DERBY — Rob Robinson’s story is fairly common in the hobby car world, at least to begin with.
"I’ve always wanted to build a hot rod. But I got married right out of high school and had kids. We always had nice cars, but … ," he said. Other responsibilities took precedence.
But then, a little more than three years ago, the timing was right and he began looking for a vintage car he could fix up. At first, he focused on cars of the ’30s and ’40s, spending hours scanning the Internet for possibilities.
"Everything I kept finding was four doors," he said. "My brother Joe has a lot of cars. Most of them are from the ’30s. So I went over one night and sat in every one of them," Robinson said. He quickly realized that cars of that era were pretty small, with minimal interior space.
So his focus shifted to cars of the late ’40s and ’50s.
"He would come home and say, `I found this car on the Internet,’ and I would say, `Well, make them an offer,’ " recalls Eillen Robinson, who eventually began getting a little frustrated with the process. "I got so tired of looking at old cars.”
He finally found what he was looking for, a 1949 Plymouth coupe with a little over 70,000 miles on the odometer in Hannibal, Mo.
"An old farmer who was kind of a hot rodder had it,” he said. “The old fella had stuck a set of bucket seats out of an S-10 pickup in it.
"I had a buddy go with me and it was a lot nicer than I thought it would be. I thought, `Yeah, I can do something to make this look better.’ ”
They trailered the car home and he played around with it the first year.
"Of course, I had to get the front end down, so I did it old school and cut a coil and a half off the springs," he said. He also put two-inch lowering blocks on the rear axle.
His original plan was to get rid of the faded blue paint job and cover the car with suede black paint and a nice set of flames.
"But she hated flames," Robinson said. "I wanted to get rid of that big bubble top, but we went around and around about that."
"It was all original and all I could think was, `You’re going to screw that old car up,’" said Eillen.
"She said it was either the flames or the top and I would much rather have the top chop," Robinson said.
He realized he wasn’t qualified to do such major metal surgery himself, so the car went to Chaotic Customs in Mulvane, where Chris Carlson performed a two-inch chop on the front, while removing 1 1/2 inches from the rear of the roof and angling the rear windshield forward.
Once all the body work was done, the car was painted a bright pearl white over a custom-mixed blue pearl body.
"After it was done, the hood looked out of place. Here the top was all nice and sleek, but the hood was sticking way up in the air," Robinson said.
The solution was a major sectioning of the hood to bring it down to match the Plymouth’s new profile, also done at Chaotic Customs. Robinson resisted suggestions to de-chrome the car and to get rid of the sun visor and is glad he did. Three pinstripers applied their decorative art to different parts of the car.
Eillen discovered that Plymouth had changed the “flying ship” hood emblem slightly each year and spent hours combing the Internet before she finally tracked down the correct ’49 version, which had been lying on the seller’s shelf, untouched, for years.
Although there aren’t all that many customized ’49 Plymouths around, Robinson remembered one he saw in a Hot Rod Magazine with distinctive 1959 Dodge Lancer hubcaps. He bought a reproduction set from Kool Rides in Arkansas City and decided to enhance the checkerboard pattern by color coordinating it with the car.
"We sat at the kitchen table one night and painted every other square blue," said Eillen. Robinson also substituted bullets for the original center caps. Mounted up with wide white portawalls and red rims, the wheel covers are a perfect complement to the blue and white MoPar’s vintage look.
Inside, Robinson turned Mike’s Custom Upholstery loose on the interior. He was thrilled with the blue-and-white marine-grade vinyl upholstery rendered in a fan-shaped, roll and pleat pattern on the seats, door panels and inside the trunk.
At one point he considered pulling out the original 218 cubic inch flathead 6-cylinder engine in favor of a later model V-8. But old-timers convinced him he should keep the flathead and split the exhaust manifold.
"They said nothing else sounds like that … it produces a kind of `splatting’ sound, and they were right," Robinson said. Drew Carlson handled that chore, running a set of dual straight pipes back to exit under the ribbed rear bumper.
The car was converted to a 12-volt electrical system for reliability, with the 3-speed overdrive transmission retained for roadability. "It doesn’t burn a drop of oil and it will go down the road at 70 and the little flathead is not singing, and it will make 21 miles to the gallon," said Robinson, who plans to detail out the engine compartment one of these days.
"You eventually have to pick a point and stop. It looks good and sounds good and that’s all I care about. There’s so much room inside and it’s so comfortable."
So there’s really no reason not to be happy about how the story eventually turned out.