Sometimes, you just want something different

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1941 Plymouth Staff Car

by Harold Ratzburg

 Not every historic military vehicle is intended for combat. Staff cars have played a major roll in transporting officers behind the lines since before WWI.

Not every historic military vehicle is intended for combat. Staff cars have played a major roll in transporting officers behind the lines since before WWI.

There it was. Jack Tensen found it sitting in the side yard of a southern New Jersey farm. Jack had always wanted a staff car project, but he didn’t have the space to work on one. He urged me to take on the job. He promised that he would help me with it, so I figured we could tackle the job.

When we went to look it over, we found it was pretty far gone. The finish was gone, replaced by plenty of surface rust. It had no hub caps though most the chrome work and bumpers were still present, though the chrome on the latter was mostly weathered away. The fenders and running boards had surface rust but no dents from former mishaps.

The inside, though, was another story. The door panels were in tatters and the seat covers were worn out and shredded. The head liner was shot. A small leak by the rear window had allowed water to rust out the inner window frame.

And the trunk...Well, after sitting in a field for years, the floor had pretty well rotten away. There was enough left though, that we would be able to anchor some sheet metal .

Likewise, the undercarriage and engine compartment had heavy rust on everything.

Despite all of this, we thought it could be salvaged Like so many historic military vehicle enthusiasts, we were undaunted. We bought it for $3,000. With a friend’s flatbed trailer and Jack’s help, I hauled the Plymouth home and winched it into my garage.

 This is how the the 1941 Plymouth looked when it was discovered on a New Jersey farm.

This is how the the 1941 Plymouth looked when it was discovered on a New Jersey farm.

THE RESTORATION ODYSSEY BEGINS

The first thing to do was to clean up the undercarriage and the engine compartment. Jack, being the friend he was, really did help me work on the car. We spent several weekends under the Plymouth just scraping rust and painting. He was there all the time — what a guy!

Then came the engine and engine compartment. We pulled the head and installed new rings and checked the bearings. We went over the starter and other accessories. Next, we cleaned the radiator and installed new hoses. When we went through the brake system, we replaced or fixed whatever was necessary to make sure the car would stop when we wanted it to.

 The entire interior had to be reupholstered.

The entire interior had to be reupholstered.

THE FUN PART

It was more enjoyable working on the body and interior. We could see it coming together and beginning to look good.

I got some sheet metal from a welder friend. Using about a hundred or so pop rivets, I was able to fabricate a floor for the trunk. The scraps were free. When I got a new floor mat for the trunk, nobody but me would know the difference!

The JC Whitney catalog provided the headliner and seat covers. I tacked in the headliner while my wife, Annelie took care of the seat covers. With her help, I was able to recover the door panels. After lubing the window mechanisms, I installed the panels. Thank goodness none of the windows were broken!

 With my wife’s assistance, the door panels and seats were recovered. The new headliner came from JC Whitney.

With my wife’s assistance, the door panels and seats were recovered. The new headliner came from JC Whitney.

But where does a guy find an interior metal window frame for a 1941 Plymouth? Well, I started pouring over the ads in Hemmings. I finally found one in a junk yard in Kansas. After paying too much for it, I had it sent back to New Jersey.

Then came the paint job. I had a friend who had a paint shop. He did a fine job. Of course, I should have discussed the financial details before he painted it. I would have avoided the surprise of being charged double what I had anticipated.

But now, the body looked good. It was time to start hanging on the “jewelry” that makes a vehicle look “cool.”

Danged if my brother-in-law back in Wisconsin didn’t have a radio in his garage that was for a ‘41 Plymouth! He gave it to me, and when I coupled it to an antenna that I found at the Hershey, Penn. auto flea market, it worked just fine.

 I finished the bumper with paint as was typical of many WWII staff cars. A blackout light kit, military spotlight, and siren provided some of the “jewelry” for the exterior of the car.

I finished the bumper with paint as was typical of many WWII staff cars. A blackout light kit, military spotlight, and siren provided some of the “jewelry” for the exterior of the car.

At the same market, I ran across a spotlight with a brass U.S. military data plate on it. That became another piece of “jewelry” on the car.

As a US Army vehicle, it really needed a blackout lighting system. But where was I going to find that?

It turns out that the military did make a kit containing the needed blackout driving lights for staff cars. Who would have such a light kit but an old MVPA charter member — Ted Bromage. He sold it to me for a reasonable price. The kit came with all the necessary wiring, lights, and switches. I just need to bolt the lights in place and run the wires to the right places.

Maybe it was just me, but I spent several evening just looking at the car trying to decide just where the lights should be attached to make the car look its best.

Finally, I made a decision and bolted the lights in place. After carefully applying the stars and lettering, the job was done!

 After a considerable amount of time in my garage, we painted it and applied the markings. It was done!

After a considerable amount of time in my garage, we painted it and applied the markings. It was done!

YEARS OF ENJOYMENT

There followed a couple of years of parades, shows, and various rallies. The old car performed like a champ and even won a few awards.

In emergencies, the car served as our family’s transport. For a while, it created quite a local stir when my wife used it to commute to work at the Hilton Hotel where they do not see a lot of 1941 Army staff cars in the parking lot. She must have raised a few eyebrows on the folks who saw a little old lady tooling down Interstate 287 in a WWII staff car!

In fact, on one occasion, I was out with my her and our two small children when the car ran out of gas on the Interstate. This was not a good place to be. But, to our good fortune, a state trooper who had an interest in old cars pulled up to see if he could help. After getting some gas, he waited to make sure I got the Plymouth running again.

For many collectors, there comes a time when your interest begins to shift. When that happened to me, I put the old staff car up for sale. Eventually, it went on down the road with a fellow collector at the wheel. He was ready for a change of interest, too. He sold his comic book collection to pay for the Plymouth!