25 August 2005

Restoration Tale: 1960 Plymouth Savoy

My 1960 Plymouth Savoy was purchased new by my father on June 13, 1960, from Rossmeyer Chrysler/Plymouth in Metuchen, NJ. Because the purchase of the ‘60 came not long after we moved into a new home, my father wasn't exactly flush with cash to buy a new car. But the 1949 Plymouth he was driving was on its last legs, and a replacement was imperative. Therefore, though a new car purchase was unavoidable, the car had to be of reasonable cost, thus, a 6-cylinder Savoy was my father’s choice. As time went on and the miles rolled by, the choice made in 1960 proved to be a wise one, as the Plymouth provided many faithful, economical years of service as the family taxi, grocery getter, etc. The slant-six that powered what is now my Plymouth definitely gave the economy of operation my father needed, while also giving ample power to haul a full complement of passengers comfortably (six at least) and their luggage.

My Plymouth was the household mainstay until June 1972, when it was displaced from its top-dog position. By 1972, the Plymouth was starting to show the effects of 12 years of heavy-duty service, and my parents decided it was time to purchase a new family car. Unlike its predecessor though, my Plymouth was not traded in on its replacement, but as can be surmised, just demoted to second banana. Unfortunately for the car, demotion wasn't the worst fate it was to suffer. About a year later, a "friend of mine" convinced this then-naive teenager that the car’s engine needed to be rebuilt and lucky me, he could help with that endeavor. It seems that the Plymouth's engine would smoke on start-up and for a short time thereafter. So knowing little about engines, or cars in general, I believed my friend had to be right about the need to overhaul the engine.

Well, 20/20 hindsight is wonderful, and now I can say that it was a mistake believing my friend's astute observations, not to mention my unbridled faith in his mechanical abilities. After the rebuild, the Plymouth's engine wouldn't even turn. Granted, it didn't smoke, but it also didn't do anything else. The first thing that dawned on me was I should have checked with an experienced mechanic regarding what to do about the smoke problem. And that I should have asked my father if I should have become involved in such a big job as an engine overhaul without his supervision, because dad was a mechanical engineer.

After the ill-fated engine overhaul, my Plymouth sat for about a year. At one point during that year, my father considered simply junking the car, but the paltry $25 he was offered for the car, if he hauled it down to the junkyard, dissuaded him from doing so. At the end of the year of idle time, I made yet another not-so-good decision. I decided I was going to purchase a good used engine from a well-known national automotive mail-order company. The engine turned out to be a piece of junk, and because it took my high school auto-shop teacher three months to get around to installing it, the mail order company refused to take back the engine. The end result of this latest fiasco was still more idle time for my Plymouth, until I could find an engine rebuilder who would be at least willing to look at the used engine to determine if it was at all salvageable.

I finally located an engine rebuilder through my aunt, who happened to be doing accounting work for the rebuilder. The rebuilder looked over the used motor and determined that it would cost more to salvage than what it was worth, and offered me core credit towards an already rebuilt motor. The rebuilt engine was installed, and the rebuilder also replaced the transmission they damaged due to errors made by their workers doing the engine installation. Six months after arriving at the rebuilder's shop and what ended up being 1-1/2 years after my original fateful engine rebuild decision, plus some threats of legal action brought on by the rebuilder's foot dragging in the engine installation process, my Plymouth emerged from the shop under her own power for the first time. It was now February 1975.

I then embarked on the long, arduous task of restoring my Plymouth to her former glory. The task was complicated by my lack of knowledge as to where to get restoration parts (i.e., fenders, patch panels for the rear quarters and trim pieces) and an exuberant youth's driving technique. Needless to say, between what was already deteriorated from age and what broke by my pushing the old gal to the limit quite often, compounded by my lack of knowledge as to where to get many of the parts needed, the rate of progress in the restoration of my car slowed.

Though it took a few years, some dented fenders and lots of hard-earned money, I did wise up, treating my aging Plymouth more carefully. I also started attending car shows, as well as joining a couple of car clubs, finding along the way, that through the car clubs and shows I could get information on where to locate parts for my car. I also made many new friends through my involvement in the clubs.

Now that I had a means with which to locate the parts I needed for my project, I set about procuring them. In 1978 I had the first body restoration done on my Plymouth. In the summer of 1985, I finally got the interior redone. I then embarked on making other improvements to my Plymouth, such as adding factory power steering, power brakes, clock, am radio, and factory front anti-sway bar. In the summer of 1989, I had the bodywork redone, and the bumpers and tail lamps re-chromed. Though the body shop didn't do all they were supposed to, my Plymouth did look better than it did back in February 1975.

In July of 1991, another milestone was reached in the ongoing project. I was sitting by my car at a show in Fairfield, NJ, when an older gentleman approached me asking if I owned the car. After replying yes, the man showed me a photograph of a factory-authorized optional RCA record player that fit my Plymouth. I asked what the man wanted for the player, and he said $200, which included the correct radio to go with the record player. Mind you, this occurs just one month before I was getting married, and my fiancée was shopping at a nearby mall. I got the gentleman’s business card, and when my fiancée returned from the mall, I asked if she approved of my buying the record player, she emphatically agreed. Two weeks before my wedding day, I was under the dashboard installing my new find. Why would I hurriedly install something, especially since it wasn't crucial to the operation of my car? Well, my soon-to-be wife wanted to use my Plymouth as our wedding limousine, and she wanted that record player in there. I succeeded on both counts.

Though it has now been 25 years since I first got started on the restoration of my Plymouth, and I have had more than my share of ups and downs with this project, I can say it has been worth it. Not only has my Plymouth served as the wedding limo for my wife and I, it also has survived long enough to serve as transport home from the hospital for my son, Martin, after he was born. As a matter of fact my son initially liked my Plymouth over my other toy, due to the fact it doesn't have a locking steering column. So, therefore my Plymouth served as the world's largest pacifier when he was younger. My son would sit in the car at shows, and pretend to drive to his heart's content.

I've even had the pleasure of showing my Plymouth, along with its RCA record player, to Martin's 2nd grade class last year, where it generated quite a bit of attention, not to mention a humorous moment. Seems I decided to remove one of the 45 rpm records from the record player tray, and ask my son's classmates if they could identify what I was holding up. One intrepid young fellow held up his hand and in a timid, half-questioning tone of voice, the little boy said, "A CD?” I wanted to show my son’s 2nd grade class an example of rolling history.

All in all, it’s been a long and winding road, filled with potholes and detours, but it’s been worth the effort. Much like the mythical Phoenix, my Plymouth rose from the ashes to live again and to serve three generations of our family to become a rolling piece of automotive history in the process. Of approximately 51,000 of the Savoy produced in 1960, my Plymouth has survived to become one of 87 of her kind left nationally, and one of 3 still surviving in New Jersey.

For more photos and tidbits, visit Ben's Car Page.

Ben Deutschman

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