Befinned & Chromey Glory Machine

November 17, 2017

                                                                                                                                  Photo: Julian Robinson

Chatting with Paul Beamish at the DTRA season launch party (and trying to persuade him to ride a Storz in the Hooligan class) we were discussing why it is so much more fun to ride and drive something sideways than straight. Paul suggested that it is because we know we shouldn't, i.e. that it is inappropriate. And in the inappropriate 

Sideburn mindset of Chopper Speedway and racing motorcycles in fancy dress, I like to compete in speed competitions in my old car.  

 

It is a 1958 Dodge Coronet Club (two-door) Sedan. The sedans having door pillars (posts) rather than being the more desirable pillarless hardtops. The Coronet Club Sedan was the cheapest model in the Dodge range, and the only options mine sports are the entry level (Red Ram) V8 - a 325ci 'poly' (as opposed to 'hemi') and the custom interior with flashy door panels. No radio, washers or carpet. The poverty spec suits me fine. It remains in completely standard condition and wears its age well.

 

                                                                                                                                Photo: Neal Reed

I'd never owned a Chrysler product before I got it, nor did I know much about design studio chief (and wonderfully named) Virgil Exner or his 'Forward Look' style ethos. This 'Look' was for the late '50s Chrysler range of Plymouths, Dodges, DeSotos, Chryslers & Imperials, but I soon caught up and came to love and respect them. Everyone knows a classic fin car like a Tri Chevy or a Tedtastic '59 Caddy, but the Mopars of the era have escaped celebrity and recognition by all except those enlightened few who admire 'The Forward Look'. I like that , because it is unusual but very striking. I dig the copy the ad dept used for it; 'Swept Wing Dodge, scope-sight speedometer, Torsionaire suspension, Flite-vue control panel.'

                                                                                                                                Photo: Blue

I have run it on the drag strip, dirt track hillclimb, dirt oval, in speed hillclimbs and sprints. In competition it has never been last in class, had slowest time of the day nor embarrassed me performance wise, which is quite a surprise as it is most ill-suited to the task. It only has a two-speed 'PowerFlite' auto box (with push button gear selection), no anti-roll bars (they were fitted to the high spec models) nor a limited slip ('Suregrip') diff  or even power steering or brakes, but anyone who grew up in the era of live axle, rear wheel drive cars will understand about the fun to be had from pushing such a device beyond the bounds of 'normal' driving. I run it on crossply tyres to get the full 1958 driving experience. They are very expensive and utterly useless. 

Leaning on it at Goodwood.

                                                                                                                                Photo: Rob Bullingham

Leaning on it at Prescott.

                                                                                                                                Photo: Rich Danby

It came with a set of unused old tyres that rejoiced in the brand name of Remmington Cushionaires. Those old things were so hard they smoked up easily and copiously, albeit only one wheel at a time. 

 

I get immense pleasure from just driving the car, either in inappropriate competitions or normally on the road, simply because the inside is a lovely environment to be in, with the world unfurling through the panoramic wraparound 'screen and it floating along in 'Torsionaire' comfort in the hopeless way that only old yanks can. With the lazy transmission shifting into top as early as it can it might just as well be single speed. I love the fact that it is physical and wonderful proof that there was an era and society that felt able to produce and buy something so led by style over function, so blatantly jet and rocket inspired, that life was so optimistic and exciting and that was it normal. When new this was a cheap and basic shopping car, not anything special. How times change.

Incidentally,  I'm not the only DTRA rider to own a Dodge Coronet. Our Belgian mate David Van Parijs #85 has this lovely muscle era '68 model.

 

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