1960-64 PHOENIX FAIR $5500 GOOD $14,500 EXCELLENT $25,000 (1960-61 Sedan) (Note: concours cars may demand more.)
It may come as a surprise for some to know that, in the late 1950s and early sixties, Australia had a pretty healthy market for large American cruisers.
Names such as Chevrolet Biscayne, Pontiac Laurentian, plus Customline and Fairlane 500 from Ford could be found fairly readily. It was in that environment that Chrysler announced the 1960 Phoenix.
Based on the Dodge Dart, it derived its name from the upmarket variant of the USA car, which luxuriated in the triple-barrel handle of Dodge Dart Phoenix.
Local assembly scored the maker some tax breaks.
Makers scored extra tax breaks if the kit came from a Commonwealth country, which was a real incentive for UK and Canadian brands.
Which is why the Phoenix kits for Australia were sourced from Canada, mixing the Dodge architecture with a Plymouth dash.
In fact the Phoenix – while massive by our standards – was not the biggest thing in the Chrysler range. It was regarded as the smallest of the big Chryslers with a 118 inch (2997mm) wheelbase, while the wagon variants stretched to a 122 inch (3400mm) platform. The American market got a choice of three engines in the Dodge Dart: 225ci (3.7lt) slant six, 318 V8 (5.2lt) and 361 V8 (5.9lt). It was the 230 horsepower 318 which landed in the snout of the local cars. That was matched to a three-speed Torqueflite A904 transmission, which enjoyed a great reputation for strength and smooth shifting.
The 318-powered Phoenix was enough to impress local road testers. Wheels magazine referred to the Phoenix as a ‘firecracker’ in the headline of its November 1960 road test. Author
PREDOMINANTLY PLYMOUTH by design and imported in U-Bild- It form from Canadian factories, the imposing Dodge Phoenix did well in Australia’s 1960s ‘prestige’ car market.
Today they still attract plenty of admiration, especially if the drab original paint has made way for a big-dollar metallic finish and there’s a ‘big-block’ 440 engine where once sat Chrysler’s standard 318.
Even when not converted into a lowslung street machine, these old Dodges make fine recreational cruisers and can still earn their keep towing the boat or club race-car.
The cars that came to Australia after 1961 were smaller, lighter (slightly) and faster. Cars built during the first half of the 1960s came in three quite different body styles so fans can choose between them or have one of each. Pre-1962 cars are generally worth more than later ones. They pop up fairly regularly in magazines such as Unique Cars and there are also clubs with which to enquire.
Peter Hall went on to say: “The hottest sports cars in Australia would need to have their ports spit and polished and their combustion chambers thumping as hard as they could, and then some, to stay with the Dodge in acceleration and top speed tests.
“The beauty of the car is that the huge motor belts it along with a soft sort of performance without the slightest sign of fuss or strain and with very little noise.”
And that performance? It averaged 17.5 for the standing quarter mile, and a 104mph (167km/h) top speed. Not bad for a big luxury car.
Braking from the four drums was typically woeful for the period – okay for one stop, but susceptible to fade. However handling was regarded as quite good.
The car was a monocoque design – advanced for the day – using independent torsion bar suspension up front and semi-elliptics out back.
Something we’ve lost over the decades is the habit of American makers to do a major restyle of their headline cars every year, providing a reason for punters to roll up at the local dealership and trade up to the latest and greatest.
The local product reflected that and the car you see here is the 1961 model, which is mechanically identical to the 1960 car but visually very different. While the cabin remained much the same, the front and rear had come in for a restyle, including the controversial Virgil Exner reversed fins and the concave front grille.
The example you see here belongs to Queenslander Dave Roberts and first featured in Reader Rides in Feb 2015. Dave is a bit of a wing fan and was originally in the market for a 1959 Chevrolet, when he spotted Exner’s handiwork and had to have it. Restoring it was pretty straight-forward, though the brakes drove him crazy and he eventually swapped out the front drums for discs.
What’s it like, Dave? “It’s a big comfortable cruiser.” Amen.
SMART BUYER'S TROUBLESHOOTING
1960 - 1964 DODGE PHOENIX
NUMBER MADE: N/A BODY STYLES: Steel integrated body/chassis four door sedan ENGINE: 5192cc V8 with overhead valves and single downdraft carburettor POWER & TORQUE: 171kW @ 4400rpm, 460Nm @ 2400rpm PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 9.9 seconds, 0-400 metres 17.6 seconds TRANSMISSION: Three-speed automatic SUSPENSION: Independent with torsion bars, control arms, telescopic shock absorbers & anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r) BRAKES: drum (f) drum (r) power assisted TYRES: 7.00 x 14 cross ply
From 1960 Chrysler banished the oldfashioned chassis. replacing it with Unibody construction.
Rust protection was improved but no one at Dodge probably considered that these cars would still be around in 20 years, let alone 60. Body panels for early-1960s Mopars are scarce even in the USA however rust repair sections are available. Small parts such as indicator lenses, glass, stainless trim and replacement body rubbers are still being made and available through several suppliers.
Doors that have worn hinge pins are easy to re-align but check carefully that a hinge hasn’t been bent due to these heavy doors being caught by a high wind.
Standard fare in these Dodge models was that mainstay of the Chrysler range, the 5.2-litre, 318 cubic inch V8. They leak oil and rattle a bit from their timing chains and valve trains but 318s given proper maintenance will go for 300,000 kilometres and more. Of course that massive engine bay wasn’t designed with a small-block engine in mind and a previous owner might have snuck a 6.3 or even 7.2-litre motor under the ‘hood’. Torqueflite push-button transmission was a novelty in a country attuned to manual cars and caution is still required to avoid selecting the wrong gear in an emergency.
Cracking and crunching noises from the front whenever the car hits a decentsized bump signify problems with the torsion bar mounting points or the bars that can twist excessively when aged or even snap. Worn controlarm bushings are the most common cause of vague steering but also check around the steering box for rust and cracks. Complete front suspension rebuild kits from US suppliers cost A$340- 380 plus freight, with replacement bushes sold here at $70 per set. New rear leaf springs are also available at $1000 per pair. Re-shoeing worn drum brakes is easy and new drums are still available. A new brake master cylinder will cost more than $300.
Despite being viewed as ‘prestige’ cars, Australian Dodge cabins were pretty basic places. That’s helpful to restorers because interior parts, especially for cars built before 1964, are difficult to locate, Even in the USA, owners of basic Mopar models like the Phoenix struggle to get premade trim kits, door trims and switch-gear.
Anything missing or damaged could lead to a long and costly international search so ensure all instruments and switch-gear are in place and serviceable.