Retiree Cruises Through Life, Love In '49 Plymouth

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In an age when so many men trade in their wives as often as they trade in their cars, it's refreshing to meet a fellow like Jerry Salzman.

This Payson retiree has held onto the same wife and the same car for about 50 years now.

In fact, Salzman and his bride, Virginia, eloped in the 1949 Plymouth four-door Special Deluxe (with sun visor and fender skirts) that he bought brand new, with his own money, when he was 16 years old.

Total cost: $1,996.

Including tax and license.

Salzman, 67, bought "Old Betsy" with cash he'd earned by selling newspapers and shining shoes on the streets of Lincoln, Neb. during WWII.

"After the war, it was hard to get a car," he said. "You had to get your name on a list. It took us nine months to get the damn thing.

"Most of my friends had older cars, and I'd tell them, 'Yeah, I'll be getting my new car any day now.' And they'd say, 'Yeah, right, sure.' When it finally came in, I drove by the drug store, and they couldn't believe it. I was the only kid in high school who had a brand new car he bought himself."

Although it was Salzman's car, the registration was put in his mother's name to get a better insurance rate an arrangement the young man would soon regret.

But not before he met Virginia, who also was impressed by the 1949 Plymouth four-door Special Deluxe (with sun visor and fender skirts).

"As soon as I saw it, I figured, 'There's a guy with money!'" she remembered with a laugh.

A local policeman must have figured Jerry had money, too.

"I could wallpaper my bedroom with the speeding tickets he gave me," Jerry said.

"Every Saturday night," added Virginia, "he'd pull Jerry over and say, 'Hi, Jerry.'

"Jerry would say, 'Hi, Frank.'

"Then Frank would hand Jerry a ticket and say, 'Here you go.'

"And Jerry would say, 'Thanks, Frank! See you next week!'"

Despite Jerry's ever-lengthening criminal record, Virginia fell in love and the two decided to marry. Alas, her parents were staunchly against such a youthful union, so the love-struck teenagers eloped to Iowa and then honeymooned in New Orleans thanks to the 1949 Plymouth four-door Special Deluxe (with sun visor and fender skirts).

Upon the couple's return, Jerry's mother who had not forgotten that the Plymouth was registered in her name said, "You're married, you're out of here. But you bring that car back!"

Jerry did as he was told, even though the demand didn't make a lot of sense.

"Neither Mom nor Dad had a driver's license, so the car sat in the garage pretty much until about 1967," Jerry said. That's when my Dad, out of the goodness of his heart, decided to give my car to my son, Dave, for his 14th birthday."

Dave Salzman practiced driving his family heirloom up and down the driveway until he was street legal. Then he drove it to high school and college. Then he parked it next to Jerry's house, where it sat for another eight years until Jerry and Virginia decided to take a spin in "Old Betsy," their honeymoon car, on their 40th wedding anniversary.

And then the 1949 Plymouth four-door Special Deluxe (with sun visor and fender skirts) sat unused for yet another eight years.

Today, however, "Old Betsy" who in her lifetime has racked up a paltry 50,900 odometer miles is in the process of coming out of retirement one more time.

"Lately, it's seemed like time to bring Old Betsy back to life," said Jerry, who hired a pal to tune 'er up, replace the brake cylinders and engine rubber, and perform the automotive equivalent of cosmetic surgery.

Old Betsy has blossomed with the attention. "Afterward, she made it up an 11-mile hill without ever going out of high gear," Salzman said. "And she sounds great. Purrs like a kitten."

Nowadays, Jerry and Virginia are taking Old Betsy seriously. They have insured the car for $8,000. They're starting to enroll in classic car clubs so they can wow others with their 1949 Plymouth four-door Special Deluxe (with sun visor and fender skirts). And they have no plans to put her back out to pasture.

Jerry tells the story of himself, Virginia and Old Betsy as if he's recounting a three-way love affair and he concludes the tale with an unusually happy ending.

"I'm just glad that car don't talk," he said with a wink, "because I had it before I knew my wife."

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