1965 Plymouth Fury III convertible
I guess you could call it a mid-life crisis: I NEEDED a convertible. Had some before; but not in a really, really long time. Love driving with the top down. Did you know you can stay dry in the rain with the top down if you go fast enough?
There were only a few "must-haves" for the car. Besides being a convertible, it had to be big American iron. In the 60s, when everybody I knew was driving big cars, I was more interested in small cars like Corvairs, Mustangs, and Porsches, so a land yacht would be something new for me. It had to have a nice mellow V8 rumble, and be clutchless for easy cruisin'. It had to be drivable at the time of purchase, and the sheet metal had to be decent but not perfect. Everything else was open for discussion, but the fewer the gadgets the better.....less stuff to go wrong and need impossible-to-find parts. Oh, and huge fins would be nice. Like a '59 Dodge, or '58 Chrysler, or '57 Plymouth.
What I found was fin-less, but it fit the bill otherwise. After checking the Want Ads for months and looking at some real trash, I spotted a '65 Fury III in the Minneapolis Sunday paper. Fortunately, my copy of the Old Cars Price Guide had a picture of a '65 Fury in it.
"Oh yeah! Now I remember what they look like! That's a mighty cool-looking barge!"
After a lengthy phone call to Sumner, Iowa, and a quick check with my wife, Donna, about her schedule, I told the seller we would be on our way immediately to take a look 'cuz it sounded like all the right stuff: big block 318, auto, no power anything (except the top), and not even a warped and cracked padded dash to deal with because it was all metal.
It was early March, which is usually pretty frigid in Minnesota, but it had been a mild winter in 91/92 so the roads were dry and salt-free and the temperature was actually in the 60's during the day. While test driving it that afternoon I briefly thought that maybe power steering should have been one of the "must-haves" on my list. It was a "40-footer" with the top down. With the top up it was more like an "80-footer". The top was well ventilated and the back window wouldn't stay up. The paint was crazed, there was rust-thru way down low on the rear quarters, and the drivers seat had a big chunk of vinyl missing (which explained the saddle blanket on the driver's seat). The cloud of smoke it left behind would make our local mosquito control crew jealous but, what the heck, it ran! The nearly new dual exhaust sounded just right. And the Armstrong steering would be good exercise. Perfect!
I paid the seller his very reasonable asking price and we were on our way, with Donna following me back 'just in case'.
It was a good thing we were having that mild winter. Once the sun went down during the trip back to Mpls it became painfully obvious that the thermostat wasn't working. Or, at least, SOMETHING wasn't working because as the temperature dropped outside, the temperature dropped inside too. The draft through that hole where the back window should have been didn't help matters any. We made many stops that night so I could get into Donna's car and warm up!
That was the beginning of what would become a 10-year adventure. During those 10 years we had a lot of fun going to swap meets looking for parts, working together on the things that we could do ourselves, and just enjoying driving it while it went through stages of rebirth. It always looked good from a distance and in pictures, but less than perfect up close.
There were priorities, of course. First came a new top and back window to keep water out of the interior. And a new thermostat. Then some really important mechanical things...like brakes and shocks and tires and battery and belts and hoses, and..... It was mostly functional/safety things that first year.
In '93, we decided that since what we see the most of is the interior, it had to be cleaned up next. We stripped down and repainted the dash in the car; sent the plastic trim to Michigan for replating; cleaned up the instruments and repainted their pointers. Would you believe a local auto glass shop actually had a windshield in stock for a '65 Fury? Unreal! They even had a guy who installed windshields in Furys when they were almost new. He managed to save the mounting gasket and use it to install the new glass. That was really important, since I couldn't find a new one.
New, mail order, carpeting was an easy installation for us.
A local shop reupholstered the seats and made a new top boot as well. This was going to be a totally stock restoration until we got to the seats. But there's this little, ribbed, chrome-vinyl strip on the seat backs that absolutely cannot be found. It's available for the Sport Fury (bucket seats) but not for the Fury III (bench) which needs longer strips. The original pieces were way too ugly to re-use. Alrighty then, if it can't be stock, then there's no way I'm going to continue sitting on black vinyl in the hot sun. Whose bright idea was it to put black plastic seats in a convertible anyway? So, gray cloth went into the seating surfaces and a good match to the original vinyl went everywhere else. The shop used the old pieces as patterns so the seats look right except for the cloth and the missing chrome-vinyl strips. Only true believers would notice.
Luckily, the side panels were all in good enough shape that a good cleaning and treatment with vinyl preservative was all they needed. Well, one thing did need extra work. The door panels each have a chrome-vinyl piece with red, white, and blue rectangular areas recessed in it. The colors were pretty much gone, and the vinyl was slightly cracked so just repainting it looked pretty gross. The solution was to airbrush the colors onto self-adhesive Dymo Labeling tape (just the perfect width for the rectangles), cut the tape exactly to length and carefully stick them into the recesses. You'd never know unless I told you.
I like my music when I'm driving. And when I'm going down the freeway at 70 mph with the top down, it takes some volume to overcome the road noise. That justifies the accessory speaker chained down in the back seat, and the 300W Jensen bolted to its side where I can reach it for minor adjustments. What if I need the back seat for passengers? No prob. Just unplug the connectors, open the combination lock on the chain, and the box lifts out and fits in the trunk quite nicely.
Cruizin' into the sunset, top down, ZZ Top cranked....it just doesn't get any better!
Then there were a few years of looking for parts, saving up cash for more restoration, and having fun in the sun. In '96 it was time for some more mechanical work. Like an engine and transmission rebuild. The oil consumption was getting pretty serious and the tranny would take a long time to provide any movement at all if it sat for more than a day. Both were done by a local mechanic who used to wrench for a racing team and now does car repairs part time. While Roger was doing the real work, I was sandblasting and repainting various engine and transmission parts. And, with the engine and trans out, I had a chance to do some clean-up, paint-up, fix-up under the hood. So when he got the engine and trans back in, it was looking GOOD in there! Pretty much put the exterior of the car to shame.
Then there was a long stretch of time spent looking for NOS trim parts, good rear quarter panels and saving up major money for that last big step.....bodywork and paint. It's no Trailer Queen (and never will be) so it was driven. A lot. All over. Even took it back to North Dakota for my Class of '63 reunion and ended up in a parade.
The most memorable drive was when we towed a little tent trailer through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and states between here and there, in September of '98. Just one example of many new experiences on this trip was the day we started out at the bottom of Pike's Peak with the top down, where it was 80 degrees F, and discovered it was only 38 degrees F when we reached the top! But what a view! There's a lot of beautiful country in the Southwest USA, and we'll be back for more. And we want to travel more of Route 66, too!
During this time of searching and saving, some minor details were taken care of. Like, for instance, building a console to house the real stereo and CD player (the stock radio in the dash is just for appearances). This console, of course, isn't stock either but, not only did I want to hide the source of the tunes, we were in desperate need of cup holders and map pockets!
As you may have guessed, during all this time the Fury was in competition for funds with dumb stuff like new shingles for the house, landscaping, remodeling, major appliance replacements, etc. But, in December of '01, we finally found a slightly wrinkled but very solid rear clip at Desert Valley Auto Parts in Phoenix, Arizona. What a great bunch of guys (and one gal) at that place! The clip was shipped to Elk River Collision in January, and they were eager to start working on it right away. But.....the Fury was buried 11 cars deep in storage for the winter and there was no way I could get it out until May. Major Bummer!
It was a long and stressful summer, as we anxiously followed progress at the body shop (6 weeks) and then waited for the bumpers to come back from the re-chrome shop (the same 6 weeks plus 8 more). While the guys at the body shop were doing their thing, I was buffing exterior stainless and chrome and aluminum, and painting exterior trim pieces, and polishing up all that shiny NOS stuff we've collected over the years. I really wanted to paint the car myself. I had fixed up a '66 Galaxie a few years ago as a daily driver and for that project I bought an HVLP sprayer which was amazingly easy to use...no runs or orange peel in the sealer, the primer, 2 layers of base coat and 6 layers of clear! I've done some air brush painting, and I must have used about a truckload of spray cans in my time, but never before had I painted a real car with a real spray gun, so I was pretty proud of how that Galaxie turned out. But, my skills with a torch just aren't up to replacing quarter panels, and making the time available to do it this summer would have been near impossible anyway, so I decided to let the pros do the whole thing.
And now, at last, we can call it "done". Well...as "done" as a 4-wheeled toy ever gets, that is. Yeah, I'm still looking for that one last piece of NOS trim for the front (drivers fender, around the headlight) and those last three for the back (around the left tail light, and strips top and bottom across the trunk), but those were the least dinged up of the original front and rear trim and all the rest is NOS so it looks good overall. And, I just noticed that the trim strip on the passenger's door doesn't quite line up with the pieces in front and behind, so that needs to be adjusted. Maybe I'll run across a cheap hemi at a flea market or a yard sale....now that would start a whole new ball game!
But the best part is that now, instead of going to car shows and swap meets just to look, we can show off the car with pride! I'm not in search of trophies, by any stretch of the imagination, but it did rate an "Outstanding in Class" (basically a second-place award) at the very first show. More fun in the sun!
And plenty of fun in the evenings too. There are drive-ins and cruise-ins almost every night of the week somewhere in the Mpls-St Paul area during the summer months, and then there are Fall color tours beginning in late September, so there's no lack of places to see and be seen.
MOPAR To Ya!
Bob and Donna
Way to go Bob and Donna!
Excellent effort and VERY worthwhile!
The search, the capture, the grooming and the enjoyment of a 1965 Mopar 'vert. It hardly gets better.
December 3, 2002