1955 Plymouth Savoy
Usually when some Arthur Daley type rattles off a story about one lady owner, that’s your cue to run a mile. Not this time, though, and this Plymouth’s new owners can barely believe what a fine survivor they’ve ended up with… Words: Zack Stiling Photography: Matt Woods.
“EXNER COULD ONLY TOLERATE MEDIOCRITY FOR SO LONG, SO AFTER SPENDING A FEW WEEKS FURIOUSLY SCRIBBLING AWAY AT THEIR DRAWING BOARDS, HIS TEAM EMERGED WITH THE BOLDEST AND MOST DARING NEW DESIGN FOR 1955.”
What a find! Forty-year-old car with under 3000 miles! This is a serious car for a serious investor but not serious money. Where else can you find a low-mileage, popular car like this for under $20,000! If you like the best, this one is ready for you. Don’t miss it.” Duffy Schamberger was a second-hand car dealer (with a name like that, he was born to be) and he understood his job well. When the opportunity arose in 1995 for him to acquire an immaculate 1955 Plymouth Savoy in two-tone Tempo Turquoise and Orlando Ivory with a genuine 2970 miles on the clock, he knew that car should occupy pride of place on the forecourt of Duffy’s Collectible Cars at 250 Classic Car Court SW, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Duffy’s purchased it from John Savanyu, a Mopar enthusiast from Warren, Ohio, but he was only the second owner after ‘the proverbial little old lady’ who had bought it new and was afraid to drive. It went on display at Duffy’s looking like a brand-new car.
Mopar enthusiasts will remember that 1955 was a landmark year where Plymouth was concerned. The dynamic and, some might say, visionary Virgil Exner had arrived at Chrysler in 1949, when the Mopar stable was looked upon unfavourably for its staid, unfashionable styling. Exner could only tolerate mediocrity for so long, so after spending a few weeks furiously scribbling away at their drawing boards, his team emerged with the boldest and most daring new design for 1955. The new line of Plymouths bore no resemblance to the ’54s, being bestowed with ‘Forward Look’ styling which made them look like they were gliding ahead even when standing still.
The other big attraction for ’55 was the brand new polyspherical-head Hy-Fire V8, which gave Plymouths some get-up-and-go like never before, but since our feature car was new to a (probably) respectable suburban lady, she, like most Savoy buyers, plumped for the economy option of the straight-six, which had been modified with a longer stroke in 1954, making for 230.2cu in and 110bhp. The optional PowerFlite two-speed automatic fitted to this car also made its début in 1954.
Progress for 1955 was more than just visual, though; the Forward Looks also benefited from developments including suspended foot pedals, front shock absorbers inserted within the coil springs, a dashboard-mounted gear lever for the PowerFlite, and tubeless tyres. While there’s nothing especially unusual about that, the fact that the parking brake was a drum acting on the propshaft surprises some people today. Between the Plaza and the Belvedere, the Savoy represented the mid-range offering in Plymouth’s three-model line. Offered only as a four-door sedan or club coupe, the base price of a straight-six coupe like this was $1837 and production for the year would run to 45,438 units. While hot-rodder types were more excited by the affordable power offered by Chevrolet’s new 265cu in V8, for æsthetes the Plymouth represented the best of ’55 and sales reflected that. The Forward Look contributed towards total 1955 production of 704,445 units, over 240,000 more than 1954 and an all-time Plymouth record which would remain unbeaten until the Sixties.
Duffy must have anticipated a lot of interest in the Plymouth from all over the place and, sure enough, an enquiry came from England. It had caught the eye of a car collector with a beautiful Sixties home in the Kent countryside. It would have looked right at home furnishing the driveway of his Modernist property, and so it travelled to England.
It was the perfect collector’s car. Quite apart from being extremely original and still in showroom condition, its specification was interesting. With just a heater, defroster and ventilation system and an oil-bath air cleaner in the way of extras, it’s the sort of car which would have been overlooked for many years until enthusiasts came to appreciate more that not everyone in the Fifties wanted glitz and glamour, and that these relatively cheap and basic models merited preservation. Time passed, the Savoy changed hands and it entered Roger Sharman’s garage in March 2021. “I bought it from a chap who hardly used it and kept it outside,” Roger says. “He was a DJ, so when Covid came he lost work and put it on eBay, and I bought it.”
An American car enthusiast for many years, Roger owned a number of Yanks in his youth and got back into them about 10 years ago when he bought a 1960 Cadillac, which he still owns and which was a Classic American Car of the Year heat winner in 2014. Although he wasn’t necessarily looking for another car, he couldn’t resist placing a bid when he spotted it online. “It was a beautiful colour, I thought, and I couldn’t leave it alone at that price! The auction finished at 10 to 11 on a Wednesday morning and it had been bid up to £10,000.
I thought I’d place an extra £100 and see if anyone noticed.” They didn’t notice, and Roger had won himself a 1950s two-tone beauty at a bargain price.
Eager to get out in it, he took it to the American Car Show at Stonham Barns and found it drove very well for a six-cylinder. Not surprisingly, with such a low mileage the Plymouth hasn’t really needed any proper mechanical attention, although Roger did find the brakes left room for improvement. “It didn’t have a servo on it,” he explains, “so I put an inline servo on it with a Jaguar reserve tank to make the brakes better. My calf muscles weren’t strong enough! It was running very hot when I got it. I checked the timing which should be two degrees advanced, but it was two degrees retarded, so I corrected that. I don’t think I did much else to it besides polish it.”
As lovely as the Plymouth was, Roger only kept it for around six months before selling it in the summer. “I sold it for profit,” he confesses, “but really I’ve got too many cars anyway.” Roger’s loss is someone else’s gain, though, and it could hardly have landed in better hands than those of Martyn Butler and his son Aedan.
Both Butlers have been into classics for a long time and Martyn has always had something interesting in his garage but, apart from a 1942 Jeep, he’d never strayed into Americana. Aedan’s influence prompted the sudden change of direction, as Martyn explains: “He’s in a rockabilly band and he wanted a car that would suit him. We came upon this one and thought it was fantastic. What a survivor! When I look for a car it’s got to be original; I want it stock. We’ve got a pit and when you get underneath it, it’s like a new car all over.” Martyn isn’t exaggerating. With its immaculate brocade upholstery and the original rubber floor mats still in place, the phrase ‘time warp’ couldn’t be more appropriate. It even retains its original 1955 tyres, obviously now removed and kept in storage. And even after all this time in enthusiast hands, it’s only covered a shade over 6500 miles.
Having picked the car up while show season was still in full swing, Martyn and Aedan duly hit the road, getting to as many events as they could. Aedan is currently at university in London but they’re both looking forward to his homecoming in the summer so they can rack up some more miles. “We’ll go everywhere in it…” Martyn says, and then qualifies, “… when the weather’s nice! We’re not taking it out in the rain.” While the car is technically Martyn’s, Aedan seems to be keeping a very close eye on it. He now looks the part when he rolls up at gigs in it, and it helps that the logo of his band Sweetness is the same shade of blue. It’s all worked out perfectly – Aedan’s got something he always wanted and Martyn is enjoying something new, and it’s a reason for them to spend quality time together.
Martyn continues: “It’s very much a father-and-son thing. The car was purposely bought for Aedan but it’s for us both really. It’s a great way to enjoy a different scene. We’ve done the wartime scene and the British car scene, but until now the American scene’s always been in the background. We’ve bought it to keep it for a while. You know what insurance is like for 22-year-olds but when he gets to 25 I’m sure Aedan will go all over in it.”
It looks, then, like the Plymouth has just entered another ‘long-term careful owner’ phase of its life. Martyn and Aedan are competent home mechanics, so it won’t be neglected. Although it hasn’t needed any work yet, they’ve already invested some money in removing a scratch on the rear wing and replacing the British number plates with some more appropriate American-style ones. As it stands, they could hardly have found a better car, but they’re not the only lucky ones – the Plymouth couldn’t have found better owners.
Savoy came with plenty of history. 1956 models carried over much of the ’55 styling. Power steering was a $90 option. … and with the Savoy. Aedan Butler performing on stage… In-dash transmission shifter. A vision in blue. Parked outside Duffy’s in Iowa. Above: In addition to the straight-six motor, a 157bhp 241cu in Hy-Fire V8 was available, as well as an optional 167bhp 259cu in version. Power went up to 117bhp on the 230cu in straight-six for ’55. Roger Sharman, the Savoy’s owner at the time of our shoot.