In the fall of 1960, my parents decided that they had saved enough money to buy their first new car. I was 10 years old so do the math. After test-driving Fords, Chevrolets, and Dodges, they sat down with the Dodge dealer and hammered out what they wanted. The car was fairly plain jane by today's standards but not so for its day. It had options like a heater and radio -- Wow! Those were the days! As for the details on the rest of the car, it has a 318 with the smallest 2-barrel carburetor I have ever seen. It now has radial tires and that is about the only thing not stock. The window sticker is really very simple to read, unlike my 2000 Dakota.
My parents took delivery of the red Phoenix in the spring of 1961. I was 11 years old and can still remember that first ride home. Top down, my dad driving, mom riding shotgun, and me and my sister in the back. We lived in Montana, which is a state that is conducive to putting miles on vehicles just to be with relatives. So, by the time I got my learners permit in 1965, the Phoenix had been run hard but well taken care of. I can remember learning to drive city streets with my dad hollering to go faster than 25 mph, the Beatles blaring on the radio, and being too timid to open her up!
That all changed when I got my license. This was the first car I buried the 120 mph speedometer on, got my first speeding ticket in, drove 60 mph down a highway with the lights off at night, and did things in the backseat after the football game that are fun to remember. It snows a lot in Montana and I misjudged stopping distance a time or two, rear-ending other cars and punching the nose in; my sister, two years younger, did the same thing when it was her turn to drive. Fast forward to the '70s and my parents had moved to Las Vegas. The Phoenix finally got so tired that it was retired to the side of the house and was covered with the ubiquitous blue plastic tarp. Sad.
My father passed away in 1983 and after my mom got over the grieving, she was ready to consolidate. This meant that the junker car on the side of the house had to go. Fortunately, an uncle of mine back in Montana had the presence of mind to haul the Phoenix up to the big sky country and what is better, he began a restoration. He did the interior, paint, chrome, and made the motor run strong. The Phoenix rose from the ashes again. The '61 became a staple in the annual 4th of July parade in a small Montana town and occasionally got driven when my aunt and uncle were feeling frisky.
I took my family on vacation to Montana in the late '90s for the 4th of July and my uncle asked me if I would drive the car in the parade that year. I spent the morning washing and waxing the old beast and remembering all the good old days when I used to take her for granted. I secretly wished I were her owner. Well, it happened. In 2000 my uncle decided he wanted to devote time to retirement in his motor home and I found out later that his new project was an old Chrysler Imperial.
I bought the Phoenix, stuffed it in my little cracker box of a garage in Washington, and now take her out for car shows, runs in the mountains when the weather is nice, and try to make improvements when money isn't tight. I am the new caretaker. Bottom line, you either love these cars for their garish styling or have a history with them. In my case, I grew up loving the styling and have a history. It is hard to describe. I am partial to the Chrysler products but if I see a batwing 59 Chevy or a Ford Sunliner with its steel top folding into the trunk I have the same feeling.
THE FEELING IS........THEY DON'T MAKE 'EM LIKE THAT ANYMORE!!!!
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