Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Joe Gloudemans has owned and lovingly cared for his grandparents’ 1955 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe for almost 50 years now, but he swears it’s all sort of happened by accident. The semi-retired Little Chute, Wis., resident insists he wasn’t angling to wind up with Grandpa’s prized sedan. It just sort of happened that way. Even though he has 16 brothers and sisters, he says he almost got the car by default.
“I figured somebody’s gotta take care of it. So I took responsibility, even though I needed two cars like I needed a hole in the head,” says Gloudemans, who will celebrate a half-century of owning the Chrysler next April.
The big sedan looks absolutely fabulous today with its wonderful two-tone blue-and-white paint job and rivers of chrome. The truth is, it has never NOT looked good. It was a low-mileage original when Gloudemans got it in 1970, and he had the car repainted and almost all the chrome redone within the first three or four years he owned it. He’s been a wonderful caretaker ever since, carefully documenting all the work he’s had done to the car over the years in a notebook, including the engine and transmission rebuild he had taken care of when the car was getting painted.
Did the Chrysler really need all that work done at the time? Not really, “but I want it to look sharp,” Gloudemans says. “I’ve always taken good care of it.”
He contends that he wasn’t pining to own the car, but he always liked the big Chrysler and remembers when his grandfather, Henry J. Gloudemans, bought it brand new. “Sure, I remember back when he got it. He had a ’41 Chrysler before it. He bought this ’55 Chrysler,” he says. “ I was only 10 years old. He had it for about a year and then he died in ’56. He went back and forth from the farm to the lumber yard. It was a big long trip. It was probably a quarter-mile!
“The car only had only had 3,000 miles on it they told me when my grandpa died. My grandmother didn’t drive, so her sons or stepsons would drive her wherever she wanted to go.
“So in 1970 she was kind of getting up there, and I went and discussed it with her and that’s when I got it. She said nobody else in the family wanted it…. and I’ve had it since and I’ve taken care of it. There were only 28,700 miles on it at the time I got it.”
Gloudemans stored the Chrysler in a barn for many years during the winter months, but eventually the farm owner died and Gloudemans moved the car into a garage stall at the apartment building where he lives. “I moved it here, and that’s the best thing I did. Because now it’s right next to me here. I can put it on jacks or blocks or whatever I need to do with it,” he says. “I don’t drive it from about Oct. 15 until about April 1. It doesn’t ever see any salt or snow, and I don’t have to worry about getting stuck!”
You certainly can’t blame Gloudemans for never wanting to part with his glorious New Yorker Deluxe. Chances are, he shares an affinity for the look and long list of luxury features that attracted Grandpa Henry to the car.
A Big Deal at Chrysler
The “New Yorker” moniker first appeared at Chrysler in the late 1930s, and company brass must have liked it because it stayed in use through various generations until 1996, making it the company’s lost-running nameplate. It was initially used as a trim level in 1938, then graduated to its own model in 1940 as Chrysler’s upscale, full-size offering.
Following the conclusion of World War II, the New Yorker became its own series from 1946-’48, with the familiar “harmonica” grille and a cutting-edge four-speed semi-automatic transmission. A major restyling was unveiled for 1949 with more modern bodies that were shared with DeSoto and Dodge.
The 1955 model year proved to be one of sweeping changes at Chrysler, as the company launched new body styles from design legend Virgil Exner that were dubbed part of the “Million Dollar Look.” The cars were ornate and rich-looking and a drastic departure from their predecessors. Gone were the huge long-wheelbase cars. The eight-passenger sedan and limousine were now sold only under the Imperial banner. A new Town & Country station wagon was also added to the New Yorker lineup.
Windshields were redesigned and now wrapped around the front corners, as did the rear windows on the hardtop coupe and sedan. In back, the back-up lights were placed beneath the trunk lid while tail lamps were integrated into a chrome surround that went from the top of the rear fender down toward the bumper.
Under the hood was the holdover 331-cubic inch Hemi engine with a four-barrel carburetor, dual exhausts and 250 hp — a copious power output for the time. The Powerflite transmission was manually shifted by a lever on the instrument panel.
The new-look Chryslers came in three series: Windsor, New Yorker Deluxe and the not new limited-edition 300 series. The two-door hardtop came as a standard Newport and an upgraded St. Regis, which was recognizable by its unique two-tone styling. Later, a summer sales special used the St. Regis' curved upper bodyside trim on the standard New Yorker Deluxe, providing a rather unusual two-toning effect. Gloudemans’ Rhapsody Blue and White sedan is one of those relatively rare — less than 2,000 were reportedly built — “summer special cars.”
With 33,342 assemblies, the four-door sedan was by far the most popular New Yorker Deluxe model, outselling the other four models combined. The big four-door weighed in at 4,160 lbs. and had a window price of $3,494.
Gloudemans’ grandfather didn’t load his New Yorker up with many extras. It’s got power steering and power brakes, and of course the two-tone paint, but not much for accessories. One thing he did insist on, however, was plastic coverings for the seats. Henry didn’t particularly like sitting on plastic himself and cut the plastic out on his side, but he kept the plastic over the rest of both bench seats and Joe has done the same. It’s one reason why the ’55 interior is in such fantastic original shape. “And the back seat has hardly ever had anybody in it,” Joe quips.
‘The guy with the ’55’
Gloudemans has been showing the car off at local events since the early 1970s. One the earliest trophies that he still has is from the summer of 1973. These days he says he only puts “maybe a couple hundred miles” on the New Yorker each year, and he’s never driven the car out of state. “The car went to Colorado once, because my grandmother had a daughter that lived there,” he says. “And they went to New York and then in to Canada. She had a son who was in a seminary over there.
“I’ve driven it as far as Madison [Wis.], that’s about it. I don’t have accidents myself, and my record can show it, but I’m always concerned about someone else. I’ll tell you if I’m in traffic [on the highway], I don’t want to be in this car because everybody’s got their eye on my car instead of their own wheel. Keep your eyes on the road ahead of you, you know what I mean? Am I careful? You’re goll-darned right I’m careful. You bet I am.”
It’s not that the big New Yorker isn’t plenty up to the challenge of the open road, however. The engine hums and the car rolls down the road like the big, comfortable cruiser that it is. It has just enough squeaks and groans coming from underneath during slow turns to reminder passengers they are in a 74-year-old machine.
“To me, it feels good to drive it. I still enjoy it. It’s nice and smooth. It’s a smooth ride. And it’s comfortable,” Gloudemans says. “But the thing I probably like most is all the chrome. I’ve read that the amount of chrome on it is more than the [driver] weighs. And how they could put that much chrome on a car; they must have had an abundance of it after the Second World War.”
Gloudemans bristles when asked if he’s every considered selling the New Yorker. It’s clear the answer is no, even before he replies. “I had somebody offer me so much for the engine. But what am I going to do with the chassis without the engine?” he grumbles. “I was never serious about selling. I have never been looking for the money.”
If you get to take a spin in the New Yorker with Gloudemans on his local streets, it doesn’t take long for people to start smiling and hollering his name. Little Chute, Wis., isn’t a huge town, and it seems like everybody Gloudemans passes on a joyride through town knows both him and the car.
“People wave to me. They all know me: ‘Yeah, you’re the guy with the ’55 Chrysler.’ Well, if you had a car for 49½ years, they’d know you too!”
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