By Brian Earnest
Larry Baker’s first new car was pretty cool — a red 1965 Plymouth Sport Fury convertible. Baker was a young, eager Chrysler employee at the time, so the purchase made sense, even if it might have been a lot of car for a kid just out of college.
Some 38 years later, when Baker was looking to revisit some of his “good old days,” that same Plymouth ragtop was definitely high on his wish list. “It’s the nostalgia part that creeps in for old guys like me,” chuckled Baker, a resident of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Baker had been keeping an eye out for a collector car that looked appealing, and eventually a car buddy – who was also a longtime Chrysler employee – spotted a 1965 Sport Fury convertible similar to the one Baker had when he first joined the company.
“It was not in terrible shape,” he said. “I would say it was in in decent ‘3-minus’ condition. It ran pretty decent, but it had some lower quarter panel rust, and when I took it in, I found out there was a lot more rust and one thing kind of led to another. I just kept going with it and it was about 3 1/2 years before I got it done.”
There were plenty of bumps in the road and putting the Plymouth through a complete restoration certainly wasn’t cheap, but the beautiful white and blue convertible is a real head-turner today. The Sport Fury was one of 1,900 Pace Cars built by Plymouth as replicas of the official Indy Pace car that year. The 35 “official” pace cars were equipped with a 426 “wedge” power plant, while the replicas all got the 383 Golden Commando V-8. They were equipped with power steering and power convertible tops. Vinyl-covered bucket seats were found on either side of a center console that had a tachometer and automatic transmission floor shifter. Bumper guards were found on the front and rear, and fender skirts were included in the package. And, of course, there were the flashy decals for the doors that signaled the Sport Fury convertibles as the 1965 pace cars of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
For the most part, the Pace Car replicas were stock Sport Furys, which meant they were darn nice cars to start with. As the hippest and sportiest members of the Fury lineup, the Sport Furies could only be had with V-8s. A 318 was standard, but two 383s and a 426 (not the Hemi) were both on the options list. A horizontal body side molding ran the length of the car. A pair of headlamps were stacked on the two front corners and sunken into the fronts of the fenders. Red, white and blue hash marks behind the front wheels helped set the Sport Fury apart from other models.
Of course, the popular Fury was available in more “plain Jane” varieties as well, and Plymouth sold nearly 330,000 of them for the 1965 model year. A total of 6,272 of those were Sport Fury convertibles, which carried a base price $3,209 before any add-ons.
One of those belonged to a man who worked for Chrysler when Baker joined the company. “I was right out of college. I had worked for Chrysler as a summer intern between my junior and senior year … and when I got out of college I called and asked if they had any openings, and they said yes and wanted to hire me back," Baker recalled. "The guy who had it had just taken delivery on the car. I told him if he ever wanted to sell it that I wanted it. Well, the guy put about 1,000 miles on and said, ‘You can buy it.’ I saw it as my first new car, because it literally had 1,000 miles on it. I got the car, got married a couple months later and worked for Chrysler for 36 years."
Baker eventually parted ways with his Sport Fury, but he never forgot it, and when it came time to restore his second one, the fond memories of his first car were hard to ignore. “I’m not real mechanically inclined, so I didn’t do a lot of it myself, but I had a lot of guys working on it for me,” he said. “I worked on it in the winter time a lot… I really did not have a master plan. I would start looking and find some parts, then find some more parts, and pretty soon I just decided I had to go all the way. This is the only [collector car] I ever spent a lot of money on and a lot of time on… If I ever got another one, I’d buy it done for sure, but I learned a lot and it was really kind of fun.”
The Sport Fury Pace Car has a few subtle modern touches that make it more driver friendly on today’s roads. Among them is an electronic ignition that should help Baker’s odds of ever getting stranded, and the carbon fiber brake pads help slow down the big Plymouth, which does not have power brakes and was never known for its nimble braking and handling. Modern white-striped radial tires also help with the car’s road manners. The stock two-barrel carburetor has been changed to a four-barrel, although Baker still has the original. The valve seals have been hardened to accommodate unleaded gas, and the brake and fuel systems are plumbed with modern stainless steel lines. The original Torqueflite automatic has new seals, but is still shifting smoothly, Baker says.
The center console is original, as is the convertible boot cover. “But I re-did virtually all of the interior,” he added. “I pulled a bunch of moldings and had them re-chromed. I got new lenses for the tail lights and re-chromed (the surrounds). I had to buy some new name plates and lettering, which you can find. I bought some NOS stuff. The hood ornament is NOS, which was very expensive. A bunch of the nameplates are reproduced and easy to come by. The original bumpers have been re-chromed. It’s got a new top. The top had been replaced at one time [previously], but it was not the correct color blue.”
One other neat touch: Baker has had Indy Pace Car decals made for the doors using thin magnetic film. It’s proven to be a clever and paint-friendly idea. “When I’m driving home from a show or somewhere, I don’t have to worry about them blowing off … I just roll them up and throw them in the trunk,” he says. “I got the idea from pizza guy, I guess, or maybe some type of a tradesman who had a magnetic thing stuck on the side of his truck.”
Baker keeps his Sport Fury at his summer home in Northern Michigan. He also has a unique 2001 Corvette 1953 commemorative edition and a 1983 Chrysler convertible. When it comes to ice cream runs on a summer day, or just a little short trip back in time, the droptop Plymouth is tough to beat.
A retired Michigan State Trooper found that out not long ago, when he began talking to Baker about the car. “He was an older guy, and he came up to me and said, ‘Man, those Plymouths were great patrol cars.’ I wound up taking him for a ride and he really enjoyed it. We got on it pretty good, and he said, ‘Yeah, just like the old days.’”
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