1957 Plymouth Fury with 392 Hemi
|40 years ago I helped my high school buddy Ian salvaged four 392 Chrysler Hemis from abandoned New Yorkers and Imperials near our homes in rural Connecticut. These great cars had worked their way down the socioeconomic ladder until they had become worthless and abandoned in an unofficial junkyard near the tobacco fields where their last owners worked. Ian's older brother Lee had instilled in us the thought that there wasn't any vehicle on the road that couldn't benefit from the addition of a Hemi, and a 392 was the best of the best. These Hemi cars where actually entangled in a mass of over 100 cars that had been rolled down a very steep embankment. Ian, another friend named Mark, and I discovered this junkyard one Friday afternoon in early April. Ian disappeared for while into the pile while Mark and I looked at all the interesting stuff on the outside of the pile. When Ian resurfaced he was breathless with excitement because he was sure he had found four 392 Hemis. The only minor problem was that they were really going to be difficult to get out of the pile. No problem to 3 enthusiastic 16 year olds. Ian "borrowed" a chain fall from Lee, we chopped down three cedar trees and tied the tops together with a logging chain. On Saturday we arrived on our bicycles at dawn and using only our rustic cedar tripod and chain fall pulled the pile apart until we got to the first Hemi.
We unbolted the engine mounts, flywheel, and bellhousing and tore that Hemi out of the New Yorker and walked it up the pile of cars and into the nearby woods, by swinging that monster Hemi and moving the tripod legs as the weight unloaded on each leg. Does this sound dangerous? We repeated the drill 3 more times and by 4 PM we had all the Hemis hidden in the woods like someone was going to steal them from us after all our hard work. Then we rode our bikes to Ian's house and explained to Lee why he needed to rent a U-Haul trailer ASAP. Lee didn't believe us so he drove us back to the hiding spot. We always thought Lee was pretty cool, but he definitely broke his cool when he saw those engines and figured out what we had done. He had a trailer on his car in about 15 minutes. Those engines were so heavy we could only move two at a time without crushing the trailer.
Lee was so happy to have all these Hemis that he bought Ian a 1957 Plymouth Fury, a pinkish-beige two door hardtop with ever widening gold trim running down it's side until it was 18" wide at the 36" tail fins. The 318 didn't run and the push button Powerflite had been replaced with six cylinder 3 speed with an Honest Charlie floor shifter. Ian lived in a 1750ish colonial style house with a stone foundation and a dirt floor basement. We disassembled one of the Hemis and brought it down into the basement in pieces. We did a dirt floor rebuild: honed the block and installed new rings on the stock pistons. Polished the crank with an old t-shirt and installed new bearings. Lee said the cam and lifters looked OK so we reused them. I don't recall if anything was done to the heads besides new oil seals. The only other expense was a new timing chain set, gasket set, and pilot bearing. We horsed the assembled engine up the creaky wooden basement steps and rolled it across the yard to the Fury. By late August the engine was installed and running. We changed the oil and examined the cartridge style oil filter. It was full of dirt, hair, insects, tree bark and grass from the lawn. The engine ran great. The ignition destroyed neighborhood TV and radio reception. His dad and the neighbors insisted we put mufflers on this monster, which Lee bought for us because we were tapped out of cash. The first road test ended during the second burnout when the 3 speed tranny grenaded. Lee found a Borg-Warner T-85 from a Rambler of all things, that bolted right in and we never had anymore tranny problems. This beast was very much like the 1958 Plymouth in the movie "Christine". It was the irresistible force meets the immovable object. The rear tires suffered the most. This car could burn tires until the inside was so full of smoke you couldn't see out the windshield. People would call the police and fire department. If it didn't have mufflers they probably would have called the Army. The ignition clued everyone in the area that a storm was gathering, then the thundering exhaust, urgent wail of dual four barrels, and screaming, smoking tires pretty much woke up everything.
The car was really exciting but not very quick off the line; 4300 lbs empty and highway gears were the problem. A 283 stickshift 1957 Chevy would leave the Fury at the gate. But out on the open road this thing could really get rolling. 1st was good for over 60 MPH, 2nd was over 100 MPH! That Hemi power felt like the hand of God was pushing in 3rd. The car actually had a 150 MPH speedometer and Ian said he buried it once. He said the road got real narrow and the wind and intake noise made the whole experience surreal. He said the steering felt kind of disconnected and it took over two miles and the longest minute of his life to get the Fury slowed down to 60 MPH, and another minute for the brakes to cool off and start working again. I'll bet that aerodynamics had something to do with the disconnected steering feel. We sometimes forget how bad brakes and steering were in the good old days. That the used 4 ply tires held together was another stroke of luck. Ian never did that again. We were so lucky no one got hurt. I have since found an old Hot Rod Magazine and in 1957 someone built a car like this that went 150 MPH, so Ian's top speed claim could have been accurate!
Lee must have read about the Hot Rod Fury and knew the potential for the project he enabled us to perform. He was lucky he didn't get his brother and his friends, and innocent motorists killed. A 4300 lb, 150 MPH, 10 year old car with a 16 year old driver on public roads: WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Be careful what toys you give children to play with. Anyway, good luck and some common sense prevailed and I'm here to tell this story as a 56 year old.
Ian took the car apart shortly after the 150 MPH run and the Hemi was sold. The Fury is just a good memory now. Thank you for letting me share this story of my youth. Looking at and touching the rusty valve covers on a 1953 Hemi water pump I found on a farm last week inspired me to write down this story while I could still remember most of the details. I hope you like this story and are more than welcome to share it with your friends. You just can't do stuff like this anymore.