Linda Cushman knows a good thing when she sees it. And when she saw a 1934 Plymouth business coupe with only 17,000 original miles on its odometer, she knew it was the car her husband, Chris, was looking for.
But the owner was reluctant to sell the car. Finally, he said he might consider selling it for what seemed like a pretty hefty price back in 1988. Linda, sensing an opportunity, immediately said they would give the Plymouth's owner $500 more than he was asking. He had little choice but to accept the offer.
"On the way home, he asked me where I thought we were going to come up with that kind of money," Linda recalled. But Chris hasn't complained much about her negotiating since then.
"I've had lots of opportunities to sell it since then, but I've always turned them down," he said.
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The Cushmans are just the third owners of the stunning Charcoal Silver 5-window coupe, which was sold new to a female customer by Kingsbury-Kiplinger Motor Co., a Dodge-Plymouth dealer in Holdrege, Neb.
"When we got it home, we found the tools in the original bag — it had never been opened," Linda said. "It had red inner tubes in the tires, so we knew they were original," Chris added.
"The only thing we've done is repainted it the original color, had the bumpers replated and the windshield replaced," he said. "The paint was faded really bad and I wanted it the same color. This car has no rust in it. When (the late) Darrell Beckham had it all stripped down, he couldn't believe it." Nadine Ward recaptured the original pinstriping after the new paint job was laid down.
Amazingly, the old mohair-style upholstery is still intact, 76 years after the Plymouth rolled off the assembly line. All of the plastic knobs in the interior look like new, as does the gracefully curved grille, which required only a light cleaning and buffing. The chrome horns, the headlight buckets with finned accents and the Mayflower ship that serves as a hood emblem are original, unrestored parts.
"This car is really too nice to restore," Chris Cushman observed.
Plymouth was seriously going after Ford and Chevrolet at the time, he said. Its 1934 models offered several benchmark features, including hydraulic brakes, a coil-spring front suspension and an unusual vacuum-assisted clutch that allows the car to be shifted on-the-go without using the clutch, almost like an automatic transmission.
"After the Depression, the car industry was setting the tone that things were going to get better. They were redesigning cars and using color," Linda said.
Their Plymouth business coupe is a PE DeLuxe model, riding on a longer, 114-inch wheelbase. That meant stretching the car 7 inches over the standard version. Stylists took advantage of the longer hood, using not just the standard vertical louvers, but adding a pair of horizontal vents that could be opened on either side to aid in engine cooling.
The DeLuxe also got twin taillights emblazoned with the Plymouth name and spoked 16-inch steel "artillery wheels" instead of the standard wire wheels. A spare tire carrier, complete with an opening door to check the spare tire's pressure, and a locking hubcap also came with the upgrade.
The weak link in the package, though, was the 70-horsepower flathead 6-cylinder engine, said Chris, noting that four months into the production run, a slightly more powerful 77-horsepower 6-cylinder was introduced. Their car, however, is equipped with its original 70-horsepower power plant, which has not been overhauled or modified in any way.
"In '34, Plymouth was the first to advertise its cars in movie theaters," Chris said. Despite its good looks and new features, "You were talking under $600 when this car was new," he said. The dashboard was designed so the oval instrument panel and glove box could be swapped from one side to the other to create right-hand drive models for export, he said.
But all of that wasn't enough to overcome the competition's sales numbers, he said. Plymouth went back to a conventional leaf spring front suspension as a cost-saving measure and the line's styling was toned down in coming years, he said.
Since they have acquired their coupe, affectionately known as "Sophie," the Cushmans have logged another 10,000 miles on its odometer, for a total of just 27,000 miles. "We have her birth certificate from the factory records when we visited there," Linda says proudly.
The Cushmans got into vintage cars with Model A Fords and still own several of them.
"But we've kept this car the longest and enjoyed it the most. Even the Model A people like it," Chris said. "It really is like stepping back in time."