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1957 Dodge Custom Royale

Having fun, whether it is a D-500 or 501!

Andy Bolig - October 13, 2011 10:00 AM

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 Aftermarket gauges and radio adorn the interior of Chris’ Custom Royale, but the original push-button gear selector still calls the shots in that A727 transmission.

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 The only numbers that Chris was concerned with were horsepower and torque. At 675hp and 607 lbs-ft, Chris was quite satisfied. 

 

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The rear emblem would have read 501 if Chris’ car was originally equipped with the famed engine package. While it would have been much more valuable to collectors, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun for Chris.

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Chris enjoys driving the car several times a week and has no problem, reliability-wise, driving it through several states to Carlisle. Paying for the fuel is another issue altogether.

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Chris disintegrates a set of tires during the Chryslers at Carlisle event. Click the link in the text below to check out the video.

 
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"Paul would have loved the way it turned out. Another friend who helped work on and enjoy the car with Chris was Kevin Roberts.”

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Once Chris shoehorned the Chrysler Hemi into his Dodge, he began working out all of the little details to make this car into the reliable driver that it is today.

A little history lesson is probably in order here. The chase for NASCAR fame started long before Superbirds, Daytonas and of course, that jellybean known as the “Car of Tomorrow”.

For Dodge in pre-AMA-ban 1957, the hope of winning in NASCAR was founded in what would come to be called the D-501. Basically, the D-501 engine package was offered to satisfy racing homologation rules. Even though it is in a Dodge, the engine was actually a Chrysler 354ci version that had been used in the 1956 Chrysler 300B with 10:1 compression. The dual four-barrel equipped engine made 355hp at 5,200 rpm and 405 lbs-ft of torque at 3,200 to 3,600 rpm. These engines were installed in Coronets, Custom Coronets and the Custom Royale body styles. Of the reported 56 units that were built before the AMA ban on racing back in 1957, only three are known to exist today and are highly prized by collectors.

While he does come from a “big Mopar family”, Chris Siderwicz may not be a high-dollar car collector. That didn’t stop him from building his own tribute to those famed 501s from ’57. To do that, he first needed to locate a body style to install a high horsepower version of the 354 Hemi engine. That’s where the misfortune of a travelling salesman from Virginia made Chris’ ownership possible. But, don’t get ahead of us! It wasn’t Chris who bought the car, it was his uncle Paul in 1972.

Turns out that the travelling salesman had trouble with the car’s transmission in Norwood, Massachusetts, and took it to the local Batco transmission shop to have it repaired. They replaced the push-button-actuated 727 trans and on the test drive, found out that the factory 325 Hemi’s crankshaft had cracked in two pieces. The owner worked out a deal with the shop and left the car behind.

Chris’ uncle Paul, as a teenager, used to hang out in the parking lot of a bowling alley located right across the street from the transmission shop. One day he decided to ask about the neglected Dodge Custom Royale sitting in their lot and before long, Paul had his first car. They took the car home and he and his brother (Chris’ dad) began working on it, removing the Hemi and installing a junkyard 413. Chris’ uncle drove the car for a few years and then, as his interests moved into other areas, he gave the car to his brother, Chris’ dad.

Chris’ father drove the car over the years and in Chris’ words, “went through different engines and being in many stages of incompletion”. After a while, the car continued to work its way through the family when Chris received it as a graduation present in 2003. Chris has continuously worked on the car, tackling one item at a time, working it to his satisfaction. He did all the bodywork on the car that resides under that flowing gold and onto those wing-tipped white fins.

When it came to the engine in his Custom Royale, Chris knew exactly what he wanted and began working toward building his own high-powered 354 Hemi. While the original D-501 versions utilized a dual-four intake to feed those horses under those Hemi heads, Chris chose to pressure-feed the herd and chose a ProCharger supercharger. The supercharger provides about 10 to 12 pounds of boost, and a lot of time and effort went into making the brackets to fasten it to the engine and align all of the necessary belts and hoses. Air is fed through a 575cfm blow-through Demon carb on top of a Hot Heads (www.hothemiheads.com) aluminum intake. A Snow Performance methanol injection system is set up to spray a cooling charge into the intake by a four-pound pressure switch, and additional cooling is provided as the air charge works its way through the front-mounted intercooler.

Making the engine fit into the Custom Royale took similar ingenuity by Chris. He fabricated a nine-quart oil pan to fit into the frame rails and completely fabricated a set of headers and exhaust system to get the spent gasses out beyond the rear bumper. The 17/8-inch long-tube headers feed into a three-inch crosspipe and set of Hooker Aero Chamber mufflers. He also had to custom fabricate a crossmember for the 1965 Chrysler A727 transmission.

There is just as much work inside the engine, beginning with custom-made Ross pistons; an Isky “blower” cam; ARP rod bolts, main and head studs; and heavily ported heads by Chris with valves and retainers by Chris’ good friends Dennis and Rick at All Cape Machine Shop. The rest of the install was made easier by the various adapters and other small pieces provided by Hot Heads.

Once Chris shoehorned the Chrysler Hemi into his Dodge, he began working out all of the little details to make this car into the reliable driver that it is today. We can call it a reliable driver because for the past eight years that Chris has owned the car, he has driven it four to five times a week. He’s run a best time so far of 12.5 at 118 mph on the quarter mile, but reports that was done with a “hurt transmission and a tight converter”. He thinks that mid- to low-11s should be obtainable with the car’s current setup. He’s also repeatedly driven it from his home in Marston Mills, Massachusetts, to the annual Chryslers at Carlisle show in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He did trailer it this year due to the cost of fuel and when you figure in the 3.91 rear gears and the 675hp that this engine is capable of, it’s easy to see why. That didn’t stop him from enjoying his car at the show. He wowed the crowd during Saturday’s burn-out competition and you can check out the video of Chris and his Custom Royale here.

Chris is quick to point out that many friends have helped to build his car into the fun-filled, pseudo-501 that he enjoys today. His uncle Paul passed away in 1996 and as the car progressed throughout the build process, others would always comment that, “Paul would have loved the way it turned out.” Another friend who helped work on and enjoy the car with Chris was Kevin Roberts. He was big into cars with Chris and had been going to the Chryslers at Carlisle show with Chris since high school. Kevin was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2010 and, as a tribute to both his friend Kevin and, his uncle Paul, “Everything this car does is always in memory of my uncle Paul and my friend Kevin.” In the end, what began as a tribute to an almost invaluable car, prized by discriminating collectors, has at least for Chris, come to mean a whole lot more.

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