There definitely seems to be a theme to cars built by members of the Persueders Car Club out of Hollister, California. Big ’50s and ’60s cruisers in suede paint sitting low seem to be the club’s mainstay. You might remember Ki Hansen’s Mercury featured on these pages back in April 2009. Hansen is a buddy of Danny Dornan, who owns this ’61 Chrysler Newport, and knowing Danny was looking for a project, he called him when he spotted an ad for this car in the local paper.
According to Danny, “The grainy black and white picture just showed the front of the car, but I was intrigued. Two days later I met the owner, a nervous-looking guy standing next to an 8-foot fence with a locked gate. Turned out he was getting divorced, and his soon-to-be ex-wife was on the other side of the fence. Before we went in he told me he had to sell or move his cars by the end of the week or she was having it all taken to the dump. His collection included Mopar muscle cars of just about every model packed in so tight we could barely walk between them. The Chrysler was wedged between a rusty Dart and a Challenger. It had a little surface rust, but all the trim was present and the glass was in good shape. Then I saw them! The biggest fins I had ever seen on a car, starting mid-door and launching off the back like some wild ’60s spaceship. It was just what I was looking for.
“The guy was now pacing and nervously looking at the house and the figure staring at us from a window. Then he hit me with the price. He muttered “$2,000 and it’s yours.” I thought to myself about how he had to move these cars by the end of the week and figured I was in a good position to negotiate. I offered $1,000, which of course got me back to the gate and on my way with no car. I kept my fingers crossed and two days later he called. He took the $1,000, and wasn’t happy that I wanted it delivered to my friend Junior’s shop, Aldape’s Automotive, in Salinas, as part of the deal. I guess the timing was right as that afternoon the car showed up at the shop! Junior thought the car was crazy, but I had big plans.
“After a couple of days I had a running car with new brakes. Now it was time to start the transformation. I wanted a mild custom, not straying too far from the factory looks, but low and super smooth. I looked to Pep’s Customs in Salinas, California, who molded the front turn signals, reworked the taillights, shaved the door handles, mirrors, antenna, and emblems, and repaired some rust in the rear quarters. Lionel Duran, at Spectrum Auto Body, then shot it in Prowler Orange basecoat. Yeah, I know it’s green now, I’ll get to that!”
With re-chroming handled by Best Chrome in San Martin, California, and Mirror Image in Salinas restoring the stainless trim, the Chrysler was taken back to Aldape’s Automotive to get it sitting right. The torsion bars at the front were turned a few notches, and 3-inch lowering blocks added at the rear to achieve the desired stance, just in time to throw some old blankets on the seats and head to Paso Robles for the West Coast Kustoms show. This was back in 2003. Danny says, “Nothing beats that feeling I had when I pulled onto Spring Street. The sun was going down and the Friday cruise was in full swing. I had Skratch pinstripe the decklid at the park, and was amazed as I watched him lay out the intricate pattern. I had always wanted to be able to paint like the greats and ever since my dad had his truck painted by Rod Powell back in the day. I asked Skratch how I could learn to pinstripe and he simply said, ‘Just go for it man.’
“Fast forward a couple of years and though I was having fun with the car I was tired of the orange color. So after a lot of sanding and some more bodywork Duran once again painted it, this time a lime green basecoat. Up to this point I’d been cruising with not much of an interior. I kicked around the idea of swivel seats from a Chrysler 300 but couldn’t find a decent pair. I wanted something custom yet comfortable for my wife and kids. I got word that a local junkyard had an old Chrysler in it, so I headed over there. It turned out to be a ’60 Imperial with a cool bench seat with bucket backs and wraparound trim. At my wife Alysha’s suggestion I went to Ray’s Upholstery in Watsonville. He helped me select the pearl white with Lumia Green piping and matching green headliner. While the car was apart I pulled the dash and my dad helped fill the speaker hole and smooth the corners before I shot it in heavy green ’flake with a little panel fade.
“Once again I got it back together just in time for the West Coast Kustoms’ show, this time in Santa Maria, where, to my surprise, it was voted one of the Top 5 mild customs. On the ride home I reminisced about the day I first saw it, how Junior thought it was a crazy-looking ride, how I dreamed of building this uncommon mild custom, all the late nights working on it, and whether I was done building. I’m sure there are more changes coming, and I’m sure Junior still thinks it’s a little crazy looking. But for now, I think it’s just right.”
1961 Chrysler Newport
The big hardtop employs the stock chassis and suspension, though the front torsion bars have been cranked down to bring it closer to Terra Firma, while 3-inch blocks lower the rear.
El Camino Machine and Welding in Salinas, CA, machined the stock ’61 383, to which Danny added finned valve covers and an Edelbrock Performer intake fitted with a Demon 625-cfm carburetor. A Cadillac repop air cleaner from Mooneyes tops it off, while the stock exhaust system was Jet-Hot coated and uses Blue Streak glass pack mufflers. The stock TorqueFlite trans still performs its duties, though it has been rebuilt by Cesar at The Transmission Center in Salinas.
Pep’s Customs molded the front turn signals and taillights, shaved the handles, mirrors, and trim, frenched the rear bumper, and moved the brake lights to the backup light locations, using ’59 Caddy lenses. Lionel Duran at Spectrum Auto Body sprayed the PPG lime green basecoat. The pinstriping is owner-applied. Both front and rear bumpers have been smoothed.
A quartet of 15x7 Wheel Vintiques chrome OEM-style wheels are wrapped in Coker Classic 205/75R15 whitewall radials.
The ’flaked and panel painted dash sits behind the stock steering wheel, though the bench seat is from a ’60 Imperial. Pearl white vinyl with green piping cover the seats and door panels, with moss green short loop carpet on the floor. Jesus Arellano helped Danny fabricate the armrests for the doors.