Car Restoration Projects

Yankee Doodle Dandy


The late Tom Hayes was passionate about this 1959 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer that he owned for some 20 years. This car is surely the pinnacle of archetypal 1950s-design, USA auto culture.




Tom had been the owner of many cars from both sides of the Atlantic, but the Dodge had a special place in his heart. He bought it in the late-1990s from an importer of US cars in Queensland, after seeing it advertised in a magazine and flying to Brisbane to check it out.

The Dodge was in a sad state and in need of a complete restoration. A deal was done and the Dodge was loaded onto a truck for its journey down the eastern seaboard, to take up residence in the back shed on the Hayes family’s property in the Gippsland area of Victoria.


The late Tom Hayes


Tom spent the next couple of years stripping components from the car and sending them off to various specialists, in order to bring the old girl back to her former glory, as the Chrysler Corporation’s flagship of the day. 


Power and the glory

During the late 1950s US auto manufacturers were designing and building cars with huge tail fins and other rather radical cosmetics. One of these ‘winged-warriors’, designed to capture the imagination of the American car buyer, was the 1957-59 Dodge Custom Royal Lancer. 

Penned by the legendary automotive sculptor, Virgil Exner, the Lancer was the flagship model. It had red rocket-styled taillight lenses, twin aerials and chrome eyebrows arched across the top of the twin headlights.    

Dodge’s catchphrase on the 1959 brochure was: ‘Reflects your taste for finer things’ – Really?    

To power these dream-machines, Dodge offered either a straight six or a choice of five V8 engine options. 



All the V8 engines had efficient ‘wedge-heads’ that were actually polyspherical combustion-chamber cylinder heads. The combustion chamber was cast, not machined as Hemi engines were and had a single rocker shaft per head, with the spark plugs on the outside of the valve cover. 

This design did away with an expensive bracing for a second rocker arm shaft and spark plug tubes were eliminated, saving a great deal of money and weight from the predecessor, Hemi-head design.

Tom’s car has the Super Ram Fire 361cubic inch engine with quad-throat carburation feeding 305 horses. The other engine offerings were a 361cubic inch Ram Fire version, with a two-barrel carbie, rated at 295 horsepower. 

The larger bore D-500 V8 at 383 cubic inches, came with one four-barrel carbie pumping out 320 horsepower at 4600rpm and the Super D-500 was the same engine with two four-barrels, which knocked out a whopping 345 horsepower at 5000rpm. 

The smallest V8 was the 326 cubic inch Red Ram, whipping 255 horses and the standard cooking version called ‘get-away’ (reckon that’s a misnomer) was a 230 cubic inch six-cylinder that had 135 Shetland ponies pulling two-tonnes of motorcar – go figure. 


The three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, with its trademark pushbutton controls.


The V8 engines were well matched to the responsive three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission, with its trademark pushbutton controls.




The front suspension was torsion bar sprung and the rear had outboard-mounted semi elliptic long-leaf springs, designed to eliminate body-sway.   

In a 1958 Modern Motor magazine Dodge Custom Royal road test, Bryan Hanrahan’s introduction said: “Sprawling comfort, 105mph (169km/h) and – believe it or not – excellent road behaviour is yours with the 1958 Dodge Custom Royal”. 

To eliminate front-end dive under heavy braking, the upper suspension arms caused a fore-and-aft tilt of the kingpins, opposing the suspension’s dive action.  

In the stopping department it has what Dodge called ‘total-contact brakes’. The brake shoes slide between the backing plate and an additional centre plate that replaces the conventional anchor pins, allowing the shoes to push more evenly against the brake drum, thus giving more contact area. 


In excess

Tom Hayes just loved pedalling the big Dodge at speed


The scope-sight speedometer has a line that changes colour as the speed of the car increases – green to 30mph, then yellow from 30 to 50mph and red thereafter. 

Other futuristic gimmickry offered as an option on the ‘59 model was swivel front seats, to ease ingress and egress. Our featured Custom Royal Lancer has this option that was fairly popular, but didn’t last beyond 1960.



On the home straight

By 1999 Tom was starting to collect and assemble the various components ready for the day the Dodge would thunder into life: the engine and transmission were back from the reconditioner in Melbourne; the interior, which had been a basket case, was restored and fitted, and the panel shop in Yarram had attended to the cosmetics and flowed the red and white hue along the Dodge’s complex styling.



The bright work was back from Albury and Tom was busy with the fit-up and sorting the pile of instruments and dashboard controls from a large cardboard box in the cavernous boot (or should that be trunk?). 

 “The hardest job I had to contend with was relining the brake shoes,” said Tom, sometime before his unfortunate passing.

“The linings were bonded on and I had to fit a new set of originals with rivets, so it took me a couple of days with a chisel to remove them and then drill out the rivet holes in the shoes.”   



Brand-new, three-inch wide whitewall tyres that came with the car were mounted and the large, highly polished wheel covers were  pushed into place, completing the quintessential 1950s ensemble.



Tom also made and fitted a copy of a continental kit, which mounts the spare wheel on the rear bumper bar – an accessory that was common to this style of car in its heyday.

It was in the spring of 2000 when Tom, after doing battle with a bureaucrat at VicRoads, was able to screw on a pair of number plates and drive the Dodge on the left side of the road with the tiller still in its original position. He had wanted to keep the car as it was when it left Chrysler’s assembly plant in the USA.



Chrysler’s Super Ram Fire V8 361 cu in (5913cc) 

Bore: 104.775mm  (4.125 in)

Stroke: 85.73mm  (3.375 in)

Compression ratio: 10:1

Power gross: 227.5 kW/305bhp (SAE gross) at 4600rpm

Torque gross: 542 N /400 lb ft at 2800rpm

0-100 km/h – 8.7 sec

Length: 5522mm (18 ft)

Width: 2032mm (80 in)

Height: 1380mm (54.3 in)

Wheelbase: 3099mm (10 ft)
















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