Another One Joins the Fleet

ave you ever bought a car on a whim? I’m talking about no pre-planning whatsoever, a situation where you weren’t thinking about buying anything mere minutes earlier? It recently happened to me. I was driving home from the airport in Hartford, Connecticut where I’d just touched down after working the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction in Palm Beach, Florida. Thanks to the soft economy and the fact Florida is Barrett-Jackson’s “entry level” show, I watched jealously as several cars sold for modest sums of money – well below ten grand. I could actually afford these cars had I registered to bid.

Though the Speed TV producers frown a little bit since it temporarily removes us from our job of offering live on-air commentary as cars cross the auction block, we are legally – and ethically - able to bid if we desire to do so. My on-stage cohort Mike “Voice of NASCAR on Fox” Joy has purchased a couple of cars in years past (a ’71 Torino GT and a Chevy SSR Pace Truck) while on the job with no ill effects on the Speed TV broadcast. Of course the camera men tend to avoid the rare sight of announcers bidding since it could lead to unwarranted confusion with home viewers.

As I watched several highly desirable Mopars gavel for low bucks, a subconscious switch must have been triggered since I had absolutely no control over what happened on that ride home from the airport. I was on the final stretch, rolling into the sleepy town of Warren, Massachusetts pondering whether to have cheese pizza or a hamburger and fries for dinner when I caught the sight of a clean ’54 Plymouth Savoy four door in a parking lot on the side of the road. There was an ominous For Sale sign in the windshield.

Driven by a seemingly involuntary muscle memory reflex, I wheeled left and parked next to the white-on-dark blue relic. Expecting a car this old to suffer from foot-thick plastic body filler and pop-riveted rust repair patches, I closely examined every square inch of the body and could only find a small area behind the passenger side rear wheel opening where some body work had been performed long ago. Checking the backside surface of the quarter panel extension revealed solid metal and factory contours. This body work was more likely minor surface dent repair than rust surgery.

I was impressed and that fluttery feeling in my chest began to take hold. Inside, the bench seats were mint with no rips, tears or other trauma on what appeared to be the original upholstery. The headliner looked original but was still drum tight against the roof. A cautious glance was focused at the steering column. Was this old Plymouth equipped with the funky Hy-Drive semi-automatic transmission? If so I was ready to walk, make that run away since I’ve only recently mastered an understanding of the inner workings of the modern 727 Torqueflite; let alone some antique slush box nobody knows about. A nasty experience with the Borg Warner automatic in a ’59 Rambler American I once owned taught me to fear stone-age automatic transmissions.