One day a while back I took a long stroll to the beach. On my way I managed to capture a host of CCs, but this one in particular stuck out. First I’ve ever seen of this wagon.
But that c-pillar seems familiar.
In 1951, Chrysler Corporation US took control of the Australian arm, which was running a distance behind the big two here in sales. For 1953, they used the US Plymouth Belvedere four-door as the basis for a number of models under the various marques. And being the Australian way, they built their own ute version.
Plans for 1957 featured a more bespoke offering. A number of prototypes were prepared over a sedan platform being developed in Australia; AP1 (Plymouth), AS1 (DeSoto), and AD1 (Dodge). They were to be differentiated by trim, with the Dodge earning a body-coloured split grille divider sitting in the shorter front clip.
At the last minute it was decided to combine the three models into one sold through all dealers – Chrysler Royal.
What they didn’t have was much money.
This meant the longer lower wider finnier US range for 1957 was out of their league.
What they got instead was the grille bars from the US 1957.
Sitting in the front clip from the US 1955.
At the rear, US 1956. But note the c-pillars.
The Australian 1957 Chrysler AP1 was built over the US-sourced P25 1953/54 body. Australia had continued with this through 1956, and it was to be used as the basis for the new 1957 model. Fender sheet metal was shaped according to the US 1955/56, but the cabin from the earlier donor had to be retained.
A Plymouth Belvedere was the starter, and some c-pillar/rear window action from its contemporaneous seniors was added.
Presto. Back to the Future.
Launched in February 1957, this first series was coded AP1. At some point ‘P’ stopped referring to Plymouth and started meaning Production. The Royal sedan was given a name not used by Chrysler since before the war.
The wagon got something newer – Plainsman.
It earned its name from a showcar. The Plymouth Plainsman complemented the Flight Sweep I & II and T-bird-targetting Falcon on show from Chrysler Corp in 1956. It had caught the sportwagon fever from the Corvette Nomad, a fever also sweeping through Europe. It’s not as outlandish as some, if a little awkward. The thick v-shaped c-pillar does a great job as the central motif in profile.
But because it was based on pre-1957 proportioning, this was a briefly visible effort.
That keystone c-pillar was tried over the US 1957 bodies, and looked the part. Up top is the Plymouth Cabana. That one looks like it could be a two-door with shortened passenger cabin. Beneath the DeSoto in four-door hardtop.
In the end the US 1957 got that c-pillar ever so subtly.
The Plainsman’s thick V would not actually appear on US Chryco wagons until 1960, with the Plymouth Valiant and Dodge Lancer. The outline was retained, but a window inserted.
The thing is, the Valiant/Lancer used this window shape as a matter of volition, whereas the Australian Plainsman came to this c-pillar courtesy of the sedan.
And so, by a happy accident the emerging wagon option had a similar treatment to the US Plainsman. Good naming opportunity.
A similar issue afflicted the Vauxhall PA Cresta estate built by Friary of Basingstoke, Hampshire, using the sedan’s doors. The Humber sedan had a similar rear greenhouse, but Rootes managed to give its wagon something more in keeping.
The original Plainsman concept car actually made it to Australian roads. As Kurt Ernst over at Hemmings tells it;
Because the Plainsman was built by Ghia in Italy, the clock on its time in the United States began ticking immediately upon its importation. At 18 months, Chrysler was faced with the choice of paying import duties or shipping the car overseas, and it opted for the latter. The Plainsman’s first foreign port of call was Cuba, where a bank president used it as his family vehicle before selling it to a Chrysler export manager, also living in Cuba. When Castro came to power, it soon became necessary to flee the country with all due haste, and the Plainsman’s plus-size cargo area surely proved beneficial for the run to the border.
The export manager’s next assignment was Australia, and the Plainsman followed him down under. To meet local regulations, it was converted from left-hand drive to right-hand drive, and during his time in Australia the original drivetrain was swapped for a 375-hp, 440-cu.in. V-8 mated to a TorqueFlite automatic transmission, which remains in the car today. Retirement brought the export manager back to the United States, and the Plainsman once again made the journey with him.
In late 1958, the Chrysler Royal got a makeover. It was called the AP2 series, and lasted through to early 1960. The face had a bit more brash, and the sidesweep more dash.
The sedans came with extra fins mounted on top of the previous gen; they were apparently an option but efforts to find an original example without them appear fruitless.
We also got a ute for AP2 called the Wayfarer, with the raciest roofline of the three.
Our hero car is an AP2 model from early 1959. I found it in a car rental yard, but it’s not for the taking.
It’s a daily driver; starting up easily at request. One of 220-odd Plainsmen against 1200 Wayfarers and 13,000 Royals.
I’m not seeing anything else like this on the road. The odd converted hearse but no big three or otherwise standard wagon. I love seeing wagons so it’s been a bit of a drought.
That gold V sitting in the grille means this is a V8. That callout is US Plymouth, and its appearance on these Chrysler models is apparently an AP2 thing only.
The AP1 was initially powered by two flathead sixes; the US 230 with manual or Canadian 250 with PowerFlite. Eventually the 230 was phased out.
In late 1958, the AP1 got a 313 cu in V8 which continued in the AP2. I’ll leave it to those better informed to discuss this image.
Paul mentions that it’s closely related to the 318 poly, but barely the same thing. I couldn’t find any images of a Royal racing in period, and only this dust up from the 1970s of Greg Nicholas at Narrogin Speedway. This particular V8 made its way into an AP6.
The South Australian Police used Royals in their fleet. Mostly because Chrysler was headquartered in that state. None of the other state police seem to have followed suit.
It saw more use as an ambulance. These sorts of oversized rears were the norm over here, and continued into the 1970s sitting on F-series Fords.
The hearses have far more refined rear greenhouses. Thanks to CC’s own William Stopford, at bottom is one is in profile. The Plainsman itself also served hearse duties, but I couldn’t find an image of one as such.
It was also available from the factory as a van with the handles removed from its rear doors.
It’s a tad homebake. Squarecut upper with thick frame, outer hinges on the lower.
The roof is the big giveaway. The Plainsman was built in the Chrysler factory, and not sent to a specialist body builder. Those ribs are the result.
Inside, stepped wheel wells at differing diameters. This gives it a taking width of 45 inches. With tray and rear seats down, 95 inches of carrying length.
But it was up against some hard competition.
There were two Fords, a very expensive and expansive Ranch Wagon that was actually brochured for this market, or this smaller and handsome British-based estate.
The Mk2 Zephyr and Consul had a wagon body developed here in Australia. Unlike the Abbott-bodied Farnham Estate seen on this and the previous generation back in the UK, the Australian wagon had a winding down rear window. Introduced in 1958, it was built until 1962 but by then the Falcon wagon was going strong.
The General had even nicer wagons. Holden had got to the factory longroof in 1958 as well, but called it a Station Sedan. The FE/FC shape is one of our best, and the wagon really nailed it.
Or you could get the best-looking of all the Big Three; batwing at special order.
The Plainsman was dropped from the AP2 range sometime in 1959. It never penetrated the Australian consciousness as the Falcon and Kingswood station wagons were soon to do.
It’s as exotic to me as it is to you.
This beautiful period shot of an AP1 is thanks to sv1ambo.
In 1960, the AP3 was unveiled. The face now sported canted stacklights, and went back to a simpler flat grille. The ute remained for a while, but it was a Royal sedan as the last registered in 1964. Production effectively stopped in 1961, because Chrysler needed the capacity for its new model.
1962 would see the Plymouth Valiant introduced to this market. It was a large sedan compared with our ‘standard’ British cars and even the Holden, but was never built in Australia as either two-door or wagon.
To 1959, Chrysler Australia would bring over CKD units of post-57 Plymouth, DeSoto and Dodge cars in very small numbers from Canada. From 1960, they created the local Dodge Phoenix which was initially a rebadged Dodge Dart before being a rebadged Plymouth Fury from 1965. This too was a sedan-only arrangement, although special connections might have wangled a longroof.
After the demise of the Plainsman in 1960, the only factory wagon Chrysler Australia could offer the public was from the just-taken-over Simca.
In 1963 the Chrysler Plainsman got a successor with a natty little v in the c-pillar, and a new name. Valiant Safari.
The Chrysler Plainsman never really had a chance.
But as with all old vehicles today, it is a simple and genuine pleasure to see such a rarified creature in the real.
Great articles on the AP1-3 at allpar.com
1953 Plymouth Cranbrook by Jason S.
1955 Plymouth Belvedere Suburban by Paul N.
1957 Plymouth Belvedere by Laurence J.
Reminds me of Johnny Cash’s Cadillac he sang about in “One Piece At A Time”. I think the Valiant Safari is quite the looker though. Good reading too.
Funny, with the red flash on the light cream it does look something like an ambulance, only back in those days they wouldn’t have had that kind of striping on.
I can understand the “never had a chance”. Looking at the Chryslers of that vintage, trying to compete in the late 1950’s with a mid (at best) 1950’s body shell, tarted up with every late 1950’s cliche . . . . .
. . . . . . . can you say Studebaker?
Except that the 1958 Studebaker had a cohesiveness of design (did anyone ever use that phrase on a 1958 Studebaker before?) that the Australian Chrysler just couldn’t match. Probably because the ’53 Stude body was a superior design to the Plymouth.
Not that I was around at the time, but the biggest issue I see is even for its early 50s origins the body was narrow. The styling was ok while the year still had a 5 in it at least, because Ford didn’t bring their 57 model here either and the 58 Chevy didn’t change things. It wasn’t embarrassed by the Holden either, which had roughly 50% of the market at that time.
Is that place on Barkly Street? I’ve seen a couple of very interesting cars there.
There is a Chrysler Royal ambulance in the Ambulance Museum here in Melbourne, the only Plainsman I’ve ever seen was in the Goolwa Motor Museum in South Australia.
Yep. I don’t go past that yard much so I’m not sure what else he’s got.
Confusing the issue in New Zealand was the current Canadian models with the occasional Australian Royal thrown into the mix, There were some ambulances here and Ive seen a couple of sedans but mostly we had the current US cars via Canada so these oddballs certainly stood out.
Thanks Don for this informative article. Aussie cars from that period are completely unknown to me.
I’ll second that, and add that Plainsman as a name just doesn’t work, in the UK at least.
The name rang some bell in my mind, so I did a quick Google, and indeed it was a popular Western movie from 1936, directed by Cecil De Mille and starring Gary Cooper. So whether in Australia or the UK, I suspect the name may have worked for movie fans – with long memories. A targeted market … if you could afford a 25 cent or 1 shilling movie ticket twenty years prior, you might need the roominess of a Chrysler wagon now. And you can afford it. Or something like that. And I bet the movie featured some wagons too. EDIT: I just found an Australian movie from 1953 called Return of the Plainsman.
Thanks Don for another wonderful peek into your local industry, with interesting reference points from the US and UK wagon world.
Thanks for this article. I have no idea why I am interested in 50’s Australian Chrysler station wagons but I really enjoyed it. They’re a lovely example of 50’s grotesque: cars designed by Gorgonzola, if you’ll forgive a cheesy joke.
Now I want one for a surf wagon. Oh wait. I live in Texas, and I’m am sure it won’t fit in my garage. Ah, the heck with that. I still want one.
Wow, how cool! What an interesting mashup of pre-57 American Mopar and post-57 American Rambler. I actually kind of like the reverse slant C pillar on the sedans.
Yes, the first thing I thought was “how did they get a Rambler C pillar on that thing?
“We don’t make mistakes, just happy accidents! Now I’ve coated the whole car with liquid white and we’re going to get some alizarin crimson on our two inch brush. In our world there’s a happy little side stripe on this Chrysler.”
The 313 was obviously Canada-sourced, we had this instead of the 318 thru the end of ’64.
The Plymouth version.
At least the Vauxhall Cresta had a gutter line that followed the shape of the rear door windows. Having the gutter run straight back on the Chrysler wagon emphasized the tacked-on look.
The coachbuilder could get away with not changing the drip rail so they did, but the factory built car could not be built in volume (or not) without a joint between roof and side panels. I would suspect the number of those Vauxhall wagons built make these Plainsmans look numerous.
Plus it included the facility to mount roof bars, which I am sure the target audience appreciated.
hehehe. methinks that’s why HM Queen Elizabeth got Friary and not a Plainsman.
’60 Royal hearse:
Please tell me this is getting restored and is not the basis of an Aussie Ecto-1
’62 Valiant ambulance (or possibly the Australian branch of the Ghostbusters’ car):
A different ’62 Valiant ambulance from the front…
…and from the rear:
And there’s that C-pillar vee in the AP5 ambulance:
At least it’s better than the convoluted C-pillar of the original A-body wagon. Someone really got carried away with that one.
It reminds me of the story of a Plymouth designer who was hired during the planning of the 1971 E-body. His first assignment was when his boss told him to “go put a stripe on that car”. After just spending four, long years in design school, only to be told to “go put a stripe on that car”, the designer was so incensed, he decided to come up with the goofiest possible stripe he could think of. To his utter surprise and amazement, his boss liked the proposal and it was approved for production.
And, thus, the 1971 Barracuda, one-year-only, quarter-panel ‘billboard’ stripe was born.
FWIW, that huge “stripe” (it was really just a big, black panel) was very difficult to correctly apply at the factory. It was so bad that the production team instructed the designers to never come up with something like that again.
Love that story – it’s the sort of thing I’d have done!
Love that one. The taller roofline is a natural fit over that straight-line greenhouse. Got any in VC?
The mention of that Simca wagon, reminded of the Aronde wagon, the 4-door station-wagon or “station-sedan” was only made in Australia.
As Don mentioned, the Australian car co. branches did like a wagon conversion. Even to the point of exporting the wagon panels back for use on UK/Europe GM Cavaliers!
Great article Don,
years ago there used to be a Royal ute sitting in a paddock near Kinglake, it also vanished years ago, hopefully to be saved.
Chrysler also assembled some pure US Plymouth , Dodge , DeSoto, sedans in 1958/59 the Plymouth version being a Hardtop, as seen in the assembly line picture.
The first Dodge Phoenix was based on the 1960 Dodge Dart and stayed pure US Dodge through 1964, the Plymouth Fury based Phoenixes started in 1965 to the end in 1972.
Edit where I said US , they were most likely Canadian CKD
Cheers for the clarification Jonco. Explains why the earliest Phoenix brochure I could find was this one.
Sold as a Dodge Pioneer in NZ
I remember seeing the occasional Plainsman when I was a kid, but never the Wayfarer. I knew they existed, I’d seen the ad, but never the real thing. Royals always seemed to be “grandpa cars” – they were everywhere, they were probably cheap second-hand, but they were old-fashioned, and driven mostly by older folk. Much like all Chrysler products here had been since the war. It’s hard to think that some of the Royals I saw in ’64 might have been new!
Opposite for me. Because I lived in SA for a while, I saw a lot of ChryAus stuff from all generations. The light blue display police car I’ve seen, and there was a pub in North Adelaide that owned a Wayfarer AP3 (I think).
The robust construction would have appealed to a certain customer, particularly country folk, these were solidly built cars.
Am I right in thinking the Royals would have been cheaper than a (more modern) Ford or Chevy?
This from one of the allpar articles regarding the AP1;
At £2071, it was £1 more than an automatic Ford Customline and £4 more than a Chevrolet.
Cheers Don, would have been a tough sell after 1960.
Wow, Don, what a find that wagon was!
Nothing gets my attention like the words “Australian Chrysler,” but this one is perhaps the ultimate one. Too bad they didn’t make any in AP3 guise with the quad lamps…
So who ended up paying the import tax on that Ghia Plainsman?
I was wondering if the Ghia car was re-converted to LHD. That’d be a unique journey, surely?
The Ghia was converted back to LHD in the hands of its next US owner. That import tax is an interesting wrinkle – when I was writing the DeLorean piece I read that the 2-rotor Corvette built by Pininfarina for General Motors had similar encumbrances. It was sent to the Geneva Motor Show then I believe stayed on the continent within GM because of the time limits imposed on these showcars built overseas before a tax is due.
I wonder how long the car stayed in Australia? It would have been in a similar position with regard to import duty.
In the 1980s Brake & Clutch Industries Aust imported a Corvette ZR1 as a test mule for new brake systems, and after the specified period of time had to either export the car or crush it. They chose option B.
Blimey, not exactly thick on the ground, these. Some find. According to the Allpar article, this one of just 32 Plainsman V8’s ever made (and on it’s original 60 y.o. registration at that). All presented here with the usual impeccable illustrated history attached, ofcourse, from Dottore A.
Can’t pretend I like the car though, Sir. I think I have a touch of pareidolia about the rictus-grin, leaning-foward stare of the Royal, with those horrid fins as menancing devil wings at the back. Yeeby-jeeby, it’s comin’ for me, I tell you.
Isn’t that Valiant Safari a balm? Smooth n classy way to be wagonned, and a threat to no-one.
And a Valiant Safari who got a better fate than the one featured in this car chase scene from the Australian tv series Homicide.
That “the one” is at least two; it starts out as a VC, magically changes into an AP5 at 1:04, then »POOF!« it’s a VC again at 1:28 (when a parked S-series makes a cameo).
No no, Daniel, not magic but punctillious accuracy from the early ’70’s producers. This is a police show, and Victorian coppers were famed for their, shall we say, inventiveness and post-modern lack of concern for consistency in their accounts of how their evidence came to exist (just as much as the dodgily-qualified magistrates who heard most of their cases were notorious for accepting it!) Lots of it came to a stop after a big enquiry in ’77, I should add (if I must). This is virtually cinema verite – from a fine detective’s account.
No, my complaint is that, VC or AP5, that 3.7 litre slanty Val would’ve shat all over that poxy 3-litre HG Kingswood. Look at it gasp and wheeze and roll even at these pathetic speeds. We had an HG, tough, reliable and nice looking and in every other way just a bloody horrible machine.
This “chase” is quite hilarious. It really does look like a no-budget Crimestoppers recreation, does it not?
That’s an interesting and sad account of the state of justice in Victoria at that time. I find it believable, given the likes of this—and I’m not scolding from some kind of a smug platform; I’m well aware this kind of rot is not confined to Australia or to the past.
I wasn’t familiar with the doggy gutlessness of the HG Holden, but the slow-speed chase kind of amused me, and yeah, I got the sense that the Valiant could easily have walked away from it without breaking a sweat.
(D’oh! I meant to say it magically changes into an AP6.)
Wow. A morphing grille, pre-transformers!
Here’s mine, I believe that the red and white one was shipped to the USA to a collector, there may only be 3 V8’s left and possibly 6 with the flathead 6 Kew motor
I’ve got to admit, that is very nice indeed. Great work.
Is it slightly rodded? It appears to sit a bit lower (and at this angle, I’m not scared by that face!)
Looking to contact the owner of my plainsman wagon .I have lots info on such a car and new/ s/h parts etc for sale
Late here but fascinating article Don. I was aware of the Royal sedan, but didn’t know there was a wagon version! I’ve only ever seen one Royal in the metal (for any Kiwi readers it was in a paddock near Kaitaia) and it wasn’t looking particularly regal…
Having said that though, there’s been a November ’63 Royal ambulance for sale on Trade Me for a while now. Has the 313 and push-button auto. Dashboard (presumably factory) appears to be 1960 Plymouth. Couple pics below and details here if anyone’s interested: https://www.trademe.co.nz/motors/used-cars/chrysler/auction-1787383056.htm
Terrific find and as always a superb documentation. It’s endlessly fascinating to see the creativity at work in making an obsolete body look as contemporary as possible. It also affirms how Chrysler’s “100 million dollar look” 1955 models were just re-styled 1954s. But it was obviously a very effective restyle.
You are right on the $100 million dollar look on Chrysler cars that are restyle 1954s were also based on the 1949-52 models and Australia’s 1957-59 are based on the 1953 bodies.