This 1963 Plymouth Valiant has been in the Warner family for more than a half century. It has less than 30,000 actual miles on it. Photo by Charlie Warner
This 1963 Plymouth Valiant has been in the Warner family for more than a half century. It has less than 30,000 actual miles on it. Photo by Charlie Warner
When I travel to car shows in my vintage automobile, I usually get lots of looks. No, my car isn't some finely groomed Mustang or perfectly restored ‘57 Chevy. It's just a plain Jane “grocery-getting” four-door Plymouth Valiant.

I think the reason “Esther” (named after my grandmother, who purchased the car 53 years ago) causes such a stir is because how many people would restore an old 1963 Valiant? In all the years I've gone to car shows, I've only seen one restored Valiant, and that was a 1963 convertible.

“Oh, what a cute car! My aunt and uncle used to have one of those” or “We've got an old Valiant sitting out in the woods” or “I used to ride in my grandpa's Valiant when I was a kid” are just some of the remarks I've heard from persons as they looked over my old Plymouth.

The thing I enjoy most about going to car shows is to visit with the owners of the vintage vehicles and learn the history of them. Over the years, I've heard some interesting stories.

And folks really get a kick out of learning all about Esther.

Esther's saga actually started a year before she rolled off the assembly line. My Grandmother Warner had purchased a 1961 Valiant. It was robin egg blue with a push button automatic transmission. Grandmother and my dad's sister were traveling to our home for a birthday party. When traveling through Kimball, just south of St. Cloud, they approached a set of railroad tracks that had warning arms and lights. Due to a malfunction, the warning system wasn't working. It was a blind crossing, with a large elevator located just to the west of the crossing. Grandmother and Aunt Nancy slowed down to cross the tracks and were broadsided by a freight train. The train pushed the car about an eighth of a mile before it came to a stop.

Miraculously neither my dad's mother or sister were seriously injured. But the 1961 Valiant was totaled.

So Grandmother Warner purchased the 1963 Valiant about six months later from the Chrysler-Plymouth dealership in my hometown of Brownton. My dad and I delivered the car to Grandmother's home about 150 miles away. I was just 8 years old and remember looking at the odometer, there were only six miles on the car.

Fast-forward 32 years. Grandmother had passed away, I was the only boy in the family, so my father announced that the Valiant was mine. Dad hired a friend to do a complete restoration of the car about 10 years before Grandmother passed away. I don't think she ever drove it after it was restored. It just sat in her garage.

The 1963 Valiant had less than 20,000 miles on it when I took over ownership in 1995. Grandmother was 70 years old when she bought it and only drove it to church or to the store. It was like brand new! So now I've got a car that has been in our family since 1963 with less than 30,000 miles on it.

Over the past 21 years I've made a few changes to her. For one thing, Esther came with a “three in the tree” transmission that was geared quite low. With the 13-inch rims, at 55 mph, the slant-6 engine must have been revving at nearly 3,000 rpms. I looked at changing the gears in the rear end, an after-market overdrive or even installing a Torqueflite automatic transmission to remedy the problem. One day while giving Esther a once over, I realized this Valiant had a five bolt hub. Most cars with 13-inch rims had four bolt hubs. I did some measuring and some researching and discovered a 14-inch rim would fit on my car.

I was able to locate a set of 14-inch rims that came from a Plymouth Duster. So I bought the rims, put some fairly large “meats” on the back and a little smaller tire in the front and suddenly my little Esther rolled down the road with much more grace and without the engine taching so high.

While Esther just has a 225 cubic inch slant-6, she's got quite a bit of power. I've replaced the one-barrel intake with a two-barrel intake, the small single barrel Holly with a big two-barrel carb, and replaced the original one-inch diameter exhaust with a larger dual exhaust system, which increased the horsepower from 145 to 180 horses. My little Esther certainly does snort when I step her down.

Like many vintage cars, Esther is a work in progress. I hope to redo the seats this year. After 53 years, the original cloth on the front bench seat is starting to show its age. And I doubt if I'd ever be able to find a match, as the back seat is still in great shape.

I've been a gearhead for most of my life. And I always envisioned cruising around in a GTO or a Roadrunner. But there's something to be said about cruising in a car that's been in the Warner family for more than a half century...especially one that's as cool as Esther.