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Recapturing the past ... twice

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, at 7:55 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012, at 7:10 a.m.

— One of the enduring dreams of most car guys is the hope of someday finding — and buying — a copy of one of their early cars. The really lucky ones actually get to experience the thrill of recreating their initial days behind the wheel of one of those favorite cars.

Carl Barrier has hit the daily double in that regard. Back in 1998, he tracked down a 1933 Plymouth DeLuxe Six sedan in Pearl City, Ill. Then, about five years ago, he managed to locate a 1940 Pontiac Silver Streak DeLuxe sedan in Canton, Ohio.

Both were loaded with memories.

"In 1949, I had one just like this," he said, showing off the maroon Plymouth with the red wire wheels. He was 14 years old at the time and working in a Pontiac dealership’s service station, pumping gas, changing oil and fixing flat tires. Many car dealerships had their own gas stations at the time, he said.

"I was getting paid $2 a day. Gas was 19.9 cents a gallon, so basically, you worked all day for 10 gallons of gas," he said. The Pontiac dealership had taken the Plymouth sedan in on trade for a new car and he knew he had to have it.

"It cost me $194, counting the financing," he said. He had the standard nine months to pay off the car, which was not a problem.

"Plymouth was competing with Ford and Chevy … they were medium-priced cars and 1933 was the first year Plymouth had a 6-cylinder engine," Barrier said.

The inline flathead "Silver Dome" engine displaced 189 cubic inches and produced 70 horsepower in basic trim. A more powerful version equipped with an aluminum cylinder head was also available that first year.

Barrier had tried to buy this particular Plymouth earlier, but was second-in line and missed out. "I had been looking for one for a long time," he said. "It was my luck that I found it advertised again in Hemmings a couple of years later."

As originally equipped, his Plymouth was a three-speed car outfitted with an automatic clutch that allowed a driver to stop at a traffic light and downshift without using the clutch to get underway again. He has removed that vacuum-operated feature and the car functions fine without it, he said.

The car had been repainted in about 1991, according to the previous owner. When Barrier got it, the engine was in need of work. "The rings were broken in it. I’ve had the motor out and rebored it," he said.

He also went completely through the suspension, replacing tie rod ends and king pins, even taking the leaf springs apart, cleaning them, repainting them and reassembling everything.

"I bought it to drive, not to sit on the driveway," he said.

He put a new set of Sears wide whitewall bias ply tires on it several years ago, but has plans to switch to a set of factory 16-inch wire wheels he has managed to track down over the years, so that he can install radial tires on the car for better highway handling.

"It will run along about 45 miles an hour the way it is now," Barrier said.

He would also like to redo the upholstery in factory-style cloth and give the metal dashboard a fresh woodgraining.

With 94,700 original miles showing on its odometer, the ’33 Plymouth is a good parade car, Barrier said.

His 1940 Pontiac is a better choice for touring to more distant car shows and events, he said. It is also a flathead 6-cylinder powered car, but its 222 cubic inches generate 87 horsepower. "It is built on the same frame as Pontiac’s 8-cylinder car," he said.

"I had one of these in 1951. The 1940s weren’t rare, but the ’41s were, because of the war."

He had seen it advertised in "Old Cars Weekly" and traveled to a vintage car dealership in Canton, Ohio, to check it out.

"It was in the basement of the Canton Marriott Hotel. That basement was just full of old cars," he said. "They sold it as original paint with just a few touch-ups.". The nearly pristine upholstery confirmed the Pontiac not only had been lightly used, but extremely well cared for.

"But somebody had got it hot one time and cracked (the block), so I had to buy another motor for it. I bought one in St. Louis, and in less than a thousand miles, it got hot and cracked the block, too," Barrier said.

A third engine was found in Chatanooga, Tenn., and Barrier had a custom aluminum radiator made for the car in New York state. "That solved my heating problem,’ he said.

Barrier built his own air conditioning brackets and installed an Old Air air conditioner/heater. He also switched the electrical system to a 12-volt alternator setup and replaced the motor mounts during one of the engine swaps. The Pontiac, which had about 29,9000 miles on the odometer when he bought it, now has 35,960.

Both cars have rear suicide doors.

"Wedding parties like them. The bride can walk in wearing her wedding dress," Barrier said.

"When I was a kid, a parade was a big thing growing up in a small town," he noted. "Since I worked in a Pontiac garage, I got to drive new cars in parades before I even had a driver’s license. My wife says these cars take me back to my childhood."

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