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Rare 1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer Sat 37 Years Untouched, Now Lives Again With a Hemi Heart

1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer D-500 119 photos
Photo: YouTube/Lou Costabile
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Chrysler speared ahead of the pack in the mid-50s, proposing its famous design language that paved the way for the American industry for the rest of the decade and influenced the early sixties automobiles. Virgil Exner was the ChryCo head of design, and his ‘Forward Look’ cars looked like a million dollars - let’s just take a moment to remember the Chrysler 300 letter series. All the Mopar divisions carried the same styling banner, from Imperial and Plymouth to DeSoto and Dodge.
Since Dodge is the only name that survives to this day, it’s a good moment to pay homage to that era of fabulous-looking automobiles with yet another classic of that era, a 1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer convertible D500. Quite a mouthful, but that was the norm back in the day (by the way, what does Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye Widebody Jailbreak sound like compared to the 67-year-young nameplate?)

Anyway, back to the nifty fifties: the smallest of the Big Three from Detroit, Chrysler Corporation, was dueling its first (of a series to come) bankruptcy frights. After securing a quarter-billion-dollar loan from Prudential in 1954 (with a payback due year of 2054) for further expansion and production increase, Mother Mopar took off with flying colors (quite literally, in a way).

The bailout offered Exner the means to get his irresistible cars from the drawing board onto the streets. For 1955, Dodge’s lineup consisted of four distinct series: Coronet, Royal, Custom Royal, and La Femme, the former styled specifically by and for the use of women drivers. However, it didn’t break the bank, and in the 1957 restyling, only three nameplates were carried over.

1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer D\-500
Photo: connorsmotorcar.com
The Coronet was Dodge’s entry-level offer, accounting for 56% of the total Dodge production in 1957, with almost 162,000 units. America was very fond of its eight-cylinder belief so the Coronet couldn’t betray that creed. 143,321 examples of the nameplate left the factory with the 325 cubic-inch V8. The 5.3-liter engine was available in four different versions, from the practical ‘Aircraft-Type Red Ram’ with a single two-barrel ‘carbureter’ (more on the peculiar spelling in a moment) to the Super D-500 with its pair of four-throat carbs.

The brochure of the day notes one particular aspect about all four engines that would immediately stir a wave of solemn silence in any self-respectable Mopar society: ‘hemispherical.’ Do I have your undivided attention now? Thank you. We may proceed, then. The first generation of the Hemi settled at the aforementioned displacement of 325 cubic inches under Dodge duties, and it emerged in this size for the 1957 model year.

In the fifties, rear fender wings were about as mandatory as wheels and doors – or so it would have appeared since nearly everyone enthusiastically used them. The fifties were a bluntly overstated tribute to the progress of jet aviation (as far as American carmakers were concerned, anyway), and the cars from that era are clad in ornaments celebrating supersonic flight. But, while some came out in vast numbers, other models kept a very low profile, and finding one today is the visual equivalent of being knighted without having to dispatch any dragons beforehand.

1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer D\-500
Photo: connorsmotorcar.com
Speaking of knights' errant and shiny armor, have a look at the beautiful Lancer in the video, one of the 3,363 examples built in 1957. Covered in a contrasting two-tone livery that is antagonizing even in the name (Glacier White versus Tropical Coral), the restored convertible sports the KD500 stamping on its engine block.

What that means is explained in detail by this excerpt from a sales brochure: ‘Full hemispherical combustion chamber with double rocker arms. Compression ratio, 9.25:1. Bore, 3.69 in. Stroke, 3.80 in. Piston displacement, 325 cu. in. Horsepower, 285 @ 4800 rpm. Torque, 345 lbs. ft. @ 3200 rpm. Rotary oil pump. Shunt-type oil filter. Oil capacity, 5 qts. Coolant capacity, 20 qts. (with heater or air conditioning, 21 qts.) Dual exhausts and extensions. Special heavy-duty double breaker distributor. Heavy-duty dry-type air cleaner. Single 4-barrel carburetor.’ (Metric side note: 93.72 x 96.52 mm bore and stroke, 5.3 liters, 289 hp, 468 Nm).’

The D-500 package was a performance option, and it could be optioned with Chrysler’s sensational push-button Torqueflite three-speed automatic transmission or the two-speed Powerflite (also button-operated). The standard hardware was a three-speed manual, but the car featured in the video below has the top-of-the-game gearbox. Interestingly, for 1957, the hemispherical-heads V8 was a meager 72-dollar option, while the hassle-free tranny accounted for 220 bucks.

1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer D\-500
Photo: connorsmotorcar.com
Slated to a base price of $2,801 (for the convertible), the Torqueflite was quite an expense. The engine was Dodge's fourth most expensive option for the Coronet Lancer (after the outrageously pricey radio - $112 – and the power steering - $92). However, this example also came with an 80-dollar accessory group that includes a heater, back-up lights, and two mirrors - the glare-proof rearview mirror in the cabin and the one on the driver’s door.

There’s an interesting story about this restored example: in 2014, it was rescued from a 37-year slumber in California for the modest sum of $3,000 (at least, that’s what a quick VIN search would reveal about it, but do take it with a pinch of salt). The car was in rough shape, and the buyer put it through a two-year restoration—an overhaul the vehicle had been waiting for since 1977 when it was parked.

The Lancer’s new owner from a decade ago did the majority of the work himself, rebuilding the engine, transmission, carbureter (the name is cast on the carb just like that, with two ‘E’s, not ‘carburetor’), brakes—including their power booster and power steering pump—the distributor, the radio, and the hydraulic systems for the convertible white top.

1957 Dodge Coronet Lancer D\-500
Photo: connorsmotorcar.com
The paint job and body work alone cost him over $26,000 – a lot of that was for the doors and panels alignment, which was subpar even when these cars were new. However, there’s a plot twist here: this Dodge wasn’t born as a D-500 true Hemi but came with the domestic option of the 325-cube V8. The polyspherical heads and a four-barrel carburetor were sold under the Super Red Ram name. In this guise, the engine produced 260 hp and 335 lb-ft (263 PS, 454 Nm). But the original engine was in such a bad state that it was deemed too costly to bring back to life.

A date-correct KD500 block was procured and installed—one of the 17,000-odd V8 units cast for 1957—and the restoration was such a success that the car won multiple (by that, I mean 19) car shows. The interior is also not original. The gold vinyl and silver strata cloth were not to the restorer’s taste, so he put the current upholstery instead.

In 2020, the restorer sold the Lancer for $37,000, and then the car changed hands three more times and went up in price on every occasion. In June 2022, an online bid saw the car fetch $75,000 (with 53,000 miles on the clock). Late this February, a West Chester, Pennsylvania dealership had the car listed for $110,000 (with identical mileage). Three weeks later, the convertible Dodge Lancer appeared on another classic car-selling website for $95,000.

The current owner, Dave ‘Buz’ Kirkel from Western Springs, Illinois, is an avid collector of classics (he has an Edsel example from each of the short-lived, ill-fated division's three–year production runs—’58, ’59, and '60). The odometer now shows almost 54,400 miles (87,548 kilometers), and the car rides like 'Suddenly... it’s 1960!' (that was Plymouth’s punchline in 1957, but this Dodge merits to benefit from it, too). Its current owner traded two cars of his collection of classics (sadly, he didn’t say what those two were).


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About the author: Razvan Calin
Razvan Calin profile photo

After nearly two decades in news television, Răzvan turned to a different medium. He’s been a field journalist, a TV producer, and a seafarer but found that he feels right at home among petrolheads.
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