Modern Classic: 1956 Plymouth Fury Special 8The "little" Chrysler 300C
To qualify as "modern classics," we're choosing vehicles that are comparatively affordable now and that we think will increase in value over time. These are cars that many people would love to have: head-turners, trend-setters in their time, cars that people still see that make them smile, cars that were definitive in their own right, stylish and fun to drive. We're focusing on cars that are at least 25 years old so they can be registered and insured cheaply and aren't subject to annual inspections.
Tastes may vary, as may peoples' own definitions of "affordable." Our theoretical limit is $50,000 for a car in good to excellent condition, which rules out many of the traditional exotics. This month's selection is the 1956 Plymouth Fury Special 8.
With all the hype over the Prowler, people have forgotten that Plymouth offered its first performance model more than 40 years ago. The image-enhancing success of the first 300C inspired Chrysler management to order a "little 300" for each of its divisions: Dodge had the D-500, DeSoto got the Adventurer. Plymouth retained Jim Wangers, who'd later gain fame as the promotional whiz behind Pontiac's GTO, to help launch a halo model, the Fury Special 8.
Chicago Auto Show-goers first saw the Fury in January 1956. Simultaneously, at Daytona Beach, Florida, a factory-prepped and -tweaked Fury, piloted by Cunningham driver Phil Walters (a.k.a. Ted Tappet when he drove open-wheeled racers), blew through the Flying Mile at a record-setting 124.01 mph. Stock Furys were capable of 111 mph and mid-9-second 0-60 times. All were off-white, Virgil Exner-styled Forward Look Belvedere-model hardtops with tapered, gold-anodized side trim and natty eggshell and black cloth upholstery with interwoven gold metallic thread. Sounds tacky, I know, but it was "sharp" in '56.
For a nominal $500 premium over a base Belvedere, buyers also got a beefed-up driveline, with Oriflow shocks and heavy-duty springs that helped lower the car one inch. Larding the 3,510-pound Fury with a little Hemi would have created a monster that could blow off bigger, pricier Mopar brethren. So Plymouth's top motor, a 200-bhp, 276-cid V-8, was replaced with a Canadian-built 240-bhp, 303-cid engine with polyspherical 9.25:1 heads, solid lifters, a hot cam, a Carter 4-barrel carb and dual exhausts.
Fury distinctions included gold-anodized hubcaps and grille trim, 11-inch Dodge brakes with "police" linings, performance tires on 5.5-inch wheels and a 6,000-rpm Stewart-Warner tach. A three-speed manual was standard. Sticks were rare, even then: Many buyers ordered the optional heavy-duty push-button PowerFlite two-speed automatic. Careful! It doesn't have a Park setting.
"Motor Trend" called the $2,866 Fury "the hottest, most stable Plymouth produced to date." Plymouth was America's fourth best-selling nameplate at the time. Thanks to considerable showroom traffic, and no directly competitive special Ford or Chevy models, 4,485 Furys were sold in the model's first half year of production.
The Fury remained Plymouth's highliner with the bigger, handsomely rebodied 1957 models. Torsion-bar suspension and a 318-cid, 290-bhp V-8 with dual quads upped the ante, and the division regained third place in sales. In 1958, an optional twin-4-barrel 350-cid Wedge engine developed 305-bhp, or 315-bhp with Chrysler's short-lived fuel-injection. In 1959, the limited-production Fury hardtop became an entire model line.
Like all Mopar products of that era, Furys are prone to horrific rust. The original upholstery cloth wore quickly; better hope the car you find had seat covers. (Many did.) Electrical glitches are an occasional hassle; the S-W tachs were reportedly inaccurate, but they can be rebuilt. Despite the heavy-duty upgrades, these cars still rock and roll under hard cornering.
Prices of early Chrysler "letter cars" are taking off: A decent 1956 Fury hardtop retails for less than half of a comparable Chrysler 300C, and it's bound to turn a few heads on cruise nights. CPI reports that a decent early Fury can be had for around $15-16K.
Antique DeSoto-Plymouth, www.antiquemopar.com
Collectors' Choice, Sarasota, FL, (941) 923-4514
Mitchell Motor Parts, www.mmpar.com
Plymouth Owners Club, www.plymouthbulletin.com
PRO Antique Auto Parts, www.proantiqueauto.com
Cars of Particular Interest, www.cpivalueguide.com
"Great Cars of the Fifties," Consumer Guide, www.amazon.com
"Hemmings Motor News," www.hemmings.com
"The Illustrated Mopar Buyers' Guide," www.amazon.com
"Motor Trend," March '56 issue, www.motortrend.com
"Special Interest Autos," February '85 issue, www.hemmings.com
"Standard Catalog of Imported Cars, 1946-1975" (pp. 543-546), www.motorbooks.com
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