JANUARY 2024: A SPRING SPECIAL 1958 DODGE CUSTOM ROYAL IS A VERY RARE FINNED BEAUTY

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The fin car era was a legendary period in domestic automobile history and Chrysler was a big player in the tailfin movement.

The Mopar boys called it the Forward Look and ran with the concept in a big way during the back nine of the 1950s.

The Forward Look was spearheaded by Virgil Exner, a very creative auto designer who worked his way up the executive ranks until he became an integral part of Chrysler’s style decision process and eventually put tailfins on every Mopar model, including its Dodge division.

Jim Sutherland

By 1958, Dodge’s most regal model, namely the Custom Royal, showcased some of the most stylish fins ever molded onto the back end of a car during the Fabulous Fifties. It was the early days of the Space Age, so car fins were designed to look like rocket fins, an idea that was magnified on the ’58 Custom Royal because these Forward Look beauties also had round taillights that were designed to resemble rocket boosters by Exner and his crew.

The Dodge Custom Royal models always fascinated Ken Rice, but he had other major distractions like family and business until later in his life. In fact, actual ownership was delayed until about 9 years ago when Ken became the proud owner of a 1958 Dodge Custom Royal Spring Special trim D-500 two-door hardtop.

The car’s long name may require an explanation for our MyStarCollectorCar readers, so we will interpret the labels for the non-Forward Look crowd. The Spring Edition model was naturally introduced in Spring 1958 to reignite interest in car purchases during a major recession in the United States when new car sales had fallen hard in the North American market, particularly higher end models like the Custom Royal.

The Custom Royal Spring Edition had more bling than earlier Custom Royals and therefore was clearly defined as a more luxurious model than one built earlier in the production year. Chrysler wanted to capitalize on the return of the spring season and a renewed sense of optimism, mainly to shake off the dark days of a winter recession, so they put a fresh new look on their flagship Dodge model in Spring 1958.

The other name that may require interpretation for non-Forward Look readers is the D-500 name on Ken’s ’58 Custom Royal. He explained the name indicated his Custom Royal was a D-500 because the car left the factory with a 361 cubic inch engine equipped with a 4-barrel carburetor and his Mopar still has its original powertrain, including its push button automatic transmission.

Ken’s car is a low mileage (39,000 original miles) car that is very original, save for bolt-on changes such as 4-wheel disc brakes to make it safer for higher speed driving. The car’s drivability is a critical factor for Ken because he loves to get behind the wheel of his D-500 whenever he has an opportunity.

He added the car has never been taken apart and is very solid on the road at 70 mph (about 110 km/h). “They (original unrestored cars) work better”, in Ken’s words, an idea that is shared by many owners of original low mileage vintage vehicles we have interviewed over the past 13 years.

 These days Ken’s 1958 Dodge Custom Royal truly is a Spring Edition because it only comes out when the snow is gone so he can enjoy time on the road with his classic Mopar fin car.

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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