By Brian Earnest
There isn’t much doubt about which $100 bill was the best one Wilson Shearer ever spent.
Back in 1971, the now-retired minister from Hagerstown, Md., had been visiting an elderly parishioner when opportunity knocked unexpectedly. Actually, it knocked several times.
“I had been visiting him at home, and he kept saying, ‘I’ve gotta have a home for my old car.’ Well, I didn’t think much about it, but finally, after about the sixth time, I said, ‘George, what kind of car do you have?’ So, we went out and looked at it, and there was this Chrysler [a 1950 New Yorker sedan] all covered with dust. The tires were flat and everything. I said, ‘Does it run?’ He said, ‘It did six years ago when I parked it.’
“I said, ‘Well, George, I’ll tell you what, if we can get together on a price, I’ll buy it,’ because it looked like the kind of car I’d like to own and keep. Then he told me the price was $100. He just wanted the car to have a good home. Well, it didn’t take me long to write the check.
“I promised him I’d give the car a good home, and I’ve always tried to keep that promise.”
Forty years later, the big, black Chrysler is still going strong. Fittingly, the car now belongs to Tim Shearer, Wilson’s son, who actually was the one who put most of the 80,000-plus miles on the car’s speedometer. Tim drove the car throughout his high school days, and last year moved the car to his home near Wilksboro, Pa., after he was given the title.
“It was my first car. I guess I was 17 at the time,” Tim recalled. “I had this thick, long hair, and I would drive this beautiful shiny black Chrysler to school and everywhere. We’d get to school and a couple of long-haired guys and girls would get out of the car every day! And I played in a rock band back then, so I’d drive the car to shows and play. It was definitely my trademark.”
Tim still cringes over the fender bender he suffered in the car not long after his dad bought it. “I got hit by a woman in a Plymouth Valiant,” he said with a chuckle. “It happened only about four blocks from my house. I guess I hadn’t learned yet as a teenager that, even if you have the right-of-way, don’t take the right-of-way.”
The Chrysler suffered a broken nose in the mishap that required some front-end cosmetic work and a repaint. Neither of the Shearers probably realized at the time that those relatively minor collision repairs would be the only significant fixes the big Chrysler would need for the next four decades. The hulking New Yorker has been a fixture in the family garage ever since, and has been as reliable and durable as it is handsome.
“It’s in beautiful shape. It really is,” noted Wilson. “Inside, it’s really remarkable. You can hardly find a car that old that’s that pristine. The headliner, doors, everything is really just great.
“I knew it didn’t have that many miles on it when we got it, but until we got the dust and dirt off it from being in a garage all those years, we didn’t know how nice it was. It looked like it had been babied, until the death of [the previous owner’s] wife, then he lost interest in driving it. Then he didn’t have any kids or close relatives to give it to.”
The two Shearers eventually put an NOS spotlight, which Wilson found at the Hershey Fall Meet, on the Chrysler. They also added a sun visor [“I found it in a salvage yard and the guy gave it to me!” Wilson noted], a pair of NOS fog lights, and seat belts in front.
“Mechanically ... just points and plugs. I guess this is the second water pump we’ve put on it,” Wilson said. “I took the carburetor off many years ago and put it on my workbench and overhauled it myself. Other than that, I put some brushes in the generator, but it’s still got the original generator. I also overhauled the starter … The trunk still has the original spare tire and the trunk liner is original. The original oil is still in the transmission. The head was never off it and I never had any problems with it. We always did the grease fittings on it, of course — my land, I never saw a car with so many!
Not long ago Tim also fixed the choke, which has helped the car’s 323.5-cid, 135-hp L head engine run and sound as good as ever.
The old eight-track tape player that Tim had in the car is long gone. “Yeah, back then it was almost irreverent to put an eight-track stereo in the thing, but we hid the speakers under the seats.” he said. “We didn’t cut any holes in it.”
Tim and Wilson have combined to add about 30,000 miles to the car’s odometer reading. A good share of those miles came on weekends when Tim was traveling back and forth to see his future wife during their college years. On at least one occasion, the roomy New Yorker had to serve as a motel room. “That was during the oil embargo and you could only get gas on even or odd days,” Tim recalled. “Well, I got stuck halfway home needing gas, and I remember wrapping up in Army blankets all night and waiting to get gas in the morning.”
The 1950 model year marked the end of the “straight eight” era for the Chrysler lineup. The next year, the Hemi V-8 arrived. As the 1950s dawned, the New Yorker was still the top-of-the-line offering in the Chrysler lineup. The New Yorker interiors featured all-wool carpeting and a wider selection of interior fabrics and colors. The Newport two-door hardtop also debuted that year.
The New Yorker sedan rolled on a 131-5-inch wheelbase, and at 4,190 lbs. and 214 inches long, they were among the true heavyweights on the American can landscape. The New Yorkers came in six varieties for the model year: four-door sedan, two-door club coupe, two-door convertible, two-door hardtop Newport, four-door “woodie” wagon, and two-door Town and Country. You could also order a chassis only. The four-door sedans were the most popular among the buying public, with 22,633 built for the model year.
The options list for the 1950 Chryslers was relatively short, and the Shearers’ car had only two add-ons: a radio and a heater. “That’s all,” said Tim. “It’s pretty no-frills.”
These days, the Chrysler occupies a place of prominence in Tim’s garage. It is reserved for joy rides and short cruises on nice days, and occasional Sunday morning trips to church. “It doesn’t get out in bad weather, and I hand polish it to keep it nice,” he said. “When I take it to church, it’s nice because all of our senior friends come around and reminisce when they see it, and that’s always a highlight.
“It’s really smooth, and when I pull up to a stop sign, with that straight eight, you can hardly tell it’s running. And of course, people don’t see big old shiny black New Yorkers with lots of chrome every day, so everywhere I stop, everybody always comes up to talk. It’s a great conversation thing.”
Ironically, Tim is now being scolded by his own son not to put too many miles on his first car. “Yeah, every time I take it out, he’s says, ‘Do you have to?’ He’s so protective of it.
“He’s already told me he wants it and he’s intending to keep it in the family.”
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