Chrysler pioneered the big American performance car. By that, I mean the complete package, not just a hot engine option on a marshmallow-suspended sedan or coupe. It started with the superb Chrysler 300 in 1955, an incomparable car at the time with the firm suspension and beefy brakes to go along with its 300 hp hemi to make it a genuine high speed tourer in the best European tradition. In 1956, the new Dodge D-500, DeSoto Adventurer and Plymouth Fury all got roughly the same treatment: high output engine, heavy duty drive line and suspension components along with unique trim and other goodies to define these factory “specials”. Cheap they weren’t, but unique at the time they were.
In 1957, they all enjoyed the benefits of Chrysler’s great leap forward, with radical new styling by Virgil Exner, a new front suspension with torsion bars, improved steering, and the brilliant new Torqueflite automatic. All four were tested by SCI (300C review here), and all were deemed to be the best handling American cars, which only makes sense as they shared much of their underpinnings. The Fury was of course the cheapest of the fab four, and yet it was also the quickest from 0-60. That alone made it the bargain of the bunch and arguably America’s best all-round performance car at the time.
Already in the second paragraph, the Fury’s best quality is stated in no uncertain terms: “The Fury corners with a smooth agility that formerly has been obtainable only on outright sports cars, usually the kind that are sprung like a park bench…The Fury is the best-handling, best-riding Detroit sedan we’ve ever driven.” This was attributed to the 25% stiffer springs and shocks all-round as well as the superior geometry of its front suspension. The Fury’s torsion bars and rear springs were also adjusted for a lower ride height, and wider 6″ rims contributed too. Note: there is no intrinsic advantage of a torsion bar over a coil spring; it’s all in the geometry and tuning.
SCI did not spare further superlatives for its assessment of the Fury’s handling: It’s very difficult to adjust to the fact that there is a big Detroit sedan that can easily out-corner many bona-fide sports cars…it tracks effortless in the direction it’s aimed”.
What’s interesting (and a bit unexpected) is that the new 318 CID “poly” engine was tuned in such a way that it was not well-suited to be teamed up with the manual transmission. The poly was not an inherently deep-breathing engine, so the engineers had to give it a rather radical cam along with dual four barrel carbs and other performance tweaks to wake it up and deliver 290 (gross) hp. The torque peak came at 4,000 rpm, which is exceptionally high for a normally rather lazy engine like this. As a consequence, it made little torque below its peak, and bogged down on first gear take-offs. The testers had to use 4,000 rpm at the starting line to get a decent 0-30 time (2.8 sec.). SCI went as far as to recommend anyone buying a manual transmission Fury to invest in an aftermarket camshaft that delivers more power over a wider range of engine speeds. Now that’s not something you expect to read in a review.
But it teamed up just fine with the push-button controlled TorqueFlite, thanks to its torque converter that allowed the engine to quickly spool up into its power band on takeoff. The torque converter’s stall ratio effectively doubled its first gear ratio of 2.45:1, or almost 5.0:1 total, whereas the manual’s first gear ratio was 2.50:1. SCI came to the conclusion that the Fury’s engine was specifically designed around the automatic, rather unusual for the times.
It’s almost as if Chrysler wanted to force buyers into the TorqueFlite. And for good reasons, as it quickly proved itself to be as fast or faster in the hands of most drivers. Its effective gear ratio spread was much wider than a three speed manual, and even a four speed, and it shifted briskly and smoothly. Also, the manual transmission was exceptionally balky.
The performance specs given in the chart below are apparently for the manual-equipped version, although they also drove a TF version too. Unfortunately, no acceleration times were given for that, as it would have made a nice comparison. SCI did say that “Acceleration on the road with the Torqu-Flite equipped Fury can be startling at times…”. Just like with the 300C, the combination of a downshift and the opening of the second carb resulted in “suddenly you’re moving out with a tremendous rush“.
Here’s a comparison of a few key performance stats of the four 1957 performance cars:
Note that the Fury had a manual transmission and the rest all had TorqueFlite. Top speed was estimated to be 120-125 for the Fury and 140 for the 300C, with the others slotted in between.
In posing the question as to whether the Fury was the best performance car of its time, it can only be considered so in the terms defined in this test, which emphasized its all-round capabilities. In terms of acceleration, the ’57 Chevy easily walks away from it. Even a 270hp Bel Air saddled with the 2-speed Powerglide was roughly as fast, and that’s just for starters.
The new Chevy 283 V8 was of course the second coming in the affordable performance field, and became an instant legend, especially in the 283 hp fuel injected version. The Chevy weighed some 200-350 lbs less than the Plymouth, which only added to the equation. A Bel Air coupe weighed 317 lbs less than the Fury coupe.
The performance stats given in the table above are from various vintage sources. The 14.21 sec. 1/4 mile time for the 283/283 version was achieved in a Hemmings test in 1976; it may have had better tires than in 1957, and rear axle ratios undoubtedly play into the equation in a significant way. Meaning, these numbers are not strict apples-to-apples comparisons, as that’s hard to come by. But there’s no doubt that a properly equipped ’57 Chevy was unbeatable in a straight line.
Heavy duty suspensions, brakes, oversize wheels, tires, and everything else to turn a ’57 Chevy into a competitive stock car racer were available from the dealer, as per this detailed factory booklet. There’s little doubt that a properly equipped ’57 Chevy would be able to outrun a Fury on a curvy section of highway too, or on a road race. But one had to spec it that way, as the hard core street racers, drag racers and stock racers did. What was unique about the Fury (and the D-500, Adventurer and 300C) is they came as a complete package, or at least mostly so (power steering and brakes were still optional on the Fury). The Fury targeted a different buyer, offering a more sophisticated package more akin to the Gran Turismo cars from Europe.
Of course that didn’t exactly come cheap; its $2925 base price was some 25% more than a Belvedere hardtop coupe. And it shows in the sales: 7438 for the year. By far the best selling of the Chrysler fab four, but hardly big numbers. The glory days of Chrysler’s performance cars was still some years away, but the seeds were clearly to be seen here in the Fury.
The Fury had a healthy top speed; some 115 mph as tested with a one-mile approach. 125 mph was estimated to be its potential with enough distance to get there. “At 115 we can state that the Fury feels just as secure as at much lower speeds, and this can be said of few cars”.
The Fury’s brakes were actually no different than the standard Plymouth brakes, but “the 11 x 2 inch center-plane brakes used on the Plymouth are exceptionally good by Detroit standards.” The brutal test from 100 mph resulted in brakes that were still usable, unlike many others tested. The ten stop fade test from 60 told a more critical story: By the fifth stop, there was a 42% loss of braking power and only about an inch of pedal was left.” But they recuperated fairly fast, and overall were better than average for the times.
Plenty of good words for the Fury in summation, “including some virtues that its competition are unable to match”. Straight line acceleration isn’t everything, at least to those 7,438 buyers of Furys. A rare car indeed, For the man who really loves cars.