By Brian Earnest
Wayne Maddox knows the 1950s Bel Airs and the Cadillacs and the finned Chrysler Letter Cars of the day hog a lot of today’s collector spotlight. In fact, the Westminster, Co., resident has owned some of those high-profile cars himself.
But Maddox still hasn’t seen a car that surpasses his 1957 Dodge Royal Lancer D-500 hardtop when it comes to combining sweet, swoopy looks with neck-snapping performance.
“It’s just amazing. It’s a time capsule,” he says of his 37,000-mile Dodge, which is largely untouched from its original factory condition. “When you talk about 1957, the car that immediately comes to everbody’s minds is the Chevy Bel Air. And I still own a ’57 Bel Air that was our family car when I was a kid. But when you put that ’57 Dodge up next to the Chevy, the Bel Air just seems so frumpy and so high.
“A lot of people think that Dodge pulled off the fins the best, and it’s hard to argue that … And with that Hemi in her, boy I’ll tell you, she just cruises!”
Over the years, Maddox, who operates a small salvage and parts business, has assembled an impressive array of vehicles in his collection. Joining the Royal Lancer D-500 and Bel Air are about 20 other cars ranging in vintage from a stunning 1949 Plymouth convertible to a 1984 Chrysler limousine. But Maddox claims he’s “not one of these ‘big buck’ high-roller type of collectors which now, seem to dominate the hobby. While I have a lot of cars, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time to obtain them. My garage is not one of these mini mansion warehouse garages. It is a simple two-car garage out back of my house. About eight of my cars are stored in an old turkey barn north of town, and some, regrettably, are sitting outside.”
But the ’57 Dodge definitely gets its share of TLC. As was the case with many of his purchases, Maddox came across the Royal Lancer largely by accident.
“One of my dad’s buddies knew this woman, and he had been after her to buy it for years,” he said. “Finally, in ’78, she was at a point where she had to go in a nursing home … So she called [the friend] up and said, ‘Are you still interested in the car?’ He said, no, but that he had a buddy who was an old Chrysler guy and he might be interested …
“So he called me and said, “How’d you like ’57 Dodge with 15,000 miles?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be interested.’ I thought it would probably be a stripper Coronet, dark green sedan with a flathead six and three on the tree. I wasn’t expecting much.
“So we made arrangements to see the car and he picked me up and we went to (Colorado Springs). We pull in and here comes this sweet little old lady saying, ‘Oh, you must be here to see the car.’ Well, I just about fell over backward when she showed us the car. Here was this two-door hardtop, two-tone paint and that neat D-500 badge on the deck lid!”
The odometer at the time ready 15,200 miles. Then came Maddox’s favorite part of the story.
“I thought something must have been wrong. I couldn’t believe it. So right away I asked, ‘How much do you want for this car?’ And she waved a finger at me and said, “I want $500 and not a penny less!”
Suffice it to say no price haggling ensued and Maddux became the vehicle’s new owner in short order.
Turns out, the car had sat for 20 years after the woman’s husband had died. The couple had bought the car new, but the woman didn’t drive and the car sat untouched after she became a widow.
Under a layer of dust was a car that needed very little work. By the time Maddox had driven the car home, “I had left most of the exhaust on I-25,” he said, but the car was otherwise still very drivable. It still wore its original wide whitewalls tires. The interior was in splendid shape, and even the original floor mats were in place. “You could still see little half moons in the mat from her high heels,” Maddox said with a chuckle. “The only bad thing was a wiper scratch on the windshield. And I’ve left it that way, because it’s original and that’s the way I got it.
“I’ve put on new tires and hoses, and I’ve done a few small paint touch-ups. And I’ve had the exhaust tips taken off, because every steep driveway I went in, those tips were scraping. And I also put a clear plastic seat cover over the bottom of the front seat.”
The 1957 Dodges were totally face-lifted from the previous year and showed off the “Forward Look” Chrysler styling. They were longer, lower and wider than any previous Dodge and hugged the ground on 14-inch wheels. Front torsion bar suspension was new, and headlights were deeply recessed below large headlight “brows.” The grille featured a gull-wing-shaped horizontal bar, which dipped in the center and surrounded a large Dodge crest All models used a single horizontal chrome strip along the bodyside and chrome trim along the base of the large rear fender fins. Chrome trim surrounded the headlights and grille opening.
The Dodge name, in block letters, was spaced along the front and the grille, directly below the hood ornament.
The Royal was once again the intermediate trim level in Dodge’s lineup and included two- and four-door hardtops, a two-door convertible and two-door hardtop.
The D-500 was a performance option available in all Dodge cars that year and was even more muscular than the year before – growing from 315 to 325 cid and jumping from 260 hp to 285.
Maddox’s Hemi-powered Dodge has made appearances at Meadowbrook and a number of other hobby events, including several Walter P. Chrysler Club (WPC) national meets. He has rolled up about 22,000 miles since taking the keys and title, and had a close call a while back when an inattentive motorist dinged the car’s front end. “A gal ran a red light one time and clipped the front end and knocked a piece of molding off,” he said. Still, he doesn’t shy away from taking his beloved Dodge anywhere, anytime. “These cars are meant to be driven. If it’s one thing I abhor, it’s a trailer queen,” he said. “If you have a 1910 Maxwell, that’s one thing, but if you have cars that can drive at highway speeds, c’mon. A car like this is meant to be driven. And it’s got a Hemi!”
It addition to its calling card fins, 325-cid Hemi and two-tone Glacier White and Turquoise paint scheme, the Dodge has plenty a few other niceties and options. Among them are dual exhaust, power steering and brakes, Torqueflight transmission, twin outside mirrors, push-button AM radio, clock and emergency brake warning light. And then there are the twin rear-mounted antennas – maybe the crowning touch on the car, at least when it comes to grabbing attention. “Yeah, people just go nuts over those twin antennas,” Maddox says. “They are so long! I have to pull them back down before I can get it into the garage.”
He also gets a kick when people ask him about what he did to restore the car. “One thing people always say is ‘Wow, who did your paint?’” he said. “Nobody! Look at it, it’s original.”
Yes, this 1957 is definitely original. It belongs to an owner who loves and appreciates it. It’s cool. And it was a bargain.
And it’s this week’s OldCarsReport.com Car of the Week.
Click here to see all of our 2009 "Car of the Week" selections.
MORE RESOURCES FOR CAR COLLECTORS FROM OLDCARSWEEKLY.COM