For Larry Newport, a core memory was formed on the day of Sept. 21, 1956. Not even five years old, he rode a bus with his father from the village of Cottam, into the Big City. When the young lad arrived at Windsor’s Webster Motors, what awaited him and his father was a passion that would accent his life, on and off, for decades to come.
A raven black two-door 1956 Ford Customline six-cylinder Tudor stood before them, glinting in the sun. To this day, he still recalls riding in the backseat home, with his father, Harvey, at the wheel, to their family farm out in Essex County. Now 72 years old, Newport says that he got the “car bug”, along with his friends, when he hit 13. “I couldn’t wait to learn how to drive,” recalls Newport. “We lived on a farm, and I’d driven a tractor on the road, but that’s where it started.”
“My father bought that car brand new for $2,150, believe it or not, and no tax,” he says. “I bought my father’s car when I was 15 and got it on the road the next year when I got my license.”
Newport tinkered with the vehicle. A family car in the era of “Gassers”, Newport wasn’t having it with the original 223 inline six-cylinder engine that came with the Customline. He picked up a used 1957 Ford Station Wagon, pulled the V8 motor out of it and threw it in his car. Later, he switched to a Ford 351 Windsor engine and a straight axle for good measure.
However, the 1970s were a time of change for Newport and the young man decided to put his car up for sale. When it comes to cars, generally, this is where the story ends. Cars come and go. Most people have keen memories of their first car, and it sticks with them, and it pushes them to make sure their children’s first car is a decent experience as well. Some people are obsessed with their first car, and when their inevitable midlife crisis hits, they try to recapture the magic with a high-power car that will make them feel the wind through their hair once again.
Larry’s story is different. His father’s old car was the one that got away.
“It was one of those cold winter days and the wife and I were going through old pictures, and I came across one of the ’56,” recalls Newport. “I still have a picture of when I was 16, standing beside it. I decided that I’d go and see if it was still around.”
After four decades, Newport still had the original bill of sale. “I went to the license bureau, and they gave me a used car package … it tells you if there’s a lien on the car and who owns it.” states Newport. “It went back as far as ’82 for the people who owned it. The last guy who owned it was out in Dunnville, up by Niagara Falls.”
Out of curiosity, Newport dialed up the last known owner, and lo and behold, he still had the car in his possession.
“I went and had a look at it and, oh boy, it was rough,” said Newport, gravely. In March 2015, Newport called the owner and the two worked out a deal to bring the car home. “I basically grew up with that car, so, yeah, it felt good to get back in it again,” admits Newport. However, the car was in rough shape. “I kept saying, ‘I should have left this damn thing in Dunnville!’ But it was history.”
What came next for Larry was an eight-year odyssey, with his son, Kenny, by his side, bringing the old ’56 Customline back to life.
Newport says he yanked out the old 351 Windsor that was still its motor and found the frame to be a rotted-out nightmare. “Luckily, I found a whole new frame in a convertible—so it was a lot stronger—and it was almost perfect. I sandblasted it in front of the barn and that’s where I started—from the frame up.”
He was amazed by how much of his original work from his youth was still intact 42 years later. “There were a lot of parts that still had my fingerprints on them,” he says. “It did have a straight axle in it when I bought it … and that’s how I sold it, and it still had my steering wheel on it that I put in.” He adds that, back in the day, he had reupholstered much of the vehicle, and much of it remained.
His son, now 43, ended up doing the bodywork and repainted it. They also dropped a 390 four-speed into it, and soon got it back onto the road. “We were building a car from nothing,” he states. “It’s still got a few bugs in it I’ve gotta get out, but I just got it on the road last spring.”
These days, Newport loves getting behind the wheel of his dad’s old car. He enjoys taking it down to the Leamington Dock, where there is a cruise night on Thursdays. However, in the end, just like he received the Customline from his father, Larry would like to keep it in the family and some day hand it down to his son.
“Kenny will be getting it—if he wants it,” says Larry, proudly. “He’s got a lot of work into it, himself.”