Trubie Mitchell with his daughter-in-law-to-be Patricia (left), his wife Mary (right), and his two 1954 Chryslers. The car in the foreground is a New Yorker Deluxe; the one in the background is a New Yorker. The photograph was taken by Trubie's son Henry on Easter morning, April 18, 1965.
In August 1955, with the encouragement of Chrysler enthusiast and Spring Garden High School principal Lawrence C. Neeley, Trubie traded his 1949 DeSoto and paid $1800 to buy a low-mileage 1954 Chrysler New Yorker. He purchased it from Swanson Cadillac-Oldsmobile in Danville, Virginia, where a local lady had just traded the car in for a new Oldsmobile.
That transaction began a long relationship with a car model which Trubie always thereafter considered his favorite.
Of significance was the fact that it was large enough and vertical enough to allow the front seat to be raised two inches to comfortably accommodate both Trubie's height and his rigid hip. But beyond that, the car was heavy, smooth-riding, quite powerful, and considerably more reliable than any he had previously owned.
Not that the car was perfect — on its first 400-mile round trip to Trubie's native southwest Virginia, it blew all four of its new Goodyear whitewall tires. Immediately the big steel wheels also began to split, a continuing problem which Trubie remedied with his welding skills. The car was simply too heavy for its wheel design. The big hemi-head V-8 engine had more than enough power for any situation, including pulling heavy trailers, but the two-speed (R-N-D-L on the column shift) automatic transmission was strained in delivering all that power to the driveshaft and rear wheels. From time to time the car limped to R. L. Hall Motors (Chrysler dealer in Danville) to “have its transmission bands adjusted.” It also seemed a bit hypersensitive in its plugs-points-and-condenser configuration, and after awhile its gasoline gauge became useless when the tank was less than one-fourth full; both those flaws left us temporarily stranded at times. We eventually carried a spare full gasoline can (in the oversized engine compartment!) everywhere we went.
Trubie cheerfully accommodated to all the car's idiosyncrasies, encouraged in doing so by the fact that no other later-model car he tried approached the comfort afforded him by the 1954 Chrysler. As the car aged, Trubie began to look ever more seriously for a replacement, but with no success. Around 1963, dealer R. L. Hall, Jr. surprised Trubie with the announcement that he had something he thought Trubie might find interesting: a very low-mileage, nearly showroom-condition 1954 Chrysler New Yorker Deluxe, and at a very low price. Trubie eagerly bought it.
Both the cars were aqua in color. The Deluxe had a dark green roof, rather than ivory. The Deluxe also had extra trim, folding door handles, fold-down armrests in the center of both seats, and a four-barrel carburetor instead of a two-barrel. Thus it was even more of a tiger, power-wise, but oddly it got better gas mileage (about twelve miles per gallon rather than nine!).
By 1967 parts were becoming scarce enough that Trubie was having to occasionally temporarily cannibalize the New Yorker to keep the Deluxe on the road, or vice versa. To try to remedy the dilemma, Trubie obtained and modified a 1958 Chrysler Windsor, which was almost immediately totally destroyed in an accident which nearly took Trubie's life. Then he purchased a stunning white 1959 Imperial, which served him fairly well until he bought a new 1971 Ford LTD (finally a NEW car with the room and comfort he wanted). He kept the LTD until his death in 2001, but in all that time he didn't drive it anywhere close to the number of miles (about a quarter of a million) that he put on his two 1954 Chryslers.
Much to Trubie's chagrin, during the 1970's he found he could no longer keep either of the Chryslers reliably running (even after a last desperate move of purchasing a junked 1953 Chrysler for parts), so he sold them for scrap metal. He had been approached several times by a hot rod enthusiast who offered to buy the cars in order to retrieve their hemi engines and put them into 1932 Ford bodies. But Trubie thought that would be a sacrilege, and too much an endorsement of dangerous racing.
Hearing those sentiments, I always wondered if Dad knew to what extent his 1954 Chrysler hemis had already been tested. It had been determined that the transmissions would shift at 92 mph from low range to high while peeling rubber in a hard zero-to-?? acceleration, and that an almost-new Chevy with big V-8 would blow its engine trying to match the hemi in a three-mile run. A driver in the Deluxe had also easily and unwittingly (thinking a pursuer was a pesky practical joker in a wimpy Corvair) outrun a state trooper's state-of-the-art cruiser.
The 1954 Chryslers were the cars in which I learned to drive. I am deeply thankful that they and I survived those years. The Deluxe (with moniker “The Green Chariot, ” whereas the New Yorker was called “Old Faithful”) became the car of Tricia's and my early courting days (except that I drove my Grandfather Helvey's new Dodge Dart to her house on our first date — she afterward wondered aloud if I had purposely done that in order to make her style-conscious mother think that I had a zippy new car). The New Yorker was the car I took to college, and that we used for nearly our first year of married life. I admired the cars for their brute strength, but always looked askance at their anything-but-modern styling, and was almost embarrassed that Dad kept them so long. Now Tricia laughs at the fact that we ourselves have a Chrysler rapidly approaching antique status: a 1982 Chrysler New Yorker Fifth Avenue. But we keep it because it's so big, so comfortable, so peppy to drive. Sound familiar? It must be a genetic thing.
This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia. (See also guides to Pittsylvania County, Chatham, and Danville.)
Copyright © 2004 Patricia B. Mitchell.