1958 Plymouth Fury

1958 Plymouth FuryIf you are addicted to those all-day horrorthons that some of the cable channels usually throw a few times a year to attract viewers – not that some of their current programming isn’t already horrible enough – you’ve probably come across the classic “can’t kill the car film” more than once.

You know the films: a vengeful spirit takes over an old auto and begins to go after all the people who wronged it and does them all in; or the variant, there’s the bad car from the start that’s possessed and who liked nothing more than having a gorefest at your expense.

For starters – for the squeamish among you – those cars really don’t exist. Oh yes, the industry has produced hundreds of examples of horrible cars, but in 125 years cars of one sort or another have been rolling up and down the roads of Europe and America, there have been no cases of possession, just lousy cars and some downright dangerous ones (the Cord comes to mind as does a certain special-bodied boat-tailed model that grabbed the flowing scarf of a dancer which led to the dancer’s demise – it was quick). Still, that doesn’t stop the legion of hacks out there from writing about cars like Christine the vengeful 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Christine had an attitude. If she liked you she was your best friend and would do anything for you. If you didn’t like someone, then Christine would engineer an accident when you and the person you didn’t like were near one another. Or, if Christine felt an animal had wronged you, well, as they say, it’s “roadkill cafe time.” Really, though, Christine was just a misunderstood Fury. She was actually a fun-loving car who needed love and a good garage cave-in. The cave-in did happen at the end of the movie (so we admit we’re into that genre of movie, but only with consenting motor vehicles), but the final and funny scene is Christine rebuilding herself and seeing that she was put back onto a sales lot for another unsuspecting seller.

All kidding and references to movies aside, the 1958 Plymouth Fury had some of the nicest lines of the 1950s, big-finned era. Indeed, the 58 was still deep into the big-fin era. It actually had its beginnings about three years earlier after Chrysler had just suffered a sales drubbing in 1954. The lines of the 1954 were still very much of the 1940s era with the big bulbous fenders and quarter panels and the hood and fenders were still three distinct units. It took no less a personality than a young sales executive named Iaccoca to start to pull Chrysler out of the doldrums.

Indeed, if you look at the 1955 300M you can start to see some of the changes the Lee Iaccoca was pushing. A believer in unified design, the 1955 series of Chrysler/Plymouth began to feature hoods and fenders that were inline with one another. This was almost design heresy in a town where the culture was still focusing on distinct hood-lines, distinct fender-lines, very distinctive and noticeable rear quarters that hugged a very separate trunklid.

That school of thinking was okay in the early 1950s when the world was just exiting the World War II/Korea period. It was a time when Detroit was just trying to change back from a wartime production economy and the design team was still steeped in its 1940s three-box thinking (engine box/passenger box/trunk) and each box was rounded. However, by 1955, when Ford’s Custom VI two-door sedan debuted and the Thunderbird also made its appearance, it was a line of thinking that had to be adjusted and Iaccoca led that adjustment as he had the design team mock up a vehicle unlike anything Chrysler/Plymouth had seen before. It was a sedan with fenders that were integrated into the front end design and not seen as large wheel, steering gear and suspension covers. In other words, outward appearance began to matter. Indeed, the 1955 committed the then-heresy of having a hood that lined up with the fenders so that it presented a smooth surface from side to side.

This design featured a small arched line that carried from the front fenders all the way back through the rear quarters with the sail panels lining up with the body. And, the greenhouse was rounded and its lines were much sleeker than the greenhouse it replaced. And, yes, there were small fins that finished the 1955 and they did point the way to the big fin era that was just a couple of years down the design street.

So, here we are with a new crew, headed by a real gearhead named Lee Iaccoca, a sales guy who never met a vehicle that couldn’t be bored and stroked to increase the fun factor and who never met a car whose final ratios would give it the zip it needed to become a NASCAR powerhouse (funny thing, just about this time, Plymouth did become a NASCAR powerhouse and it was all the result of the new marketing team – this was the same team that later moved over to Ford and who set of the Pony Car wars with the intro of a small number named the Mustang, but that’s a different story. Interestingly, when Iaccoca returned to Chrysler, he was the guy who saved it by being visionary enough to realize that the carmaker needed on frame that could be the basis of several vehicles and he saw the advantages front-drive and downsizing, but that, again, is just part of his legend.)

At this time, though, Plymouth was just beginning its rise to NASCAR glory, all of it thanks to the foresight of their young marketing maven. Iaccoca, who wasn’t averse to rolling up his sleeves and getting grease under his nails, also liked something that was parked in the top of the line, the Hemi engine. He saw the advantages of the hemispherical head cylinder head design and how it scavenged not only the exhaust side, but also how it swirled the intake side to increase the output of each piston.

With all that said, let’s look more specifically at the 1958 Plymouth Fury. The Fury was perhaps the biggest implementation of Virgil Exner’s “Forward Look.” Exner, a key part of Iaccoca’s team, has been forever wedded to the big-fin designs of the 1956-1959 Chrysler products, but, he was much more than that. He was a forward thinking designer who gave the Fury and its stablemates at Chrysler and DeSoto (then part of Chrysler) the “Forward Look.” This look featured quad headlights that were fared nicely into the the fender ends and fenders that finished in slight overhangs. The top of each fender was in line with the hood and the grille was somewhat stepped back from the line set by the headlights and picked up by the bumper. The resulting look made the Fury, whose plain lines swept back through the doors and on through the rear quarters and sail panels, look like it was moving, even though it was standing still. Indeed, the Big Fins of the 1958 seemed to provide the right balance for this vehicle as they not only set an opportunistic note for the era, they did seem just right as they balanced the front end’s lower valance line nicely.

As to performance, the 1958, whose styling was really a continuation of the styling established by Exner’s 1957, was, by now, the performance champ in road racing and the powers-that-be decided it was an intolerable situation, as Ford and GM complained about the performance of the Hemi, so Chrysler was forced to detune the V800 powerplant to 290 horsepower and later they destroked it again by changing the 9.25:1 compression ratio to 9:1 which cut the output to 225 horsepower.

That was when the other gearheads on the design team took a close look at the Wedge head engine and, since it wasn’t truly a hemi, they were able to bring the engine back up to 350-cubic-inches and thanks to this change they were able to offer engines that cranked out 305 horsepower (with a deuce) and 315 when it was equipped with a very questionable mechanical fuel-injection system. Still, this was the fastest Fury of the era as it turn a 7.5-second 0 to 60 run with a quarter-mile exit at 90 mph, which was pretty good for the era. The available transmissions included Chrysler’s famed three-speed Torqueflite automatic, as well as a three-speed standard.

Though the 1958 Fury was probably the best year of this design, the recession that lasted through 1960 was affecting Plymouth sales as they were down 300,000 cars, and this put a strain on a vehicle that included a number of technical firsts including the first use of torsion bar suspension that gave the Fury excellent road manners and gave the driver great feedback through the steering wheel. The torsion bar suspension was a key piece of the Fury’s independent front suspension.

Unfortunately, the recession had a serious effect on a great performance machine, one that helped to pull Chrysler/Plymouth’s bacon out of the fire, so to speak. By the end of 1958, the Fury was gone from the lineup.