The barn find: a romanticized notion in every automotive enthusiast's head - the idea that hidden behind those dilapidated doors is a gem of a muscle car just waiting to be discovered. Okay, so maybe this Belvedere wasn't discovered in an actual barn, but it was found on a farm right outside of Nashville, and it wasn't exactly what anyone would describe as a gem. It was discovered by the farm's new owner among quite a few other rotting automobiles, and the cars were all destined for the crusher. Luckily, the owner's son jumped to the rescue of this classic when he got the feeling it was something special.
The Belvedere you see here once belonged to Marty Robbins, country music artist, and race car driver of the 1960's. Robbins competed in 35 NASCAR races throughout his career, with six top 10 finishes, including the 1973 Firecracker 400. His fifth place finish at Michigan in the June 1974 Motorstate 400 was his best NASCAR finish, and it was also the only time he was ever on the leaderboard at the end of a Cup race. Robbins had a soft spot for Dodges, and is known for owning and racing Chargers and a 1978 Dodge Magnum. The Belvedere in question was primarily used as a "fun" short track car in the Nashville area, which Robbins would take to the track on Saturdays before the Grand Ole Opry.
The number 777 1964 Plymouth Belvedere, slathered in the iconic purple and yellow paint that it is remembered for, once looked much like it does today. However, when Ray Evernham got a hold of it, there was quite a bit of work to be done.
Evernham is a celebrity in his own right, laying claim to the title of NASCAR championship crew chief, team owner and host of the new television show "AmeriCarna" on Velocity. When Evernham came across the car, he knew he had to step in and help restore it to its former glory, all the while hoping to bring awareness to Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville's desperate fight to survive while local government push to raze the track.
"This is my favorite Plymouth/Chrysler body. This car in particular has got a history and I felt strongly about it being preserved," he explained.
"The car sat for about 30 years," Evernham said. "I bought it from Al Jones with a promise of restoring the car and racing it." Jones, a Nashville racing historian, helped Evernham restore the car, along with Marty Robbins' son, Ronny.
So what exactly needed restoring? Just about everything. However, Evernham was quick to inform us that the car retains a few touches that are completely original such as the front suspension, most of the rear suspension, the steering wheel, seats, and pedals. The roof and floor pan were also salvageable.
"I like that we were able to keep some original parts of the car - parts that are directly connected to Marty," Evernham said.
A 440 cubic-inch engine resides under the hood, and the Belvedere is also outfitted with a 9-inch rear.
The entire restoration was carried out in a way that would make Mr. Robbins proud. All of the replacement parts on the Belvedere are period correct, thanks to contacts with junkyards and antique parts cars - a difficult task considering original classic car parts are becoming more and more difficult to come by.
Once the body was back in shape and painted its famous purple and yellow, the guys were able to find the man who lettered the Plymouth all of those years ago, Ken Binkley, to come back and re-letter the famous Belvedere. Binkley was pleasantly surprised.
"It was such an honor to be asked to do it again," he told us. "I first lettered it in February 1974."
For someone known around Nashville as a talented artist, Binkley is responsible for lettering the vehicles of such automotive celebrities as Darrell and Michael Waltrip and the Green Brothers, but he remembers working on Robbins' car clearly.
"Marty sat with me the whole time talking. He was already a music icon at that time and for a celebrity of his caliber to sit there and watch me while I was working, it's very memorable. My wife and I jumped in the car and drove to North Carolina to letter it this time because we couldn't bring all the paint and thinners on the airplane. They paid my expenses and that's all I wanted. It was an honor just to be able to contribute to the car."
After restoration, the car was ready to be presented to the public. On May 31, it made its debut at The Stage in Nashville, Tennessee, to a welcoming crowd. The following day, the Belvedere returned to its old stomping grounds - Fairground Speedway Nashville - and Ronny was able to take a few laps in the car once belonging to his father, who died of heart failure in 1982.
"I was 16 when we built this car," Ronny told us, "when they pulled the cover back, I went back in time to 1966. I almost - not almost - I did have to fight back tears. It was an emotional experience and it took me back to a time when he and I were very close. It was our golf game. Me and Daddy, we didn't play golf - we raced."
Photographs courtesy of Ray Evernham Enterprises and Marty Robbins