Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Randy Lutz doesn’t really remember his grandfather. His recollections are hazy at best. But there is no mistaking his connection to his granddad’s favorite car. Lutz figures he and the car are permanently attached, even if he’s not sure when — or why — the connection started.
“My grandpa bought this car in 1959,” he says scanning over his gorgeous 1948 Chrysler Windsor coupe. “His name was Adolph Lutz. He traded in a 1946 Plymouth four-door. They gave him 100 bucks for that, and he booted in another hundred bucks and he got this for $200. I got the paperwork from that. At that time [the car was] 11 years old. He lived on a farm and drove around the countryside with it. He used it for hauling feed, and he drove it until 1972; I think that’s when he died. I never really knew him, I was born in 1967, so I don’t remember him, really.”
“My brothers remember Grandpa taking them fishing in it. When I brought it home there were cane poles in the trunk yet! So I really don’t remember much about it when I was a kid because I was so young, but they remember.”
The car had been traded in by a local woman to a Stevens Point, Wis., dealership prior to it landing in the Lutz family. Somehow, it survived the ravages of Wisconsin winters fairly well, until it was finally parked and left to collect dust.
“It sat on the farm in a building. And sat. And sat. And sat,” Lutz recalls. “Then the building got torn down and it sat outside.”
Somewhere along the line, Randy decided the car would make a worthy first auto restoration project. He was interested in working on cars for a living, and he figured Grandpa’s old Chrysler would be a fun first test subject. “When I graduated from high school in ’86, I brought it home. My dad was always going to fix it up with my other brothers,” he recalls. “My dad was a mechanic and he had a shop in town, too. He never got around to it. [I was] young and ambitious. I was going to tech school for auto mechanics, I decided to [restore it].”
Soldiering on after World War II
Adolph Lutz brought home an 11-year-old used car home to the farm back in 1959, in reality the 1948 Windsor was even longer in the tooth. The 1948 Chryslers were based on models that debuted in 1942, and very little changed when post-war production cranked up in 1946 until all-new models arrived in mid 1949.
Refinements and advances included front fenders that flowed smoothly into newly skinned front doors, beautifully detailed die-cast eggcrate style grille, new front and rear bumpers and different fender trim. Some year-to-year running changes also occurred. The body-structure was all steel, a longtime Chrysler hallmark. Separate chassis/frame construction was used. Body insulation included the interior structure of the body, roof, side panels, floor, cowl and trunk. Postwar developments included Safe Guard hydraulic brakes and a permanent Oilite fuel tank filter. Rust-proofing protected the interior body structure. Series identification was provided by nameplates found on the hood sides. Standard equipment included armrests on both front doors; directional signal; entrance light; brake warning light; cigar lighter with illuminated ashtray; rubber floor covering in front compartment (except on the club coupe and eight-passenger sedans, which are carpeted); dual outside front door locks; glovebox light and lock; pile fabric or broadcloth upholstery; luggage compartment light; assist straps and robe cords on sedans and broughams; dual two-speed electric wipers; plastic steering wheel; automatic dome light; white wheel-trim rings and interior door locks.
The Windsor was one step up from the bottom-tier Royal line and included all Royal features, plus: two-tone wool broadcloth upholstery, carpeted front compartment, electric clock, rear seat folding armrest on sedans and exterior ‘goose neck’ mirror on convertibles only. The Windsor offered luxury on par with the New Yorker line, but was powered by the L-head six-cylinder engine. Windsors were identified by nameplates on both sides of the hood. Popular options included: radios; twin heaters with defroster; Deluxe heater; antennas; bumper guards; locking gas caps; windshield washers; sun visors; exhaust extensions; and six-ply tires.
Buyers could chose from a host of configurations: two-door/three-passenger coupe; two-door club coupe (with a back seat); two-door convertible; two-door sedan; four-door sedan; four-door Traveler wagon; Town and Country or two different long-wheelbase limousine-style sedans. Prices ranged from $1,906 for the three-passenger coupe up to $2,880 for the stylish four-door Town and Country.
Lutz’s car is one of 26,482 Windsor club coupes built for the ’48 model year. That made it third in popularity on the Chrysler sales charts, behind only the Windsor and top-line New Yorker four-door sedans.
An ambitious project
Ignorance might have been bliss for Lutz when he decided to start restoring the ’48. The car had sat from 1972 when his grandfather parked it until 1986. It had 98,000 miles on the clock, the engine was stuck, the body and floors were rotting, and the car was infested with bees. “The first thing we had to do was smoke out the bees when we got it home,” he laughs.
The car was going to need a ton of work to be road-worthy again — even more than he originally planned. But Lutz was just a teenager and had time on his side, and a dad who knew cars.
After some disassembly, Lutz’s first big mission was to rebuild the car’s 260.6-cid six-cylinder engine. The trouble was the original block wasn’t usable. “It had frost cracks in it from sitting. I actually found another motor at a wrecking yard in Black River Falls [Wis.],” Lutz noted. “It came out of a fire truck – a Chrysler car and Dodge truck used the same six-cylinder engine. So I got that engine and rebuilt it in tech school.
“So I re-did the motor, and I had the body off the frame and it was rough. ‘What do I do now?’ The floor almost stayed on the frame when I picked the car up. So I actually found a different shell in Arizona. I took my dad’s flatbed — he had a towing company — went to Phoenix and ended up bringing it back. So it’s the original hood and original trunk lid. The shell and fenders are from a southern car. I finished in 1998. I worked on it 10, 12 years. I wanted to make it nice and I was just putzing with it and did everything myself. I even painted it myself. I rebuilt the motor when I was in tech school and that’s when I had the frame was all done and chassis. At one point I had bucket seats on it from another car and I was driving around in it with no body on it!”
There were plenty of big challenges along the way. The second engine that Lutz had salvaged from a fire truck developed a knock and he had to go to engine No. 3 — the one from the Arizona donor car.
There was also a lot of parts chasing and salvage yard exploring. “But mostly, the biggest thing was there was a lot of sanding,” he chuckles. “They must have had a dance on the roof! I had to pound that all out and there was a lot of block sanding to get that smooth again.
“The tires came off the parts car I bought, believe it or not. It was a little hard finding Chrysler stuff. This was all before the Internet, so I couldn’t just go online to find stuff. I found the body and OEM rocker moldings. The bumpers have been rechromed. Some of the pot metal is rechromed, like the tail light housings. I was just very patient, that’s all it was. I’d work on it a little bit, then in the winter time it sat because I didn’t have any heat in the garage. I’d poke around on it when the weather was nice.”
Lutz finally got the car finished in 1998, and it is a head-turner. The lovely baby blue paint makes a great vintage statement wherever it goes, and the classic long-nose 1940s Chrysler styling and heavy doses of chrome and stainless give it a timeless appeal.
“Why did I want it? Because it was there!” Lutz jokes. “You know, if it had been a four-door, I probably wouldn’t have had much interest in it, but being a coupe, it’s sharp-looking. For someone who is not a body man, it turned out real nice. I had worked on a couple of pickup trucks before this for practice, but this was my first base coat-clear coat paint job. Now I know why everybody wants base coat-clear coat. It’s easy to work with.”
Lutz has had a few other toys and project cars come and go over the years, but he’s always tried to make time for his Chrysler. “I got into buying old Bronco … but the cars I buy now are all rust ones!” he says. The Windsor gets driven regularly in the country roads around Lutz’s rural home, and he’s not shy about driving an hour or so in any direction to spend an afternoon at a car show. “I’ve taken it to some shows and I use it for transportation to work once in a while. It drives nice. It’s fun to drive. It’s got the Fluid Drive, which is basically a semi-automatic transmission. But you have to be cautious, you know. The turn signals aren’t very bright with the 6-volt,” he says. “You really have to watch when you drive. It’s got enough get-up-and-go, but it’s pokey compared to modern cars. Everybody is in a hurry nowadays, and they don’t leisurely drive.
“But my wife [Laurie] really likes it. We had it in our wedding. I had the car before I had my wife [laughs].”
At one time, the Chrysler appeared destined to be completely forgotten and probably headed to the bone yard. Now, Grandpa’s old farm car is likely to be inline for a second restoration somewhere down the line.
“It’s starting to show its age a little bit,” Lutz says. “That will probably be a retirement project.”
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