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1954 DODGE

This 1954 Dodge was built in Windsor Ontario and subsequently sold by the Chilliwack Dodge dealer to Mr. Corneleus Kheler, most recently residing in Clearbrook. In 1960 it was sold to my Grandmother, Helen Carpenter, by Mission salesman Ross Coleman, on the condition that turn signals were installed. The main appeal of this car to Helen was its Hydrive transmission that eliminated the need to shift gears.

Today the car is owned by Helen’s Grandson, Jim Carpenter and has served three generations of the same family accumulating 200,000 miles (300,000km) During the mid 60’s the car was given to Jim’s mother and father, Margaret and Don Carpenter. In 1974 Jim took the car to his automotive shop class at Maple Ridge High School and repaired the seized engine in time to use the car during part of grade 12. Thirty years and 130,000 miles later the car is still serving well, having traveled to Fairbanks Alaska in 1992 and throughout B.C., Alberta, and Washington for a 1994 summer vacation towing a tent trailer part of the time.

During the 1960’s Helen used the car to drive to her job as Dr. Liebe’s dental assistant from Nan Dobie’s place on Best Rd. In Mission. Roy Bailey of Cherry Avenue in Mission gave Helen some help learning to drive it in 1960 and after that the car was maintained by Bud Elerbeck’s Home garage across from the Pioneer Chrysler dealership. Nan Dobie was Jim’s great-grandmother and did occasionally ride in the car. Now if you also consider the fact that Jim brought both of his children home from the hospital in this car when they were newborns, that’s five generations of the family that have ridden in this car and three generations that have owned it.

The engine is the original six cylinder 228 cubic inch flathead however due to continual oil slicks under the Hydrive, the Hydrive was later replaced by a conventional three speed and eventually by a three speed with overdrive that was optional in 1954. The overdrive and its freewheeling capabilities created a new lease on life for the car and its passengers. Sixty-five miles an hour cruising was now easy and the extra switch enabling the overdrive to be used in any gear gives six forward ratios for easy hill climbing and trailer towing. At 60 miles per hour, in overdrive, the engine is turning 1800 RPM, delivering 26-28 miles per gallon. The free wheel in the overdrive gives the added flexibility of harmless up and down shifts in to any gear, including the non synchronized low, while the car is moving without using the clutch. The original 6-volt electrical system is unmodified, however, a 12-volt inverter has been added to supply 12-volt accessories. An electric fuel pump was also added to assist the mechanical pump during vapor lock spells.

A second restoration of the body, completed in 1999 has prepared the car for many more years of trouble free motoring.


September 2007

Well the history around this car continues.  Below is the 2007 version of this car's story!

1954 Dodge Regent - Jim Carpenter


You’ve heard it, “wish I had kept that car”.  Well, as a teen, I listened and now I still have almost every car I’ve ever owned, even if they weren’t worth keeping.  This car came into my family 47 years ago when my Grandmother needed a car in 1960.  In the mid 60’s it was used our family’s second car until being parked in the yard several years later.  In 1974 it became my automotive shop project; however, my shop teacher challenged my ambitions by suggesting I could get something that already runs for $100.  The engine was seized from sitting, body rusty and interior tattered.  It was a 20 year old 6 cylinder 4 door Dodge that nobody but me was interested in.  I didn’t listen to the teacher and that was 33 years and 135,000 miles ago.   


The shop class engine work was a success, with the engine un-seized, and new rings and gaskets, 5 years of silence ended as the flathead cranked back to life.  That was the beginning of more than three decades of service as my car.  Like an encore to the 10 years of trips and outings in it with my Grandmother and parents, the adventures and journeys we’ve experienced could fill a book and will continue for years to come.  


The highlights flash by through the decades.  In the 60’s it was towing and launching the family boat for outings in Pitt, Allouette and Stave Lake .  In the 70’s it was exploring every road within 200 miles of my hometown, my high school grad, commuting to and graduating from BCIT and of course, driving to new jobs.  In the 80’s, Vintage Car Club May Tours became an annual event and the 1983 club circle tour around the province a fabulous experience.  The 80’s continued with family and friend’s weddings using the Dodge, numerous parades and many miles and hours of carpooling to work at B.C. Tel in Burnaby .  In 1985, at my 10 year reunion, I received the “fuzzy dice award” for still driving the same car I had in high school.   By 1990 I had two young children who both had their first car ride in the Dodge, coming home from the hospital as newborns and the 5th generation of the family to ride in it.  The 90’s continued with my father and me completing a muddy and bitterly cold rally to Fairbanks Alaska .  Movie sets as a picture car were a regular event.  The 25 year reunion of Maple Ridge High was held in 2000.  I had just finished the second restoration of the Dodge and was able to drive it to the reunion with a story about my Auto Shop 12 class titled, “The Teacher Might Be Right, But Who Says You Have to Listen”.   In 2006, I chauffeured my oldest son to his high school grad and in 2008 I’ll take my second son, both in my high school car, the 1954 Dodge.  


Finding parts became a passion and I’m not sure if the parts stores liked my business or hated my frequent appearances.  Maple Ridge Chrysler finally gave me their 1954 parts book and Ed Coates was just starting his first Lordco store when supplying me with the parts for that high school engine job.  Ed warned me about the pitfalls of putting .002 under rod bearings with worn egg shaped crank journals.  He has added about 100 stores to that first Maple Ridge store and I’m sure my business helped in a small way.  I eventually got better at sourcing hard to find car parts than the local parts stores and am operating full time, sending parts around the world and sometimes to Lordco.      


In the fifty’s and sixty’s it was quite common for Canadian cars to be more conservative and less flashy than their U.S. counterparts.  Most Canadian built Dodge models were unique to Canada and had no equivalent U.S. model.  The best way to describe a Canadian Dodge to an American is to explain that it is a Plymouth with Dodge front fenders and grille or that it is a Plymouth from the firewall back.  If you are south of the line looking for Canadian Dodge tail light lenses, you don’t want Dodge lenses as you need Plymouth tail light lenses.  Having said that, the flathead six engine is not the same dimensions as any common U.S. model either.  Bore, stroke and bearing sizes are unique to the Canadian engine.  You can see that it would be very easy to get the wrong parts shopping south of the line!


My Dodge was built in Windsor Ontario with the 228 cu. in. 6 cylinder motor and Hydrive transmission.  It still has that original engine but in the process of maintenance has been bored .060, had the block surfaced planed once and the head resurfaced several times.  As a result, the original 7.6:1 compression ration and 228 cubic inches have both been increased giving the torquey six even more get up and go.  The Hydrive torque converter got its oil from the engine and not the transmission.  The engine and converter used shared the same oil so an oil change required 11 quarts of oil.  Our Hydrive always had massive oil leaks so my father had it changed to a conventional 3 speed standard.  In the late seventies I upgraded to the optional overdrive that some of these cars had.  The overdrive made an enormous improvement to the drivability of this car.  Now I could easily go 75 MPH without over revving the engine as the calculated engine speed is only 1800 rpm at 60 MPH.  Highway fuel mileage ranges from 26 to 30 MPG and using a 2 speed rear end style switch on the shift lever, I now had the equivalent of a 6 speed transmission.   In addition to the improved top speed, the combination of engaging the overdrive while in second gear gives another much needed ratio.  Without the extra ratios from the overdrive, I was often revving in second and then lugging in high but now I had this handy combination of second-gear-overdrive that was great for hill climbing or trailer towing. 


As you may know, this era of Chrysler product has the parking brake mounted on the rear of the transmission.  The main problem with this arrangement is that any stray drop of oil finds its way to the parking brake lining making it practically useless.  My mother taught me what to do to get the brake working any time it got too much oil on it.  One evening she took us kids to the roadside ice cream stand that used to be on the Lougheed Highway at the top of the hill above Kanaka Creek.  After our stop we drove away down the hill on the highway.  About halfway down the hill it appeared that the old Dodge had caught fire as there was smoke billowing out from everywhere.  She quickly pulled over to the edge of the highway and got us kids out amidst the smoke.  After several minutes the smoke cleared and it was determined the hand brake had been left on, burning the oil off the flexible woven oil saturated handbrake lining.  The next day we discovered that the parking brake had gone from useless to remarkable strong overnight.   So, the one thing I learned from my mother is that occasional application of the handbrake while driving will burn off the oil and keep the brake functional!    


Well the Dodge and I are in no way finished travelling but at 205,000 miles there is not much left that hasn’t been taken apart.  For 2007 it got new rear axle bearings, a steering box rebuild and wide whitewall radial tires.  After that we’re back on the road to see were the next 30 years takes us.    


Original 1954 Registration.



1960 Bill of Sale for my Grandmother's purchase of the car.  The signal lights the car has today were installed as required below for this sale to complete. 


 Jim's Grandmother, Helen and Roy Bailey in the early 1990's.  Thirty years earlier, Roy helped Helen learn to drive the Dodge.


  Jim and the Dodge in 1962, 1st picture together.


  On my way to Grade 12 Grad.


       On my way to 25 year high school reunion.


Grandma's 93rd Birthday