I don't have the cash to spend on as many toys as I'd like and justifying new automotive projects can be tough as I own a home and a rental property. With no major home projects on the horizon this spring, however, I thought it would be fun to tackle a larger old school project I'd been thinking about for a long time. It was finally time to build my first big-bodied, "low and slow" cruiser.
Step 1 in that process was to find a car and justify the money to pay for it. After a couple of weeks of looking at cars and not finding anything I liked for the budget I had available, I realized my 2001 Honda Rancher ATV was sitting in the garage and rarely being ridden so it was traded straight-up for a 1966 Plymouth Fury III found about an hour away from home. The Fury was a Poly 318, automatic transmission, manual drum-brake car and not the big block car I really wanted but it fit the bill. Except for some questionably patched rear-quarters the body was remarkably solid for a 47 year old car in New England and the interior was in excellent shape and needed little but some good cleaning. For once I'd be safe from cracked dash pads, sagging headliners, and ripped seats typical of many of my projects, so I made the deal. Bonus- the Rancher was received as partial payment for the sale of a previous project so I wasn't immediately out any cash, thus leaving more money for parts if necessary.
Step 2 was to get it home. After the promise of a full tank of gas and some post-transport adult beverages, I was able to sucker a good friend into using his truck and trailer to pick up the Fury one night after work. Although the Fury had been sitting for several years we were hoping to hear it run before winching it onto the trailer. With a fresh battery, a little bit of fresh gas, and a healthy dose of good fortune we were able to get it running enough to drive it onto the trailer and avoid needing the winch. One brake was dragging badly, the car burped, sputtered, and the transmission didn't shift well, but it was alive! I was hoping we were dealing with a normal case of "yarditis" and many of the problems would be easily remedied with some TLC.
Steps 3 was the work on the car itself:
A) Buy beverages and stock the fridge in the garage. Invite friends over.
B) Consume said beverages while staring at the car and hoping the finished product would appear almost as easily as the much more famous, older Fury Christine did in the movie, but without all the dead bodies. Sadly, this did not happen, nor did magical re-stocking of the fridge. After a couple days of picking at the car I decided upon a budget-friendly, mostly stock refresh rather than crazy rebuild and began making a list of parts needed.
C) Start wrenching. In total this became a three month process that included many nights and weekends with the help of my cousin Dean, who wears the well-earned title of "more-like-a-brother-than-cousin", and my good friend Andrew, the owner at Crawford's Service in Pittsfield, MA:
- remove and replace the riveted aluminum flashing making up the tail section of the rear quarter panels with real sheet metal (long term goal is full quarters, but with lots of mechanical work on the horizon I opted for a temporary, better repair than current backyard repair)
- rebuild Stromberg 2bbl carb so it stops spitting gas onto intake manifold
- flush tranny, replace filter, replace pan gasket, add fresh fluid, and cross fingers that it shifts better
- replace single reservoir master cylinder with dual-reservoir unit
- replace every single inch of brake line on the car with Right Stuff stainless steel lines replace all brake shoes, wheel cylinders, brake hoses, and turn drums
- basic tune-up of plugs, wires, cap, rotor, oil, filters, etc
- replace points with Pertronix Ignitor unit
- install custom dual exhaust coming off the stock manifolds, running through flowmaster-style mufflers, and exiting through slash cut tips under the rear bumper
D) With most of the mechanical needs addressed, next came the question of how the car should look when it was done. This car came to me still wearing its original paint, all of the trim, and every single light, button, blinker, etc. worked from day one; a rare find for a car that had been sitting for so long. I didn't want to go too crazy, but the rear quarters were in primer from the metal replacement so the car needed some paint work regardless of my appreciation of the existing patina. As I am at best a back yard body guy the idea of trying to match the patina and color of the factory paint was out the window. The solution came to me while checking out all of the amazing rides at the Back to the 50's car show in St. Paul, MN. The Fury was already wearing more modern 18" wheels and rubber and thus had a little bit more of an aggressive stance so I decided to take that look one step further; matte black paint.
E) Buy more beverages, pizza, paint, reducer, hardener, and lots of masking tape. I've turned a lot of wrenches in my day but have never painted a car so I was happy to accept the generous offer from Andrew at Crawford's for additional help in painting the car. Andrew helped with lots of the mechanical work and genuinely liked the car so he wanted to make sure it was presentable when I was finished with it. As it looked like the bumpers and trim had never been removed we opted to leave most of it on the car so we didn't open up a can of worms by potentially damaging hard-to-find pieces during removal. This mean lots of careful masking, but hopefully would save some potential headaches in the long run by avoiding broken bolts, speed nuts, and bent trim.
F) Eat pizza. Paint car with how-to help from Andrew. Wait very impatiently overnight for it to dry. Remove masking, re-apply the few trim pieces that were removed, be happy that I escaped my first paint job with only a few high spots, no major mistakes, and no runs!
G) Start enjoying the car! Total project investment at this point is roughly $4,000. Not a bad deal for a car that you don't see around these parts every day. Full disclosure is that the car photographs better than it looks up close, but it's solid, runs great, rides smoothly, and turns heads like nobody's business so I'm a very happy camper.
James is a self-certified gear head, and when he's not building hot rods, he's a sales executive at Motorhead Media, a family of automotive websites that includes Hot Rod Hotline.
Thanks for sharing your ride with us, James!