By Angelo Van Bogart
In 1948, a Waupaca, Wis., business owner bought his wife a new Chrysler Town and Country convertible. The woodie’s factory base price of $3,420 made it a gift worthy of a Hollywood starlet, and many silver screen personalities indeed claimed ownership of a Town and Country, from Bob Hope to Wallace Beerie to Barbara Stanwyck and Clark Gable, who had two (one for town and one for country).
There is no doubt the wood-bodied Town and Country was Chrysler’s post-war star — as a convertible, it was priced $839 higher than the eight-passenger limousine, and at 4,338 lbs, it even weighed 297 lbs. more than the limousine, Chrysler’s heaviest all-steel model that year.
By the early 1960s, the Waupaca business owner must have noticed his wife’s green 1948 Town and Country had accrued 80,000 miles and was more or less a decade-old used car, although one with personality. He noted Kenny Buttolph, a clerk at the local Hertzel Texaco, often drove and clearly respected interesting vehicles and offered him the aging Town and Country. “I worked at the gas station and I drove an old car, so he came in to get gas one day and wanted to know if I would be interested in it, and I said ‘Yeah,’” recalled Buttolph, who was driving a 1927 Nash coupe and a 1951 Kaiser at the time.
“I would see it drive back and forth; it was the only one in town,” Buttolph said of the Town and Country. “I thought it would be a neat car to have.”
If Buttolph’s name is familiar, it’s because he is a retired Old Cars Weekly staffer. And if Waupaca is familiar, that’s because many Iola Old Car Show attendees driving to the event from the east pass through Waupaca each July.
The business owner’s motel and go-kart track at the corner of Highway 54 and Highway 10 in Waupaca have long since been replaced by a Mobil truck stop, but that Town and Country is still around. In fact, it never left Waupaca County, even though Buttolph sold it in the mid-1960s after driving it for four or five years.
During the period Buttolph first owned the Town and Country, he and his mother drove it from Wisconsin to the AACA fall meet in Hershey, Pa., several times where he showed the car. Each trip, the Town and Country pulled a load.
“We pulled a pop-up camp trailer with it,” Buttolph said. “We would take the Town and Country nameplate off the back bumper and put a hitch on there. They are like 1953 Buicks — you have to wire them different and have a different stop light from the turn signals. So you just put another light on the trailer so you have a stop light on the trailer and turn signals.”
Despite the weight and the notoriously slow acceleration of a Fluid-Drive Chrysler, Buttolph said the L-head eight-cylinder of 323.5 cubic inches and 135 hp was capable topping 70 mph on the highway.
“You take off like a herd of turtles, and a Dynaflow Buick will beat you,” Buttolph said.
A second Town and Country
Many hobbyists know that one old vehicle often leads to another, and Town and Country Chrysler owners are no exception.
“[Collector] Jack Carew said he knew where there was another one in Ripon, Wis., so we went down and looked at it,” Buttolph said. That Town and Country was also green with a green convertible top and in the original owner’s hands, but that owner wasn’t ready to sell his 13,000-mile original.
“He said he was going to use it, but he asked how much I paid for mine,” Buttolph said. “I told him $700 and he said that was fine and had me write down my phone number. When he died a little while later, [his wife] called me to come get the car.”
Problem was, Buttolph couldn’t spare the $700 at the time, but he did have a very nice 1931 Buick Series 90 Opera Coupe. Buttolph called a hobbyist in Clintonville, Wis., to see if he knew anyone that would be interested in buying the Buick.
“I asked him if he knew anyone that wanted that, because I wanted to get the money to buy the Chrysler,” Buttolph said. “He said a doctor from Wausau had been in that day and just left that wanted a Buick. I called the Wausau operator and asked for all the names of the doctors. She said there’s 50 doctors. I asked her to pick three and the first doctor I called knew of the doctor looking for a Buick. I called him and he gave me the $700, so I went down and got that [Chrysler].”
At that point, Buttolph had two matching, unrestored Chrysler Town and Countrys and was content with that arrangement until the prospect of another trade came up. He elected to trade his first Town and Country, which was nearing 100,000 miles on the odometer, to a man in the car’s hometown of Waupaca for a Packard. That way, his first Town and Country would remain in the town it had been owned when new, and Buttolph would still have the second lower-mileage Town and Country to enjoy.
Town and Country No. 1 comes home
Buttolph has seen more than 1,000 cars come and go in his decades of collecting, and whenever possible, he keeps track of where every one of his former cars lands. With his first Town and Country, the task was easy because the buyers rarely drove it, leaving it to gather dust and bird droppings in a barn for almost 50 years.
The car was so well hidden, a local woodie restorer internationally known for Town and Country restorations and reproduction parts did not know of its existence. It also hid underneath the nose of the nearby Old Cars Weekly staff, yet all the while, it was owned by the family of an employee working for a sister magazine to OCW. Well, it eluded everyone but Buttolph, of course.
“I knew it was there, but I didn’t say anything,” Buttolph said of his genuine barn find.
In 2010, Buttolph had the chance to buy back the Town and Country he first purchased in the early 1960s, and he didn’t hesitate. “When the [owner] died, it was in the will for them to offer it to me first,” he said.
The Town and Country was much like Buttolph remembered it with only a few slight changes. The original green convertible top had been replaced with an owner-installed white top and the odometer registers just 1,300 more miles since Buttolph sold it in the 1960s. More than four decades of bird droppings were not kind to the woodie’s factory paint. However, the Waupaca barn had been dry and aside from dust, the old Chrysler was otherwise as Buttolph remembered it.
“They always kept it in the shed – that’s why the birds pooped all over it,” Buttoph said. “It was the same barn where the Packard I traded it for was stored.”
Over the past year, Buttolph has finally made the Town and Country driveable with the help of several friends.
“The left front wheel wouldn’t go around, so we pulled it out of the barn and on the trailer with it sliding,” he said. After getting the car home, he hammered the brake drum it until he could get it to turn.
“Mark [Buttles] and I got a new fuel pump, gas line, brake line, wheel cylinders, brake shoes, turned the drums, cleaned the gas tank, [installed] a new battery and checked the points,” Buttolph said. “There was gas in it, but it wouldn’t start. You can push-start these, so we took it out on the road and [jumped the clutch] and pretty soon it was running. Then I drove it on a 60-mile ride.”
Buttolph knew the transmission needed fluid, but the access panel to the transmission is in the floor and difficult to reach. Fortunately, some friends came to the rescue.
“During the Iola Old Car Show, I had the Fluid Drive filled up,” he said. “I had some friends up from Omaha — Frank and Patti Marescalco — and they are Chrysler folks. Frank said his son could fill it up for me; it was a quart and a half low.”
Since then, Buttolph has been reliving the 1960s in his Chrysler woodie, blowing off the dust from the car and reviving his memories around Waupaca County.
Got a car you’d like us to feature as our “Car of the Week“? We want to hear from you! E-mail us and tell us all about it.