Recreating My Red ’57 Plymouth

I t was two years after the showing of the all-new 1957 Plymouth that I bought mine. It was a Carnival Red Belvedere two-door hardtop, and I was thrilled to have my first V-8. I loved the style of the car.

    I remember looking at the rearview mirror and seeing the sweeping fins in the reflection. The car’s design flowed so well from front to back that it looked like it could fly. There was only one imperfection, and that was the lower front valance, which I changed to a ’58 lower front valance; I also added fender skirts to give it my own personal touch. Driving it always gave me a thrill. As I would drive past a store with a glass front and see the reflection, I’d think, “Wow, that’s my car!”

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After years of missing the 1957 Plymouth I bought in 1959, I gathered enough cars, parts cars and parts to recreate the car I enjoyed so much.

    It got a lot of attention in my small hometown and surrounding communities. It looked like it should be the fastest thing on the road. However, with the old 318, it looked faster than it actually went. Not satisfied with this combination, I bought a Chrysler wedge engine (coupled with the original three-speed TorqueFlite transmission) and added a B500 cam, dual-point ignition with modified advance and a limited-slip differential. Now, nothing could beat it in boulevard brawls. I even won a trophy at Cordova Dragway.

    The car became a near legend. Others in our small community began to buy ’57 Plymouths, and to this day, at class reunions, they say, “I remember your red ’57!” That Belvedere, at that time, was the most important thing in my life. I was thrilled every time I glanced over my shoulder and saw it. It was a thrill I remember as vividly as if it were today. I was forever improving it and planning for the future, as I had so many things that I wanted to do to her and with her. It was an ongoing program, but adult responsibilities brought me to the place where I had to spend my time and money on more basic things, like earning a living and providing for my family.

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The red-and-white interior of the Belvedere two-door hardtop is fitted with swivel seats to make it easier to get into and out of the car.

    I had to buy a more “sensible” car, as I was now a family man and farmer. I drove the car more than 200 miles to a town far enough away that I would never have to see her after I traded her in. As I drove away in my newly purchased used car, I looked in the rearview mirror with tears in my eyes and saw her sitting there. I felt I had abandoned my dearest friend.

    As the years went by, I embarked on a manufacturing career, and it took me through a whirlwind of ups and downs, wins and losses and, ultimately, financial success. Never did I forget my red ’57. More times than I can count I would dream that I had found her parked back in an old building, dirty and dusty and needing some TLC but still in very good shape.

    In later years, as I became more financially independent and had a little extra time on my hands, a little voice made it glaringly evident that I needed to find a ’57 Plymouth and pick up where I left off. After a surprisingly short search, I found one at an auction. It wasn’t red, but green. It wasn’t a Belvedere; it was a Savoy. It didn’t have TorqueFlite; it had a PowerFlite. But it was a two-door hardtop!

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Nothing screams “1950s” like these tall Plymouth tail fins!

    I bid only once, and it was mine. I brought it home and began making my plans to strip off all of the chrome, paint it red with white stripe and add the Belvedere trim and redo the upholstery, then I would have recreated my red ’57. As I went through the paperwork on the car, I found that what I had bought was, for all intents and purposes, a one-owner car with only 24,000 miles on it. I contacted the seller for the rest of the story and found out that a lady had bought the car new on April 15, 1957, and drove it for three or four years and then loaned it to her grandson to go to college. When he graduated, he returned the car to his grandmother. (It was last registered in 1966). It stayed in the garage until she died. The man who sold the car was a family friend who bought the car from the estate. He repainted it the original color, had it re-upholstered and took it to the auction. It even carried the original bill of sale and original dealer chrome nameplate on the back. A little voice said I just couldn’t take a car that had survived so perfectly for so long and convert it.

    So, I started looking again. I found on eBay a red ’57 Belvedere two-door hardtop. This was it; this one was like my red ’57. It was a Belvedere, a two-door hardtop, had a three-speed TorqueFlite transmission and had the dash and interior window frames painted to match the exterior just the way I had done mine. It even had power steering.

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All opened up and waiting for a driver and passengers. The engine is a Chrysler 440 engine with ported-and-polished heads, roller rockers, a little stronger cam and long cross rams, along with hugger headers and internal improvements for performance.

    I found the location of the car. It was about 400 miles away, so we drove to see it. It looked pretty good, needed some work, but I expected that. I bought it on the spot, rented a trailer, hauled it home, took it for a short test drive to a building I had made ready for just this day, drove it in, closed the doors and began to disassemble it. I was going to make this one perfect. I took the seats out first, removed the carpet and, whoa, a big hole! Oh well, I can fix that. Then I took out the windshield; as the rubber pulled away from the supporting frame, some of the frame came with it. Oh, oh! Then went the back window, with more rust ‘ all the way into the package tray. The trunk channel? Gone when I pulled the rubber out. I took off the fenders and found more rust, lots of rust. The front support brace was eaten through with rust. Rust was hidden everywhere. The drip rail was largely held on by paint. Bondo was on the rear lower quarter panels. Simply put, under its gleaming paint, the car was eaten up by rust. I think I had gotten too excited and didn’t do my homework before I bought it. Oh well, it had power steering, a pretty good frame, excellent doors and the front fenders were salvageable.

    One thing was for sure, a little voice wouldn’t let me stop short of recreating my red ’57. Bitten by the bug, I began buying parts on eBay for anything I could find for ’57 Plymouths. The next three years were spent buying parts and parts cars. I got a call from a man who said he had noticed I had been buying a lot of parts on eBay for ’57 Plymouths. He had a frame with a body shell that he had saved from a crusher in Arizona. No rust! It had been hit in the left rear end, but that was only a small problem.

    The search began for a body man to straighten the rear fin and not use plastic filler. Once the car was straight and perfect in every way, we primered it and completely assembled it with the exception of the interior. Everything was meticulously cleaned and reassembled using new bolts and bushings. The fenders, hood, trunk lid, doors, moldings, grille, trim and other pieces were assembled and c hecked for fit. The plan was to disassemble it again, paint the body and reassemble it. But before we had a chance to do that, our city was hit by Hurricane Katrina.

    The building that I stored it in was destroyed by wind from the hurricane. Thankfully, there was no water. Three cars were totally destroyed, but, miraculously, my up-and-coming red Plymouth only received damage to the two front fenders. During the hunt for replacement fenders, we found two with no rust, originally red and in perfect condition. We also found a completely rusted-out car, but it had a perfect and complete factory air conditioning system and tinted windows. The delay Katrina caused was to my advantage. My original ’57 didn’t have factory air or tinted windows, but this one would!

    My red ’57 was being born again. I installed a Chrysler 440 engine with ported-and-polished heads, roller rockers, a little stronger cam and long cross rams, along with hugger headers and internal improvements for performance.

    Along the way, we found several other Plymouths. We bought some of them for parts cars, and some because they were just too good to pass up (even if they weren’t red). So now we have a green-and-white ’57 Savoy two-door hardtop, two ginger ’57 Belvedere two-door hardtops, a Dessert Gold ’57 Belvedere convertible, a black ’59 Sport Fury with a Golden Commando engine and 19,000 miles (What? A ’59? Well, my brother used to have one) and, of course, my red ’57.

    I love ’57 Plymouths today as much as I did 50 years ago. And I hope to add more to my collection. Each and every ’57 Plymouth touches my heart, but my red ’57 is the king.

    The decision to buy or recreate my red ’57 came from a little voice. The decision not to alter the beautiful Meadow Green-and-Sand Dune White Savoy came from that same voice. The voice was actually from that little girl who was born so many years ago and changed my course from a hot rodder to a family man. On the second go around, I had help. She turned out to be a gear head like me. She’s a near constant companion and the one responsible for me to reenergize my dream and make it come true. Her name is Suzi.

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