My Fifty Dollar Car
by Rev. Carl Kreps

Reprinted from the Chrysler 300 Club News Spring 1985
Volume XI Number III

My interest in a convertible started in the mid 1970s when manufacturers quit making convertibles and everybody wanted to latch onto one as a possible investment. My wife’s brother, Jimmy Koontz and I discussed this one time at a family dinner. He said “Carl, we ought to get a convertible.” So, I began slowly looking around for a convertible, with no particular thought in mind as to what make or model or year of car. Any model, any kind would be all right, I thought. It seemed that it would be a neat idea just to have some kind of a convertible to have as a fun car, if for nothing else. After all, my boys were young yet at the time and I thought that it would be a good family project or father-son project to fix up an old car.

My chance came on Feb. 14, 1976, when after about two weeks, I had been noticing a run-down convertible sitting on the edge of a field near a man’s yard, not far from my church and parsonage, when I was living in Hickory, North Carolina.

On an impulse that winter day, I stopped and looked at the car. I could see from the highway that it was a 1965 Chrysler convertible. That sparked my imagination about my possible project because I always liked the body style of the ’65 Chrysler. I guess that came partly from the fact that I have an elderly uncle in my family who resides in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, who bought new and still owns a 1965 Newport sedan. I rode a lot in his car and drove it as well, so I was familiar with this model.

So, I walked up to the back of this car sitting in the weeds at the edge of the field. It looked very forlorn and sad, lonely, as if it was begging for a new owner to take some interest in it. The first thing that I noticed was the black porcelain 300L medallion below the trunk lid. I never saw one before and I wondered what kind of series this could be. I knew there was a 300 series of Chryslers but I didn’t know a thing about the letter cars at that moment.

I went and knocked on the door at the house. Luckily the gentleman was home. Yes, the car was for sale. Without a moment’s hesitation, I bargained for the car, bought it on the spot, my imagination running away with me as I thought about all the possibilities of my little pet project.

Now, before I go much further, you need to know that I am really just a little ole country preacher and I must admit, about some things I am terribly naïve. Any time a new project is begun, there is a lot to learn. That’s the way it was with this letter series car. I kept wondering what that L symbol meant, front and back, on the car. I just kept thinking, “Well it must be some kind of special model, I guess, but so what? That might make it all the more interesting”.

The car was in bad shape mechanically. It had been bumped up -- the hood and right front fender looked as though somebody had drove under a fence with it. It had a flat tire and it would not run. The man admitted that the engine had blown up and needed some kind of repair. On top of that, he did not have the title for it. He said a man had driven it down from Virginia, looking for work. The Virginia man had gotten a job with him and when the car broke down he parked in the man’s field, joined the army and left the car for the man in Hickory to sell for what he could get for it. This was borne out by the temporary Virginia license tag, made out of cardboard, which was still on the car.

I still thought that this was okay because the asking price was only, well yes, half a C note -- only fifty dollars. So what did I have to lose? I towed it home and placed it in a neighbor’s garage which was available for my use and I settled down very comfortably after super that night, feeling good about my new project. My boys were properly excited and impressed with the convertible although my wife was somewhat dubious. We just thought that it was an old car, a clunker that needed to be fixed up by novices like us.

Then a strange thing happened. My family went to bed that night, I stayed up a while listening to music on my hi fi set as I often do, to relax a little bit before I would retire for the night. I casually picked up the issue of “Cars and Parts”, Oct.-Nov., 1972, vol. 16, No. 1-2 which my brother in law Jimmy had given me as a gift subscription for Christmas a couple of years before. Why I never noticed before I will never know, but leafing through the magazine there was an article on the letter series of cars. On page 88, concluding the article was a picture of a 300L convertible and a chart, showing only 440 of them built. Then I knew what I had. I was so excited, I wanted to wake up my whole family and tell them, but I didn’t. I told them the next day. This was my introduction to the Letter Series Chrysler 300s.

A new attitude developed right away about this suddenly acquired convertible. I went to work immediately to see what could be done about the title. It took about half a year to get that straightened out. I never found the man who had joined the army. He was the most elusive character that I had ever tried to track down. I talked to a lawyer, a lot of friends about the problem and finally through a local antique car club, I learned of a bonding process available in the state of North Carolina where you buy a bond for the value of the car which protects the state from being sued if a former owner shows up. But they issued me a new title, which solved the problem. My title came in September of 1976, saying that I was the legal owner of this convertible.

Now I wanted to rebuild the car. Rebuild we did, the boys and I. The motor had bearings knocked out of it and the timing chain had jumped time. We ended up totally rebuilding the engine with .040 oversize pistons and all the rest that goes with it. Transmission and brakes had to be completely rebuilt, then we had upholstery put on the seats. The only good thing about the car was the top looked fairly new. Luckily the car was a southern car and had amazingly little rust when it came to repainting.

That’s another story. Remember that I told you that I was somewhat naïve. Even after reading about the Letter Series, I didn’t really take that much care about being professional in doing the restoration work. My boys were also involved with a local Boy Scout Troop in another nearby church at that time. The assistant Scout Master said he knew how to paint cars so he would paint my car. Well, we did so, one night just before midnight in the basement under the parsonage, turning it into a temporary body shop. It was okay except for one thing. A few days after it was all done, the man remembered that we had forgotten to put the hardener ingredient in the paint the night we did the work.

That turned out to be the softest paint that I have ever seen. Anything would scratch it, including finger nails, bicycles, gravel and anything else that hit it. To make a long story short, after moving to Lexington where I live now, a body shop put on another paint job.

One good thing came out of that Scout Troop. The assistant Scout Master says to me, “You aught to get acquainted with Dennis Cloer, who goes to this church. He has a C and is in a club for these cars.” Then began a very fine relationship with my good friend Dennis Cloer, who being a school teacher, began immediately to educate me about the Letter Series so I wouldn’t be so naïve anymore. Thanks, Dennis. Somebody has to take these poor country preachers under their wing and look out for them! Finally, by early summer of 1978, most of the restoration was finished enough that I thought that I could go to a show and see some other 300s. I still had a lot to learn. My first Club show was in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1978. It turned out that I had the only L at that show and being a preacher, I have to tell you this story about that show. We lined our cars up according to model so I was last with the ’65. As we were police escorted out to the Daytona track from our hotel on a Saturday morning with the boys in the back seat, some traffic had to yield to us. Going through a traffic light in the city, one curious driver yelled to me, “What is this? A funeral procession?” Well, really, a funeral procession with all those pretty cars? I have been in a lot of funeral processions, of course, but never in an L convertible and anyway, where was the hearse? We laughed about that!

Then in 1980, I went to Pennsville, New Jersey to that show and saw for the first time some other Ls so that I might compare my car and learn a little more about what I needed to do and what was original and factory about this model.

One other story about the trip to that show. Sometimes, an old grease sticker on the door jamb can tell you a whole lot about a used car. My convertible had a sticker and it is still on the car showing that it was once serviced by Patrick Henry Chrysler/Plymouth dealer in Collinsville, Virginia, just out from Roanoke. To go to Pennsville, I had to go right through Collinsville and I thought just for fun I’ll stop at this garage and see if they recognize this car. Recognize they did, as I drove right in and the service manager, being an older person who apparently had worked there a long time, took one look at the convertible and said, “Why that looks like Melvin Brown’s car.” I said, who is Melvin Brown and he says he bought the car new here. Sure enough, I could not locate Melvin that day, who works as a detective for the local police there. But on a subsequent trip to Collinsville, Melvin came driving in to a pre-arranged meeting place in a patrol car, gets out and says, yes that was my car. In a telephone conversation with Melvin’s wife to arrange that meeting, she said and exclaimed on the phone, “That was my favorite car”. Mr. Brown admitted that his wife got mad at him when he sold the car. I learned from Melvin that the second owner of the car also lived in the area, Shirley Henderson, who then owned the car for a long time. Somehow the car strayed to southwestern Virginia, to Richmond, where the temporary tag had come from. I am at least the fifth owner of the car, putting this all together. Melvin is a Mopar man also and I really enjoyed meeting the first owner of the car, all because of the grease sticker still attached to the car. Later, at the Pennsville show I met Jim Pihajilic who subsequently looked up the records at Chrysler Corporation and verified everything that I learned at Collinsville.

Now, one last preacher story. Sometime shortly after getting the car at Hickory, I was back talking to the man that I had bought the car from when I was chasing the elusive man who was supposed to have the title but never was found. The Hickory man said, “Oh by the way, do you know the next day after you bought the convertible another man came to buy it and he was going to tear it all apart for parts?” Do you believe in Divine guidance? What if I had waited one more day before deciding to buy my 300L convert. I saved it from extinction by just one day. How is that for perfect timing?

Now, I like to take my fifty-dollar car and I agree with Mrs. Brown, its my favorite car too and in the North Carolina area, I like to drive late at night for a little cruise sometimes, just before I go to bed at night. That’s a good time to enjoy a convert, with little traffic around to bother you and going out into the countryside in early summer, especially. Would you believe I like to drive slowly and smell the honeysuckle and the new mown hay and as I reflect on my fifty dollar car? I think, I “wised up” a whole lot, don’t you? I’m proud of my fifty dollar investment.

Thanks to Bill Elder (Wild Man of the North) for preparing this article