Curbside Classic: The Elusive 1955 Plymouth Savoy

(first posted 4/28/2012)     Since the beginning of time, man has had the innate need to hunt. Early on one’s desire to hunt was in a direct relationship to whether or not he consumed protein. Many things changed and evolved as time marched on but the instinctual urge to hunt remains.

I had been hunting this Plymouth for five months. Seen infrequently around town, it was always taunting me by going the other direction or circumstances didn’t allow me a better view.  The need to know more was strong. Lucky for me it was slumbering behind an insurance agency one recent Sunday morning allowing me to better examine it.

1955 was a great year for Detroit. Chevrolet had just introduced a V8 and a new body. Ford was in its second year of overhead valve V8 power and it had a new body too. Plymouth added to the excitement introducing its own new V8 and by having a body much sleeker than its plain 1954 predecessor (as seen above).

The car I found is a Savoy. In 1955, Plymouth was like Ford and Chevrolet in having three distinct models within its low-priced lineup.The Savoy was the mid-range model with the Plaza as the bargain basement model and the Belvedere the top of the heap (’55 Suburban CC here). One snarky period source commented on Plymouth’s use of the names Plaza, Savoy, and Belvedere also being names of prominent hotels.

Despite any wisecracks about the model nomenclature, Plymouth was very well received by the automotive press. Motor Trend magazine proclaimed it as being the easiest to drive 1955 model car. Another magazine was sarcastically concerned about the future of Plymouth by wondering what spinsters and nuns would now purchase as the Plymouth was now so much sleeker.

The American auto industry had a record year in 1955, selling just over 7 million units. As Plymouth sales were up 52% from 1954, to 704,455 units, any concerns of the new design’s appeal were unfounded. One-third of these were Savoy’s like our featured car.

The Savoy was the recipient of only two body styles, a two-door and four-door sedan. The lower priced Plaza and higher priced Belvedere each had five consisting of wagons, sedans, a business coupe on the Plaza end, and a convertible on the Belvedere side.

In addition to Plymouth’s new V8, available in either 241 or 260 cubic inches, Chrysler also had a new 2-speed Powerflite automatic transmission. This was also the first year for brake and/or clutch pedals to be suspended from the top, rather than being mounted on the floor – this helped eliminate drafts.

And, on automatic transmission equipped cars, the gear selector erupted from the dash, quite similar to current Dodge and Chrysler minivans – and early automatic-equipped Corvairs!

The Plymouth I found was not the recipient of either the new V8 or the new Powerflite automatic. It possessed the reliable flat-head six-cylinder and 3-speed manual transmission. The bottom of the ad directly above shows how one can distinguish a six-cylinder from a V8 by way of the chrome badge on the hood.  Just over half of the Plymouths sold in 1955 had the six-banger engine.

This car was a very solid driver undergoing many refurbishments and updates. The paint appeared somewhat recent and the bumpers in pretty original condition. The rear package tray was in the process of being replaced. The trunk lock was missing. The seats had been recovered.

The Midwest is not known for having environments conducive for automobile preservation. When it snows, we use salt and calcium chloride. Such care and concern for this vintage Mopar is to be applauded.

Second, despite most Plymouths built that year being similar to this one, a four-door sedan with a six-cylinder and manual transmission is not universally viewed as desirable. That’s unfortunate. It would seem this car has defied those odds.

Pundits have opined half the thrill of the hunt is the chase. Perhaps that is so. However, the chase is over. For me the conquest is an even bigger thrill.