Rare Diesel-Powered 1956 Plymouth Savoy


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It may seem like a new trend, but auto manufacturers have been experimenting with alternative fuels for years. Around the time that Plymouth built their famous turbine propelled cars, they were also testing diesel passenger cars. The project never took off, but about 100 were built in 1956. The four-cylinder Perkins diesel was fitted in Belgium, but a few made their way to Canada through Perkins dealers. Allpar claims that only one is known to still exist. We are are not sure if this is the same car, but either way it is extremely rare and has some unique history. Find it here on craigslist along with a ’56 Studebaker and a ’39 Ford tractor. Thanks goes to P. Trout for the tip!


Most of the cars in Belgium were used as taxis, so they are most likely all gone. We assume this is the same car that Allpar mentioned on their site because the seller mentions in their ad that they have owned it for 15 years and that it has been in American Classics Magazine. The value of a diesel Plymouth will be hard to determine because there are no other sales to go off of. We doubt it is worth big money, but the history may make it worth something to right collector. Rust is the enemy here, but parts shouldn’t be too hard to find and we bet that tough British diesel will start right up without much effort.

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  1. jim s

    yes the diesel does make it a lot more interesting. would have to do the research and a PI. i have read stores about people replacing gas motors with diesel in countries where new cars are hard to come by. the 8n and his other items are worth a look also. great find

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    • jim s

      make that a 9n

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  2. 88R107

    Like to have this purely and simply because it exists.
    I knew Chrylser had done some turbine powered cars in this time frame but had no idea they experimented with diesels
    This is quite a find and I am sure a Plymouth collector will make a run at it…I would.

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  3. paul

    Huh, really, I do remember the turbines but never heard of these.

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    • DolphinMember

      Full disclosure: me too.

      For some fun buy the Plymouth, get it running and the systems R&R’d, and go to the next Plymouth meeting knowing you are driving the only one like it in the world. My guess is you’ll have difficulty deciding whether to keep it or accept one of the many purchase offers you will get.

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  4. neil

    I knew a person at our church bought a new red 1960 Plymouth wagon and it was a Perkins diesel.

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  5. Derek

    Looks like this might be the Perkins P4C ( 60hp? ) so you won’t get there in a hurry, but you will have the only one at the cruise-in. Interesting European headlights too.

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  6. geomechs geomechsMember

    This is interesting. I knew that Chrysler was working with turbine engines back in the early 50s but the diesel completely bypassed me. I’d like to find out more about Chrylser’s program.

    As far as resurrecting a diesel engine from a long slumber is concerned, you’ve got to watch it. I work in the diesel engine/fuel injection business and I get a lot of units that have been shut down for many years. The internal parts get seized from varnish accumulation and have to be worked free. Much more fussy than a carburetor. And a lot more parts inside as well. And can get very expensive…

    And, yes, that’s a 9N tractor.

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    • DolphinMember

      Interesting information. I’m assuming that no diesel should be run dry just to prevent varnishing because the fuel pump & injectors need the lubrication. But is there a fuel stabilizer that prevents the varnishing problem, or should the engine just be run every so often? I’m thinking about the Cummins in the Dodge Ram.

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      • geomechs geomechsMember

        Any diesel fuel system can varnish up simply because diesel fuel, like gasoline, can deteriorate; it gets ‘SKUNKY.’ There are lots of additives (some good, some not so good) that help stabilize the fuel and help keep varnish from forming but it won’t last forever. For a car like this, I’m sure that no additives or conditioners were used at all (as they are relatively new to the market) making everything contained within the fuel system susceptible to varnish. Pumping plungers can seize solid (I’ve actually had to tap them out with a hammer and soft punch); injector nozzle needle valves can seize as well. The only way to fix them is to strip the unit at least partially down to gain access to the stuck elements and work them loose with diesel fuel and (I use) brake cleaner. If you’re using a good fuel conditioner the elements don’t stick quite as badly. I’ve seen some well maintained systems sit for three years and come back to life with few problems. This one would be a long shot.

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  7. Bob Lichty

    I believe the export cars carried DeSoto grilles like this car shows. In some countries I think some of the export Plymouths are badged as DeSoto Diplomats. The diesel engine is amazingly cool.

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  8. P Trout

    Since finding this, I have been doing some online research.

    I can find no record of any of the big 3 having actually sold a diesel passenger car in the US before about 1960.

    according to wikipedia..Citroen, peugeot, and Mercedes were using them in the 30’s and beyond over in Europe, but not the americans.
    (maybe GM or Ford, or Cord, or Studebaker, etc had an experimental?)

    There were a lot of little American companies back in the early days however (1900-1940’s), so it is possible there was one offered, but I couldn’t find it.
    (anyone think of any off hand?)

    Assuming this is legit, and all the rest are really gone,
    might this be the last, of the very first diesel passenger car model sold in North America?

    I still find it funny that the Craigslist post is titled
    “Old cars for sale”.

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    • Jim-Bob

      I think Mercedes-Benz sold diesel cars in the US earlier than this, but I might be mistaken. What I would really like to find is an old car with a factory wood gas system. They were popular during the depression and war, when gasoline and diesel were scarce. Mostly they were used in Europe and Japan, but they were not unheard of in the US either. For those not familiar with wood gas, it is a way to make a internal combustion engine run off of fire wood through a process known as pyrolization. (I researched it a few years ago as a possible way to deliver pizza cheaply but it was not practical for the application.)

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    • richard

      I saw this car about 15 years ago in Hemet, CA. They wanted too much for it.

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  9. Charles

    What a neat piece of history! Hopefully this one will be restored to original condition. With a Perkins four, that car should run forever. Of course, this one should be in a museum.

    We used to see one of the Turbine cars around Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach Florida in the 60’s. My parents worked at Cape Kennedy on the space program. Chrysler was a major player as a NASA contractor in those days. One of the Chrysler execs drove a Turbine test car around, and we would see it on a regular basis. And NO it did not burn the paint off of the cars that stopped behind it.

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  10. Mark E

    Alternative fuels certainly is not a new idea. I saw an old pre-war Packard that had been modified to run on LP, perhaps due to the fuel rationing during the war?

    Anyway, this looks like a nice dry car with a unique twist. The pics make it seem solid and cancer free with just surface rust. Good buy? Depends on how much the owner wants for the rarity.

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  11. guggie

    I was in Africa in 1967 and rode in a 1961 Pontiac taxi that was powered by a diesel ,never saw one before or since !

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  12. Steve

    Wow, never expected to see another one! A good friend of mine rescued a 1959 Plymouth “taxi” (likely Savoy) Perkins diesel four a few years ago. It awaits a full restoration.

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    • Dave

      1959 Plymouth Perkins motor.

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    • Dave


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    • Dave


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    • Dave


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      • Dave

        Yes, I do… Lol…

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  13. Wayne

    Hey Guys, I am the guy who has the Savoy with the perkins, I purchased this car from the original owners wife, her husband had passed away and the car sat in a carport for a few years. from what she told me they purchased the car in Canada and moved to California.
    I have the original paperwork for customs, along with the original 1956 license plate.
    anyway after I got it home went to work on it to get it running, to my surprise it fired right up
    smoked some and I drove it around. probably one of the slowest and ugliest cars I have owned but no the less one of the coolest.
    Will be happy to answer any questions, just shoot me an e-mail

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    • Jesse JesseAuthor

      Thanks for chiming in Wayne. How much do you hope to get for it?

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    • P Trout

      Hey Wayne!
      Very unique vehicle you have there.
      Most of us are here not only for the cars, but for the story they have to tell.
      I am sure everyone would love to know as much as possible about the car.
      Would you care to go into some detail?
      A few questions I have if you care to indulge…

      Whats the VIN?
      Is it a Belgium VIN, a canadian VIN, or a U.S. VIN?
      How many miles?
      Have you got a title?
      what year was it brought to U.S.?
      any evidence of accidents?
      hows the interior?
      any of the glass cracked?
      Any rust underneath?
      you said you drove it, do the brakes work?
      How much documentation do you have?
      any evidence of it ever having been painted?
      is the perkins badge still on the trunk?
      is it the original engine as far as you know?
      what is the transmission? who built it? are there #’s on it?
      hows the clutch?

      Sorry, that got out of hand…

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  14. KFD

    I wonder if any of the guys on the Forwardlook dot net forum have caught wind of this….

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  15. Harit Trivedi

    Hi, BTW Chrysler products were manufactured in India by Premier automobiles in the late forties, upto around 1957. These were petrol engined cars. Many cars were subsequently “dieselised”, and many had Indian made Perkins engines installed. Today that is not legal here, earlier it was legal and the change of engines was even endorsed in the registration book. Sadly, the vibrations just shook these cars apart, and the front suspension often did not cope with the extra weight. And these cars were very often used as taxis and did not survive. Apart from these cars, many fintail Mercs and American cars were converted to diesel.

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  16. Garnet knapman

    I think about the last year of the slant 6engine some were offered in a diesel version apparently there is a fellow in Detroit that collects them

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