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Reminiscing – My first car

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1941 Plymouth P-12 sedan. Photo courtesy Eric Knowlton.

[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story, edited by Richard Lentinello, comes to us from Eric Knowlton of Torrington, Connecticut.]

In 1967, I was a junior in college and my father finally realized I needed a car. In the spring of that year, he found a 1941 P-12 four-door Plymouth located in an adjacent town. The car was owned by two older ladies who ran a gift shop; they had purchased the car new and had decided to sell it as they only needed one car and that was their 1948 Plymouth station wagon.

My father purchased the old Plymouth for $300 and asked me if I wanted to buy it. Naturally I did as I had been brought up with old cars from a De Soto convertible and Suburban as well as a 1939 Chevrolet and a 1948 Chrysler Crown Imperial. We also had a beautiful ’36 Dodge that we bought from the original owner for $75, which my father then sold for $150; he felt he made quite a good profit!

After getting the Plymouth I took it to a garage in Torrington by the name of Weigold and Rauch. It was owned by two older brothers who were quite adept at maintaining old cars; they replaced the cylinder head as the freeze plug had popped. That cylinder head was the most expensive item, costing $10; yes, I still possess the original bills.

That Plymouth was wonderful; certainly not fast with the flathead six-cylinder rated at 87 horsepower, but it was comfortable, rode very well and was faithful. I ran the car year round and during the winter put on the original set of “knobbies” that came with the car (actually the forerunner of snow tires).

The college I attended in Danbury did not have housing for the males so I was one of two students who rented rooms from an older lady in the area. She also rented to me one side of her garage for my car, which cost $10 per month. The Plymouth was always garaged both when I was home and at school. I had numerous escapades in the car at school but nothing that ever damaged it or hurt the engine or body.

The six-volt battery was never great (I have since replaced it with an eight-volt battery; wow, what a difference!), so periodically I could not get the car started and needed a push. This usually consisted of a couple of my buddies pushing or using one of their cars; I always kept a blanket in the trunk to put over the bumper. It never took much, about one hundred yards at most, and letting the clutch out in second gear quickly started it.

One of the most interesting times I had with the car was coming back from New York State (the legal age there was 18, versus 21 in Connecticut) as we were always “going over” to socialize and visit the various bars and dance halls. On this particular occasion I was at a dance hall called The Berkshire Lodge, which is in Wingdale and now houses buses. I had parked the car away from all and had backed up on a curb. When I went to leave, I forgot and came off the curb both wheels at once.  This popped the oil pan plug and the needle dropped to zero.  I was in a quandary; I did not want to leave my car there and yet was about fifteen miles from home. I “convinced” one of my buddies to push me home! He had a Plymouth Fury so out came the blanket and the cars matched up nicely. I had another friend drive in front as I only used my parking lights because I did not want to run the battery down. We proceeded up hill and down dale, all back roads and never saw the police as we knew this way was quite safe. We finally arrived at a friend’s house, left the car and the next day I had it towed to a garage where the drain plug was brazed on and off I went back to college.

Once I graduated from college, I purchased a VW and only kept the Plymouth as it was already an antique and was cheap to register. During the early 1970s I attended a few car shows. I would drive in with either many antique cars around me, mostly from the 1920s and ‘30s, or in the middle of many Classic cars from the ‘30s. Once when I arrived at the gate, I was asked what I wanted. I said I wanted to show my car and the man said to me: “it’s only a Plymouth.” He told me to go in and park in the back; that was the status of my car at that time.

Flash forward to the late 1990s. People finally began to admire the old Plymouth and its longevity.  It’s the same car but the years have gone on and I am no longer relegated to the back row. People can hardly believe I have owned this car for 49 years and that it’s 75 years old.

I have done mechanical work to the car over the years (such as rebuilding the engine) and some interior work (such as adding a new headliner) but the upholstery is completely original and the original spare is in the trunk. The car has always been garaged and I do use it from April through early December, weather permitting. I have owned the car for so long that when I drive it I immediately remember all of its idiosyncrasies as if it were 1968 all over again. My Plymouth is a faithful companion, one I expect to remain with me as long as I am able to drive and enjoy it.