A HEARTFELT ODE TO THE ‘OLD PLYMOUTH’
Ottawa writer Boyd includes chapter about ‘lifelong friend’ in Travels and Tribulations
First cars can be hard to forget. That’s especially true for Harris Boyd of Ottawa.
Boyd grew up on a farm in New Brunswick, became an economist and then worked in a number of roles for the Canadian government. One of these roles was Director of State Ceremonial. Following that, Boyd worked in the cable television industry.
Through all of his many experiences, including hitchhiking across Canada, orchestrating myriad royal visits and organizing several Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill, Boyd most vividly recalls the 1951 Plymouth Cambridge he got as a teenager — and that’s because he still owns the car.
On Good Friday in April 1965, when Boyd was 14 and too young to drive, his dad gave him the lime-green Plymouth. Boyd’s dad had done some trading with a local salvage yard to get the car and had it towed to the family farm near Belleisle Creek. Previously owned by an Avon lady, the car ran well, but after years of sliding boxes in and out of the back, the rear seat fabric was worn through. There were rust holes above both headlights and tail lights. Mechanically inclined Boyd took the time to fix up the car before he could legally drive it.
“Cars typically didn’t last for 14 or 15 years,” he says. “But this old Plymouth was solid and rugged as hell. I put in a radio and a few other conveniences, like a better heater from a Chrysler, fixed the body and painted it royal blue on the bottom, with a white roof.”
For Boyd, the Plymouth became community transportation because the car could comfortably seat six. He’d drive it to school every day loaded with siblings and friends, and likewise on weekends to dances and hockey games. Keeping the Plymouth on the road was an adventure. Boyd says he bought at least five or six other Dodge/Plymouth vehicles — never for more than $30 each, the least expensive of them for $10 — of the same vintage to harvest parts to keep his car on the road. He salvaged seats, motors, fenders and trunk lids for his “Old Plymouth,” as he came to call the vehicle. “The straight six-cylinder flathead engine was very reliable,” he says, and adds, “But I did put a rod through the crankcase on the way home from school early in 1967.”
Boyd had been saving money to travel to Montreal for Expo 67 but he took those funds and instead bought a 1950 Dodge with a rusted-out body. The best part of the car was its rebuilt 217-cubic inch engine.
“My parents were away for the weekend when I pulled that engine and put it in the Old Plymouth; I did that on my own and that was really quite a feat,” Boyd explains.
The car didn’t like to start when it was cold. To get it running in winter, Boyd would park the car facing downhill. Each morning, he’d go out and roll it down his parents’ driveway, out to the road, which was also on an incline. Popping the clutch with the three-speed column shift transmission in second gear would fire the engine every time. Boyd moved on to buy other, newer cars, but says they’d often let him down. He’d come back to the Plymouth several times, but says it was last legally on the road for Halloween in 1969.
“My sisters learned to drive the Plymouth around the farm, and would often take it to the sand dunes,” he says. “It was an amazing car that you could just about drive over anything.”
Over the years the Plymouth was moved around and sometimes stored inside and other times outside. Time has taken its toll, and the car no longer has functioning brakes. Rust has eaten holes in the gas tank and floorboards. Someone even painted a target on it and used it for paintball practice.
But that never stopped Boyd from driving it when he’d return for visits. With a gallon can of gasoline wedged into the engine bay and a 12-volt battery wired in place, he’d start the car and drive it around the farm, slowing it down in first gear to a crawl before he’d pop it into reverse to stop.
“That was the ritual, “Boyd says with a laugh.
Now, however, he needs to decide what to do with the car, because it will soon have to be removed from his late mother’s property.
Nearing retirement himself, Boyd would like to find another 1951 Plymouth to restore, using many of the parts from his “Old Plymouth” to keep the memories of a car he calls a “lifelong friend” alive.
Just how special that car is to Boyd is demonstrated by the fact it graces the cover of his recent book, Travels and Tribulations (amazon.ca). While there’s only a single chapter about the Plymouth in his memoir, Boyd recounts many of his other adventures, often with a good deal of humour.
Author Harris Boyd at the wheel of his beloved 1951 Plymouth Cambridge.
Boyd, his sons, and the so-called “Old Plymouth.”