Steve Frisbie can drive pretty much whatever he wants. If you don't know his name, you probably know his shop, Steve's Auto Restorations. His company has turned out some of the more noteworthy cars this industry and the veteran car restoration industry have known.
In other words, as far as cars are concerned to Steve, the sky's the limit; if he can dream it, his crew can build it. So when he got it in his head that he wanted a conservative-colored 1948 Plymouth coupe, they naturally obliged. After all, postwar Mopars with mouse-colored mohair interiors are the stuff dreams are made of.
No, they're not. If we could erase the last 40 or so years, a period that made anything old cool, we would land in a place where Plymouths were most square. They were sensible cars; working-class fathers smitten with Chrysler's claims of sophisticated engineering and machining bought these modest transportation tools for their practicality, not their performance.
But what motivated Steve wasn't the car's coolness-or lack of it for that matter. No, Steve's dad was one of those Plymouth-owning dads. "This is the very first car that I remember belonging to my father," he says. In fact, you could say that car was the fountainhead of Steve's life's work. "I can remember riding in his '48 Plymouth and standing on the front seat looking at that beautiful chrome and wood-grained dash and I just fell in love with the car."
But Steve's dad probably wasn't like most Plymouth-owning dads. He had a Richfield service station. He went to the local roundy-round races. He also drove a number of soup jobs, his Mayflower coupe among them. It had at least a two-pot intake and possibly a high-compression head as Steve recalls. In other words, Steve's pop was pretty cool and so was his car. So when he saw a nearly perfectly preserved dark blue '48 coupe for sale-one just like his dad's-he bit.
"I first saw the car advertised in Hemmings Motor News as an original 28,000-mile car," he begins. The seller was the second owner, and true to Plymouth form the first was conservative: a little old lady, a school teacher of all things. An illness forced her to park the car early and a short commute meant it didn't rack many miles until then.
To paraphrase Steve, the project was basically a restoration with a cherry on top: the car really only needed the results of a few years of bump parking smoothed out before Steve personally applied the fresh coat of the car's original Chevron Blue-in nitro-cellulose, of course. The body went back together with an assortment of restored and NOS trim. We'd tell you more about the interior, but beyond describing it as original right down to the cloth, we don't know what else to say about it.
Just as his ol' man took liberties with his Plymouth, Steve took liberties with his recollection of it. Time has proven that wheels and stance can make just about anything look cool, so Steve obliged by modestly lowering the car. He also upgraded the antiroll bars, steering, and shocks, but otherwise left the rest alone. Beyond the reproductions of the wires that Motor Wheel & Rim made for the '53 Dodges and the radial whitewalls mounted to them, the remainder of the car looks stock.
But it isn't. Though he didn't take the exact route his dad did, the modest hop-up personality makes Steve's coupe so much like his dad's car: They're both sleepers. Rather than mess with the six-pot wheezer, Steve hired Vancouver's Earl Floyd to recondition a '55 vintage Dodge Red Ram Hemi. It wears an Offy intake and three Stromberg 97s and bolts to a five-speed manual transmission. No, it's not the fastest thing out there, but with 200-odd horsepower and five closely spaced gears acting on a 2,900-pound car, it's certainly capable of keeping up with today's hot iron.
Just as coolness wasn't the point, neither was speed. There are as many motivating factors for people to labor over old tin as there are people to do it, but a great number of us do it to indulge our feelings for the past, especially for a particularly happy time. And a childhood spent standing on a Mouse Brown mohair seat looking over the prow of an Ocean Blue Mopar certainly qualifies as a happy time. We found a word to describe it, too: nostalgia. And damned if Steve isn't proud of that modest little coupe. After all, it really is the stuff that his dreams are made of.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1948 Plymouth Coupe
Since Chrysler's cars have come with double-jointed driveshafts from the beginning, hydraulic brakes since 1924, an independent front suspension since 1934, and tube shocks back almost as far, Steve really didn't have to do much to his car's chassis. He lowered it with a set of new springs and upgraded the front tube shocks to a more effective design. Plymouths came with front antiroll bars but Steve retrofitted the rear and installed a heavier one up front. Steve also replaced the old worm-and-roller steering box with a more modern re-circulating-ball Saginaw box, a modification then required a new drag link and better idler arm. The rear axle is the original Salisbury type on stock-type leafs.
The '55-vintage Dodge Super Red Ram Hemi that Earl Floyd rebuilt for the car measures 270 inches. In four-barrel trim, it made 193 hp but with six barrels it's probably a touch more than 200. As part of his 12-volt conversion, Steve installed a PowerGEN alternator. An adapter makes the marriage between the engine and the S-10 configured BorgWarner T-5 five-speed transmission possible. Since it was already a double-jointed piece, the driveshaft merely needed a little off the length and a yoke for the GM transmission.
Wheels & Tires
The business coupe sports a set of wires patterned off of the wheels that Motor Wheel & Rim produced for '53 Dodges. They measure 15x5 and 15x7 and wear 195/75R15 and 235/75R15 Coker whitewall radials.
Body & Interior
As Steve intended to leave the body stock, he left every piece of trim intact, replacing what couldn't be feasibly restored with NOS parts. He painted only the exterior in the correct Chevron Blue color using his favored nitro-cellulose lacquer (Chrysler shot enamel from 1930-60 on all its divisions but lacquer just has a special appeal, even if only for the illicit, sweet-smelling high). The interior is as Chrysler delivered it, the only changes being the accessory turn signal switch installed likely when the car was new and the GM shift stalk that Steve installed when he converted the car to the T-5 transmission. We can only imagine that cutting the hole in the NOS floor mat for the shifter wasn't easy. Oregon Plating in Portland refreshed all the chrome on the car.