A HEART­FELT ODE TO THE ‘OLD PLY­MOUTH’

Ot­tawa writer Boyd in­cludes chap­ter about ‘life­long friend’ in Trav­els and Tribu­la­tions

Calgary Herald - - DRIVING - GREG WILLIAMS Greg Williams is a mem­ber of the Au­to­mo­bile Jour­nal­ists As­so­ci­a­tion of Canada. Have a col­umn tip? Con­tact him at 403-287-1067 or greg­williams@shaw.ca. Driv­ing.ca

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.

PHOTOS: HAR­RIS BOYD/DRIV­ING

Au­thor Har­ris Boyd at the wheel of his beloved 1951 Ply­mouth Cam­bridge.

Boyd, his sons, and the so-called “Old Ply­mouth.”

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