Collector Car Corner – ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward Isabella

Collector Car Corner - ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward IsabellaThe 1959 Borgward Isabella was built in Germany. Reader Ross Sealund owned one and it did have some exterior similarities in comparison to a ’59 Rambler American. But that’s where the similarities end, as the Borgward had a 90-inch four-cylinder hooked to a four-speed manual with column shifting while the ’59 American featured a flathead 196-inch six and a “three-on-the-tree.” (Compliments Borgward collection)  

Q: Hello Greg and thanks for all your articles. I look forward to them every week and I’ the guy that wrote to you about the ’57 Rambler Rebel years ago and how fast that car was. But even though I’m a big Rambler and AMC fan, I’m writing about an article you wrote on the 1957 Dodge D-500 a while back. You mentioned it came with a single 4-barrel or a 2×4 setup which I have a question on as I think that is not true.

My friend of 50 years, William Mangherini, said his father had a ’57 Dodge D-500 four-door hardtop and it had a 325 Hemi with a 3×2 (three two barrel carbs) setup on it. It was red and white and I saw it myself. It was used in a total of 13 harsh New England winters and it was purchased at a Hudson Motor Car Company that was also a Dodge dealer in Dorchester, Mass. That car was a beauty and had fender skirts, two rear antennas and it only got to 42,000 miles before it rusted out at the rockers, trunk, and all of the front and rear floors. The front fenders were rusted back a foot!

Collector Car Corner - ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward Isabella
The 1957 Dodge was available in Royal Lancer D-500 trim. It was a beautiful high-performance car that featured a 325-inch Hemi V8 engine in either 285 or 310 horsepower dress. (Compliments Fiat/Chrysler Dodge Division)

So, my buddy took the D-500 to a body man in Boston and we would go look at the repair progress regularly. Then one week, we went to check on things and the body shop was out-of-business and the D-500 gone. We tried in vain to find it but never did. My buddy still has the outside door handles, the fender skirts and the four-wheel covers with the “Knights Head” logo on them.

For a second question, do you remember a car called the Borgward Isabella? I had a 1959 “Borg” that I got in 1970 that was given to me. It was a two-door model finished in grey with a red and white interior. It also had a four speed on the column and a four-cylinder engine. It looked to me like a 1959 Rambler American and I think it was built in Germany, from 1956 to 1968. It was one tough car as I ran it real hard all the time. 

Thanks again for your fun articles. Yours in “Ramblership,” Ross D. Sealund, Haverhill, Mass. 

Collector Car Corner - ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward Isabella
By 1957, Chrysler was introducing an all-new lineup of cars and pushing the “Forward Look” design it promotes to this day. Of this 1957 line-up of cars, only Chrysler and Dodge have survived. (Compliments Fiat/Chrysler)

A: Hello Ross and I sure do remember your last letter as it was 12 written pages about all your Ramblers and I gave you the name “Mr. Rambler.”

Let’s start with the ’57 D-500 Dodge Royal Lancer. There were two versions of the 325 Hemi available that year, a D-500 standard 285 horse single 4-barrel version or, if you wanted more horsepower, a Super D-500-1 option, which added two for-barrels and a more radical camshaft. This 2×4 option upped horsepower to 310.

As for the 3×2 tri-power you question, I am certain it was not a factory option. The only other D-500 engine available that year was a special 354-inch high-performance Hemi that came with solid lifters, two-fours and developed 355 horses. It was called the D-501 engine option for the 57 Dodge and not to be confused with the aforementioned D-500-1 engine. It was the same 354 Hemi powerhouse that motivated those 1956 Chrysler 300 models to many NASCAR wins. It is said that only three of these D-501 cars survived from a total production of less than 100 built by Dodge in 1957. 

Collector Car Corner - ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward Isabella
The Borgward had more than one model, including a nice looking two-door sport coupe that was popular in its day. After opening for business in 1954, Borgward filed for bankruptcy in 1961 and ended production and sales in 1962. (Compliments Borgward collection) 

So, that 3×2 setup you saw on your friend’s D-500 must have been from an aftermarket company. The hot rodding boom was really kicking off in the mid-1950s, especially company’s like Jahn’s, Isky, Edelbrock, Offenhauser and Potvin, to name a few. 

Of these companies, Offenhauser offered a 3×2 intake that fit the 325 Hemi engine, of which your friend’s car had under the hood. So, somewhere along the line an Offenhauser 3×2 setup was added and I’ll bet “50 to one” your buddy’s car began life as a 285 horse single four 325.

As for the Borgward Isabella, I do recall them but never heard from anyone that owned one, so you are a first. You are correct that it was a German built car and it did look like a bit like the ’59 Rambler American.

The car was the brainchild of Carl F. W. Borgward and built from 1954 to 1962 in Bremen, Germany. The Isabella was a favorite early on and sold well to happy consumers. The Isabella did not have a full chassis and utilized unit construction, which would become the norm in automobile manufacturing. The Isabella featured a four-wheel coil spring setup and a 91 cubic-inch four-cylinder engine that developed 60-horsepower. The “four-on-the-tree” column shifter connected to a 4-speed full synchromesh gearbox, which was rare at the time. I remember Saab had a four-on-the-tree in the 1950s, too. 

By the end of production in 1962, Borgward had experiencing numerous financial woes and actual bankruptcy in 1961. Still, a total of 202,862 Isabella’s rolled off the production line proving it was a very popular vehicle. (You are proof it held up well under a heavy right foot).

Collector Car Corner - ‘Mr. Rambler’ recalls 1957 Dodge D-500 and rare Borgward Isabella
Reader Ross Sealund remembers the red and white interior of his 1959 Isabella, and here is a fine example of the car’s beautiful interior. (Compliments Borgward collection) 

Thanks Ross for your letter and keep on rebuilding those Ramblers.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader questions on collector cars, auto nostalgia and auto racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or at greg@gregzyla.com).

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