Joe Bowers fabricated the...
Joe Bowers fabricated the steel dash insert using the original profile as inspiration. It features Classic Instruments combo gauges and conceals a Hot Rod Air climate-control system. The Magnum center console houses the shift mechanism and features a thoughtful compartment. However, as it merges into the stock dash it required significant fabrication to integrate it with its tin Plymouth counterpart.
The Chrysler Corporation tried some pretty curious things to maintain its standing in the Big Three. It produced the three-window coupe well after its rivals abandoned the design. At the same time—quite literally in fact—it beat everyone to market with an all-steel, full-size, two-door wagon. As a result of this independence, Chrysler products seem to have an unconventional aura about them.
You could say Bill Lahmann thrives on the unconventional. A ’55 Chevy withstanding, the cars he builds lie just outside of mainstream. For example, a number of years ago he built a ’40 … Chevy. The ’34 highboy he built—also a Chevy—boasted a 750hp blown 502. But don’t write him off as a Chevy guy; he took notice when his brother called and said he found a ’49 Plymouth two-door wagon. “There weren’t many two-door wagons around,” he observes. “I thought I might be able to make something out of it.” So he bought it.
“When I got the car I wanted to do something that nobody had done,” he says. “A number of years ago Goodguys picked a ’52 Plymouth wagon for Custom Rod of the Year (Gene Ray’s ‘Mayflower’). It had a Chevy engine, a Chevy transmission, and a Chevy rearend. I liked that car but I wanted to do one that was all Chrysler. The new Magnum wagons were out, so I fashioned this after one of those.”
Yep, it’s got a Hemi—a 425hp...
Yep, it’s got a Hemi—a 425hp model from an ’05 Durango. Street & Performance reprogrammed the ECU. Bill designed the filter housing. It mates to a Chrysler five-speed automatic transmission.
Bill began by disassembling the car to its bare chassis. The late-Steve Reed fortified the chassis with new crossmembers and clipped it at the firewall for a Fatman Fabrications subframe.
Following the Magnum theme, he bought the entire running gear out of a 9,000-mile Durango that had a brief-but-passionate affair with an immobile object. Street & Performance reprogrammed the ECU for the new application and Steve Reed prepped and installed the engine and its matching five-speed automatic transmission. Joe Bowers at Bowers Race & Rod Shop in Salem fabricated an aluminum shroud for the factory mechanical fan. “I tell you what, that engine goes right to 190 degrees and never more or less,” he says.
Bowers fabricated an exhaust from 2-1/2-inch-diameter stainless tubing and Flowmaster Hushpower II mufflers. Six States Distributors in Salem shortened the OEM alloy driveshaft. The axle came from an ’05 Dodge Dakota. Dutchman Motorsports narrowed it and outfitted it with its namesake axle shafts.
That axle mounts to the chassis by way of a stainless four-link and Panhard bar. The Fatman front suspension at the fore consists of control arms of similar alloy, a power-assist Fox-body steering rack, and disc brakes. Both ends of the car ride on RideTech air springs.
“The car had a lot of rust,” he laments. “It sat on dirt floors and it got a lot of moisture up in the floor and rockers.” Bill Blizzard fabricated the new floors to accommodate the larger automatic transmission. “The rockers, the firewall, and the entire floor, they’re all brand new,” Bill observes. Though they raised as one, Mopar hoods from the era are two pieces. Rick Tedder Fabrication merged them.
“We found out that when the car was all the way down you couldn’t steer,” he notes. So Joe Bowers opened the wells for tire clearance. Bowers also installed the Hagan Street Rods headlight kit.
The stock rear seat folds...
The stock rear seat folds in a particular way to extend the cargo area, making it impossible to simply swap. So Creative Design trimmed it to match the front seats, a not-so-simple task given the radical shape difference.
He did the tailgate, too. Tailgates on Mopar wagons from the era ride on oversized hinges. Worse yet, everything around the hinges was wasted. “We had to remake everything back there anyway so we found different hinges.” He discovered them in a highly unlikely place: on the doors of a ’55-59 Chevy pickup. “They perfectly pick up that gate and kick it out,” he says.
Chrysler wagons from the era also have five pieces of side glass: wind wings, door, a pair of sliders, and a fixed window separated by a post. Bowers eliminated the vent wings and the side-window posts, reducing the count to two per side; 3D Auto Glass in Silverton made replacements based on Bowers’ templates.
Bill retained the Magnum bucket...
Bill retained the Magnum bucket seats. Creative Design in Keizer, OR, re-trimmed them in a stock-type pattern, albeit in Bill’s color choice and without headrest provisions.
Vaughn Berger completed the bodywork. Todd Hollis, a local DuPont paint rep, applied DuPont Diamond-series urethane in a three-stage color Chrysler calls Inferno Red. Vancouver’s Paul Mackie applied a limited number of stripe details. Marysville Metal Plating and Polishing in Plumas Lake, California, freshened up all of the shiny stuff.
Bowers wired the car with an EZ Wiring harness and mounted a Hot Rod Air climate control system behind the factory dash. He also fabricated a panel to fill the dash’s face and created a center console that employs the rear half of one from a Dodge Magnum. Tunnels in the dash and in the console mount Classic Instruments gauges. Gone are the original column and wheel, in their place a GM-style Flaming River tilt column and a steering wheel Colorado Custom machined to resemble the road wheels.
Flanking the Magnum console are the matching seats. Creative Design in Keizer, Oregon, trimmed them, the rear bench, the side panels, and the headliner in a combination of saddle-tan leather and vinyl. It lined the floor with wool carpet. Hear No Evil in Salem assembled a hidden audio system from Alpine and Pioneer components.
All too often people use terms like unconventional to describe something that’s neat, despite its differences. But Bill’s wagon is cool, specifically because it’s different. It’s outside of the mainstream just enough to stand out yet familiar enough to fit in.
Even better, it’s as utilitarian as it is cool. “I keep my E-Z Up tent in the back so I can just take off to wherever I want to go,” he says. And because of its Hemi’s copious power, he can get there as quickly as he wants to. “My 750hp ’34 Chevy was a bad hot rod,” he notes. But by virtue of better chassis design, “… this car will outrun it in the quarter.” But he’s almost prouder of its economy. “It gets 20-something miles per gallon!” he crows.
Bill’s Plymouth bucks convention for more than its brand. It does everything you’d expect from a hot rod, family wagon, and luxury car. It really is like a Magnum wagon … only one hell of a lot cooler looking.