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Opening night in late September 1963 was as good as we had ever seen. I
only wished that Grandpa, Mrs. Weed and Mr. Green had been there to help us
with that night.
I well recall Mrs. Beachum's grand entrance that night when she came to
pick up her new car. No black beauty for her this year. Got a
beautiful blue Sport Fury 2 door hardtop, loaded, with air and a white
interior. And, as usual, her 1963 Plymouth was sold the minute it crossed
the curb into our lot.
On opening night, we sold 10 new cars. Mr. Harrison, the general manager was
ecstatic. Dad was pleased, but seemed detached in some way.
In the Spring, Dad attended an all dealer conference in San Francisco, and came back more disillusioned than ever. He had been trying,
again, to push through the separate Plymouth Division along with their own
sales and stores.
The Plymouth was a victim of its own success,
as the new 1964 models were running near record level sales. With a big
Plymouth planned for 1965, which would expand the brand to two lines of cars (three, with Valiant),
dealers were content to stand pat and not shake up the cart. They had a
friend in Townsend. He liked things uniform, and saw no reason to change a
Unfortunately, increasing numbers of shoppers saw Dodge as
the alternative to Plymouth, and the switch was on. Then, even as in the end (2001), Dodge
was seen as the next step up from the low price class.
Dodge sales grew at the expense of Plymouth.
Plymouth sales actually dropped in the 1966 model year. A good marketeer
would have seen the writing on the wall, but no one was looking. I don't
believe that Walter P. Chrysler would be at all pleased with the
neglect of “his” Plymouth.
Dad had also been in a running battle with Chrysler Real Estate.
Accountant Lynn Townsend, who wanted to make everything exactly
alike, was a great pain for some dealers; he wanted dealers to have new stores, all alike in
design and space. Chrysler Real Estate
wanted us to
sign up for a quarter of a million dollar mortgage and build an entirely new
dealership closer to the downtown area. Yes, we would have to pay this mortgage back out of our
own money! Dad flatly refused. Chrysler kept putting on the pressure, seeking
any sort of angle to make us comply, even trying to divert inventory and parts
replacement. Talk about shades of K.T. Keller's days!
There had been several explosive meetings, with our lawyer firmly
entrenched in the middle of the battle. We had the advantage since it was
our land (and not leased from Chrysler). However, Chrysler had threatened to stop shipments and send them
to another area. We knew that it couldn't be done right away because no
one else was equipped to handle the amount of cars that we did.
After one particularly odious session, Dad had threatened to shut the
whole thing down and start selling Fords or Buicks since both had approached
him at one time or another. The session ended without a time or place for
In the meantime, I hit upon an idea that would have made our dealership
one of the largest. I came across a dealer that had tried to turn himself
into a rental car company; in 1964, they were nowhere close to what rental
cars are today. He lost his money, and had to sell five Plymouths that had been registered
with the rental company, all clean with low miles. I got the
General Manager to buy them all and put them out on the front row of our store
on a Friday morning. By the following Monday they were all sold, for a nice
At first, I wasn't going to say anything to my Dad, since he had not
been in on this. I wanted to do it again, just to make sure I was right. I
found another mixed bag of Plymouth and Dodge rental units and I got the
Manager to buy a dozen. In their transit, Dad had been looking at the
books, and I guess he near choked when he saw the check with my name on it,
and the amount it was for. The next day, I caught the fifth degree. He was
not happy with me. However, the Manager was so enthusiastic that Dad
decided to drop the issue and wait and see. I got the 12 cars in, detailed
them and set them out on the front lines. They didn't last five days! Again,
with a nice profit margin.
Now, you would think my father would be happy. He was not. In fact, he
looked like he'd lost his best friend or something. I had no idea what was
bothering him. However, I was about to embark on a 24 car rental deal based
on the profits of the last cars. When I asked the Manager for a check, he
just shook his head. My Dad had barred the entire thing! I was furious. I went home that night in a confrontational
mood, but Dad had left for a five day dealer meeting in Highland Park. By
the time he got back, a new crisis was awaiting him.
Chrysler had forced the issue and bought land
downtown for a new Chrysler-Plymouth store. Our lawyer, being the intelligent fellow that he was, had put the word out to the local
government officials that he was to be notified right away about plans for
any new car dealerships in the county. Dad got home on a Tuesday night.
Wednesday morning an injunction was filed against Chrysler to halt any
further attempts at building a dealership pending a court review of the
agreement with my Dad. Hearings, arguments, depositions, rulings, filings,
and all sorts of court stuff was in progress.
I was a junior in high school, about to become a senior in four months,
and a star pitcher on the Baseball team. I was also the local Plymouth
dealer's son, and the new Plymouths were the hot ticket in racing. I was
about to find out just how fast those new ’64 police pursuit Plymouths
I had just gotten into home room class on a Friday morning. It was a
gorgeous Sping day with the promise of being very warm that afternoon.
Great for a baseball game. Suddenly, the intercom phone buzzed. The
teacher, Miss Melloncot, quickly came right to me and told me
that a City Police car was waiting for me outside the school to get me to
the City Hospital. "Your father has had a bad heart attack, and you
must go now." The rest is but a blur in my mind. I remember stumbling
down the steps to the waiting cruiser. No, it wasn't my uncle, but I do
remember the officer calling him on the radio to let him know that we were
enroute. I remember hearing my uncle's voice on the radio telling him,
"this is a code 3 run!"
The car literally seemed to fly through the traffic. Suddenly we were
at the City Hospital. My mom, my uncle, several cousins, my aunt, some
cops, deputies, nurses, and some folks from the dealership were all crammed
into the emergency waiting room. I was ushered quickly into the room by my
mother. Dad looked ghastly ill. He had tubes sticking out from all over
him. He managed a small smile when he saw me, and raised his hand a few
inches. Just as quickly, I was ushered out. For the next week it was sheer
chaos. If I wasn't at home doing something like dishes, washing, cleaning,
entertaining morose quests, trying to console relatives, or trying to sneak
out the back with my friends, I was at the hospital. The second night Dad
took a turn for the worst. However, on the fourth day, he rallied. By the
seventh day, he was almost back, and on the tenth day, he was up and about.
On the twentieth day, he came home. Things were not as good then as they
are now, but they were miles ahead of what they had been back when he had
his first attack. He certainly looked a lot better than he had in a very
long time. He seemed settled, with a purpose. Little did I know what
that purpose was.
Two weeks later, I came home to find Dad there. His company car was
gone, and in its place was a new 1964 Chrysler Newport Sedan. Not an
expensive car, but nicely equipped. I walked in full of questions, and he
just held up his hand. In front of him were a lot of papers, some with the
legal blue covers on them.
He had sold the dealership! Just like that! No consultations, no
nothing! Just signed my legacy away! I was so angry that I turned almost
purple with rage. I even swore in front of him for the first time. I
couldn't even think straight I was so upset. He was stunned and hurt.
We did not communicate with each other for weeks. Of course, my nice job
at the dealership was over. So was my involvement with Chrysler Corporation.
That summer, I got a job with the local newspaper, learning to operate a
linotype machine that sets the news articles in the columns for the paper.
It kept me away from the house, and it sometimes involved long hours when
hot news stories came in. I didn't mind, since it meant I didn't have to
see or try to avoid Dad.
It was late one night and I was on the loading dock taking a breather
away from the machine. It used hot lead to set the type in and could be
very uncomfortable sometimes.
I heard glass breaking down the ally, then someone shouting at someone
else. Then a couple shots rang out. I ducked back inside and ran for the
telephone. Within two minutes the city cops were there. One of them I
knew. I had gone to school with his son and we played on the ball team
together. He also knew me. I told him quickly what I had heard. He told me
to get back inside. His partner went to the other side of the building to
come in the other way. I acted like I was going to go back inside, instead
I ducked down and squatted by the open door of the patrol car. I can
remember its rumbling engine. Hey, after all, it was a 1964 Plymouth with a
383. I also recall the smells from inside. Stale cigarettes, sweat, some
vomit, cheap vinyl seatscovers, oil, and gasoline.
The officer was slowly moving down the ally, checking behind the
dumpsters and other things lining its side. In a flash, a man jumped up
behind the officer and knocked him flat on the ground. My heart was
pounding in my chest, yet, at the same time, I wasn't really scared. I was
totally angry. Without thinking, I grabbed the radio microphone and called
out that there was an officer down in the ally behind the Republic-Democrat
and that his assailant was running North in the ally. Man! All hell broke
loose! It seemed like it didn't take but a second and the entire police
department was trying to scream into the ally!
The first cop came running up and asked if I was the one that called.
When I said yes, he yelled at me to come with him so we could catch the bad
guy. The second cop stopped to assist Officer Grant, which was the one
that had taken the hit. I also saw two first aid guys heading for him.
Well, that was all I needed. I easily kept up with the officer that called
for me to come with him. We ran all the way down to the park. Everyone kept
calling me the "eyeballer." I heard one say that I was a
Officer Grant was not seriously hurt and had come around just as
we had run by. He came to the scene a few minutes after we had established
a command post and the Lieutenant was there in charge. It didn't take long
before a suspect was rounded up. He had robbed the drug store using a
handgun, broken the rear window to get out, and then shot twice at the owner
to keep him inside the building. Then he had hidden in the alley. When
Officer Grant went by, well, you know the rest. I identified him, and so did
the drug store owner.
I was given a hero's treatment. My uncle was very proud. That cemented
for me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I joined the police
explorer post and worked assisting the dispatchers over that summer. In
September, I was given a part time paying job as assistant dispatcher in
the City Dispatch Center that controlled the Police and the Fire Department
radio. Summer flew by, and then it was my Senior Year.
In the Spring, I was the hottest left handed side armed pitcher that
class AAA ball had ever seen at my school. In the 4 years I had played ball,
my Dad had never once come to see me pitch. Finally, on the second round of
sectional finals, we were playing for the right to defend ourselves as last
year's AAA champions against another semi finalist. I looked into the
stands, and there was my father. I was so proud that I almost forgot what I
was doing. My first pitch resulted in a line drive that caught me full on
the nose. I remember nothing until I woke up in the hospital about two
hours later with my nose resembling a mountain covered in gauze. Yes, Dad
was there when I woke up. Things were said, and it all came out well.
My involvement with Chrysler Corporation had ended. I didn't go back to work
for the General Manager, and even if I had, I am sure that it would not
Don’t miss Jim Benjaminson’s Plymouth 1946-1959
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