I had always wanted to own and drive a classic car since I was a young kid, and one that could be reliable and a daily driver. And after so many years of learning about cars, buying hot wheels, playing racing games online, building Lego cars, creating cars online, going to car shows and meets, and then finally getting my drivers license and my first car at 16. That was one of my next goals in life, to buy and own a classic car, but after seeing so many Mustangs, Camaros and Bel Airs. I realized that it had to be more unique, and a car that even some of the old guys hadn’t seen. Or a car I had never seen or had much knowledge of either, and I had just turned 18 at the time, how crazy is that? To buy and own a classic car at such a young age, and be the first one in my town to do it out of my whole school, wouldn’t that have been super awesome and cool?
Yeah, well it would’ve been, if it had actually happened. While it ended up being just a pipe dream and a very expensive and time consuming lesson, It’s not like no good ever came out of the experience, I met new friends and learned a lot, but I just never got to do some the things I really wanted to do with it. But maybe that’s all part of what the lesson was, I’d like to think it will get back on the road some day so I can drive it. But for now I guess all I can do is just hope and wait, but in the mean time I might as well tell the story about this car and my experience with it, so…let’s start at the beginning.
Oddly enough, this story doesn’t start with the car in question, but rather this 1956 Mercury Medalist in the picture above. The town I live in used to have a May festival every year with a car show, and in May of 2019 when I first saw this car at the show, I couldn’t help but keep coming back to it. I ended up meeting the owner and we talked about the car, it was a 312 C.I. V8 with a 3-speed manual, it wasn’t perfect but it had it’s charms. Sitting in it was pretty neat, I liked the big steering wheel and the comfy seat too, but what intrigued me even more was the price tag.
At that moment I realized something, it was possible for me, someone with very little money, to own a classic car! As before this I thought that it was gonna be a challenging and very expensive task to buy one, but $5000? I might just be able to swing a similar amount of money for a running and driving classic. But after some research I also realized that only well known classic cars like challengers, chargers and chevelles were in the higher price range, but of the lesser known and less popular cars actually weren’t that pricey. I didn’t have anywhere near $5k at the time, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t start looking.
And so, for the next 8 months I looked all around the 500 mile radius I was willing to go. I had I big list of options to choose from (Back then they were more plentiful), but I only went to see a few. A 1966 Plymouth Barracuda with a 273 V8 (out of my price range), a 1968 AMC Ambassador with a 343 V8 (probably should’ve bought that one, it was a nice car), and the chosen 1964 Chrysler New Yorker with a modified 413 V8. However, while I love almost all classic cars, I tend to lean towards Mopars. And than when I saw what the 61-64 Chryslers looked like, I fell in love with the design, it looked like the perfect mixture of 50s and 60s styling to me, So that’s when I started looking for this type of car in particular.
The first one I asked about was a light blue 1963 New Yorker, but it ended up having a cracked block, so that wasn’t gonna work. However the next car I found was the one I bought, it had some rust as it had been sitting right by the ocean for around 8 years, like right next to it. But I had just gotten my inheritance which made up the difference (Thanks Aunt), and I was super excited. And it didn’t look too bad, at least not in the pictures, but it turned out that those pictures were taken 4 or 5 years prior when the rust wasn’t as bad, so after driving 400 miles through a snow storm and having to sleep in grandma’s Marquis (multiple times). I was little annoyed, but all of that vanished into thin air when the owner started the car up.
It was loud, as it had duel exhaust on it. So I was more than happy to take it for a test drive, it drove pretty good (considering the problems it had), and me being exhausted from the 400 mile trip I didn’t want to come home empty handed. So we settled on $4200, which at the time seemed like a good deal. But in reality it had lots of issues, the tires were 25 year old Sears tires that wobbled down the road, only the speedo and alternator gauge worked, it had an exhaust leak, it had more than enough rust, and the brakes were iffy to say the least, and those were only the big issues.
But at the moment I was so happy to have a shot at getting classic car I really wanted that I kinda just didn’t care, so when me and my mom stopped at a gas station to fill up for the trip home, the car ended up dying because the battery was dead. So I called the now ex-owner and he was at least nice enough to come down and charge up the current battery and buy me a new battery, so at that point the price a paid came down to about $4000 as the battery was nearly $200, but I honestly still think I kinda overpaid considering the current condition the car was actually in. My mother wasn’t too happy either, as the money I was spending was basically all I had at the time.
The ex-owner also reminded me about the weird way the heat system worked, where you had to turn off from under the hood using a knob, as it was a warm sunny day I turned it off. But driving the 400 miles home that night was bitter cold without the heater on, and I hadn’t been able to get the gauge lights to work either. So there I was just driving through the mountains, freezing my hands off, not able to see any of the gauges that did work, and my mom following close behind in the other car. Luckily we were able to stop at a midway point for the night, and I must say that sleeping in the Chrysler was a lot more pleasant than sleeping in the grand marquis, the bench seat actually provided some level of comfort.
On March 16, 2020 we got home hungry and tired. But I couldn’t care less, I had one of my dream cars, and the first thing I was going to do was show it off at school and…oh wait, that’s the week that school ended up being canceled for the rest of the year because of the lockdown, so I never did get to do that. Oh well… So the next best thing to do was get new tires. So there went $500 into it right there, but it made a massive difference in how the car drove. The other thing it really needed was a trunk key, It didn’t come with one and and the only other way to get to the trunk was through the back seat, so after finally finding a locksmith to make a key for the bizarre lock, there went another $75.
But one of the other things I really wanted to do was start going to car shows with it, and in May they started doing some sizable car meets in a city not too far from where I lived, and needless to say I got plenty of attention. Just like I hoped, the car became well known in my town and at the car meets as people would gather to see this odd ball vehicle to take pictures and ask questions about it. I was respected, people in normal basic cars got out of my way, and other guys in classic cars greeted me as I drove by. I loved the feeling of driving it and the rewards it gave, I just couldn’t get enough of it, but after a while the car certainly began to have enough of it.
As the months went on, the problems began to creep in, slowly just like the rust on the rear end of the unibody frame. The first was the throttle connection gave out, as one of the connector pieces had fallen out when I was driving and caused the gas pedal to fall halfway before having any response and would sometimes get stuck. Luckily enough it ended up being a quick fix for $70 by my mechanic, but then it began to leak oil and transmission fluid, however while the oil leak stopped entirely on its own, the trans leak did not. After every highway drive it leaked about a half a quart out of the pan, my mechanic replaces the pan gasket for $100, doesn’t fix it. He does it again, still doesn’t fix it, he does it a third time while adding some transmission sealant, it shrinks the leak down but doesn’t stop it.
These problems however, were just the start, as this was the beginning of not just mechanical problems but general problems. While most people liked the car, some did not, as it got keyed multiple times were I lived and I ended having to park it elsewhere. I was always paranoid of the amount of fuel since the gas gauge didn’t work, as the transmission fluid level, and around late July I was starting to get burnt out. The car meets weren’t the same and I needed a break, and in correlation with that I badly overheated the car while sitting in traffic during a cruise for about 10 minutes straight. And when I finally found a parking spot the radiator was smoking hot and letting off lots of steam, but with no working temperature gauge I didn’t even notice until it got bad.
I had also lost a hubcap earlier that day, but after a short while I realized that I would never find it and it wasn’t worth looking for. So the day already wasn’t perfect, but after I overheated the car I also realized that I had never thought to check the coolant level and I had just made the stupid decision to sit in traffic idling for 10 minutes, so all I knew to do at that point was pour some water on it to cool it off, and waited till I was sure it was completely cooled down. The next week I find out the head gasket is blown, go figure, as I could see the coolant burning off the heads. At the time all I knew is it was going to be expensive, I had gotten tired of meets and cruises anyway, but it wasn’t going to be easy to deal with regardless, but I surprisingly would end up learning a lot about the car due to this.
In late July of 2020, I drove it to my mechanics place and parked it. While my mechanic takes forever to finish his jobs, he’s the only mechanic in town that knows about old cars and offers low prices, he ended up teaching me certain things about my car and even let me help him on occasion. As he slowly but surely tore down the motor, all the cheap and crappy fixes began to reveal themselves, the gaskets would be the worst of it. All of the them were either poor quality, falling apart or missing completely, and that was when I realized I clearly hadn’t looked at the car close enough before buying it. However there were some goodies too, it had actually been bored out to around 435 or 436, had custom high compression pistons, and a cam. So while the car had potential, it just hadn’t been taken care of enough to get there.
As the months dragged on, I became impatient, this was going slower than Christmas. And it was sitting outside only getting worked on occasionally when the weather was good, and that wasn’t too common for the inland northwest. So most of the time during the winter the car just sat, but while it annoyed me a lot I tried not to show it, as my mechanic was having health issues at the time and still is to this day. But it still irritated me, I missed driving it, that feeling of power and prestige that it gifted me. I sat around for months wondering if I would ever get the car back. One thing I had also learned is that parts for this car were incredibly hard to find, and were often expensive, hence the price of repairs went up steadily.
The last time the car was driven was in June of this year when the motor was fully functional, I attempted a 16 mile journey to a car show as a test run. And while the motor clearly had its power back, the brake pedal was like a rock and it would only move a slight bit, and because the booster was bad the engine nearly died on multiple stop lights. So when I finally pulled up to the show, the motor completely died and the transmission gushed all the fluid straight out of the new pan we had put in, this time worse than before, but that was before I learned not to use cork and rubber gaskets. I then called AAA and had the car towed back to the shop to have the booster rebuilt and yet another gasket put in, as the cork one had been pushed in by the pan, thus causing the bad leak.
Another problem had come up as well, I was unable to license the car as the previous owner had never licensed it himself, but luckily since it had classic plates it wasn’t an issue to legally drive it on the street. Yes, I could wait the 3 years to appeal the title to have it put in my name, but after getting 3 different answers from the same DMV I just gave up, as it was just too confusing. But while the car sat I had some time to dig up some history from the service papers that had come with the car, there wasn’t much to find but it gave me an idea of what the car went through.
From what I could gather, the original owner had the car till the early 2000s, the papers I had showed that he took care of it on a normal basis and spend a good chunk of money on it. But around 2002 or 2003 some sort of accident happened causing the car to go though major repairs on the front body, it was cosmetically repaired and sold as is by a classic car dealership in Oregon. After that the car bounced though at least 5 people, I’m guessing that they didn’t want to try and fix all the electrical problems it had, it’s estimated to have around 65k or 70k miles on the body, I’m unsure about the engine and trans due to the fact they have both been rebuilt at least once.
So, what’s keeping this car here now? well the shift selector seal went bad, and I’m guessing from sitting for so long. So now it needs to have the medal part of the seal pushed back in, a new rubber piece put in, and the shift cable reconnected, that’s it. But my mechanic works on my cars last because he knows that there’s no where else I can afford. So either one of two things is going to happen: Either I’m going to have the car towed to a transmission shop and have it done there if I can afford it, or he’s going to eventually finish it before that, and I have no idea what’s going to happen first.
So what has happened since? Well it has a used fully functional gauge cluster, a rebuilt booster, rust and paint work that I did myself, and the engine now has no functional issues. But I’m curious, what would you do in my situation? Would you sell it and try to get your money back? Would you keep working on it trying to get it into a fully functional state? If you had the money would you take it to a special shop and have it done there? My plans are to have the car fixed up so I can use it for things like autocross and go to events like the Gambler 500, and just use it as a 2nd car. Please tell me what you would do in the comments below.
On a final note, I’m sorry this took so long, it was supposed to be out over a month ago but life issues kept me from staying focused on this. As the car would’ve been back in my hands if the most recent problem hadn’t come up, and the next COAL will definitely won’t take as long as this, at least I hope not. This also ended up being longer than I though it would be, but I wanted to include the whole story and not leave anything important out. So with that being said if you read till the end, thank you and happy holidays!