This is a story about an old Plymouth that doesn't look as good as it used to nor does it look as good as it will. It's a story about a 13-year-old kid and his first car. A story that couldn't happen today.
Bob Gonsalves had an older sister going to UC Berkeley. Her out-of-state boyfriend had a 1940 Plymouth that had been his grandmother's car. Due to parking and mechanical problems, "a mechanic told him it's not worth fixing. It needs brakes, it needs a battery, it needs everything," said Gonsalves.
At 13, Gonsalves was already a car nut even though he hadn't yet learned to drive.
"My sister called and asked if I wanted a car for free.
"My older brother, Ernie, had a '61 Chevy. He and I went to Berkeley with a tow bar and towed it home to Pittsburg, through the streets of Berkeley, the Caldecott Tunnel and on the freeway. I sat real low in the Plymouth to help steer because this car had no brakes and it didn't follow very well."
Gonsalves' dad didn't object and thought the old black Plymouth would keep his kid safely occupied at home, as not only didn't it run, there weren't any keys for it. The body and interior were in good shape, and the 13-year-old spent many hours washing, waxing and cleaning the car.
"But," Gonsalves said, "my mailman knew something about cars and every day in the summer I would ask him questions. He told (me) how to set the points and do this and that. Every day for about a year the mailman would tell me what to do."
One day, while Gonsalves was tinkering under the hood, he spotted a set of keys tied to a hood hinge. "I told the mailman. We put some gas in the carburetor and the 85 HP engine started."
This did not please his father.
More guidance from the letter carrier and the Plymouth was running pretty well. It had only been driven (or towed) about 63,000 miles. "My father came home from work one evening and the Plymouth was turned around in the driveway." At age 14, Gonsalves had his first solo driving experience.
In trouble with Dad, trips around the block, running out of gas, friends falling off the running board are now all part of the wonderful memories of owning his first car. He drove the car through hi high school years and remembered "it was my first courting and sparking car."
The Concord resident stored the six-cylinder, three-speed transmission Plymouth for a number of years, and always kept it garaged and covered.
"In about 1980, I refreshed it with a new battery, new tires and wheels, a noisy exhaust and shined it up." He kept the Plymouth mostly original until about 12 years ago when it became a car in transition.
The definition of a street rod is an old car with all the modern conveniences. Gonsalves' Plymouth is evolving into a street rod. "There is an expression among 'street rodders' that says you're not a street rodder unless you cut it up," he said. Gonsalves is a street rodder and he cut up his Plymouth.
"I cut the frame off and put a 1969 Camaro frame clip under it, which allows for power disc brakes and power steering. It gives it a modern car ride." He removed the 85 HP, straight-six engine and replaced it with a 454 c.i., 400 HP Chevrolet V8 engine and added a Chevy automatic overdrive transmission. He has also added air conditioning.
Gonsalves worked for 35 years as a mechanic at Winter Chevrolet in Pittsburg. He farms out the body and upholstery work, but does everything else himself. The original seats were tan mohair. Gonsalves' next move will be to send it to a buddy's upholstery shop for tan leather seats. Power windows are also scheduled to be installed and, of course, a great sound system.
Gonsalves will have about $5,000 invested plus a lot of sweat equity. The goal is to have it ready for the Spring 2014 Goodguys show in Pleasanton.
Current market value?
Gonsalves said, "Plymouth is a hard sell. If it were a Chevrolet or Ford it would probably be worth $50,000. As a Plymouth it is probably worth $25,000, but I'll never sell it."
I'm thinking that even with all of these changes, people will still recognize the car is a restored 1940 Plymouth. I visualize the famous Plymouth sailing ship nose ornament, the script lettering, and the distinctive brake light along with the factory bumpers, a stainless steel grille and some factory molding.
But no. What Gonsalves told me made me think of a court-martialed soldier, his epaulets torn from his uniform.
"I debadged it," he said. "I took off everything that says Plymouth."
I asked why. "To street rod it," he explained unapologetically, "It's sort of an unwritten rule."
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly.com.