Dick Pedro flips the toggle switch below the dash on his 55 Dodge Royal and the engine’s tone changes from mild to wild.
Enthusiasts gather around like metal filings to a magnet as the lake pipes open and fill the parking lot with the grumble of a vintage Hemi, the Holy Grail of hot rod engines.
It was the maiden voyage for Pedro’s 1955 Dodge Royal. He had picked it up earlier in the day, after a nearly four-year transformation from plain Jane sedan to a stunning street rod.
Pedro had purchased the MoPar nearly six years earlier.
“I wanted something different,” he says by way of an explanation. “I already have an ex-Reggie Jackson ‘55 Chevy 2-door post and a steel 32 Ford and a vintage Mustang. But when you go to a car show, you see lots of ‘55 Chevys and there are too many fiberglass 32 Fords to count. And there’s no shortage of Mustangs.
“But how often do you see a mid-50s Dodge?” he asks. “I know of only one other.”
When he bought the Dodge, it was a basically sound, but uninspiring, sedan.
After driving it for about six months, he began taking it apart piece by piece.
One of the first things to go was the original 270 cubic inch Red Ram hemi engine.
“At the time, you couldn’t get any hot rod part for that engine,” he says. “I wanted something under the hood that was going to look good.”
He eventually located a fully-built 354 Hemi, still on an engine stand and wrapped in plastic.
“The older gentleman who had the engine built -I think he was in his 70s -had recently gotten married, and he said his new wife wasn’t into cars,” he says.
Pedro ended up taking the project to Terry’s Custom Auto in Wilsonville, Oregon. There was some element of convenience in the decision.
“I know he’d do good work,” says Pedro. “But I also own the building where he has his shop. I spent a lot of money on the car, a good bit of which ended up coming back to me as lease payments.”
The end product is both beautiful and subtle. It rests on a Fatman frame and Heidts suspension.
But almost nothing on the body was changed. It even rides on vintage steel wheels.
“I did take off a couple of big Dodge emblems on the hood and trunk,” he says. “They were pretty ugly. But other than that, the body is pretty stock.”
Well, except for those fins.
The Dodge Royal didn’t come with chrome fins on the rear fenders. The add-ons were standard on the Custom Royal and the Royal Lancer versions, but not on the more modestly priced Royal.
“I spent years looking for the fins,” he says. “I had actually kind of given up ever finding them.”
But then he saw a flyer for an auction in Medford, Oregon, so he drove down from his home outside of Portland to take a look. But the photo on the flyer and the car he saw in Medford were not the same. The ‘55 in the photo was actually in a storage lot in Grants Pass.
“So we drove to Grants Pass to take a look, but you couldn’t even see the rear of the car through the fence,” he says. “I bought it anyway, just hoping I was right.”
He was. Not only did he get the elusive chrome fins, but within an hour he sold the rest of the car for exactly what he paid for it.
The interior was done by Jerry’s Upholstery in Longview, Washington, using front seats and rear armrest from a Jaguar, and all the original gauges re-wired to work on a 12-volt circuit.
Pedro made copies of a photo of a ‘55 Dodge from a magazine, and pored over the possibilities for paint design.
“But when I took it to Terry, he said he wouldn’t paint what I had designed. These guys spend so long with a project they begin taking ownership of the car,” he says. “So Terry offered to come up with his own design and colors, and said that if I didn’t like it, he wouldn’t charge me for the work.
“He won. What he came up with is far better than my design,” he admits.
Any question about the end product was settled the next day, when Pedro drove the Dodge to a large show in Sherwood, Oregon, where it took first place in its division.
“It cost a lot of money and took a lot of time,” he says, “but the best I ever got with the Reggie Jackson car was a second.”