39 Plymouth Hot Rod Restoration
August 5, 2008
We haven’t had a lot of free time to really get a lot done on the car. Either I am too busy, my son is too busy or we both are. We did get the car primed. We had planned to put the car in black primer so we could drive it that way for a year or three and we bought all the materials to do it. When we mixed the catalyzed paint, as soon as we added the catalyst, the paint turned to a cottage cheese like mixture! So, we painted it the normal grey.
Before painting, I discovered why the brakes seemed squirrelly. The rear left brake line had bottomed out on the tail pipe and flattened it shut. So, we had only three brakes. I also found out that the original leaf spring hangers, which are just a C configuration, were shot. We knew we wanted a better rear suspension at some point but this made it mandatory to up grade now. The old springs were weak, had five leafs on the driver’s side and seven on the passenger side! The air shocks were another story. They were installed at such a low angle that I doubt they did much. And, one was mounted right side up and the other upside down! You just have to wonder sometimes what people are thinking…….or not thinking. I’m thinking that if the 455 was running good that that rear suspension could have been tied in a knot!
So, we bought a Morrison ladder bar with coil over shocks. It sure looks nice…..real beefy. We haven’t put it in yet but it is just possible that tomorrow we might start.
The following photos show the newly restored tail lights. I haven’t had the chrome redone yet but I am really happy with how they came out. They really need to be on this car.
We have a great deal of sanding and tweaking of the sheet metal before the final paint but at least it looks better all one colour.
At this point in time, there is no wiring in place other than enough to run the car and charge the battery. We took the dash out and decided to make a whole new one. Haven’t designed that yet.
We are making progress even though at times it seems painfully slow. We will get there though.
More to come!
What in the heck does a ’39 Plymouth coupe have to do with hooks?
Not a lot really but here’s the story anyway.
In 1964, as a kid of 19, I bought a 1939 Plymouth coupe with a blown engine and transmission for what was then a fair amount of money, $90.00. Over the course of a few months, I put a Dodge Hemi V8 in the car, did the little needed bodywork and a friend and I painted it. The colour was a ’58 Studebaker metallic blue/green. I was pretty proud of the car for the all too short time that I had it. It was pretty fast for the day but the early Hemi’s really weren’t huge power makers. They sure looked cool though!
At the same time, I had two or three other cars, my first car being a 1953 Chevy as can be seen in the photo. That car cost $200.00. The reason the hood was off was that it flew up one day while I was driving it. Fun! NOT!!!!!!!! The other one is the 1948 Plymouth 4dr in the background. I paid $30.00 and all it needed was a battery. I was also building a 1932 Model A at the time that I paid the princely sum of $5.00. I was planning to put a Hemi in it too but I never finished that car.
Of all of the cars I have had from then to now (and I have had some very nice ones), that old ’39 was my favorite and the one I wished I still had. About the first of this year (2007), I started to look for an old car to make an old school hot rod. At 63, I figured that if I didn’t do it now, I never would. It was either a hot rod or a Harley. I had a ’48 Pan head years ago and never stopped regretting selling it although at the time, the money was needed to buy a new home.
Anyway, I started to follow Craig’s list looking for a car that I could make into the hot rod with my son. I had for years told him what a real hot rod was. Not the modern cars of the late ’50’s on and certainly not what kids of today consider hot rods. It is difficult to describe and imagine what these old cars were like. They felt different than newer cars and even had their own smells, mostly from oil and break fluid. Well, you can’t even get real break fluid anymore so anything I could tell him was inadequate.
I had pretty much resigned myself to never finding another ’39 Plymouth coupe because they were never very common and not all that many have survived the years. So, realistically I focused on something in the later ’40’s. I found a few that looked ok but nothing that really turned my crank as it were. One evening I got the idea to put a wanted notice on Craig’s list and it went like this. “Wanted, ’39 Plymouth coupe. Had one as a kid and would like another to make a hot rod out of with my son” and my phone number. I figured this was about as long a long shot as could be but about a half hour later my phone rang. “Hello ………I saw your ad on Craig’s list for a ’39 Plymouth coupe………..I have one,”. The fellow on the phone told me about the car he had, “455 Olds engine, Mustang front clip, Camero posi rear, etc.”. He said he didn’t know too much about the car because he had just recently gotten it. I made arrangements to go see the car later the next week. My son and I were pretty busy with work and that was the soonest we could go see.
On the way across town that evening to look at the car, I was pretty excited and nervous at the same time. It was either a good one or a bad one. Cars of this vintage are usually riddled with rust and I just didn’t have the time or desire to take an old car from a rusty hulk and basically restore it. We rolled into the driveway and in a carport to our left sat some kind of newer car and next to it a VERY cool mid ’30’s pickup truck. To our right was an old coupe under a car cover. I thought to myself, that could be it. Around back, was a big shop building in which was a red 1940 2dr Plymouth sedan. We could hear voices as we neared the door. My son, Ron went in first and I was right behind. Straight ahead were two guys working on and discussing the ’40. To the right was the ’39! This photo shows the car as we first saw it. I was beside myself. I kept the excitement to myself, something I learned from many years buying and selling antiques. Ron turned aside and in a low voice (the apple didn’t fall far from the tree) said “….we have to get this car!!!!’. To which I replied, it’s a done deal. The price the guy wanted was a whole lot more than the $100.00 I paid for the first one but if the car was decent, a fair price. We introduced ourselves and went about looking the car over. The trunk was full of car stuff and the original bench seat was missing and some buckets were sitting in it but not bolted down. Ron got in the driver’s seat and I whispered…….” take a deep breath……can you see a little about what I was telling you a hot rod was”? “Yeah”!
It was kinda dark in the corner where the car was so we couldn’t really see underneath or down into the engine compartment. That mattered not, I was going to give the guy his asking price. We talked cars for a little while. It turned out that the guy collected mainly Plymouths. He had these two, a 1938 2 dr sedan, two more coupes out back that were pretty rusty, one a ’40 and a ’37 I believe. Under the car cover was a ’40 Dodge coupe, also rusty. His two sedans were the best of the lot AFTER the ’39. Whether he realized that or not, I will never know. He showed us all his cars before we settled down and talked about the ’39. He has a tow truck and one of his clients is some nonprofit organization. Turns out that the fellow that was building the ’39 died before finishing it and it went to the nonprofit and the current owner bought it from them. He said he was told that the motor ran but not well. A clipboard came with the car listing what had been done to the car and it made mention to the “fact” that the carburetor (what appeared to be a nearly new Eddlebrock) and gas tank needed cleaning. He said he never tried to start the car.
I paid the guy and he delivered it (for free!) the middle of the following week. What a few days waiting that was!!!
The day the was to deliver the car, my son and I were pacing the floor like expectant fathers. The minutes crawled by. Finally, I saw the truck approach. Closer and closer it came. FINALLY, touchdown! It was here and before you can say Jack Sprat, the ’39 was resting on the clean floor of my garage. Here’s the weak hook connection. The hook shop is about three feet from the car.
We’ve had the car for a few months now but really haven’t had time to get serious work done on it. We did put a new set of spark plug wires on since a couple were missing. We found that the timing was 180 degrees off so that would have made the motor run very bad. We didn’t try starting it with gas from the tank so we put a gas hose in a can. It fired up with less than one complete turn! The motor runs VERY well, no smoke and seems to have great compression. Later, we removed the tank and cleaned it. In the outlet there was a big plug of dirt. So, even if the timing was set right, not much if any gas would have gotten out of the tank and to the carburetor. The carb works like new without any working on it. It is our opinion that during the change of hands, the first guy got the timing off and found it to run very badly. By looking at the car for an extended time, I believe two guys started to make a hot rod out of it. Some things just look like two hands did it. Maybe it was the first guy who put the motor in and got things messed up or the guy that died. I don’t know but the clipboard with the notes would seem to have come from the second guy. Now matter, I am of the opinion that the guy I bought it from tried to start it and found that it agreed with the clipboard and he just gave up thinking maybe it had a bad motor. We do not have a bad motor here.
A few notes on the overall condition of the car. There is not a single dent on the car, nor has there been any major bodywork done on the car other than the strip of metal at the bottom of the trunk lid. The body, not the lid. I expect someone dented it. There was one small area on the front right fender that had been leaded in. That’s old school bodywork for sure. That is the extent of the damage. There is NO rust anywhere, nor has there been! The trunk floor is pristine and all original. No panels have been repaired anywhere on the car, even the places that on these old cars that always rusts out. The insides of the doors and the whole car is pristine and looks as fresh as the day it rolled off the line. I have never seen a better, unrestored …….or restored car that looks better or as good.
There are things we need and want to change. Through the succession of owners, a lot of parts are held on just well enough to keep it together. For that reason, we are checking everything from front to back. The rag joint on the steering was blown out so we are fixing that. I have 2″ dropped spindles for up front ordered. The head lights need working on. They are the originals and someone stuck a couple rectangular headlights inside and didn’t do a very good job. A little sheet metal work on those and we’ll have head lights. The rear ones are another story but a relatively easy fix. I wanted the stock tail lights on the car which are a tear drop looking light. Well, they always rusted out so surviving tail light buckets are few and far apart. That makes them very spendy when you do find them. Someone put VW tail lights on so that was the first thing to go!!!!! I found three pair of the glass lenses and three stainless bezels. One bezel was new old stock (NOS) and two were old and had some damage which I removed. All will be rechromed. I am going to use ’39 Ford tail light buckets which are similar to the Plymouth but a bit smaller and a slightly different shape. I will add more metal to the buckets that will work with the lenses and bezels. Another fairly easy fix.
We installed the seats which are very nice electric leather ones. Just made new brackets and that took only a couple hours. The rest of the interior is in pretty good shape so we will use it for now. The tires and wheels are almost perfect. A good amount of value there.
What I plan to do is update this page as time and progress goes on with the car. This summer we will be driving it pretty much the way it is. We may do some sanding and put black primer on. Then, next winter, hopefully we can get a couple months to really tear it back down, clean and fix everything from top to bottom and get it ready to paint. For now, the colour I want it is an almost black purple or blue with ghost flames.
That’s it for now.