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1955 Dodge Royal

Story and photos by Jerry F. Boone

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.”

Click on any item below for more details at Amazon.com

Chrysler Corp.
1955 Dodge Coronet - Custom Royal - Royal - Sierra Owner’s Manual
Pamphlet, 1954
Original pamphlet. Limited availability.

Chrysler Corp.
1955 Dodge Coronet - Custom Royal - Royal - Sierra Factory Shop Service Manual
Paperback, 1954
Original shop manual. Limited availability.

Richard Nedbal
How to Build Max-Performance Hemi Engines
S-A Design, Paperback, 2009-08-01
How to Build Max-Performance Hemi Engines details how to extract even more horsepower out of these incredible engines. All the block options from street versus race, new versus old, and iron versus aluminum are presented. Full detailed coverage on the reciprocating assembly is also included. Heads play an essential role in flowing fuel and producing maximum horsepower, and therefore receive special treatment. Author Richard Nedbal explores major head types, rocker-arm systems, head machining and prep, valves, springs, seats, porting quench control, and much more. All camshaft considerations are discussed as well, so you can select the best specification for your engine build.

Darwin Holmstrom
Hemi Muscle Cars
Motorbooks, Hardcover, 2008-10-01

Since the early years of the internal combustion engine, engineers recognized that the hemispherical head design, which utilized dome-shaped combustion chambers, generated phenomenal horsepower. During World War II, Chrysler developed this extremely powerful engine design for tanks and other military vehicles. After the war the company applied this technology to a 330-cubic-inch V-8 destined for its 1951 production cars. This engine became so dominant on America’s racetracks and boulevards that its nickname--Hemi--came to symbolize the ultimate in American performance.

Hemi Muscle Cars tells the story of the magnificent Hemi-powered performance cars and explains why the Hemi has blown away the competition for six decades--and still does so today. More importantly, the book shows how this potent engine became a cultural icon, how it came to define American performance cars.

Robert Genat
Hemi Muscle Cars
Motorbooks, Paperback, 1999-09-26
Chrysler’s Hemi-powered muscle cars were quite arguably the most coveted and outrageous vehicles ever unleashed on American streets. During the height of the muscle car era, firebreathing Hemi V-8 engines set performance standards that all other manufacturers deperately attempted, but miserably failed, to attain. Featuring a gallery of all-new color photography by veteran MBI author Robert Genat, this history of Chrysler’s Hemi muscle cars focuses on production automobiles like the Road Runner, Charger, Challenger, Super Bee, Super Bird, and Barracuda, but also includes coverage of the motorsport Hemis that dominated NHRA drag strips and NASCAR ovals.

Ron Ceridono
Complete Chrysler Hemi Engine Manual
Hot Rod Library, Inc, Paperback, 2000-08-10
Everything from in-depth build-ups to the latest in fuel injection adaptations! Ceridono masterfully details street, race, marine, blown and naturally aspirated engines for Chrysler, Dodge, and DeSoto. Contains complete identification and specifications for all models, plus Polyspheres, the new 426 crate motors, and conversions.

Robert Genat, David Newhardt
American Cars of the 1950s
Motorbooks, Paperback, 2007-12-15
In splendid, full-color pictures and fact-filled text, this book recreates the iconic era of American automobiles, the decade of fins and whitewalls, craftsmanship and fine-tuned art on wheels. From stylish sports cars like the Corvette and Thunderbird, to luxury Lincoln and Cadillac sedans, to the inimitable models from independents like Nash, Studebaker, Crosley, American Cars of the 1950s captures the spirit of postwar prosperity, new technologies, and unprecedented feats of design that made this decade one of Detroit’s finest moments.
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