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by Gene Yetter
A rare 1949 Chrysler New Yorker Highlander convertible owned by retired businessman Bob Underwood is a familiar site at cruises and shows in Brevard County, Florida. It turned out recently in September at a show for all manufacturers' models in Frontenac, Florida, benefiting a local charity, HorseSisters & Associates, Inc.'s Common Sense Ranch. The elegant car with its abundant chrome trim, Navajo tan paint, and original Highlander tartan upholstery was a standout at the show, even among all manner of musclecars and hotrods, early and of more recent vintage.
1949 was the Silver Anniversary year for the Chrysler brand, which marketed its first car, the 6-cylinder B-70, in 1924 (sold by Maxwell-Chalmers). Prior to 1924 Walter P. Chrysler was involved at various times in companies producing cars the Buick, Willys and Maxwell marques.
Melbourne resident Bob Underwood has owned the car for 8 years. He tells how he purchased it from a seller in Great Falls, Montana. He and his wife, Althea, drove to Montana to pick it up after long-distance negotiations. "When the car was finally winched onto the flatbed for transportation to Florida," Bob said, "Mrs. Thomas called out, 'Bye, bye, baby!' But I didn't feel guilty that we were taking her 'baby' after she told us she had seven more cars in a heated garage."
The New Yorker was mostly restored by then. Mrs. Thomas handed over a voluminous album of photographs along with the vehicle picturing every step of the major restoration that she had done on the body and engine. However there were still quite a few restoration details remaining for Bob, including coming up with original "Highlander" chrome strips for the front fenders. A parts seller, Bernbaum Auto Parts, Inc., was found with the strips. The price tag for two was $150 each. Bob said Bernbaum revealed one of the strips was "perfect, the other, not as good. I managed to get him to knock off $20 from the price of the one. That's a lot, but what are you going to do?"
Bob estimates the value of the vehicle today at around $50,000. It is registered with the Antique Auto Club of America, AACA identification number W16826. Chrysler produced 1,137 2-door New Yorker convertibles with the L-8 engine in 1949, but it's uncertain how many were Highlanders. The company also produced 3,234 Windsor convertibles with L-head 6 engines and a shorter wheelbase than its 8-cylinder models for the 1949 model year.
Bob's '49 New Yorker is powered by Chrysler's L-head 8 cylinder engine that began production in 1930, displacing 323.5 ci. with 135 hp at 3200 rpm.
Bob does have a passion for cars. He has served as president of the Antique Auto Club of Cape Canaveral, a chapter of the AACA. He also recently served as president of the Mopars of Brevard club. After heading several successful businesses since 1959 in Brevard, the home of Kennedy Space Center, he is now retired and said he isn't sure how many cars he owns: "Seventeen, I think." His first purchase of a classic was an Oldsmobile that he bought from his brother — answering an ad in Hemmings. He didn't know his brother was selling the car!
The 2008 Frontenac show, entitled "Horsepower 4 HorseSisters," was the 4th annual edition. HorseSisters trains and maintains horses for equine-assisted therapy.
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