Dodge, as a brand, survives today thanks to its performance image that was established in the 1960s and early 1970s by the likes of the Charger, Coronet, Dart, Challenger and Demon. But the foundations of that image can be found a decade earlier in models like the Custom Royal.
The Custom Royal had been introduced for the 1955 model year as the premium Dodge model and came with a V8 as standard, along with a higher standard of trim overall. In 1956, a series of optional performance upgrades were introduced, known as D-500, D-500-1 and D-500 Special. These added a 315ci hemi V8 (instead of the standard poly head V8), with up to 285hp on tap, compared to 218hp from the poly V8 with the same capacity. Depending on the version selected, the ‘500’ package also added larger brakes, stronger axles, heavy duty suspension, tougher steering parts and a lower ride height.
The D-500 options were amongst many things happening at Dodge during 1956. Push-button operation for the Powerflite two-speed automatic had been introduced with the 1956 models, with a handful of vehicles receiving the all-new TorqueFlite three-speed auto when that was introduced partway through the model year. The ‘Highway Hi Fi Chronograph’ (an in-car record player) was another new option, while styling for 1956 Dodges enhanced the ‘Forward Look’ that had debuted for 1955, adding a new tail-end treatment and new side trim. There were also tri-tone paint options, like on this car that was at the 2023 Chryslers by the Bay car show.
Hosted by the Bay City Chrysler Car Club Inc., Chryslers by the Bay is open to all Chrysler and Chrysler family vehicles, including Jeep, Simca, American Motors and Rootes Group cars. And while Aussie Chryslers make up the bulk of the field, American Chryslers are well represented, too, along with Plymouth and Dodge.
This year’s 25th annual edition of Chryslers by the Bay attracted more than 200 cars, including some true rarities from the Mopar range, both locally and internationally.
The ’56 Custom Royal shown is a four-door pillared sedan, which was one of four body styles available for the model that year; the others being a four-door hardtop (new for 1956), two-door hardtop and convertible. Both the hardtops added a ‘Lancer’ designation to the model name, but interestingly, the Custom Royal was not available as a station wagon.
Despite their premium pricing (US$2,623 for the sedan before options like the D-500 were added), Custom Royals outsold the Royal range in 1956, but Coronets remained the top-selling Dodge overall.
While the Custom Royal pictured is right-hand drive, it’s unlikely that it was sold in Australia new, as Chrysler Australia were still marketing the Dodge ‘Kingsway’ here at the time, alongside Plymouth and DeSoto models which all used the same basic C1953 Plymouth body structure, adding model-specific front ends and trim.
An Australian-assembled (but not manufactured) Dodge Custom Royal eventually came in 1958 and would be replaced by a locally-assembled version of the Dodge Phoenix in 1960.
For JUST CARS report on the 2023 Chryslers by the Bay, click HERE.