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The 1934 Plymouth Coupe He Built as a Teenager is Seeing Light Again after 30 Years in the Basement

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 9/30/2016 Tommy Lee Byrd
001-berry-1934-plymouth-coupe-front-three-quarter-alt.jpg The 1934 Plymouth Coupe He Built as a Teenager is Seeing Light Again after 30 Years in the Basement

One Piece at a Time

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As hot rodders continue to grow older, years seem to slip away faster than we could ever imagine. It's a little scary that 1965 was more than 50 years ago, but it's so easy to remember hot rods like this '34 Plymouth coupe as a common sight at your local dragstrip or favorite cruising spot. Charles Berry owns the coupe, and he turned every nut and bolt on it. Even though the nuts and bolts (or tires, for that matter) haven't been turned in quite some time, the car is seeing daylight for the first time in 30 years.

Charles can't remember the exact date when he bought the car, but he does remember that he was 16 years old, and the body wasn't much to look at when he pulled it out of a field. He initially bought the body from a guy in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and took it home to Decatur, Georgia. His father wasn't a hot rodder, so you can imagine the conversations at the dinner table about Charles' newfound project car, which was strewn across the patio, backyard, and his bedroom.

Since Charles only had a body, he needed a suitable chassis. The best he could find was a '40 Ford frame and front axle. He gave $25 for the chassis, and then proceeded to whack the rear frame rails off to fit the shorter Plymouth body. In order to mount the body over the frame, he had to spread the lower portion of the cowl panel, but he made it work, and then fabricated body mounts. With the bobbed rear frame section, he couldn't run parallel leaf springs, so he fabricated spring perches and installed coil springs. The rearend housing is from a '54 Lincoln, as that was all he could find at the time. Surprisingly, it has held up to quite a bit of abuse, and Charles' makeshift mounts and spring perches survived the thrashing as well.

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The coupe's rear suspension features home-built coil-spring perches, ladder bars, and shock mounts to suspend the '54 Lincoln rearend. The rear section of the '40 Ford frame was cut off to match the proportions of the '34 Plymouth body.© Hot Rod Network Staff The coupe's rear suspension features home-built coil-spring perches, ladder bars, and shock mounts to suspend the '54 Lincoln rearend. The rear section of the '40 Ford frame was cut off to match the proportions of the '34 Plymouth body.

The car never had any fancy magnesium wheels, but it did have a pretty distinct look. Charles found a pair of Mickey Thompson wheels and disassembled them to reverse them for a different offset and the deep-dish look. The bias-ply front tires are still intact, as are a pair of '70s-era BFGoodrich Radial T/A tires, mounted to aluminum slots. The previous rear tire-and-wheel setup included chrome reverse steel wheels mounting slicks.

Flat black primer was originally the finish of choice, but he later re-primed it with red oxide. Thanks to many years in dry storage, the body is in great shape. Notable modifications include a Lexan windshield, '57 Plymouth station wagon taillights, and a '34 Pontiac grille.

As the car was starting to take shape, Charles set it up for a small-block Chevy, with a single four-barrel carburetor and a set of ram's horn exhaust manifolds. Then, Charles spotted an abandoned '57 Chrysler and tracked down the owner in order to snag the 392 Hemi engine and push-button automatic transmission. The only real modification to the Hemi powerplant was a set of large-tube open headers, but it offered plenty of torque and a lot of noise.

By 1965, the car was running, and Charles raced it locally at Yellow River Drag Strip in nearby Covington, Georgia. He doesn't recall any exact elapsed times, but it usually ran low 13s, and may have dipped into the 12s on a couple of occasions. The car was still street legal, aside from the slicks, so that was a pretty strong runner for the time. Charles remarks that the car was ill handling, but when it hooked and went straight, it was a pretty quick ride.

Charles enlisted in the Navy in 1966, and he says, "The neighborhood was so glad when I left for the Navy and parked the coupe." His tenure in the Navy included service in the Vietnam War, where he was wounded and shipped back home to Georgia.

After all these years, the old coupe still has a pretty menacing look. All four tires hold air, but they've hardened during the car's extended stay in the basement. We love the white headers and velocity stacks.© Hot Rod Network Staff After all these years, the old coupe still has a pretty menacing look. All four tires hold air, but they've hardened during the car's extended stay in the basement. We love the white headers and velocity stacks.

When the coupe came out of retirement in the early '70s, it was reconfigured to a more street-friendly setup. At that point, the engine was changed to a 283ci Chevy, bored to 301ci and equipped with a Reed camshaft, a Weiand tunnel ram, and dual Holley 450-cfm four-barrel carburetors. He would eventually switch to a hydraulic camshaft to tame the car ever so slightly for street use.

Jumping a decade or so, Charles drove the coupe from his old house to a brand-new home in 1985, with his wife, Peggy, holding a gas can, and the battery between her feet on the passenger floorboard. Charles had the house built with a basement big enough to hold his old cars, including the coupe. But given his busy schedule and three daughters at home, the coupe slipped off his radar. It remains in the same condition as when it was parked more than 30 years ago. Charles' youngest daughter, Christina, recalls only hearing it fire up a couple of times during her childhood, and remembers that it was extremely loud. Christina has never seen the car move under its own power, but that is about to change, as the car has been dragged out of its hole.

The plan is to freshen up a few things and get the car roadworthy again so Charles can show it off on occasion. After all, there is quite a bit to say about a car that he pieced together in his dad's driveway as a teenager, raced as a young adult, and kept all these years as a reminder of the fun times. This time capsule was built one piece at a time, and you can believe that Charles will be grinning ear to ear when it's back on the road.

Berry Scrapbook

Charles' coupe is seen here in one of its earliest photos on the patio of his father's house. That's Charles on the right, with his father (also named Charles) standing proudly with his son's creation. The youngster inside the coupe is Charles' little bro

Charles' coupe is seen here in one of its earliest photos on the patio of his father's house. That's Charles on the right, with his father (also named Charles) standing proudly with his son's creation. The youngster inside the coupe is Charles' little bro
© Hot Rod Network Staff

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