THERE ARE 426 CUBIC INCHES BENEATH THE HOOD OF THIS 1964 PLYMOUTH – BUT IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK
OUT ON THE STRIP FROM 1962 TO 1964, the Mopars were damned near unbeatable. The Melrose Missile. California Flash. Color Me Gone. The Lawman. The Ramchargers. Legendary names. Weekend after weekend, setting record after record at track after track. And below all their hoods was the mighty Max Wedge V-8 — either 413 or 426 cubic inches — good for 11-second quartermile times with little more than tuning, slicks, and an open exhaust. Standard bits included twin 650-cfm Carter carbs atop extended intake runners, not far removed from what Chrysler was doing with its 300s; explosive 13.5:1 compression in ’62 and ’63, or 12.5:1 compression for ’64; special heads with bigger ports and valves; forged connecting rods to handle the stress; and wild, optimized ram’s-horn exhaust manifolds. All of it came in a package that Ford (in ’62) and GM (in ’64), and even Chrysler itself (in ’65), would later call midsize. Leave it to the smallest of the Big Three to garner so much attention for itself.
The problem was, Max Wedge engines were full of pricey premium parts — and, thanks to those multiple carburetors, high-lift cams, and compression ratios that demanded airplane fuel (you know, all of the reasons those cars were instant legends), they were not terribly streetable. Chrysler Corporation built just a handful of Max Wedge-powered stormers for 1964, most destined for track use. There had to be a way for Plymouth (and Dodge) to capitalize on this, and the answer appeared at last in 1964.
Enter the Commando 426, as Plymouth called the engine on its 1964 debut. Over time it has gained the Street Wedge nickname, though it shared little with the race-ready legend outlined above. Plymouth’s Commando 426 was essentially the same engine you could get in a Chrysler New Yorker, with a few more cubic inches and a little more compression. If that workaday description sounds insulting, it shouldn’t; after all, what defines a proper muscle car more than a full-size engine in a midsize chassis? Much as its name suggested, the Street Wedge was a far-more driveable animal in everyday conditions.
Despite sharing a block (and bore and stroke) with its hard-breathing on-track sibling, as well as overall displacement with the newly revived Hemi, the Street Wedge was degrees calmer. A single carburator lived atop a conventional cast-iron intake manifold, with cold-weather starting aided by a heat crossover passage in the intake. Compression was a perfectly manageable 10.3:1, suitable for pump gas from the corner station. The 1964 Commando 426 also ran a high-lift hydraulic-tappet camshaft, nonsilencer air cleaner, dual exhaust, and more.
Even so, this engine option was an expensive proposition, adding a $684 premium (when paired with a pushbutton Torque Flite automatic) to a car that started at just $2,224. We’re going to call its 365-hp rating conservative, however. Consider this: a ’64 Chrysler 300K, with 413 cubic inches and 10.1:1 compression, was rated at 360 horsepower. Assuming that the 300K’s power figure was correct, surely an extra 13 cubes and two tenths of a point of compression had to be worth more than just 5 horsepower?
Insurance-company killjoys hadn’t caught on to the cheap-speed muscle car game just yet (shipping weight on a two-door Savoy, like the one seen on these pages, is just below 3,000 pounds), so we doubt that Plymouth was downplaying power in exchange for lighter coverage premiums. Even so, we suggest that Chrysler may have slipped in a few more ponies than advertised in the catalogs.
The Savoy on these pages has a known history from nearly new. It was ordered as you see it here — white, with steel wheels and poverty caps, an AM radio, and, of course, the Street Wedge/TorqueFlite combination, with little in the way of filigree or decor.
It was shipped to Ferrari Chrysler Plymouth, in Grass Valley, California, in mid-December 1963, where the first owner took delivery immediately.
That unknown buyer kept the Savoy for nearly a year, putting 14,000 miles under its tires. It was then sold to Jane Goss, of Nevada City, California, in November of 1964. And this is where the story picks up.
“Jane had three sons, Dick, Bob, and Bill,” says current owner Ed Winkler of Paradise Valley, Arizona. “Bill was 17 when he helped his mother find the car. Jane lived in a log home on a dirt road 2 miles from her job at the Tahoe National Forest Service headquarters in Nevada City.”
So, what on earth was she doing with a 365-horsepower Savoy when she had a 2-mile commute to work on a dirt road? “Bill and his brother were drag and circle-track race car drivers,” Ed said. “Bill would borrow his mother’s Plymouth and drag race it at Sacramento Raceway. He threw away the trophies he’d won at the drag strip so his mother wouldn’t discover what he was up to.” At the time, no one cared that tire chains were scratching and chipping away at the paint around the rear wheel openings — after all, Jane had to get to work, and Nevada City averaged a total of 18 inches of snow between November and April.
Jane passed in 1973, and Bill kept the Plymouth running and registered in his mother’s name as a tribute. No one was allowed to drive it. “Bill covered it and parked it in the family barn, then later in a carport where chickens roosted on it.” But that oil in-the-veins thing must be for real, as even though it was strictly a hands off proposition, “Vance, the older of Bill’s two sons, took it out of storage one day in the ’80s and drove it to the county fair, even though he was afraid his dad would discover that he ‘borrowed’ it.”
In 1998, Bill, his wife Karen, and their younger son Matthew died in a plane crash, and ownership of the Plymouth moved into Vance’s hands, making him the third generation of Goss to take care of it. Now, Vance’s Aunt Sue, his mother’s sister, was married to Lerry Peterson, who had a car collection of his own. As Ed tells it, “In 2010, the Plymouth was moved to Uncle Lerry’s garage as collateral for a loan. To repay the loan, Vance asked Lerry to help him sell the car.” In the meantime, Lerry replaced the gas tank, and also tended to some wiring issues behind the dash.
In 2013, Lerry took the Savoy to a local car show, where it found a new owner. That owner, who bought it sight-unseen on the word of a friend who saw the Savoy, brought back some of its faded glory, installing a new fuel pump, new Gardner exhaust, new tires, and new carpet as correct Savoy rubber floormats were not reproduced. He advertised it for sale online in late 2014.
The buyer was Kevin DeWitte of Fountain Hills, Arizona, a collector who has owned plenty of Chevys over the decades, though he’s also got a soft spot for B-body Plymouths, with one showing up on the cover of HMM in June of 2012. We also know him to be a stickler for documentation, so this Savoy was right up his alley. During his five years of ownership, he found and installed a correct AM radio and dash bezel (with an aftermarket AM/FM radio/tape deck installed in the glovebox), replaced the front seat covers, rebuilt the carb, fine-tuned the brakes and distributor, added a rechromed front bumper (carefully removing and storing the original), added a fan clutch and an NOS battery cable, and discovered most of the build sheet in the rear springs of the back seat cushion. He also touched up the tire-chain-chipped rear wheel openings.
It’s Ed’s Savoy now, and it just turned 53,000 miles at the time of photography. In his relatively brief stewardship, he’s removed the late-model radio from the glovebox and reattached the AM head unit, sorted out an issue with the parking brake, and obtained and installed the original front bumper.
It’s less pretty, but more original. (Ed is also currently considering whether to remove the touch-up paint from the rear wheel openings.) He’s also looking into finding a clean Savoy rubber floormat to replace the incorrect carpet.
It reminds Ed of his high school car— an ex-police, 383-powered ’64 Savoy coupe that saw several seasons of derring-do under his teenaged right foot— so this Savoy isn’t going anywhere again anytime soon. Except out and about to exercise the potent, potential-packed, under-rated Street Wedge, when he can feel damned near unbeatable.
1964 PLYMOUTH SAVOY SPECIFICATIONS
Base price : $2,224
Options on car profiled : Commando V-8 with TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($684); AM radio ($60)
Block type :.Chrysler RB-family OHV V-8; cast-iron block and cylinder heads
Displacement : 426-cu.in.
Bore x stroke :. 4.25 x 3.75 in
Compression ratio :. 10.3:1
Horsepower @ rpm : 365 @ 4,800
Torque @ rpm : 475 lb-ft @ 3,200
Camshaft : .430/.430-in lift, 268/268-degrees duration (advertised)
Valvetrain : Hydraulic lifters
Main bearings : Five
Fuel system : Single four-barrel carburetor; cast-iron intake manifold; mechanical pump
Lubrication system : Pressure; gear-type pump
Electrical system : 12-V
Exhaust system : Dual exhaust
Type : Chrysler A727 TorqueFlite three-speed automatic
Ratios : 1st/2.45:1 … 2nd/1.45:1 … 3rd/1.00:1 … Reverse/2.20:1
Type : Chrysler 83/4-in housing with Sure Grip
Ratio : 3.23:1
Type : Manual recirculating-ball
Turns, lock-to-lock : 5.3
Turning circle : 40.75 ft
Type : Cast-iron drum, hydraulic activation
Front/Rear: 10 x 2.5-in
Front : Independent; lateral nonparallel control arms with torsion bars, anti-roll bar, Oriflow tubular shock absorbers, upper and lower ball joints
Rear : Live axle; five 2.5-inch-wide asymmetrical leaf springs, Oriflow tubular shock absorbers
WHEELS & TIRES
Wheels : Stamped steel, drop center; Front/Rear: 14 x 5.5 in
Tires : Four-ply tubeless blackwall (currently Hankook steel-belted radial)
Front/Rear : 14 x 7.75 in (currently 225/70R14)
Plymouth built 21,326 two-door Savoys for the 1964 model year. Production figures on those equipped with the Commando 426 are not available.
0-60 mph : 6.8 sec*
1/4-mile ET : 15.2 sec @ 95.5 mph*
*January 1964 Motor Trend test of a 1964 Plymouth Sport Fury equipped with the Commando V-8 “Street Wedge” V-8 and a four-speed manual transmission.