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Car of the Month, April 2009: The Hagamans' 1932 Plymouth Phaeton

story and photos by Gene Yetter

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When Ed Hagaman, now 86 years old, was discharged from the United States Navy after the end of World War II, he established himself in the automotive service and repair business. He began working for GM, Ford, and independent enterprises for a few years before finally landing his own service station, a small Shell garage (tin roof, single outside lift) on the main east-west route through idyllic rural Hackettstown, New Jersey. Like a lot of guys whose business is cars, he soon got into motorsports, racing stock cars at tracks in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.

One cold night in Middletown, New York, his car ended up in a pond in the middle of the oval. Track operators wouldn't let him leave the property until he and his partner got it out of the water and took it home. That was a turning point, Hagaman recalls, because -- soaking wet and shivering after wadding into the pond to get a towline on the car -- he decided then and there he was out of the sport. He says, "I told my partner when we get back to Hackettstown, I'm going to park this car in your yard, and you can have it!"

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That left garage-operator Hagaman with lots of creative energy to burn and he developed a lifelong fascination with classic cars. Ed and his wife, Joan, have lost count of all the collector cars they have owned, restored, sold, or given to their four children. The prize-winning 4-cylinder 1932 Plymouth Phaeton PB in the accompanying images remains their all-time favorite, and Mrs. Hagaman told me a rendering of the Phaeton is going on their memorial stone.

About 260 Plymouth Phaetons were produced in 1932, the model's last year of production. 1932 was also the last year for production of the 4-cylinder engine in the Phaeton and other Plymouth models.

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The Hagaman vehicle has 80,000 miles on the odometer. The couple tells of driving through bad weather, including a rainstorm in Georgia along a two-lane road when they couldn't stop on the shoulder and the side curtains were under the seat. Also through strong crosswinds in southern Canada. The only time the Phaeton ever broke down, Ed reports, was in Bar Harbor, Maine, when a rod bearing failed. But Ed had spares with him. The repair was done at a local shop, and they were on their way in less than two days.

The Hagamans have been all over the U.S. with the Phaeton, mostly attending antique car shows. Joan Hagaman is and has been a supremely competent co-driver of the vehicle with Ed, through the years. Just recently (March 2009), they drove it to a local school's anniversary celebration featuring cars "from every decade since the school opened."

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This Phaeton drew its first Antique Auto Club of America (AACA) Junior award at Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1976. That same year in the Fall, it got a Senior award plaque at the AACA meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the premier annual antique car gathering in America. It also took the Hershey Foods Corp.-sponsored "Chocolate Town Trophy" in that event. With his experience building and maintaining classic cars, and winning prizes with them, Ed has many times been asked to take part as a show judge at major events

Ed acquired his Phaeton in 1974 from a friend, Jay Fisher, a founder of the nationwide Plymouth Owner's Club. Fisher had bought it from a Long Island, New York, collector in 1968. It seems that Fisher arranged with Ed for a tow, but the Phaeton couldn't be towed without someone at the wheel to steer. That would be Fisher, the new owner, of course.

One other problem arose when the seller didn't want to accept a check for $1500 in the sale. Ed was able to lend Fisher the cash, and the deal closed. So the two drove off, the Phaeton in tow. It was a cold night, Ed recalls, "We had to make several 'brandy stops' to thaw out Jay in the cloth-top car."

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Hagaman bought the car from Fisher in 1974 for $10,000. The body was sent to a local shop, Stone Barn Auto Restorations, for paint (light blue body, dark blue fenders). The engine went to a local machine shop, Hackettstown Auto Parts, to be rebuilt. The head on the 4-cylinder block was replaced with a head from a parts car. A Bendix overdrive unit replaced the stock transmission (adding 5-10 mph on the highway). A local Mopar dealer was helpful in supplying some engine components. The radiator was flushed, cleaned and repainted. Reproduction "Floating Power" engine mounts were supplied by Steele Rubber Products, Denver, N.C. Other after-market parts were supplied by Roberts Motor Parts, West Newbury, Mass.

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Ed removed the "freewheeling" feature when the overdrive unit went in. "It scared me," he says. "So you save a little on gas but you put more stress on the brakes. And anyway, freewheeling became illegal in 1935."

Ed and Joan drove in the Phaeton to Detroit for a Plymouth 50-Year Anniversary celebration in 1978. They went with four other Plymouth owners among his friends. He estimates a hundred or so antique Plymouths showed up. Owners and guests were hosted by Chrysler Corp., given tours of Chrysler facilities and feted at an anniversary banquet. Ed said he was surprised to be talking to one Chrysler veteran who claimed he recognized Ed's Phaeton from the day it left the factory!

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Ed Hagaman's first classic Mopar was a 1939 Plymouth 2-door sedan that he bought for $75 from one of his customers at the Shell station. It had only 13,000 miles on it. Soon Ed became a member of the local Plymouth club and he started showing the '39. It won many prizes. Eventually he decided he wanted an older car and he found a 1932 Plymouth convertible coupe which he purchased and restored. His daughter, a toddler when Ed bought the car, is present owner. The '39 he sold for $1200.

At the time Ed purchased the '32 Plymouth he actually owned four model A's. His first long ride in it was to Morristown, NJ, about 30 miles from home, for a have new cloth top put on. "I liked the way the Plymouth handled so much," he says, "when I got home I put For Sale signs on all of the Model A's. I don't know how they could sell Model A's when you could get a Plymouth for about the same price."

Ed Hagaman has lived through Chrysler Corp.'s peak years and, to this day, he is quick to speak well about Chrysler engineering and to express his admiration for the ingenuity and leadership of Walter P. Chrysler.

How serious is Ed Hagaman about his car hobby? When he and his wife designed and built their present home on a hillside with a scenic view just outside of Hackettstown, Ed laid out the floor plan for the basement garage. Joan did the living area on the main floor. The basement plan called for room enough for 8-10 cars, hand-tool storage, machines and supplies. There are presently six old cars in the basement besides the Phaeton, including a 1932 Plymouth PB convertible, a LaSalle, and a late model Cadillac and Chrysler Imperial.

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In the accompanying image of the 4-cylinder motor, you can see the optional trumpet horns. The orange canister is an oil filter, something Fords and Chevrolets at the time did not have. To replace it, one tossed the whole unit. Ed has been working off a two-case supply that he purchased just before he gave up his garage business in 1991.

PB options that are missing from this vehicle are a clock, radio, lighter, and right-hand windshield wiper, though it has the optional front trumpet horns beneath the headlights; and the leather-upholstered interior, whose color perfectly matches the spoke wheels.

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