- - Thursday, August 11, 2011

From the time his parents took pictures in 1959 in Florida of preschool-age Larry Basset, hose in hand, washing the family 1956 Chrysler, the die was cast.

A few years later, so attached to the Virgil Exner-designed Chrysler was the adolescent that he wept when his parents traded it in on another car.

Along about the late 1980s Mr. Basset set about to rectify his parents’ mistake. He searched far and wide for several years before discovering in 2002 a 1956 Chrysler New Yorker convertible virtually in his own back yard.

While living in Frederick, he saw a newspaper ad offering the Chrysler of his dreams. The owner lived in Baltimore but the car, with about 42,000 miles, was stored in nearby Columbia.

Mr. Basset and the owner met in Columbia and he saw the black carpet, black boot, black top and white seats with the white door panels.

“Do you want to drive it?” inquired the owner.

“No,” was Mr. Basset’s determined response even though the car was not perfect. “I’ll take it.”

A week later Mr. Basset returned with a friend in a modern car to retrieve his 18-foot, 5-inch-long treasure. After a few miles on the way home the reliability of the car was evident so Mr. Basset drove the rest of the way at about 70 mph, cruising comfortably on the lengthy 126-inch wheelbase supported by 8.00x15-inch tires mounted on Kelsey Hayes 44-spoke wheels.

That was no surprise because of his experience with his parent’s 1956 Chrysler back when the car was new.

Research showed that only 921 Chrysler New Yorker convertibles were manufactured during the 1956 model year, each one with a base price of $4,243. Since virtually none of the convertibles built during that model year left the factory with no optional accessories, it is a fair assumption that most similar vehicles sold for more than a dollar a pound since the weight of each convertible was 4,360 pounds.

Mr. Basset’s Chrysler is from the era of spaciousness and is 81 inches wide and stands 51 inches high and that is with an impressive 6.5 inches of ground clearance.

What is amazing is that the enormous automobile can be turned in a circle of 43 feet, 9 inches with only 3.75 turns of the steering wheel lock to lock.

Beneath the hood of the impressive car is a 354-cubic-inch Hemi V-8 that, fed a fuel-and-air mixture by a four-barrel carburetor, develops 280 horsepower. That’s 1956-era horsepower.

That monstrous engine is only happy with 25 quarts of coolant running through its veins along with 5.5 quarts of oil on the other side of the water jacket.

Of course the dual exhaust system was standard and let the one-of-a-kind sound come tumbling out the dual pipe at the rear of the car.

Mr. Basset is not absolutely certain of the pedigree of his car. He understands that he is at least the third owner of the car, maybe more.

When he purchased the car, it was a solid white color with the CHRYSLER lettering on the trunk lid removed. What is confusing is that the car had the chrome trim for a two-tone car. Consequently, Mr. Basset took advantage of the trim and had the stylish car repainted a combination of Desert Rose and Cloud White.

Afterward, he had the chrome-plated block letters spelling C-H-R-Y-S-L-E-R that he had acquired on the Internet installed on the deck lid.

The push-button transmission operates a two-speed transmission with neutral at the top, reverse at the left, drive at the right and low at the bottom. The transmission still functions perfectly. Mr. Basset is about to replace the convertible top with a black one with a black boot. He also hopes to upgrade his car with a town and country radio. Filling up the gasoline tank, however, takes 21 gallons of premium gasoline to keep his car with the black carpet, black boot and white seat covers ready to operate.

The new owner has tried to upgrade his car, one of the last models with a cowl ventilator. A town and country AM radio is an extra-cost accessory that should be tried at least once. Mr. Basset says the radio takes forever to warm up.

At the center of the two-tone steering wheel is another accessory that Mr. Basset located in Michigan. Replacing the horn button is a “Chryslermatic” self-winding clock. In normal daily usage, the movement of the steering wheel is sufficient to keep the clock running. “Driving the car once a week doesn’t keep it wound,” Mr. Basset says.

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