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was at a car show recently with my three owner ’54 Plymouth Savoy when a guy walked up and asked me “so you gonna fix it up?” I turned to face the 40,000 original mile car – still wearing much of its factory applied paint – and said: “Naah, I think I’ll just keep fixing it down.” I wasn’t trying to be a wise ass with this well meaning stranger so I asked him what changes he thought the car should have to make it more “up”.
He took a closer look and noted the manual four wheel drum brakes, radio delete plate, column shifted three speed manual transmission and 217 cube flathead six cylinder engine. His recommendations were as follows; Replace the front drums with disc brakes (I looked into this and there is a conversion kit listed on eBay that uses late model GM disc brake parts), install a killer CD changer with surround sound speakers, swap to an automatic and yank the flathead six popper in favor of a V8. When I asked him which V8 he’d choose he said: “Go for a Chevy 350, they’re so cheap”.
Needless to say, I bit my tongue through much of the remaining conversation but I did my best to set him straight (at least in my eyes) to the fact that any car that’s been unmolested for over 50 years deserves to be left alone. Okay, I’ll admit I’d be the first to break that rule if a sanitary 1965 Coronet 2 door sedan materialized in my driveway. It’d be an A990 Race Hemi clone in no time (cash funds allowing). But to squander any surviving automotive relic with such a slipshod and random plan as this guy proposed would be a crime.
At the conclusion of the show, I was driving the old Savoy home watching the odometer get ready to roll around to 41,000 miles for the first time. During the ride I asked myself; “Okay Steve, what modifications could you justify on this particular car?” Since I’ve always been a little bit different than the rest of the kids on the school bus my mind flashed through several pipe dream scenarios. The first was a Viper V10 engine, transmission and suspension swap. I know famed hot rodder and customizer Troy Trepanier (www.radridesbytroy) did something similar about a decade ago. Remember his Viper-infused ’54 Plymouth Sniper? It rocked. But my Savoy is a 4 door so much of the sporty vibe would be lost on its frumpy body style.
How about a straight axle gasser? I’d go with an early Chrysler Firepower Hemi, Wilcap 5-speed Tremec transmission adapter and stick a properly narrowed Dodge A100 van front axle under the nose. But again, the 4 door body style stymied any further dreams. The vision of any 4 door gasser (with the exception of a handful of Willys and Anglias) is diametrically opposed to the wild and wooly Gasser theme – at least in my book.
Over and over, my common sense rejected these and other bastardized and misguided visions for the pure Plymouth I was wheeling home that night. Then it hit me. From a historical standpoint, 1954 was the final year for a rather frumpy post WWII styling cycle all across the board at Chrysler.Under the conservative corporate direction of Kaufman Thuma (KT) Keller, postwar styling advances being pioneered by GM and Ford (wrap around windshields, smooth body sides, hardtop styling, etc.) were seen as “gimmicks”. Instead, KT forged a path based on what he felt was superior engineering. All 1949 – 1954 Chrysler Corporation products featured an unusually tall roofline compared to the mainstream competition. KT was often quoted as saying: “Our cars won’t knock your eyes out, but they won’t knock the hat off your head either”. Yes, KT was a hat man.