It’s been a good couple of months for riding and cruising. Went down to Brooklyn for the Brooklyn Invitational, cruised around in the Plymouth wagon, went on a couple of bike trips, not a bad way to spend the end of summer.
Archive for 1956 Plymouth Suburban Station Wagon
I’m still trying to get a video together of the trip (I’m an amateur videographer at the VERY best), but while I try to figure out how to use the most basic of video editing programs, I’ll tell you more about this 1956 Plymouth Sport Suburban and my 16 hour, 1000 mile road trip from Alabama to New York.
It all started on Ebay. I’d been looking for a cool project car, preferably an old wagon, for some time. Wagons have always intrigued me for some reason, especially hot-rodded wagons.
I stumbled across this car and placed a bid (ok, about 10 bids), but was out-bid each time. I snuck in my maximum bid with my phone under the table at dinner, saw that the reserve wasn’t met yet, and sullenly finished dinner, the car of my dreams out of reach for eternity.
The next day, I saw that the car didn’t sell! I sent an email to the owner, asking what it would take to give it up. We came to a reasonable price, and I made arrangements that night to get the car.
The plan was to leave work early Friday afternoon, fly out to Alabama, pick up the car the next morning, and drive straight through to New York in one continuous rhythm of adventure. And that’s exactly what I did.
Friday rolled around, and with a one-way plane ticket in hand I hopped on a cab to the closest airport. I went through security with a 50-pound bag of tools, gaskets, wire-ties, and fix-its, and sat myself down to wait for the gate to open.
Then, it was time to fly! The video has more footage of the plane, but really who cares. It was small, loud, and smelled. But all I cared about was getting to Alabama.
Almost to the mid-way point to grab my second plane in Charlotte, we passed over Charlotte motor speedway! You can see the dirt track, drag strip, and big oval.
First stop, Charlotte! Compared to my local airport and especially Chattanooga at which I’d finish my flight, this airport was huge. Have you ever walked while on one of those moving floor things? It’s like climbing a moving escalator – super-human! Anyway, I waited about an hour for the gates to open in Charlotte, and jumped on my second and last flight to Alabama.
While on board, I felt like I should make myself useful – so I fixed a couple of rattles above my head. My neighbors were pleased and looked upon me favorably for the remainder of the flight. I like being a hero.
After a loud, smelly, stuffy and thrilling flight, I finally landed in Chattanooga. From here I grabbed my bag of tools and walked outside to find a cab to take me to a hotel for the night. I must have found the friendliest driver in Tennessee, because she found me a hotel AND met me there first thing the next morning to drive me an hour to Alabama to the wagon. Maybe that’s just typical for Tennessee folk, here in New York you’d be lucky to find a cab at all.
We made it to the hotel around midnight, I found a room for ridiculously cheap, and crashed for the night.
At 7:00 the next morning, I was ready to go! I got all of my stuff together, locked up the room and headed downstairs to the lobby for my complimentary Continental Breakfast. A luxury only reserved for the most privileged of travelers. Who needs coffee, anyway.
As promised, my personal chauffeur from last night was waiting for me at the hotel door when I was done stuffing my face with breakfast. We headed out on the hour-long trek to Alabama.
After a stop for smokes and fuel (for my driver), we arrived. And there it was, the car I’ve been drooling over for weeks, in all of her rusty glory.
Part 2, the conclusion of this riviting tale, coming soon!
When I picked up this car, one of the more problematic areas was the steering. There was about 40 degrees of play in the steering wheel in either direction. That meant I was constantly flinging the wheel back and forth as the car went down the road, just to keep it going in a straight line. I thought that the issue was in the steering box – I figured the gearing was worn out, resulting in too much play between teeth. My options at that point were the following:
1. Run a manual Saginaw box, or an original-style manual box. This would eliminate the need to run power steering at all, and would result in an easier steer than the current setup. The downside: I would need to adapt the current steering column to the new box, or buy a new steering column. I’d also need to adapt the stock pitman arm splines to the box, or find an arm that has the same geometry. Difficult if not impossible.
2. Run a power Saginaw box with a modern style pump. This would be great in terms of a more modern power steering feel. The advantage lies in the fact that I can find a modern LS style pump that will easily bolt right in. The downside: Again, it would necessitate a new steering column and a new or adapted pitman arm.
Well, I later learned that the steering play is fairly common in power steering boxes that aren’t hooked up to a pump, because the fluid pressure isn’t taking up that slack, and it’s likely not the box at all. If I wanted to keep the stock steering box, rebuilding the box alone wouldn’t solve the issue. I’d have to run some sort of power steering in addition. With that in mind, I set out to explore a few additional options:
1. Rebuild my original power steering box, and run a modern style pump that would bolt on to my more modern motor easily. The downside: the modern pumps have much higher line pressure than the old box, and would likely not work without restricting the new pump to the old pressure specs, the details of which I can’t find. I’d also have to get custom hoses made to link the old fittings on the box to the new style fittings on the pump.
2. Rebuild my original power steering box with a little stiffer steering feel, and find an ORIGINAL power steering pump. This would allow me to keep the system in completely stock form. The downside: VERY hard to find parts. Sounds like a challenge to me – now it’s getting interesting!
I found out that from around ’51 to ’56, Chrysler/Plymouth/Dodge ran a generator / power steering pump COMBINED unit. Here’s a photo of an original setup:
I also found out that less than 10% of Plymouth cars around that time came with the factory power steering option. How cool would it be to re-build the original system with period-correct parts to work like it did when it was new? The contrast between the old style pump sitting on the new motor would be an interesting sight. Now I don’t need the generator portion because my Ls1 has a modern alternator, but I need the generator guts in order to run the power steering pump because they’re connected. Running this system would allow me to keep my stock steering box, stock column, and stock pitman arm, but the best part of this is that I get to put an original style power steering system on my car, the way it was from the factory.
Amazingly, I actually found a pretty nice looking generator / pump assembly on Ebay and snagged it up:
Now I have another issue. The LS1 motor runs a serpentine belt, which is significantly wider than the old style pumps that went on the pulley of that unit above. So, I need to fit a newer style pulley onto this assembly. I’ll have to find a pulley with the same diameter, but with an appropriate width for the belt I’m running. I’ll also have to fabricate brackets that position the assembly so that the belt lines up with the pulley perfectly. Lastly, I’ll need to measure for a new, longer belt.
I also picked up brand new power steering lines to run to the box. I can’t believe they still make these:
The coolest part of all this is that I’ll have power steering in an original power-optioned car! It seems like a big undertaking, but in reality I think it’ll be easier than trying to retrofit modern parts throughout the steering system. Using these parts I can retain all of the original style mechanisms, keep a very rare dealer option in-tact, and drive down the road in style! Stay tuned, I’ll post updates once I get the parts together.
This is the sort of plan that just makes me happy. I’m always one to push my luck and seek out some adventure whenever I can, so when I saw this 1956 Plymouth Suburban wagon listed for sale in Alabama, I knew what I had to do. Two days from now I will be flying to the car, then driving it 1000 miles from Fort Payne, Alabama to Putnam County, New York.
More details about the car will follow tomorrow, but here’s the plan: Tomorrow evening I hop on a flight out to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is the closest airport to Fort Payne. The plane lands around midnight, so instead of picking up the car in the middle of the night, I’ll crash at a hotel close to the airport. Early rise the next morning means I can get a cab ride to Fort Payne, about an hour trip, and pick up the car around 8am. From Fort Payne it’s a 15 hour ride through Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and finally New York.
Just a quick tangent here. This car is LARGE. The 1956 Plymouth Suburban was the largest passenger car made of any manufacturer that year – they made a point to include that fact in just about every advertisement back in the day. How large is it really? Width AND length are within inches of a 2011 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. It will BARELY fit in one side of a standard 2-car garage. It is HUGE. A handful of years ago I did a similar trip in a ’65 Chevrolet Corvair, about 900 miles from Indiana to New York. That car was a fraction of the size of this Plymouth, and it was during one of the worst storms on the East Coast in the last decade. So this will be much more comfortable, and dare I say, enjoyable.
Today I received the registration and bill of sale, shipped to me overnight from the car’s owner. As soon as I had that in my hand, I called progressive and got some insurance on the car. They may not be the best choice for a car this old, but they gave me a good combo deal because I have my motorcycles insured with them too, So at least I’m insured for the trip. After the trip I’ll look around to see what other options there are for collector/classic car insurance.
Tomorrow, mere hours before I leave, I will visit my local DMV to hopefully get New York license plates for the car so it can be driven home legally. Otherwise I’ll just run without plates, and just bring the previous owner’s registration and bill of sale. I’ll just have to hope that won’t get me arrested.
The weather forecast calls for possible thunderstorms for the first few hours of the drive, followed by what looks like sunny skies for the remainder of the trip. After about 10 hours of driving on Friday, I’ll find a local hotel wherever I might be at that point, and do the rest of the trip Saturday morning. I must be back in NY by Saturday evening for my buddy’s bachelor party, so yes I’m cutting it close on this trip. If I can do the entire trip on Friday, that will give me a larger buffer in case I have mechanical issues along the way, but if everything looks good by Friday evening I might sleep on it and enjoy the last few hours in daylight on Saturday. Stay Tuned!