By Clive Branson
In the 1950s, a man felt naked without a fedora or a trilby on. I think men actually ate breakfast with a hat on. The Plymouth Cranbrook was about as revolutionary as selling a diesel powered typewriter today, but K.T. Keller, president of Chrysler saw the advantages of introducing a practical car to allow a driver to sit upright while wearing a hat. What was this car? A 1952 Plymouth Cranbrook – Plymouth’s top-of-the-line model – and was sold at a time when competitors favoured the low and sleek look. Nevertheless, you were awarded two options: a two-door club coupe or a four door sedan. They must have been successful since more than 160,000 units sold.
“It has taken me thirty years of owning it to finally get it legally roadworthy,” admits Jim. “I didn’t have a lot of money and with a growing family, it wasn’t my first priority. However, it finally came together in 1995. That was the year I joined a local Chrysler Club, and wouldn’t you know it, I won their Best Restored Chrysler trophy.” Since then, Jim has won at least sixteen show prizes, including Best In Class. Impressive credentials, but what was the appeal for Jim? “I’ve always liked the cars of the ‘50s. That was the era of my youth. I was also looking for a car to restore and my brother-in-law was doing door-to-door sales in Burlington, Ont. when he happened to see the car stationary in a driveway collecting pine tree sap and needles on its roof.” Recalls Jim.
“I was looking for parts for my ’51 Cambridge 4-door and after taking a look at the Cranbrook, bartered a deal with the owner. As it turned out, the Cranbrook was more restorable than my ’51 as it had never been touched or altered and was much more rare than the 4-door.”
Of course, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Fortunately, Jim has his own professional garage and with the assistance of his employee, Steve Flaherty and his eldest son, Michael, they gave the old girl new life. “The engine, the original 97 horsepower, 218 flat head six cylinder, was in great condition with only 38,000 miles clocked on and receipts in the glove compartment (for oil changes, a battery and an exhaust system change to authenticate that the mileage was correct), but the floor was rotten, the roof, hood and trunk surfaces had been eroded away by rust and sun, the rocker panels were almost non-existent, the headliner was in bad condition as was the driver’s seat, but it ran well and I made my decision to restore it instead of my ’51.”
“The bodywork took the longest to restore,” Jim nods gazing at the car. “I’m not very good at it and when Steve prepped it for paint, I’m sure it took extra work because of my welding. The other problem was the chrome. Since the car was new in 1952, and this was during the Korean War, chrome parts were very thinly manufactured since chromium was needed for the war effort. So it was difficult to find the pieces that were made of pot metal that weren’t pitted too badly to get re-chromed.”
What really draws the eye, like a deer to car lights, is the apple red paint job. “I picked up a paint chart for the year of the car and although the original colour was grey – (now there’s a colour to get your heart pounding) – all of the other choices were all very pastel type colours and very dull. I decided to paint my car something brighter and decided on a colour called Iroc Red and used a clear base coat.”
For Jim, when he sits behind the steering wheel, he realizes all the work that went into resuscitating a piece of history. It may not smoke the tires, but it will get him to the other end of town and back on what feels like driving on a cloud. When he passes people on the street, he receives the ‘thumbs up’ salute.
“Even though I had very little money, a growing family and later, a new business challenge, I stayed with it and had a finished product I think my dad would have liked to have seen. I believe when people see what I have accomplished, the time I spent making sure everything was just the way it should be, the expense of time, money and endurance, it gives them an impression of someone who sees things through, regardless of the hardship. This is what I’ve always been told and I consider it a good personal trait. Some people may call it tenacity and others may call it hard-headed, either way, I saw it through and learned much along the way.” I ask Jim how long he intends to keep it.
“Now that it’s finished and put on only 49,000 miles on the odometer, I have a new project on the go. I’m selling it so that someone else can now enjoy it and I can move on to do another vehicle. You see for me, it’s the hunt for the parts, the visits to the scrap yards in search of that elusive part. Renewing and storing each component to a better condition and finally installing it on the vehicle and standing back to see how it looks. That’s why I’m in it, that’s what I love.”
“By the way,” I ask, “did you give your car a nickname?”
Jim answers with an emphatic “No… But I think my ex-wife certainly did.”