- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 4, 2010

A woman in Clayton Miller’s neighborhood hired him as a teenager to weed her garden. He kept it free of weeds, but something other than vegetation was what really captured his attention: her nearly new 1952 Plymouth Belvedere Cranbrook sport coupe.

That was the sporty hardtop coupe model that featured the unusual saddleback two-tone paint scheme.

“Ever since then I have always wanted one,” Mr. Miller says about the Plymouth.

In 1998, he found a 1952 Plymouth painted iridescent sable bronze over suede in Bingingham, N.Y. He learned as much about the condition of the car as he could over the phone, including the explanation of how it had no rust because it had been in a museum for several years.

Finally Mr. Miller drove up to New York towing an empty trailer for an in-person inspection of the Plymouth. The car passed muster, but the price was more than he wanted to pay. Mr. Miller was about to drive back home to Woodbine, Md., when the seller suggested they get a cup of coffee. A few hours later, Mr. Miller returned home - with the 3,105-pound Plymouth on his trailer.

Mr. Miller got the car at the price he wanted, but the delay in leaving New York allowed a storm to blow in. “I drove on ice four hours to get home,” he said.

When he got there, he carefully looked over the Plymouth to reaffirm his first inspection.

“I started to work on it as soon as I got back home,” he said.

As he was taking the car apart, he found under the back seat a plastic clam fork with “Silo Inn Restaurant” printed on the handle. That clue led him to a Richmond man, who said that he was the second owner of the Plymouth and that he had sold it to the museum in New York.

To begin restoring the car, Mr. Miller detailed the undercarriage, installed new brakes and thoroughly went over the entire drivetrain. The interior remains original.

Mr. Miller then had all its chrome removed and sent off for replating while the rest of the Plymouth was stripped for repainting.

The entire rehabilitation project was completed in six months. All of the stainless steel trim has been polished to shine like new, including the trim around the rear window, which divides the window into thirds.

Because the 1951 and 1952 versions of the car were virtually identical, the manufacturer did not keep separate annual production figures. During those two years, 51,266 such models were built, each one with a base price of $2,216. The only engine available was an L-head, six-cylinder, 217.8-cubic-inch engine that gave 97 horsepower.

The Plymouth came equipped with safety rim wheels and a two-piece windshield. A single backup light is mounted to the left of the the trunk lid. The dimensions inside the trunk are so spacious that the spare tire is mounted vertically on the right side.

A downdraft carburetor with an automatic choke feeds fuel to the engine from the 17-gallon gasoline tank. Five quarts of oil and 16 quarts of coolant keep the engine running happily.

The National Plymouth Club, of which Mr. Miller is a member, scheduled a nationwide gathering in 2000 in Rapid City, S.D. Mr. Miller was totally confidant about his Plymouth’s reliability factor. The outbound trip was uneventful, and while attending the national meet, the Plymouth served as a sight-seeing service for many of the visitors.

The Plymouth, on its 118.5-inch wheelbase, was performing so well, Mr. Miller says, that he didn’t drive straight home on the 6.70-by-15-inch tires. “On the way home, we drove down through Kentucky and then on home. We drove about 4,500 miles on the entire trip,” Mr. Miller says.

He reports that his Plymouth delivered about 18.5 miles per gallon on that trip.

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