MotorCities National Heritage Area
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By Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher
Images Courtesy of Chrysler Archives
Published 4.28.2021

Virgil Exner in the Chrysler Design Studio Chrysler Archives RESIZED 1Virgil Exner in the Chrysler Design Studio (Chrysler Archives) 

Dodge offered a restyled look for its new line of 1959 models introduced to the public in the fall of 1958. The cars were longer, lower and wider. Some automotive historians have noted that the 1959 Dodges, the cars with the wide sweeping eyebrows received mixed reviews from consumers.

In 1959, Dodge was looking to regain market share that had been lost over the last couple years. Dodge ranked eighth among the domestic brands in sales in 1959.

1959 Dodge Silver Challenger front end Chrysler Archives 21959 Dodge Silver Challenger front end (Chrysler Archives)

Dodge’s styling at the time was under the direction of Virgil Exner (1909-1973), who had created and introduced their “Forward Look” in 1955. Automotive historians have credited Exner for the popular design look of the popular 1947 Studebaker Starlight model. Exner joined Chrysler in 1949 and headed the advanced design studio. As his journey would continue at Chrysler, his creativity was just beginning.

1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer hardtop coupe rear view Chrysler Archives 31959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer hardtop coupe rear view (Chrysler Archives)

In terms of features on the 1959 Dodges, the grille was restyled, but the parking lamps remained at the inner ends of the large chrome bars that were in front of the vehicle. The twin unit taillights located at the rear were one of the main attractions people noticed when looking at the car. They also offered swivel front seats that became a big hit among women and were later copied in the early 1970s by other automakers.

1959 Dodge swivel seats Chrysler Archives RESIZED 41959 Dodge swivel seats (Chrysler Archives)

The 1950s were a decade of great power for Dodge, and their 1959 models offered several great engines which were extremely popular not only with consumers but also public service operations as well. For example, the top performance engine was the Super D-500 that was available for an additional cost on all V-8 models. The super Ram Fire V-8 engine was standard equipment on the Custom Royal and Custom Sierra station wagon models, and the Coronet V-8 series was powered by the Red Ram power engine.

Color ad illustration for Dodge swivel seats Chrysler Archives RESIZED 5Color ad illustration for Dodge swivel seats (Chrysler Archives)

Many 1959 Dodge models were used as law enforcement vehicles. Through many decades, Dodge police cars played a major role in public safety. These high-performance 1959 Dodge models with a D-500 engine were called Dodge Pursuits.

The interiors of the 1959 Dodge models featured great looking designs and offered a lot of roominess for the driver and passengers alike. New carpet, along with superb new vinyl and cloth material with a divided seat pattern, offered all the flair and fashion of many luxury cars of the era and were admired by most consumers. They also offered a “Sky-View” windshield on its hardtop and convertibles, which not only wrapped around at its sides but wrapped up into the roof as well.

1959 Dodge pursuit vehicle Chrysler Archives RESIZED 61959 Dodge pursuit vehicle (Chrysler Archives)

In 1959, Chrysler introduced the finest in engineering and design for its new models. Features such as swivel seats, push-button heating and air conditioning, automatic leveling, the electronic self-dimming rear-view mirror, and more durable exterior finishes were worthy additions to the imposing list of product developments created by Chrysler during the 1950s.

1959 Dodge advertising card Chrysler Archives 71959 Dodge advertising card (Chrysler Archives)

In 1959, the Dodge line offered 19 models in four great series. Chrysler marketed its new line of products as “the new 1959 cars of the Forward Look.” In addition, the advertising theme “Newest of Everything Great” was used for Dodge in 1959.

The Dodge division said this about its new 1959 models: “Dodge ’59 looks dynamic and practical at the same time -- and it is. Power Dodge’s new high-compression engines squeeze more power out of gas than ever.” Although Dodge had a rough sales year in 1958 due to an economic recession, the 1959 models sold much better.

Band leader Lawrence Welk spokesperson for Dodge in 1959 8Band leader Lawrence Welk spokesperson for Dodge in 1959

In conclusion, the 1959 Dodge models were restyled. The division manufactured 156,000 units that year for an eighth-place finish. American cars were were tail fin crazy at that time, however, tail fins were modest on the Dodge models that year. Today, the 1959 Dodge models have become an icon for the younger generation as a time machine from the days of Buck Rogers space designs.  

Bibliography

McPherson, Thomas A. “The Dodge Story.” Crestline Publishing, 1975.

Chrysler Corporation 1958 Annual Report featuring the new 1959 Chrysler models.

1959 Dodge color automotive sales/advertising brochures.