Back in the mid-1950s buying a different car every other year or so was a common practice. Young Stan Fetter lived with his parents in Arlington, Va., and he clearly remembers them bringing home a different Dodge almost every other year.
His parents preferred slightly used cars for a better value. In 1958 the family car was a 1957 Dodge. That car was replaced in 1960 by a 1959 Dodge. Both cars had rear fenders capped with the spectacularly outrageous fins favored by Chrysler Corporation designers in those days.
“I thought those Dodges were the prettiest things in the world,” Fetter says.
Decades passed, but Fetter never got over his infatuation with the finny mid-1950s Dodges. The Dodges of that era were plagued with rust problems, which now means only a few survived. Nonetheless, for Fetter, the search for a 50s Dodge never ended. As the years passed Fetter would track down any 1950s-era Dodge he saw advertised for sale.
“I looked,” he says, “but they all had rust all over the place.”
In the spring of 2008, he saw an advertisement offering a 1958 Dodge Coronet Lancer four-door hardtop. Surprisingly, it was located in Arlington, not far from his childhood home.
Fetter found it was a rust-free Wedgwood Blue and Eggshell White car that had already received a lot of restoration work. The bodywork was complete on the 3,605-pound Dodge, as was the upholstery.
Records indicate that the car was sold new in Ohio with a base price $2,764. Fetter liked what he saw and was not about to let this pristine car get away. He purchased it and drove it to his Accokeek, Md., home. The odometer had just rolled over 98,000 miles.
Under the expansive engine hood, which is crowned by a pair of chrome ornaments, is a powerful 325-cubic-inch V-8 that develops 252 horsepower. All of that power is transferred to the rear drive wheels via a two-speed Powerflite automatic push-button transmission. The top row of the push button controls at the left end of the dashboard are from the left: Reverse-Neutral-Drive. The single push button on the bottom row activates the Low gear.
The blue dashboard is painted. The dashboard and the steering wheel both share the same blue as that on the outside of the car. Two contrasting white panels give the dashboard some visual depth. The glove compartment door is white, as is the panel below the 120-mph speedometer. The instruments in that panel are from the left: Amperes-Fuel-Clock-Oil Pressure-Temperature. In the center of the dashboard is a panel that can be swiveled 180 degrees to expose an ashtray.
The factory-installed air conditioner needed Fetter’s attention. The repaired unit now can easily cool the cabin. Fetter admires the functionality of the two air conditioning vents on top of the dashboard. Additionally, a third vent directs cool air at the ankle level. When the air conditioner is not in use the cabin occupants are kept comfortable by fresh air directed by the wing vent windows in the front doors. To the left of the air vents is the dash-mounted mirror. The AM radio occupies the traditional position.
“Torsion-Aire Ride” suspension is supported by 8.00×14-inch tires on a 122-inch wheelbase. The 17-foot, 10-inch-long Dodge provides a true “big car” ride. The spacious cabin is 78.3-inches wide with a panoramic view through the wraparound windshield.
When Fetter first got his Dodge he noted that the car was equipped with a two-barrel Stromberg carburetor. “It had an automatic choke,” Fetter remembers, “which was a pretty big deal at the time.” Fetter adds, “It was a big deal to keep it working right, too.” The engine drinks from a 20-gallon gasoline tank. The relatively new-for-1958 12-volt electrical system is efficient in spinning the starter motor.
The 1958 models were the first Dodges to have four headlights. The odometer on Fetter’s Coronet Lancer has now reached 100,534 miles. The car has not gone on any lengthy trips. Fetter, instead, enjoys fair weather jaunts close to home and weekend cruise-in events. — Vern Parker, Motor Matters
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Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011