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Plymouth is better the second time

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Harvey Rapp had the car of his dreams early on. In 1960 while he was a student at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., he paid $400 for a used 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook convertible.

The secondhand Plymouth was everything he desired in a car and he was happy for a year until one day it was gone from where it had been parked.

Five days later he learned from the campus police that a drunken driver had demolished his treasured Plymouth and the police had the remains towed to a junkyard.

'I found a chrome cowl vent knob off the dashboard the next weekend in the junkyard,' Mr. Rapp recalls. He also salvaged the radio out of the wrecked car.

Many cars came and went until 1984, when Mr. Rapp's high school buddy Ellis Gershon gave him a tip about a 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook convertible for sale in Hershey, Pa.

Following up on the tip, Mr. Rapp found that a Connecticut antique car dealer had hauled the car out of a California barn where it had sat for 13 years. An enraptured Mr. Rapp bought the car, which had been repaired with many 1954 parts, and had it trucked for storage in Jessup for a year.

In 1985 the car was trucked to Morristown, Va., to undergo rejuvenation. At least that was the plan.

Six years and several lost parts later, Mr. Rapp had his work-in-progress Plymouth trucked to a storage facility in Mt. Airy, Md. In 1995 work resumed on the car in Lisbon, Md., where it was painted patio cream.

In 2001, after that business failed, the Plymouth was hauled to Taneytown, Md., where restoration was mostly complete by June 2002.

'A few details are not done, but the car is on the road,' he says. 'It is now stored in my garage.'

A mere 18 years had passed between the time a very determined Mr. Rapp purchased the Plymouth and the time he took it home.

Only 6,301 Plymouth Cranbrook convertibles were manufactured, each one 15 feet 9 inches long (add a foot for the continental kit) with a 100-horsepower, six-cylinder, 217-cubic-inch engine.

The 114-inch wheelbase is supported by 6.70x15-inch tires. Each of the 3,193-pound convertibles carried a base price of $2,220.

During those 18 years of frustration, an ever-optimistic Mr. Rapp continued attending car shows to purchase literature pertaining to his particular Plymouth.

He also bought several cars for parts to complete his convertible.

An overdrive unit came from Waldorf and Mr. Rapp swapped a 1954 Plymouth bumper on the car for the correct 1953 bumper.

The famous ships hood ornament and side mirror were rechromed.

The restoration process stretched out so long that the car had to be reupholstered twice, with green whipcord and vinyl, including the one-third, two-thirds split front seat.

The top with plastic rear window was installed by the time it was all over. When the hydraulic top is lowered, a fitted boot can be secured with 17 snap fasteners.

Susan, Mr. Rapp's wife, first saw the Plymouth in 2002. 'Her perception of the car is a little different than mine,' Mr. Rapp says. 'She's a good sport.'

The dark green dashboard with the glove compartment beneath the seven-button radio recalls happy times.

'It's so much fun,' he says. 'I'm back in the days of my youth.'

Although the speedometer reaches 100 mph, Mr. Rapp says, 'I've had it up to 65 mph.'

Bringing reality into the equation from behind the three-spoke steering wheel, he acknowledges, 'It drives like a tank. I'd forgotten what it was like.'

Still, Mr. Rapp says with a satisfied smile, 'Tanks can be a lot of fun to drive.'

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