Original Muscle: 1956 Dodge Royal/Lancer D-500
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a muscle car as “any of a group of American-made 2-door sports coupes with powerful engines designed for high-performance driving.” (So you 60’s muscle car folks can stuff it!) Any number of cars from the 1950s fit this description, though, in the decade of Eisenhower, power was often balanced against looks. One car that succeeded brilliantly in both departments was the 1956 D-500, a high-performance version of the Custom Royal. It could move mighty fast, but it was so well-styled that most owners drove it slow, just to show it off.
PHOTOS: See more of the 1956 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer D-500
1956 saw a major revamp of the Dodge lineup, including fins on the back fenders and the love-‘em-or-hate-‘em pushbutton PowerFlite transmissions. At the top of the pack was the Custom Royal series, which included a number of niche vehicles intended to appeal to specific market demographics. The most (in)famous of these, was the Dodge La Femme (below), which was designed from a wildly sexist viewpoint. Features included a shoulder bag, makeup cases, floral upholstery, and a sickening pinkish/lavender paint job, said to induce vomiting in onlookers.
PHOTOS: See more of the 1955 Dodge La Femme
On the other end of the estrogen/testosterone divide was the D-500, which had a 315 cubic inch, cast-iron Hemi V8 under the hood. Fed by a Carter four-barrel carb, it turned out 260 hp at 4400 RPM. 0-60 time was a respectable (though far from phenomenal) 9.5 seconds. Records show that the D-500 topped out at around 120 mph, which of course doesn’t take into account higher velocities achieved by gifted tinkerers. For the time, that might as well have been light speed. A hard-working American consumer could drive off in a new D-500 for $2,658, or around $23,000 in today’s money.
PHOTOS: See more of the 1956 Dodge Royal Lancer D-500
On a larger note, 1956 was a great year for Chrysler at the track. A D-500 placed first at the NASCAR trials in Saugus, MA that year. In all, Dodge vehicles pulled in 11 NASCAR victories in ‘56. In a racing world dominated by Ford and Chevy, the smallest member of the Big Three proved it could hold its own.