Petersen Archive: George Cerny’s Custom Station Wagon

In 1950 Plymouth advertised their station wagon as “an entirely new kind of utility automobile.” Indeed, the station wagon fit well into the driveways of the new early 1950s suburbs. The practical Plymouth came with plenty of space, a rear tailgate, and a 97 horsepower engine.

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A few years later, however, car customizer George Cerny transformed Plymouth’s “practical and everyday servant” into a “new addition to the modern day custom fraternity.” That is, this chopped and flamed station wagon.

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Cerny’s Plymouth went through two rounds of customizing. In the first iteration of the wagon, Cerny gave the Plymouth a new profile. To do so, he lowered the wagon’s top four inches. He then lowered the body of the wagon an additional four inches.

This alteration was popular customization for passenger cars. As the author of the January 1955 article “Cerny’s Suburban” in Rod and Custom Magazine noted, however, Cerny’s station wagon was “believed to be the first top lowering operation to be performed to the undeniably handy utility vehicle known as the station wagon.” Cerny’s chopped wagon was a new type of hot rod.

To enhance the station wagon’s streamlined look, Cerny removed its exterior door handles. He replaced them with electric door latches. Buttons, which Cerny hid in the wagon’s chrome side trim, activated the latches and opened the doors.

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The first version of the Plymouth had a custom grille which Cerny crafted from 1953 and 1954 Chevrolet grilles. To fashion the wagon’s new grille, Cerny spliced together a grille from a 1949 Mercury, a grille bar from a 1954 Plymouth, and grille extensions from a 1951 Ford. Cerny also added the curving side trim from a 1955 Dodge Lancer to the new wagon.

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The new version of the Plymouth got a hot new light yellow and purple paint job. Brilliant purple flames jetted from the wagon’s wheel wells. Von Dutch gave the wagon “eccentric details” in electric turquoise.

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The wagon’s interior also got the hot rod treatment. In the Plymouth’s upgraded “Fabrolite” upholstery, cowboy hats, boots, horses, saddles, stirrups, and riding gloves swirled around a landscape of cactus, wild roses, and curling baroque style leaves.

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The new wagon, also got “a rather radical change” to its engine, as the author of “Cerny’s Suburban” wrote. Cerny replaced the standard 97 horsepower Plymouth engine with a glistening new Cadillac V8 engine “capable of hauling small suburban” a blistering “99+ mph through ¼-mile drags.”

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Cerny’s stunning yellow and purple flamed wagon was featured on the cover of the April 1956 issue of Car Craft Magazine. As a utilitarian station wagon, the wagon served a practical purpose as “a rolling advertisement for Cerny’s custom body shop.” On weekends, however, it was a different story. “For week-ends,” the once mundane and unassuming Plymouth competed in “what else—DRAGS!”

By: Kristin Feay