Out there on U.S. Highway 36, about 25 miles from the Indiana state line, is the small town of Newman, Illinois. You've probably never been there, but maybe you can picture whitewashed front porches, flagpoles, a water tower with the town name painted on it, and at least a few garages or pole barns with some kind of cool old car inside.
Mike Dillon grew up there and lives there today. When he was a kid, the cool old car at his house was a ragtop '47 Plymouth his dad was storing for Mike's uncle, who had hauled it from Florida in 1966. After several years, Mike's dad bought the car for himself with the intention of someday restoring it.
As a kid, Mike loved the Plymouth. "Growing up in the early 1960s, before video games and multi-channel television, I sometimes found myself playing in the car, pretending to be driving it to places only my imagination would take me-which was just as well, because there was so much dust on the windshield that I couldn't see through it."
To that kid behind the steering wheel, age 16 must have seemed an eternity away. By the time Mike got his driver's license, the Plymouth was still unrestored, but it had been repaired enough to take out on the weekends. There aren't many streets in his hometown, but Mike remembers having a ball driving up and down them-rides that required three people because once the engine got hot, six volts wasn't enough to get it started, but three guys pushing was.
Changing to a 12-volt system opened up the world to the Plymouth, which was now capable of making the 150-mile trip to Evansville, Indiana, for the Frog Follies car show. The Plymouth was still unrestored, and probably never came home with a trophy, but back in Newman, it must have seemed like a big frog in that small pond.
By the mid-1990s, Mike's dad realized he would never get around to restoring the car and passed it on to Mike. Mike and his brothers, Matt and Mark, decided they would build the family Plymouth into a hot rod instead of restoring it. Matt was already into rods, and contributed a lot of the ideas as to how the Plymouth ought to be built. It was decided it should be a resto rod, which meant keeping most of the stock body panels and stainless trim. It also meant countless trips to junkyards in search of parts and pieces to replace those that were too far gone. The original seats and a lot of the original chassis also survived. The original engine choice was a carbureted 350, which ended up in brother Mark's '36 Olds. The tuned port-injected 305 small-block that took its place is one of the few detours from the resto rod approach.
It wasn't a speedy build, and their dad and uncle unfortunately never got to ride in the finished car. The deep-green Plymouth was fresh when these photos were taken at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville last summer. The odometer read 357. Today, the Plymouth looks better than it ever did. But, Michael told us, the best part of the project is that it was accomplished among brothers with a car that has been part of the Dillon family their whole lives. Although it still cruises the streets of Newman, it's now being seen in places even Michael's imagination couldn't take him as a kid staring through a dusty windshield.