I could spend three life-times finding Curbside Classics on the streets of San Francisco. Last time here, before I started this series, I found a running Fiat 600 Multipla parked on the street. Does that give you a fair idea of the potential? On the other hand, I get annoyed by the city’s traffic and parking, so I don’t spend anymore time then necessary there. But on New Year’s Eve morning, we bopped into an almost dead town for some time at Fort Mason and the waterfront. I wasn’t really looking to shoot anything, but then there it was, sitting in front of a purple building. For a moment, I thought I might have found a very elusive ’57 model, but until that appears somewhere, this ’58 will do, quite well.
I’ll be honest: I don’t have the time to do a proper write-up on the groundbreaking ’57 predecessor to this car right now, while my hosts sit in the other room and dinner is almost ready. So it’s just as well that its a ’58; we’ll save it for later, and just dig this bat-winged wonder.
The basic story is pretty well known: Chrysler was getting hurt in the early fifties for its stodgy, boxy styling. They hired the flamboyant Virgil Exner to turn things around, which started to come to fruition with the ’55 models and, and hit its zenith with the “Suddenly It’s 1960” models for ’57. These were radically low, long and wide for their time, and caught GM with their pants down. The illustrious ’59 GM models are a direct response to Exner’s ’57s.
Chrysler suffered the same fate in ’57 that Studebaker did in 1953 with its radical new cars: abysmal build quality. The ’57s were notorious leakers, from all quarters. Rust followed in short order. Chrysler’s long-cultivated rep for superior build quality was washed away.
The ’58s were a distinct improvement, but sales took a huge hit, a combination of the problematic ’57s and the recession of 1958. Chrysler suffered for years, until its (short lived) renaissance in the mid-late sixties.
Dinner is almost ready, and I need to load up these pictures; so maybe some of you will fill in any details I left out. But I needed to share this bitching Plymouth stat; so here it is, and a Happy New Year of Curbside Classicking with you all! Your comments and support are my inspiration; thank you for helping me to have the funnest year in a long time. I’m the luckiest guy around: I get to live out my childhood fantasy of gazing at old cars and ruminating on them. Thank you all, and I’ve got even more goodies in store for 2010!