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Reminiscing – Driving on the beach

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[Editor’s note: This “Reminiscing” story comes to us from Hemmings Classic Car reader Kevin E. Knoop of Hobe Sound, Florida.]

The day that I fell in love with Chrysler products was the day that my dad pulled into our driveway in our brand new yellow and white 1957 Plymouth Savoy sport coupe.  I was just 6 years old at the time. My father drove only Chrysler products, and of all the cars that he owned when I was growing up, that was my favorite. It still is, and if I could have any car today it would be a 1957-’58 Plymouth Savoy coupe. I would help my dad when he washed it. He would give me an SOS soap pad, and a bucket of water with a sponge, and I got to clean the whitewalls and wheels. I just loved that car.

Our family made two trips to Florida from our home in Summit, New Jersey in the Plymouth, once in 1958 and again in 1959. It was a long ride with my brother and I in the back seat. Every time we saw a roadside sign for a Stuckey’s store, we would yell out the name and that would drive mom and dad nuts. By the time we made Georgia, my mom wasn’t speaking to either of us. We would stay in tourist traps like South of the Border, where they had one of Elvis Presley’s cars on display. I don’t know what kind of car it was, but it was surrounded by a thick felt rope (like the kind you would see in a movie theater) and was guarded by two
uniformed guys, each of whom had a large German Shepherd. The message was clear, look but don’t touch.

It was during the 1959 trip to Florida that something really cool happened. We always stayed at the Castaways Beach Motel, on route A1A right on the ocean in Daytona Beach. Mom and dad had their room and my brother and I had our very own room, right next door. We ate at a restaurant called The Imperial, where they had a dessert cart that I could not take my eyes off of. A1A was being resurfaced at that time and so it was mostly dirt and sand, so every hour a water truck rolled by and doused the road. My brother and I would sneak out of our room late at night and play with his new Wham-O sling shot. He took out a street light bulb across the street from the balcony of our motel, an impressive shot. I remember that the Castaways itself was having an issue. It seemed that the motel had been built on a landfill that consisted of old palm trees, and as those trees decomposed they created a void that the building itself was trying to fill. There was a constant parade of cement trucks pumping their contents under the motel’s footings. Despite that issue, it was business as usual, and everyone who worked at the Castaways was as nice as they could be.

Then there was the beach, it was the widest beach that I had ever seen, and you could drive on it for miles! Every day my brother and I would go down to the beach to play, and I was fascinated by all of the vehicles that went by day and night. Most were regular everyday cars, but now and then a car with no fenders would fly by, very fast and loud. Being only eight years old, I guessed it was some kind of hot rod. As I recall, one that went by didn’t even have a body on it. One day my parents rented mopeds with sidecars for a run on the beach. My brother rode with my dad and I rode with my mom. I remember bringing a 1/25th scale model of a 1958 Dodge Custom Royal (that my dad bought for me at South of the Border) along and as my mom rode down to the water’s edge, I got to take a bath in sea water. When the ride was over, I noticed that all of the chrome was gone off the bumpers on the model from the salt water. I was not happy.

My parents befriended a fun-loving family, Pete and Lillian Spyropoulos and their two sons who were also staying at the motel. Pete drove a big white 1957 Chrysler four door sedan. We would get together and do stuff like go in the swimming pool, or the ocean, play on the beach and build sand castles. We would also go to different restaurants for dinner, and one was called The Inlet, which was located on a tidal backwater on the intra-coastal waterway. To get to the Inlet, we
drove on the beach for a while, with Pete and his family in their car and we in ours.

Pete liked to run closer to the water’s edge, and my dad drove higher up on the sand because he didn’t want to get the car stuck. That decision was prompted by an event that occurred the previous day, on the beach right down in front of our motel. This guy in a 1957 Buick wanted to take a picture of something and so he drove his car very close to the water, and as he stepped out of the car, a wave came up and surrounded it. Well the car sank in the sand, and from 100 feet away I could hear his wife cursing him out from the passenger’s seat. A tow truck was required to free the car, all the while his wife still sitting in it, cursing away. We and others on the beach were laughing hysterically, a condition which I am sure only made matters worse for that poor fellow.

So here we were, cruising down the sand, when Pete threw down the gauntlet. He got closer to our car, looked at my dad, winked, and mashed his accelerator to the floor. That Chrysler leaped forward like it just came out of my brother’s sling shot, and the race was on. I knew that our car and Pete’s both had V8 engines and so Dad rose to the challenge and pursued. It must have been quite a sight, to see two of Virgil Exner’s beauties thundering down the beach at ever increasing speed.

Then we noticed that our car was starting to bounce a little. It started as a gentile up and down motion, but within seconds, it became a horrendous jolting. These were the days before seat belts, so all of us were bouncing all over like dice in a cup, heads hitting the roof, then being pressed down into the seat, and glancing off of the side windows. I am sure that by the time my Mom yelled “WILLY, SLOW DOWN!!!” we were either up in the air or bottoming out on the sandy speed bumps. Meanwhile, Pete’s Chrysler was way out in front, a small spot at the head of a vapor cloud of sand and water.

Our fun was not yet over however because there was a reward for our suffering. Up ahead was the old Daytona race track, the one that used AlA for the south leg, and the beach for the north leg and that was how one got onto AlA from the beach in that area. Much to our delight both the north and south hard sand banked turns were still there and in great shape. I do not know how fast we were going when we hit the turn, but the feeling and the smile on my Dads face was one I’ll never forget. We all yelled WEE as we sailed around the turn and out onto AlA.

When we finally arrived at the restaurant, there was the obligatory post race exchange of machismo between my Dad and Pete. We all sat down to dinner and I guess all of that fast driving made for two things, great conversation and voracious appetites, especially Pete. I watched in awe as he put away at least a pound and a half of boiled shrimp, by himself! The return trip to the motel was again on the beach, and after exiting the banked tum. I heard my Mom say to my Dad, “Willy, please drive closer to the water this time OK?” He didn’t answer, but his smile happily said, yes dear.