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Saving Mrs. Barbara's Chrysler: How we got to know a 1956 Chrysler 300 B Part II



Chrysler 300 B Owners Manual Cover - Courtesy Stellantis Archives


Last week when we left off in part I, we had just begun researching the history of our 1956 Chrysler 300 and the beginnings of its life with its first owner, Jack Jones. I just had to know more...

I went down the history rabbit hole further, researching Mr. Jones and Page-Davis Motors. Typically, when I start researching a person and their history, I’ll go to newspapers.com to see if there are any mentions of them in the local paper. Searching Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee, I came up with a couple of false leads on another Lewis Edward Jones that had been a pharmacist. On a chance news clipping, I found that the Lewis Edward Jones who owned our 300 had gone by the nickname “Jack” Jones and this was how many newspaper articles referred to him. I was then able to find his obituary, which also referred to him as “Jack” Jones. He had never married or had children, with only a couple of surviving family members, one of whom was his brother. His brother had also passed prior to our owning the 300 but had left a significant endowment to the Bristol Public Library in the Jones family name. I then called the library to ask about this fund and special part of the library that was endowed by the Jones family fund. The library was willing to connect me with the family’s attorney who passed my contact information on to one of the Jones family members. One of the family members, who will not be named for their privacy, then called me and remembered the car from her childhood when she would visit Jack.

Jack’s niece began to tell me about Jack and how much he loved cars. She remembered when he bought the 300, seeing it in the driveway at 800 Glenway Avenue in Bristol and even riding in it. I sent her some pictures of our 300 and confirmed that it was in fact the car that Jack had all those years ago. She remembered stacks of car magazines at his house and that he was always reading and talking about cars. When I asked about what kind of cars Jack typically liked, she mentioned that after he sold the 300, he had a string of British sports cars like MGs and several Corvettes. She emphasized that Jack took extremely good care of his cars and made sure that they were always in tip-top condition. At Jack’s house, she remembered the 300 parked on the left-hand side of the three stall carport at 800 Glenway avenue, just like we had imagined when looking at the pictures of the house months ago after finding the original title.


Her father, Jack’s brother Homer owned a Corvette which she learned to drive in. She mentioned that Jack also loved to take photographs, as did his brother Homer and they would both develop their own photographs. After speaking with his niece and using some of the information she provided, I was able to find out much more about Jack. Lewis E. “Jack” Jones was born in Bristol, Tennessee on March 26th, 1924. He was an architect and a partner in the firm of Kearfott and Jones. He served for many years as a director of the First National Bank of Sullivan County and its successor, First American Bank. He attended Virginia Military Institute and received his B.S. in building construction and M.S. in architecture from Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He was a U.S. Army Veteran of World War II, serving in Germany and England. He was a long-time member of State Street United Methodist Church.

Lewis "Jack" Jones - 1957 Bristol Herald Courrier


Jack had designed the house at 800 Glenway for his parents, Homer Augustus and Bessie Cox Jones, where he lived with them. He would have been 33 years old at the time he purchased the Chrysler 300B in 1956. He became director of the First National Bank of Bristol in January of 1957. His father Homer was president of the Washington Trust and Savings bank. His grandfather, Homer E. Jones, came to Bristol from Bainbridge, Ohio in 1888 and with his brother-in- law H.E. McCory, organized what was at the time the Dominion National Bank and later the Washington Trust and Savings Bank. It was looking like the Jones family had a long and significant history in Bristol, Tennessee!


The dealer where he purchased the Chrysler 300, Page-Davis Motors in Bristol, also had an interesting history. Page-Davis was founded by Holt W. Page Sr. and Norrid S. “Buddy” Davis in Bristol, Virginia. They moved locations several times to different places in Bristol. From the records I found researching the history of the dealer, it looks like our 300 was sold at their location at 421 Cumberland Street in Bristol, Virginia. Holt Page Sr. was Buddy Norrid’s father-in-law. He was a native of Norfolk, Virginia and moved to Bristol in 1941. Before he retired, he was president of Universal Moulded Products Company and was the former president of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. He was also a member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, the Bristol Rotary Club and the Bristol Country Club.


Norrid “Buddy” Davis started off his career as an industrial engineer at the Universal Moulded Products Corporation. He was born in Kingsport, Tennessee and attended Virginia High School. After high school, he served with the Army Air Force in Europe during World War II. He served in the Eight Air Force bomber station in England at the B-17 flying fortress base. He was the top turret gunner on a B-17 bomber, flying in the lead plane over Berlin, Germany on Christmas Day of 1944, when the Battle of the Bulge was raging. His title at Page-Davis Motors was vice president and general manager. He became family when he married Holt Page’s daughter Peggy. Presumably, Page and Davis had become connected at Universal Moulded Products. Universal Moulded Products Corporation came to Bristol in 1941 and bought out Bristol Aircraft and Monocoupe Operations. UMP was engaged in the business of molded plastic compounds for the construction of aircraft bodies, as well as complete aircraft, marine and industrial structures. After Page-Davis closed, Buddy sold Cadillacs and Chevrolets for 34 years at Bill Gatton Chevrolet in Bristol, Tennessee.



At this point in our journey with the Chrysler 300, she had revealed quite a history to us about where she had been delivered and who her original owner was. She taught us a lot of interesting history about Bristol and some of the individuals there that contributed a significant legacy to the twin cities. As Reid, Kip and I learned more about the history of our car, we wondered more about the origins of the 1956 Chrysler 300B and its history with the Chrysler Corporation. Why were they so rare and how had it even come into existence?


The Chrysler 300 was introduced for model year 1955 as the Chrysler 300C. It was designed by noted Chrysler designer, Virgil Exner as part of Chrysler’s design campaign dubbed as “The Forward Look.” The 1955 Chrysler boasted one of the largest V8 engines of its time with the 331 cubic inch Hemi engine. It started to gain notoriety in NASCAR racing during this time due to its tremendous speed. The founder of Mercury Outboard engines, Carl Kiekhaefer, started a NASCAR team in 1955 using all Chrysler and Dodge products to race in NASCAR. Kiekhaefer had made a small fortune selling Mercury outboard engines and decided to outfit his racing team with only the best equipment money could buy. In 1955, he arrived at Daytona raceway without a driver and just one car.


His driver of choice was Tim Flock and his car of choice was the 1955 Chrysler 300-C, which proved to be a tough combination to beat. Flock and the 300 won their first race together at the famous Daytona beach/road course, which combined a sprint down the compacted sand of the beach and portion of the course running down highway A1A. During the 1955 NASCAR season, there were 45 events and Kiekhaefer entered 40 of these events. Through this season he amassed 22 wins, 18 of which were won by Flock who drove away with his second national title and an end of season paycheck around $38,000.

Kiekhaefer expanded the team, adding the other two Flock brothers, Bob and Fonty, as well as Norm Nelson and Speedy Thompson. Kiekhaefer’s other team winners during 1955 were Fonty (two), Speedy (one), and Norm (one), and brothers Tim and Fonty finished 1-2 in team 300s four times. Fonty Flock would later be known for having a monkey ride in his car named "Jocko Flock" as a NASCAR PR stunt. Chrysler sales quickly eclipsed Ford and Chevy without the Chrysler company investing a single dollar into the sport. In 1955, Chrysler sold 1,725 Chrysler 300Cs.


Carl Kiekhaefer's Race Team, Daytona Beach 1956, Photo from Getty Images


In 1956, Virgil Exner and his team were at it again – making subtle mechanical and design improvements to the Chrysler 300. For 1956, the model had been designated as the 1956 Chrysler 300B. The Hemi’s engine size had been increased from 331 cubic inches to 354 cubic inches topped with two four-barrel carburetors. It boasted 355 horsepower and was one of the first cars to have one horsepower per cubic inch. The opening line in the owner’s manual states “You have just purchased the most powerful production car in America… thoroughbred of the Road. Just as the owner of a thoroughbred race horse knows his steed… its needs, its high-strung nature.. you, too, will want to know your car. By doing so, you will help yourself derive the ultimate in driving pleasure. Your 300B stands apart from his highway brothers in three significant ways… performance, ride and beauty.”


354 Cubic Inch Hemi in our 1956 Chrysler 300 B


Like the 1955 model, the second generation 300 was a mix of the best Chrysler had to offer in terms of design and engineering. The 300B body was that of the 2-door Chrysler Windsor hardtop, onto which the front panel and pot metal grille from the Imperial were adapted. As in 1956, there was no hood ornament on the 300B. Many historians comment on the 300B exhibiting a restrained hand on the part of its designers. All models in the 1956 line up had new rear “Flight Swept” rear fenders that contained a more integrated taillight that looked more natural than the 1955 300 taillight, which seemed to be more of an add on.


Only three paint colors were available in 1956: Cloud White, Regimental Red and Raven Black, which is the color of our car. Crunching the numbers on the three paint colors: 663 were produced in Cloud White, 262 in Raven Black and 158 in Regimental Red per the Chrysler letter car registry. There were some special-order colors counting 2 in Geranium Red, one in Hunter Green, one in Mediterranean Blue and one in Nugget Gold. There was even a build sheet that included a two tone 300B in Black and Nugget Gold. Most of the side and rear trim on the car is very minimal and when compared to other makes of 1956 like Chevrolet, Ford, Studebaker, Packard, Cadillac and Pontiac, appears more minimalistic in terms of chrome usage.

Cloud White 1956 300B


Raven Black - Our 1956 300B

Regimental Red 1956 Chrysler 300B


Only 1,102 300Bs were manufactured in 1956. Out of the 1,102, 33 were built for export to foreign countries. 13 of these cars went to Paris, 10 went to Rotterdam, 3 to Cuba, 3 to Casablanca, 1 to London, 1 to Italy and 1 to Kuwait. The Kuwait car was ordered with air conditioning and had no heater installed. These cars also were available with a power antenna and a great stereo. For the customer that wanted the best audio, there even was the option to add a “Highway HiFi” record player to the car. It is estimated that only 232 1956 300Bs survive to this day, with only 150 being roadworthy.


The 300B was priced at close to $5,000 depending on the options chosen.  This would be about $57,401 in 2023 dollars. The 300 would have fallen into the middle to upper price range for a passenger car at the time when compared to Cadillac or Lincoln which would have run in the $6,500 range in 1956. Our 1956 300B is equipped with steel wheels, although Chrysler did offer a Kesley Hayes wire wheel, which was a more expensive option. It has a two speed Powerflite push button automatic transmission. It uses large buttons mounted on the driver’s side dashboard to select drive, neutral, reverse or low gear. There is no “park,” rather the driver must select neutral and apply the parking brake. The 1956 Chrysler 300 could run 0-60 miles per hour in 8.2 seconds and had a top speed of 140 miles per hour plus. It weighs 4,360 pounds and is 18 feet in length. For comparison’s sake, a 2022 Chevrolet Suburban is 18.8 feet in length and weighs 5,600 to 6,000 pounds. This is a large car! It had a fuel consumption rating of somewhere around 11 miles per gallon with a 20-gallon tank.


The 1956 racing season for Chrysler and the Kiekhaefer race team would also be a standout in the NASCAR organization. Beginning in Florida on February 26th and continuing until November 18 in North Carolina, the 300B won 19 of the 38 Grand National Races it was entered in. The 1956 NASCAR season began on November 13, at Hickory Speedway in Hickory, North Carolina. Tim Flock and the Kiekhaefer organization picked up where they left off in the 1955 season and won the 200-lap race at Hickory easily. Kiekhaefer kept a three-car team with primary drivers Tim Flock, Buck Baker and Speedy Thompson. Several other drivers piloted his Chryslers and Dodges, including Fonty Flock, Frank Mundy, Charlie Scott (one of the first African American drivers in NASCAR history), Junior Johnson and Jack Smith. Kiekhaefer entered six cars at the Daytona event and again, Tim Flock took the checkered flag while debuting the 1956 300-B.


Kiekhaefer’s teams were unlike any of the other racers that showed up at the tracks. All his cars were transported in large car hauler trucks, with a neatly uniformed team of mechanics and pit crew. They carried spare engines and lots of parts to fix anything their cars would need during one of these grueling races. The 300-B would have been seen locally in Asheville when it was raced at the Asheville-Weaverville speedway and the McCormick Field Raceway during the 1956 season, no doubt awing fans. Eventually NASCAR fans began to tire of Kiekhaefer’s dominance and started to boo him at many races. The 1956 race season was Kiekhaefer’s last race season and he decided to head back to Wisconsin and focus on Mercury Outboard engines. This short-lived racing dominance is another element that adds to the mystique and heritage of the 1956 Chrysler 300B.


Carl Kiekhaefer 1956 Chrysler 300B at the Asheville-Weaverville Speedway, Photo Courtesy of Smyle Media


Carl Kiekhaefer 1956 300B racing at Asheville-Weaverville Speedway. Photo courtesty of Smyle Media. Note the Chrysler 300 watching the race in the upper right hand corner


One other standout of the Chrysler 300 during Daytona Speed Week was the setting of several standing mile speed records. One of Kiekhaefer’s drivers, Tim Flock of Atlanta, Georgia drove a 1956 Chrysler 300B at an average of 139.91 miles an hour during the 1956 Daytona speed week, which was the best passenger car time of his class. In the women’s division, Vicki Wood, driving the Chrysler 300B Flock had driven set the record at 136.28 miles per hour. Vicki Wood had been a dirt track driver in and around Detroit Michigan. She would go on to set many standing mile records and competed against men in their racing classes, when most women only competed against each other in the “Powder Puff Derby” events. “Powder Puff” derbies were an exhibition race held at local racetracks, where a field of women drivers would compete in a race for 10-20 laps, commonly in their husband’s race cars between the NASCAR sanctioned races. Wood began entering standing mile races because many men would intentionally try to spin or wreck her car during many of the dirt track races. Because standing mile events are a race against the driver and the clock, she was able to showcase her talent without poor sportsmanship of fellow male drivers interfering.


Vicki Wood in her 1956 Chrysler 300B, Getty Images


With all this history flashing through our heads, we could only imagine what the future might hold for our Chrysler 300B. Kip, Reid and I decided to make a game plan together for the car to get it roadworthy. Our idea was not to perform a complete restoration on the car, but to preserve it more in its current state and make it roadworthy and reliable. Because it had sat for 42 years, we needed to flush the fuel system and check all components for possible rebuild or replacement. The gas tank was full of stinky, bad gasoline and varnish that would quickly clog up the fuel system if we tried to run it as-is. The radiator had several holes in it and would undoubtedly leak and overheat the car if we didn’t fix that too. Not knowing the state of the carburetors and the brakes, we ordered rebuild kits and new parts for both systems.

The interior of the car was mostly complete, other than being dirty and needing replacement of the driver’s bench seat, that had exploding orange foam falling out of the cushions. The leather was dirty and dried out as well. Reid set about draining and removing the gas tank, radiator and finding a shop that could recondition them. He and Kip then began scouring Facebook marketplace to find some new interior pieces like seats and some missing trim. They ended up finding a newly recovered front and rear bench seat set from a DeSoto, as well as many extra chrome trim pieces for the interior and exterior for $300 in Louisville, Kentucky.


Reid set about on a hero’s journey to recover them in his trusty maroon Volvo 240 wagon. The Volvo was able to retrieve the seat and parts, but not without its own drama. The fuel pump of the Volvo died in downtown Louisville, leaving Reid and his girlfriend Anna stranded in a parking lot. They called friends and parts houses, only to have a friend drive up and bring them a fuel pump that could not be sourced locally. After several days of mechanical toil and with the new fuel pump installed, they headed back, only to have the car die again two hours later. This left them stranded again and forced them to get a rental car (in Reid’s words a “penalty box”). They then drove back to Asheville, where Reid attempted to find another fuel pump, drove back to Kentucky and fixed the car again on the side of the road. He was able to limp the car a little further in range of a AAA tow. Only having 100 miles of free towing, the truck driver dropped him within two hours of home, where his neighbor was able to come rescue him with his trailer. After this harrowing journey, it would be a while until we unloaded the dejected Volvo and installed our new interior.

Several weeks later, Reid and I met to install our new seats, which would give the car a complete interior again. I began by unbolting and removing the bench seat from the Chrysler, to vacuum the woven loop carpet, which was in remarkably good condition. Most old cars will have trash and other items that have fallen below the seats over the years, but ours had relatively none other than a bank envelope and some S&H Green stamps. The carpet cleaned up easily and I wiped the dust from the dashboard and door panels. Reid and I spent the rest of the afternoon dodging an approaching thunderstorm and installing the new interior pieces, once his Volvo sputtered to life and made the trip around his yard to the 300. To get the full effect of our work, we put all of the windows down on the 300, installed the vintage Rubber Maid car floor mats, which have a mid-century diamond pattern on them in the car and sat down on the new to us and now functioning bench seat. A collective sigh was uttered - both of us smiling like kids, imagining getting this car back on the road. We found that we had been missing the chrome ash trays from the back seat, which we found in the parts bin that had been part of the sale of the seats and they were a perfect fit!


Interior - Before



Interior after installation of the new seats and vintage Rubber Maid "Kar Mats" that were in the trunk of the car when we got it.


Our next stop in making the car roadworthy was a good set of tires. We went back and forth over purchasing a newer set of black wall tires or going to Coker Tire in Chattanooga for an authentic set of 3-inch-wide whitewall tires, which the car would have come with originally. My good friend and ace mechanic Bruce always says the car will tell you what it wants. After many years of patiently waiting to stretch her legs, the Chrysler was telling me she wanted nothing but the best for new shoes and ultimately Kip and I were able to persuade Reid into agreeing on a set of wide whitewall tires from Coker. As a self-described “inveterate cheapskate,” we’re not sure he ever came to terms with the cost, but he relented in the end. We called up Coker the next day, agreed to eat Ramen noodles for the next month and ordered a set of beautiful 3-inch-wide whitewall tires for the Chrysler.


After an agonizing two days of waiting in anticipation, the tires arrived from Coker’s Chattanooga headquarters to my front door. I then heaved them in my 1972 Chevy C10 pickup to make the trip to JJ’s Tire in downtown Asheville. I had gone up to Reid’s house the day before to get the original steel wheels and clean the grit and grime before the trip to JJ’s. After dropping them off at JJ’s, I received a call that because the car sat so long, it was discovered the wheels had some bad corrosion on them after they removed the 55-year-old tires. They took the wheels next door to Whitco welding, where Asheville legend Tommy Whitmire did some minor straightening on them and resealed the wheels so they would hold air and not damage the new tires when mounted. Despite Tommy’s work, one of the wheels was still largely out of balance and needed several wheel weights to keep it from vibrating. Tommy suggested to me that I mount this wheel at the rear of the car, so it did not cause vibration on the front of the car.


I dropped the wheels and tires at Reid’s house on my way home from work and was so excited to see how it would look, we mounted two of the wheels and tires up. I could feel the car smiling and hoped she felt like she was in good hands. Kip and I then started planning a trip down to McKinney Radiator in Forest City to get the radiator re-cored and the gas tank flushed. One of my co-workers happened to be doing some work down in Forest City and kindly offered to take the radiator and gas tank down to Forest City for me, so I could save a trip. I received a call later that afternoon from McKinney that they had received both the radiator and gas tank, which they thought could be saved. This was an enormous relief to me, although it would be about a 5-week wait as it was going to be difficult to source a radiator core, which would have to be custom made. Thankfully, the gas tank had no pinholes in it and the shop owner thought he could get most of the varnish and other deposits out of it. Ironically, the old sludge inside of the tank had prevented rust from forming and with the car being stored inside of the Motor Parts warehouse for years, she had never been exposed to much moisture.


The 300 looking as she should with new 3" wide whitewall tires from Coker Tire. Photo by Franzi Charen


Stay tuned for the final installment next week as we get the 300 running and back on the road to its first car show in almost four decades!


Sources:

Websites:

Books:

Ackerson, Robert C. (1996) Chrysler 300, America’s Most Powerful Car

Pages 34 – 45

Articles:

Asheville Citizen-Times. (February 23, 1956). 1956 Chrysler 300B Time Trial winners - Daytona. Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/asheville-citizen-times-1956-chrysler-30/135899773/

Bristol Herald Courier. (December 28, 1975). Lewis E. Jack Jones. Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/bristol-herald-courier-lewis-e-jack-jon/130063084/

Bristol Herald Courier. (January 9, 1957). Lewis E. "Jack" Jones . Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/bristol-herald-courier-lewis-e-jack-j/130062814/

Richmond Times-Dispatch. (January 21, 1972). Obituary for Holt W Page Sr. Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/richmond-times-dispatch-obituary-for-hol/130087155/

Bristol Herald Courier. (July 20, 2007). Obituary for Norrid Stratton Buddy Davis. Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/bristol-herald-courier-obituary-for-norr/130071577/

Evening Herald Courier. (January 30, 1945). Norrid S. Davis . Newspapers.com. Retrieved November 30, 2023, from https://www.newspapers.com/article/evening-herald-courier-norrid-s-davis/130071459/

 

Other: Conversation with Jack Jones’ Family member – 8/30/23

 




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