Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Plymouth Belvedere

“There once was a Plymouth named Belvedere, a car that many thought very queer.”  OK, no more limerick.  Remember the Belvedere?  No?  Then you must be younger than 50.  Here’s my story of the Belvedere.

In 1964 my 1958 Nash Rambler finally croaked.  After first getting the engine rebuilt in 1962, then the transmission rebuilt in 1963,  my patience was finally severed when in 1964 the transmission once again chose to refrain from transmitting.  That was it.  NO MORE RAMBLER.  Less than 90,000 miles and when I once again heard some clanking and clunking, I swore it sounded as if it was saying “Adios, Jerry; adios, Jerry”.  I was actually relieved.  I had vowed to get rid of it if another major failure developed.  So I returned the greeting “Ciao, AMC; Ciao, AMC” meaning I would NOT be buying another product from American Motors Corporation.

But what now?

My late friend, Jay Washauer, had a brother who owned a used car lot.  I forgot the brother’s name, so I will just refer to him as Jim.  Jay introduced me to Jim who graciously interviewed me as though I were seeking a job.  “No, Jim, I need a car, a good, cheap, dependable used car.  Jay says you can help me.”

So Jim said “Oh, a cheap car?”  I said “Yes, a cheap, DEPENDABLE car.”  Jim said “…then you won’t want anything I have on my lot, but I can get you a great little Plymouth Belvedere.” 
Jim had a car dealer’s “pipeline” to the Michoud Corporation, a major NASA contractor located on the coast.  He said that Michoud contracted with the Chrysler Corporation for their fleet cars and turned them over every 2 years.  He said when cars were being retired from the fleet after their 2 year tours, Chrysler re-conditioned them and sold them  to used car dealers with full 2 year warrantees. 

Jim acquired a 2 year old, fully reconditioned 2-yr warranted Plymouth Belvedere for me at his cost of $700….. a hell of a good deal.  Gloria and I were thrilled.  The only feature in that car we had a little trouble getting used to was the push-button transmission.  Until we became conditioned to that change we kept reaching for a gear-shift lever that  wasn’t there.  But that was the only draw-back …. at first.

Dependable?  You bet!  Mechanically this car was perfect, never a moments trouble, very sound.  We put many miles on it,  going on many Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee vacations … never encountering any problems.  We felt blessed.

We used to frequent Bogue Falaya wayside park just east of Covington.   This park was on the Tchefuncte River and was a favorite picnic spot, offering clean river swimming, playgrounds and ample picnic tables.  We loved it.

One Sunday Gloria said “Why don’t we go to Bogue Falaya today.”  All four kids in unison belted out “YEAH!”.  I observed that the weather seemed somewhat threatening, but that didn’t dampen any spirits.  We put our ice chest in the trunk, headed to Krogers for food and drinks, then headed down Florida Blvd east toward our Bogue Falaya destination (there was not yet an Interstate system). 

When we got just past Hammond, the sky opened up and rain pelted us unmercifully.   All the food was in the trunk and everyone was getting hungry.   Gloria said “Be patient.  We’ll soon be there.  We’ll get a picnic shelter, then we can eat.” 

After a few more miles, 4 year old son Mike said “Hey!  Not fair!”  Gloria looked in the back seat and 5 year old Felicia echoed the same sentiment.  Then Gloria exclaimed “Jerry, how did you get that chicken leg?”  Our oldest child, 7 yr old Jerry III, while gnawing on a fried chicken leg, said “I just reached through this hole and got it from the box in the trunk.” 

It was still raining, so I pulled the car into a small roadside rest area.  I turned around and said “Jerry, show me how you did that.”  He simply reached through a hole in the rear deck (just under the rear window) and pulled out another piece of chicken.  In spite of the rain, I got out of the car and climbed in the back seat, and with a few pushes of my hand, tested the integrity of the rear deck.  In doing so my hand went through it adding another hole next to the one Jerry III had been using.  Gloria asked “What’s the problem?”  I announced that the rear deck was rotten.  SHIT!

Then as I was backing my body out of the back seat, my foot went through the floor board.  SHIT!  I could see the ground below.  Because son Mike was sitting at that part of the rear seat I told him NOT to stand or put his feet over that hole.   I then tested the floor board on Jerry’s side and SHIT! my foot went through there as well…. more exposed ground.  I told all 4 kids “Do not stand or put your feet through these holesIf you fall through while the car is moving, you’d be killed.”

Rather than continue on to Bogue Falaya we decided to return home to Baton Rouge.  After all it was still raining and I wanted to minimize any chances of kids slipping through the floor board.

In the days that followed I found myself having to contend with other car body rotting incidents.  The spare tire well in the trunk was so rusted away (SHIT!) that I had to use one of our garbage can lids to fashion a large patch to support the spare in the tire well.  The bracket that supported the battery under the hood was completely rusted away and the battery just hung there (SHIT!).  I used a wire magazine rack to support the battery.

Fearing we may wind up with just a motor, 4 wheels and maybe a seat or 2, it was decided that the car MUST go.  I sold it to an insurance agent for $300 …. as is.   Other than for the body, it was still  mechanically very sound and ran perfectly.

I never thought I’d have to give up a car because of body failures.  I would find out later that the fleet cars from Michoud that were re-sold all had body corrosion problems because of the salt air they had to endure during their 2 year “enlistments” there.  Hmmm! No wonder Chrysler Corporation was willing to practically give them away after their 2 year fleet tours at Michoud Corporation.

"There once was a Clifton whose last name was Webb; "Mr Belvedere" he was which made him a celeb"  OK, I'll admit I'm no Ogden Nash.  No more limerick attempts.


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