Writing: Dave Smith
Photos: Matt Woods
This show-stealer is another from the Jackson family stable, and yet another from Barnsley.
Last month we featured a pristine Dodge Charger from the Yorkshire town of Barnsley. In last August’s issue we featured Richard Jackson’s other car, a blown Chevelle, also from Barnsley. Now we’re looking at Richard’s Plymouth. You wouldn’t think that Southern California and Barnsley had much in common, but it seems you’re wrong – they’re both churning out some stunning, scene-stealing street machines.
In the early Fifties, Plymouths were just cheap cars. Rounded and plain, they were bargain-basement transport with a stodgy ‘old maid’ image and an ancient flathead straight-six engine. Come 1955 and there was a sea- change afoot. Gone were the rounded, dumpy lines, and in came a new, longer, lower body, the first clean- sheet design from Exner’s ‘Forward Look’ line. Under the bonnet was another revelation – yes, you could still get a plodding flathead six, or you could tick the box and have one of the new 241 or 260-cube V8s, borrowed from Dodge, and all for around $2,000. Suddenly, Ford and Chevy had some competition and 1955 would be a landmark year for classic styling.
Still, go to any American car show now and you can’t spit without hitting a ’55 Chevy. You might also hit a ’55 Ford, but the chances of hitting a ’55 Plymouth are very slim. The chances of the owners of the Chevy or Ford you’ve just spat on hitting you are quite high, though. Their poverty-model status coupled with some less-than-stellar build quality as sales outstripped Plymouth’s capacity to build them means their survival rate hasn’t been high, so when a ’55 Belvedere suddenly shows up and wipes the floor with everything else, it makes people sit up and take notice.
This car is no stranger to the limelight, though. In 2011, it starred at the SEMA extravaganza in Las Vegas and had punters flocking like crows around roadkill. Shortly afterwards, it was up for sale and found itself heading towards the UK. Here’s the tale from Bradfordian, Richard Jackson.
“At the time, I had a Ford Pop and I’d just fallen out with it,” says Richard, “so I decided to get back into American cars. I found this on eBay, really liked the look of it, and I put in a cheeky bid, thinking there was no way it’d sell for that. Well I was the only bidder, and I absolutely stole it. I bought it blind, as an unfinished project. It was in Katy, Texas, being sold by the guy who built it, Kent Ladner. Kent was starting up his own custom business, Pistons’n’Pipes, and needed the money to invest. I got a friend of mine to bring it in for me, and went to collect it from Felixstowe in January, 2012.”
“I started stripping it down, but found no hidden horrors on it at all; all the welding had been done, and it was totally rot-free. Once I’d stripped it to bare metal, I sent it off to be media blasted. I don’t know whether they got too close or what, but it all came back warped and distorted; you could have had a fishpond in the bonnet or bootlid. I could have cried. It took four months to straighten it all back out again. Eventually I got it straight and had it painted, then I totally rewired the whole car.”
“I put in a cheeky bid, thinking there was no way it’d sell for that. Well I was the only bidder”
“The interior was all retrimmed in Italian leather by a guy in Huddersfield, and I rebuilt the Chevy small-block. It’s just a standard rebuild, as it’s only a cruiser, likewise the TH350 transmission. The back axle is from a Ford Explorer, but it was whining so I went to the scrapyard and got another to replace it. The chassis had been custom built by Kent with a later front clip, and he’d done a really good job of it, but we replaced all the moving parts and had the suspension arms and some engine parts chromed. The inner wings have been removed to allow the car to drop further, and all the floors, bulkhead and transmission tunnel have been raised to allow the engine and box to be mounted higher for clearance. Kent built it with air suspension, and on full drop the chassis touches the ground and you can’t get your fingers underneath the sills. I had to fit skid plates to it! All we’ve done is swap the wheels for 18” Rockets.”
“All the chrome on the front end was good, and the front end is one of the very few areas of the car that hasn’t been customised much. It’s an all-steel car, there’s no fibreglass in it. All the side window quarter-lights have gone, replaced with one-piece windows on electric lifts, all the dash gauges are custom from the States, and the steering wheel is chrome on a Camaro tilt column. The whole dash is clean, the only switch on it being the indicator switch on the column – everything else is controlled by the laptop. You plug the laptop into the central screen and it gives you a menu to do everything, put the windows up and down, control the door poppers, switch the lights on and off, control the sound system and, of course, the air suspension. Or you can put YouTube clips on! It has a Clifford remote starter, too.”
“On full drop the chassis touches the ground and you can’t get your fingers underneath the sills”
“When it came in, it had no handbrake or windscreen wipers at all. I installed a Camaro foot-operated parking brake, but by the time I’d got the car finished, the law had changed so that pre-1960 cars didn’t need an MoT, so now it doesn’t need it! I fitted the Lucas cable-drive windscreen wiper system from an MG Midget, as there’s so much box section behind the dash that there was no room for a traditional wiper set-up. It took some fitting…”
“Two years ago, it was all finished, painted and out on the road. Last year, we added that specially made steel air filter and had it airbrushed with Marilyn Monroe’s face, along with the dash and rear parcel shelf. I think we did around 5,000 miles in it last year. You have to get the suspension setting just right, as if it’s too low it’s like driving a brick. The Camaro seats are fixed, they’re not on runners, and there are no seatbelts, so I have to put a cushion behind me and then off we go. We took it to Rotterdam for the Tuner festival and won Best In Show, then we took it to American Stars On Wheels in Belgium and won Best In Show there, as well. My son is into the VW scene, so I’ve been along to quite a few VW events including Deva Dubs near Telford, and won Best In Show at that, too!”
“I keep saying I’ve had enough now, and want a break, but you never really do, do you?”
“We’re supposed to be doing a lot of charity fundraising this year, including rattling off passenger rides in the car around Nottingham for the local dog rescue centre, then I’ll be taking it to the Isle of Wight for their big classic show in September. It’s good to do something different, and if someone else gets some enjoyment from the car as well, that’s great. Currently, the car’s all stripped down again. Next time you see it, it’ll be that Renault candy apple red! My son’s trying to get his car finished, too, so we’re fighting for garage space at the moment, plus I’ve bought a Ford Popular but I’ve not got the time to get onto that. I keep saying I’ve had enough now, and want a break, but you never really do, do you?”