Jim Mummah’s 1956 Chrysler New Yorker
(from Volume 21, Issue 258)

story by owner Jim Mummah • photos by Michael B. Kelly


Back in late 1955, when I was 9 years old, I was with my mother at the Chrysler Plymouth dealer having our ’54 Plymouth serviced. A car hauler arrived and I went outside to watch the new 1956 Chryslers being offloaded. To my young eyes they were the most beautiful cars I’d ever seen and I never forgot them. When I was 16 I received my grandmother’s hand-me-down 1950 Chrysler. Yes, it was slow and ugly but it was BIG. When the whole gang wanted to go somewhere, we always took my car and got as many as 8 of us in it. It served me well through high school and college.

As the years went by I had a number of other Mopars. I couldn’t afford repair shops so I learned to work on my cars myself. Right after I returned from Vietnam in 1969 I got into the restoration hobby. My first restoration was a Jaguar XK150. Don’t ever do that to yourself. I’ve restored many cars since, but I never forgot the 1956 Chryslers. I finally got my first one about 1984 - a one owner, low mile car in need of a light restoration. After I restored it a man offered me about twice the book value and I sold it. I missed it the minute it drove off.

Many years and many cars later, I had just sold a ’69 Barracuda in 1997. A friend asked what my next project would be. I told him I was going back to looking for the 1956 Chrysler New Yorker two door I had sought for many years. He told me he knew where one was and I hurried to the phone. There it sat in a driveway looking shabby, and with an “electrical problem”. But it was all original and only missing a couple small trim parts. It came to my house on a roll-back. I fixed the electrical problem by replacing the battery, which had been installed backwards, and I had it running and driving that afternoon. I located the few missing parts and the project began. I also located the two “impossible” parts, and some R-12 to get the factory A/C working again.

Over the next 6 years I stripped it to bare metal and then painted it in the original colors, Desert Rose and Cloud White. I’ve done all the work myself. Chrysler Historical provided a copy of the original build sheet and I found that the engine was the original 354 Hemi. The car was a very late 1956 production, and had the then new push-button Torqueflite transmission. As I put the car back together I replaced and repaired whatever needed it. Since I intended to drive this car, my goal was to make it look about two years old and to keep it as original as possible. I only made a few invisible changes for safety and reliability, and I added seat belts. Even the license plate is correct; “17” for Seminole County, where I live, and “W” for a heavy car. You older Floridians will remember when Florida used that system. She backed out of my garage in 2003 and headed for the Turkey Run in Daytona, some 55 miles away. I actually installed the last few parts the night before. I didn’t take, or need, any tools.

The interior was in fair condition but was incorrect. I contacted the one man in the whole country who had the correct patterns and leather dyes. I waited 4 years for FedEx to deliver two big boxes, and I installed the new correct interior. My friends told me I could have installed anything in the interior because no one knows these cars. I told them that I would know it wasn’t correct.

So now I’m driving my old dream car as you see it, and attend many cruises and shows all over Central Florida. What you are looking at is a 1956 Chrysler New Yorker Special Club Coupe. She has her original 354 Hemi engine, push-button Torqueflite transmission, power everything, extremely rare factory A/C, plus other factory options including the Kelsey Hayes wire wheels. She is a very rare car now and I have not seen another one since I put her on the road in 2003....even at the Turkey Run, where there are over 5,000 cars. I’ve averaged about 2,000 miles per year on this car and everything works well. It’s a great highway cruiser. The faster you go, the better it rides.

1956 was a pivotal year for Chryslers. It was the first year for the push-button automatic transmissions that were used through 1964, and was the first year for the Torqueflite transmission. It was also the first year for the 12 volt, negative ground electrical system. It was the last year for the power steering pump mounted on the back of the generator, the last year for coil spring front suspension, and for the oil-bath air filter. This was the last year for the factory A/C system to be mounted in the trunk (that’s why it has those fresh air scoops on the exterior near the back window), though dual A/C units had the rear A/C system back there in later years. And speaking of the trunk, it’s huge like the rest of the car. My Italian friends tell me it’s at least a 5-body trunk.

Those of us in the car hobby all have our own preferences, and mine is to restore cars to original specs. Parts for these old Hemi cars are very hard to find. Years ago the hot rodders pulled the Hemi engines to build street rods and race cars, and what was left went to the crusher. If I spot correct parts at swap meets I buy them even when I don’t need them. Those parts go in my parts cabinets so I’ll have them if needed.

We all wish our old cars could tell us where they’ve been and what they’ve done over the years. This car sold new in Denver, Colorado, later moved to Sacramento, California, then to Lakeland, Florida, and finally to my home in Oviedo, Florida. The original dealer is out of business so I can’t find out who the original owner was. I believe that I’m the third owner. She now has 126,000 miles and the engine has never been apart. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. -Jim Mummah