors–much prefer the finer mesh of the NYer or especially the classic split of the 300. However, the fins of the ’56 are simply perfect. Proportional, elegant, just tall enough without being cartoonish. Just a beautiful car overall!
I don’t love it with the slot mags, but it doesn’t look horrible either. Same with the painted bumper–not ideal but it’s not bad either. And the car has character enough to make up for these small flaws, several times over!
Polys were heavy engines, but they were not without their redeeming qualities. It has been written that there was a certain amount of sandbagging involved in preventing the Poly-powered Plymouth Furys from embarrassing the Hemi-powered Chrysler 300s at Daytona Beach Speed Weeks. I also read a comparison test of some 1961 standard cars where the three hundred pound heavier Poly/TF Dodge returned 15% better fuel mileage while outrunning an SBC/PG Chevrolet. The combustion chamber design of that Poly wasn’t just a little more efficient than the wedge of the SBC.
What would a “semi-cross-flow head” be? A head design is either cross-flow or not cross-flow. This one is cross-flow.
I see a lot of the 56 DeSoto in this car. We had one of those when I was a kid.
That might be the OEM radio – our DeSoto had a very advanced radio with push buttons and a “seek” function. I don’t see the “seek” bar on this one, however.
Nowhere the guru that you guys are on this era of domestics, but to me this Chrysler looks spectacular and a balanced design that straddles the restraint of the early-mid 50s with the flash and fins of the later part of the decade.