Ijust bought a 1966 Chrysler New Yorker. Why? Pure, blind nostalgia.

I purchased my first “winter beater” when I was in high school. Yep, it was a 1966 New Yorker. Mine was a Town Sedan — the bottom-of-the-line 6-window, 4-door post car. It was your typical Midwestern Mopar, its white exterior under siege by rust, yet its bright red interior decidedly mint. But the real attraction was its 440-ci 4-barrel engine with 350 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque.

I bought it in the mid-1980s from a neighborhood kid I only knew as “Chrysler Matt” for obvious reasons. I suspect Matt came to own the New Yorker on a tip from his older brother, who worked at the local assisted-living facility.

I remember racing against Matt and his New Yorker with another friend in his 1960 Cadillac from a 50 mph roll. We lost. The Chrysler was the fastest junker in town.

One cold fall day, I saw Matt working at the gas station, sans Chrysler. He said the car stopped running and was told its timing chain had jumped. It was sitting on a nearby street, collecting parking tickets and was at risk of being towed. So he offered to sell it to me for $500 as-is. I needed a winter beater and offered $100. After very tense negotiations, I think we settled on $212 — which, coincidentally, was all I had.

I set to getting my “new” car off the street before I lost it to the tow yard. After charging the battery, I cranked the car over. It sounded okay. So I popped the distributor cap and verified the rotor turned when I cranked it some more. Hmm. I checked the ballast resistor, a common failure point, but it was transferring voltage to the coil just fine. And then I noticed that the ignition points weren’t opening. Ha! I opened them up to the standard matchbook gap and tried to start the car. It fired on the first revolution. Lucky for me, there was nothing wrong with that mighty 440. I was ecstatic.

Chrysler Colin

A little maintenance, some Tiger Hair fiberglass body filler packed in the more egregious rust holes, a Sun tach screwed into the driver’s side A-pillar, a pair of glasspack mufflers and dual black Le Mans stripes over the top, and I was rolling. Oh, I also tossed the almost-rusted-off fender skirts, painted the wheels bright red and mounted a set of nearly-bald Pirelli P77 tires gained from the junk pile at work. For winter use I might as well have installed casters on all four corners, but free tires were within my budget. Barely.

I loved the Chrysler. It could hold an impressive number of people, was shockingly fast and virtually bulletproof. But by the first summer I didn’t need a winter beater anymore, so I sold it — wait for it — back to Matt. For about a grand.

By fall Matt had screwed it up again, or lost his plates due to those parking tickets or something I don’t remember. So I bought it back. At a discount, of course. Same deal: maintenance, rust-hole fixing and back into service. It survived another winter admirably, even after I slid it off the road and knocked over a cement light pole. Zero damage to the Chrysler, I might add.

In nicer weather the Chrysler still provided great entertainment, from block-long smoky burnouts to high-speed highway missions. Once I was pulled over after a State Patrol airplane paced me at an estimated 120 mph. I pleaded my case with the trooper on the ground, explaining that he must have the wrong white car as my old car could never go THAT fast. His reply? “Yeah, kid, I’ll go look for the other white ’66 Chrysler with racing stripes.” To this day that was the biggest ticket I’ve received.

Luxury-sized regret

All good things must come to an end, and eventually my parents didn’t want that behemoth beached in their driveway anymore. I attempted to sell it to Matt again since that had proven effective in the past. No such luck — he was tired of losing money on it. So I sold the mighty New Yorker to a stranger for a few hundred dollars. At the time I was relieved.

But not too may years later, I really started to miss the old girl. It had never let me down, and was honestly one of the best cars I had owned — maybe because I never once had to worry about hurting it or its value.

A few years ago, I was cleaning out an old desk and found some paperwork for the Chrysler. I immediately had an old high-school classmate, now a police detective, run the VIN. But it was gone. Out of the system. Presumed current owner: Mother Earth. But this hunt ignited a search for another ’66 New Yorker, models which, it seems, are edging towards extinction.

My wife, bless her heart, had even secretly called my friends who remembered the car to help her find one like it as a surprise. She eventually confessed details of her failed plan. With that, we both gave up.

Then a few weeks ago, while walking through the Big 3 Swap Meet in San Diego, we stumbled upon a ’66 New Yorker. I stopped cold. My wife gave me the “what? Why are you stopping?” look wives are so good at. I pointed at the car, and she said, “Well, if that’s a ’66 New Yorker, I think we have to buy it.”

Ten minutes and $5,600 later, it was mine.

It’s pretty mint — a far better car than my old rust bucket. It’s a hard top, not a sedan, and is beige over gold. But as a California car, it’s also something I’ve never seen before: a rust-free New Yorker. I don’t need fiberglass. Or a tetanus booster.

It’s loaded up with power everything, air conditioning, a factory AM/FM with reverb, and even an original CB car phone — a far cry from my old plain-Jane New Yorker. But sitting in it, holding that clear Lucite steering wheel and looking at that space-age dash cluster, the memories come back in a rush: the “COLD” light on the dash when you start it. The pull-out two-ZIP-code ashtray with junk drawer. AM broadcasts crackling through that singular dashboard speaker. It’s all very familiar, with good reason. I’ve been here before.

Blasting back to the past

The New Yorker hasn’t made its way east yet to add a “why is THAT here?” element between stuff like Cobras and GT350s. I’m wondering how living with it will compare to the memory of the one from 30 years ago.

Will I abuse it like I did that poor old winter beater as an invincible teen? Will it ever see a blizzard? Absolutely not.

But am I just a little tempted to paint the wheels red and lay down a nice Le Mans stripe in Centari enamel? You better believe it. And, of course, I’ll remember to always carry a screwdriver and matchbook cover to gap the points.

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