DECEMBER 2023: THE DAWN OF THE FORWARD LOOK–A 1955 DODGE CUSTOM ROYAL LANCER CONVERTIBLE WOWS ITS OWNER

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The Forward Look marked Chrysler’s participation in the tailfin style popularized in the mid to late 1950s by North American automakers.

The creative force behind the Mopar finned beauties was Virgil Exner, a designer who worked for the legendary Harley Earl at GM at an earlier stage in his career.

Jim Sutherland

Both men became associated with the fin car style, even though they worked at rival Big Three companies during the height of the tailfin movement. Exner designed cars that celebrated tailfins like no other domestic builder, so every Mopar model had them during the heyday of finned cars.

Dodge Custom Royal models were early pioneers in the Forward Look movement because their tailfins were already a noticeable style feature in 1955, while other Mopar divisions like Plymouth took a subtler approach to their tailfins during that debut year. Future Custom Royal models would offer taller tailfins, but it was very difficult to miss the ’55 Custom Royal’s large circular taillight cluster on the car’s rear end.

Exner’s intention was obvious: he wanted to design cars that resembled terrestrial rocket ships during the early days of the Space Race-and one of his launch vehicles was the 1955 Dodge Custom Royal.

Ken Rice is a huge fan of the Forward Look Exner-era vehicles, particularly the Dodge Custom Royal models. Ken had an early influence about Custom Royals because a friend’s father owned a Custom Royal when Ken was a kid, and he really liked the car because of its finned style.

Ken’s life as a family man and business owner took priority in his life when he reached adulthood, but Dodge Custom Royals were still an influence on him. Eventually Ken reached a point in his life where he was able to invest time and money into the acquisition of a 1955 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer convertible.

Needless to say, a limited production car built in 1955 offered a serious challenge to Ken because of the scarcity of parts. The ’55 Custom Royal was a roller (no powertrain) and needed a ton of work before it was ready for the road.     

Ken told MyStarCollectorCar his project required six parts cars during the restoration process, and every one of the cars were provided by a guy who told Ken to take what he needed and then return the donor vehicles to him.

The net result is a stunning example of a 1955 Dodge Royal Lancer convertible that turns heads whenever Ken takes his drop top out on the road.

A 1955 Custom Royal Lancer was at the top of the totem pole for the Dodge Division at Mother Mopar, so Ken’s convertible version has many whistles and buzzers, including a full gauge package, a unique power steering system that shares its rotation with the car’s generator.

The ’55 Royal Lancer also has a 270 Hemi coupled to a two-speed Powerflite automatic transmission with a dash-mounted shift lever feature that was dropped in 1956 in favor of the famous Chrysler push button automatic.

Ken improved its braking system when he added front discs and intends to replace the bias tires with radials because of their squirrely nature at highway speeds. Ken’s understated impression about bias tires is “You have to drive it”, and he does not like to fight the wheel that hard while on the road.

On the road is a very important concept for Ken because he loves to drive the car and does not believe in trailer queens.

It is very clear vintage vehicles are not museum pieces in Ken’s world, so we at MyStarCollectorCar commend him for his decision to drive his ’55 Royal Lancer convertible and enjoy every moment.

Jim Sutherland

BY: Jim Sutherland

Jim Sutherland is a veteran automotive writer whose work has been published by many major print and online publications. The list includes Calgary Herald, The Truth About Cars, Red Deer Advocate, RPM Magazine, Edmonton Journal, Montreal Gazette, Windsor Star, Vancouver Province, and Post Media Wheels Section. 

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