by John Stratton
Wild Wednesdays bring it all back. All the good stuff, like music and street rods and so-fine cruisin’ cars that make no apologies for their size or elegance. They are cool, all of them. The Wednesday evening get-togethers atop the Mohegan Sun Riverview Garage run through August 29…with fireworks and a final round of the Battle of the Bands!
If you are of a certain age—you could be 16, you could be 60 (or more or less)—and if you are a young-at-heart young person, you look admiringly, even wistfully at certain older automobiles as they swoop by on the boulevards.
Their sweeping fenders, streamlined radiator grilles, sturdy running boards; their interior dashboards full of chokes and throttles and spark advances and toggle switches; and their accommodations which are both hat-friendly and thoughtfully provided with sconces for small floral bouquets…all speak of an accommodation between the machine age and its prior, if slower, age of various elegances.
In short, the passage of an old car reminds you of the accoutrements that made a Sunday drive an adventure in style as well as mere travel. And if you are lucky or discerning, you may hear it coming, with a discreet rumble, or even growl, that tells you that this vehicle is not for missions like a simple go-down-to-the-store to fetch a bottle of milk and a loaf of Wonder Bread. It may be, in short, in the argot of the ’40’s, a “Hot Rod.”
Or, better yet, the car could be a close but more-refined cousin, striving for elegance along with a devil-may-care insouciance—that is, a “Street Rod.” You can actually go somewhere in comfort in a Street Rod; turn on the hi-fi radio and the air, recline in comfort on the tuck-and-roll leather upholstery, and just enjoy the responsiveness of the V-8 engine which sits discreetly under the fold-up front hood, an engine that combines docility with power. And, yes, a bit of a discreet rumble.
The transformation from your Grandad’s sedate family car of decades past to a bad-boy, noisy, tire-smokin’ Hot Rod has spawned magazines and movies, hairstyles and social rebellions. But there ain’t no such thing as a bad boy, said the Padre in those movies. The better bad boys harbored desires to preserve the elegance of early production cars while they built into them a tasteful set of new technologies—marked with their own individuality.
In short, these car hobbyists incorporate an artist’s flair and imagination into what for most of us would be an ordinary object, called a “car,” elevating it far above the commonplace. And the dream of the ideal Street Rod takes years to mature.
Don Wood’s signature Plymouth four-door sedan was born with utility in mind back when it rolled off the production line in 1933. Don, a Groton native who lives in Quaker Hill, liked its lines, its solid steel, its sturdy, respectable, roomy, heritage. It had done its loyal transportation work for almost 30 years before being tucked away in a Moodus barn for another 25, and then, tarp-covered, sat outside the collapsing building for another dozen. Bedraggled, but still mostly in one piece, it was just what Don wanted when he uncovered it 14 years ago. He notes that he’s “been around cars all my life,” and his professional life at United Nuclear, A&T, and General Dynamics Information Technology taught him patience and perfectionism in building and rebuilding them.
The Plymouth’s style itself is a transition: its fundamentally elegant lines reflected Modern and Art Deco touches, but still evoked to the square-bodied carriages of the early automobiles. It cried out for loving touches.
“Street Rod” is a badge of honor,” he says. “The Plymouth is like many cars of the ’30’s and ’40’s which celebrated the automotive age. I wanted to make this vehicle a ‘modern old vehicle’ with amenities, a fast luxury car that looks from the outside like a ’33 Plymouth four-door, but with everything a modern car has today…power seats, air-ride suspension, Dodge Magnum engine, air-conditioning…you name it.”
It’s not a shrinking violet. Don’s car sports a “Chrysler Prowler Orange” paint, with impressively beefy Plymouth Prowler wheels among the “all-Chrysler, all the way” styling details. He liked, and preserved, the valanced fenders and the original, forward-opening “suicide” doors which were a hallmark of the era. The 360-cubic-inch engine gleams with chrome and the five-spoked wheels sparkle. It says, “Take me for a ride!”
Why Plymouth? “Many people start with a Ford or Chevy,” reflects Don, “but I wanted to be a little unusual, to work with the steel, which is more difficult than ordering fiberglass reproduction parts. It was a lot of work, and I was called stupid many times,” he smiles.
It took 14 years to achieve his dream, and the Plym’ now has 5000 miles on it, a product of the tours and trips, often to car shows, that he and his wife, Sonja, have taken together in its unique comfort. His work also paid off in trophies and compliments.
He and Sonja can been seen at car shows and gatherings at York, Pennsylvania; Lake George and Rhinebeck, New York; and throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and around Connecticut. He likes the Mohegan Sun’s Wild Wednesdays, he says, and the attends get-togethers at the Pavilion, Nature’s Art, the Essex Fire Department, and many others.
The car likes the attention, and so do Don and Sonja, who say, “If you see the orange ’33 Plymouth…it’s your invitation to stop by!”
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by John Stratton