By on March 11, 2012

One of the minefields in an interview with the owner of an old car is the custom side of the vehicle.

I’ve seen tens of thousands of cars and done thousands of interviews. In that time, I’ve seen things done to old iron that I would rank as excessive.

I have to remind myself that old vehicles are a very personal statement. You don’t own them because they’re practical. You own them because they reflect something from your past. A mental cue locked in your memory banks triggered a need for a particular old car, or truck, or a look, and eventually you are the proud owner of an iconic ride. That highly impractical vehicle is for you, not mainstream society – otherwise buy a Subaru.

That’s how I rationalize the “off the beaten path” cars, but this 1963 Plymouth pushed the envelope in a big way.

I’m a huge fan of the 63 Plymouth for the most basic reason – my Dad drove one. I saw this lime green neon car across the parking lot, and it had the unmistakable profile of a 1963 Plymouth. I could live with the paint, but from a distance it looked like the guy had rolled this car on the way to the show because the clearance between beltline and roofline was askew. It was a misshapen monstrosity.

I had to talk to the guy, but my first reaction wasn’t good. I respect these cars based on my own “mental cue from the past”. I don’t see many 63 Plymouths at shows, so this version was a shock. You have to fight through your bias in an interview and ignore what repulses you…and this car repulsed me. Admittedly, it’s not even close to the same level of anxiety that imbedded combat reporters coming under live fire face to get a story but this car was a shock.

Consequently I submerged my personal bias, brought up my impartial inner car guy and found out that the car’s owner is a guy named Herb Dueck. He bought the car on an impulse. In his own words, “I had to have it”. Herb’s an interesting guy and clearly he didn’t mind the spotlight that followed this car around. Most car guys at the show condemned the Plymouth on sight for its excess but they were also in the first wave of sightseers around this car.

Car guys are hardwired to be naturally curious, so they had to see how this thing was built from a technical point of view. Chopping a roof is an art form, so they wanted to examine the quality of the work and the degree of difficulty. Most real car guys will admit that they are on a constant learning curve. This was a great opportunity to see something different. They were still appalled by the look of this Plymouth, but techniques are transferable across projects.

They also like to look under the hood, and in this case, it was a 440 big block with dual quads. That met their standards, but they were a little lukewarm about the devil airbrush on the dash.

Herb’s a big guy, and he definitely displayed a latent Barnum and Bailey circus gene when he pointed out that people had to wait until he left to see a large guy squeeze into a small driving area. When he did leave, it took him 5 minutes to get behind the wheel. It probably would take less time for Herb to squeeze into a suitcase.

Herb was a really good guy about the wild-looking Plymouth, because he had a great sense of humor. He bought it on spec and he knew that it was probably going to take him more than an ad in the local paper to sell a chopped lime green 1963 Plymouth, but until that happened, he was simply going to have fun with this car.

Ultimately, I never did change my opinion on this car. To me it was still a monstrosity. I did get used to it – more or less. But it was the biggest test I’ve ever faced as a car guy/interviewer.

As for a sale? Push the marketing side, because this car is an advertising campaign on 4 wheels.

It took me half an hour to get a picture of it without 20 guys looking at it.

For more of J Sutherland’s work go to mystarcollectorcar.com

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24 Comments on “Car Collector’s Corner: A 1963 Plymouth Raises A Few Questions About Personal Taste...”


  • avatar
    Halftruth

    The front end bothers me more than the chopped roof. Like you said, the classic car is for the individual, not mainstream society. To each his own.

  • avatar
    Moparman426W

    Why bother without a pic of the engine?

  • avatar
    RegistrationPlease

    The way things are going, that greenhouse/belt-line look will be standard in a few more years. God forbid, but we seem to be going that way unfortunately.

    • 0 avatar
      nrd515

      Nah. The high beltline/low greenhouse look is just a return to sanity after a long period of insanely ugly huge greenhouses that had no real purpose other than to seriously impair a car’s looks. Sad thing is, it couldn’t have happened a long time before it did. I don’t need, or want to see, the bottom of other cars as they pass or I pass them.

  • avatar

    On days when Mrs. Lenneberg drove the elementary school carpool, I rode in one of these, and I do have affection for the first half of the ’60s era of Chrysler. That said, the thought of taking 5 minutes to put the car on (I think Herb must be wearing it, rather than sitting in it), and, well, I agree with J. Sutherland. Also, I think the eyes don’t work at all. But if someone’s getting some pleasure out of this thing, that’s a big plus, as long as I don’t have to squeeze into it.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    Who is “Personal Tate”?

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    I generally never liked customs or hotrods; never even used the mag wheels in the AMT box.

    But with age, and knowing a couple of guys that customize their own iron, I’ve come to appreciate this as an art form.

    Gotta say early 60’s Mopar were some odd looking vehicles, almost “factory custom” in their weirdness, so anything done to them afterward hardly surpasses the Late-Exner-Early-Engel design mash-ups which flowed out of highland park.

    In this case, I even think this car looks totally bad-a$$. Weakest part may be the lights but the rest may be more harmonious than the original iron ever was!

    • 0 avatar
      Firestorm 500

      Just imagine what the person who bought it new would say if they saw it now.

    • 0 avatar
      Xeranar

      Not to be a nit picker (and Lord knows I am on this one…) but Exner was already gone and Engel firmly in place. In fact I believe Exner left in 58 or 59 because the Imperials were immediately shaved of their superfins after he left and given those weird cigar tail lamps.

      That being said…This car is terribly ugly. I love plymouth and I find this car just atrocious to have been shaved like that. The color is awesome, it’s very “PLYMOUTH” from that time period, perhaps a bit early, but still very in keeping with the marque. I say to each their own but with fewer and fewer originals like this lying around I find “customizing” them harder to justify.

  • avatar
    Rican5.0

    Kill it with fire.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I guess in this case the punishment fits the crime. The perpetrator of this vulgar mess should be sentenced to drive their mistake. The chopped top and shortened wheel base is more than enough to draw attention. The awful paint job and worse front end is what ruins it. I don’t know who will buy it, since its probably against the ADA to sell this automotive insult to a blind man, and it’s probably more trouble and money than its worth to turn it into something that is not an assault on one’s retinas.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Why does it have Volvo Amazon REAR lights on the FRONT fenders???

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    I once had a Hot Wheels car where I bashed the roof flat with a hammer. Kinda looked like this.

  • avatar
    VanillaDude

    This was never a good looking car. Brand new, it tried too hard. The little ovals for parking lights on the front and the original front end was over the top. The only saving grace was the fact that the previous years were even freakier and there were enough of those on the road to soften the look of the 1964 Plymouths’ weirdenesses.

    Some guys like it because it wasn’t the run of the mill looking car.

    So, to customize the front end of a 1964 Plymouth the way this one was customized is like animating Jim Carey in “The Mask” – it was simply unnecessary.

    Vulgar? Yeah – way vulgar.

    The roofline? Oh jeez, there is no saving that.

    I don’t want to hate on something so personal, so I am sorry if I offended the owner of it. It is nasty, though.

  • avatar
    joeaverage

    Sort of has a comic book look to it. If that is your sort of thing then more power to ya. Same could be said of some of the muscle car reincarnations being sold new now.

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    I was thinking they looked like twin leaf-blowers, but mosquito foggers will work too.

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