In 1986, 18-year-old Darren Smith took his stepfather to a used car lot in Cortland, New York. There it was-a black '65 Plymouth Sport Fury that Darren hoped would be his future ride. "It was very rough," says Barry Latta, Darren's stepfather. "The trunk floor and rear quarters were rotted out, although being a black car covered it up some. But it had a wicked set of pipes."
That was all Darren needed to know. He bought the car. "The loud [exhaust] was what he liked," his mother, Marilyn Latta, says. "That was what attracted him to it."
The wiring on Darren's Sport Fury was just one of its many problems. After about six months of service, it got so bad Barry told Darren he shouldn't drive the car anymore until it was fixed. "Darren wasn't too mechanically inclined," Marilyn says. "So, rather than fix the car, he parked it out behind the shop and bought a truck."
The Lattas own an automatic-door business in Homer, New York, where the Fury remained a fixture on the grounds for the better part of five years, being moved every so often to someplace where it wouldn't be under foot. All the while, Barry kept saying, "I've gotta restore it."
Finally, in 1990, all the somedays turned into today, and the Sport Fury's restoration process began. The bodywork, which was extensive, was handed to Tim Grevelding at Matt McGill Collision in Brewerton, New York. But before that could begin, Barry had to hunt down a new rear clip because the original was beyond repair. He found a rust-free specimen at Desert Valley Auto Parts in Arizona. Then, he tore the body down to a shell. "Every piece that could come off the car came off," Barry says. "I couldn't have removed anything else without a torch."
Dave Williams did the paintwork, converting the Sport Fury from a black car to a red one. While the bodywork was being done, Barry went after N.O.S. pieces. Molding, taillights, grille, headlight buckets-all N.O.S. finds. Barry says this was the most difficult aspect of the restoration. "It's not too hard to find B- and E-Body parts, but the C-Body is kind of unusual," he says.
Finding them wasn't the only challenge. "I wasn't really happy with the condition of the grille," Barry adds. "They were anodized, not chrome, so I had it re-anodized. Also, I found one of the taillights at one place for $89.95, then found three more someplace else for $13.95. So, I bought all three and bartered two of them."
Ray Barton's Racing Engines cooked up the powerplant from the stock 413ci block. The recipe: stock rods; .030 overbore; 10.3:1-compression JE pistons; ported Indy SR heads; Comp Cams springs; Crane aluminum roller rockers; Holley 750hp carb; Mopar single-plane, high-rise intake; an RB special-grind cam; Comp hydraulic lifters; and a Mopar electronic ignition to fire the whole thing off. The exhaust system is still wicked, with 3-inch pipes all the way from the Mopar 440hp manifolds through the Flowmaster mufflers. The hood was modified with a hoodscoop to accommodate the high-rise manifold.
Quality TimeThe interior is a combination of period-correct style and modern-day comfort. The stock bucket seats were covered with a black/gray/red velour skinning by Mike Wells in Ithaca, New York. Dakota Digital custom-made the dash that includes a digital tach and the original radio-which was converted to a CD player.
By the time the restoration neared completion, Darren had already been living in Florida for a couple of years. Darren was born with a kidney disease that required the use of a dialysis machine and had resulted in two transplants. He found the climate was easier on his condition. When he came home for Christmas in 1995, the car was almost finished. "The first thing he said when he saw it was 'Wow, that's really red,' " Marilyn says.
On Father's Day 1996, Barry took the car on its first drive without Darren since the restoration. He had died two months earlier after failing to recover from an operation, one of the more than 40 surgeries he endured in his 28 years. "Darren had a tremendous attitude and disposition, the kind people would pay money to have," Barry says. "He didn't complain."
Now, Barry and Marilyn show the Sport Fury across the U.S., and it has scored well. At the International Show Car Association's East Coast competition, the car finished second in its class and 10th overall. It then went on to finish 20th internationally in the ISCA.
"Barry and I have been married 25 years; they were very close," Marilyn says of her husband and son. "There is no amount of money anyone could give us for that car."
Like the time Darren got to spend with his car, the time his family had to spend with him was too short. However, this Plymouth, like the memories of Darren it evokes, is priceless.