Cars connect Jerry Ward to the things he holds dear
When it comes to restorations, a 1962 Plymouth Belvedere is one of the last cars to come to mind, but the Belvedere was precisely what Jerry E. Ward wanted. Ward said he loves Camaros, Mustangs and the like, but there are thousands of those. He prefers restoring cars that are different and more unusual.
Ward, 71, of North Kansas City, has owned numerous cars throughout his life and his enthusiasm is contagious. His son, Jay Ward, is the guardian of the Cars franchise for the Pixar Animation Studios. He credits his dad’s love of cars for stimulating his interest in autos. He has been an automotive consultant for the two Cars movies and is the organizer of the annual Pixar Motorama car show. Jay was born in Kansas City but moved to California as a youngster.
Ward said that since 1975 he has worked on 10 or 12 cars that he classifies as “special.” He keeps them for a while after they’re finished but the challenge is in taking on a new project so he eventually sells them at a classic-car auction. In 2010 he rebuilt a 1955 Studebaker Commander Starliner and sold it last spring.
The idea for the Belvedere began a couple of years ago when Ward bought a V-10 engine from a wrecked Dodge Viper. He envisioned dropping that monster engine into a vintage Chrysler product. This 1962 Plymouth was inviting because its body was completely free of rust, a result of living its life in Texas. The ’62 was the first Plymouth with unibody construction, and that meant a sound body was even more valuable because it cannot be removed from the frame for restoration.
Once Ward got the car to his shop he discovered that installing the Viper engine would require a great deal of surgery on the car because the engine was so long. He didn’t want to do that because it would be quite costly and it would destroy the structural integrity of the car. He decided to keep the 318-cubic-inch V-8.
The’62 Belvedere was slightly smaller than the 1961, and that was done at a time when downsizing was not part of the automotive lexicon. In today’s terms, it is still quite a big car. Five or six people can fit inside.
Ward’s restoration routine starts when he takes the car to Bodyworks Unlimited in Kansas City. “They give me a corner of the shop,” he said, “and I prepare the body for painting. Once I get everything ready, they apply the final paint.” The result is nearly flawless.
Ward then takes the car to Don Kite for upholstery. Kite, who lives in the country not far from Harrisonville, is well known for his automotive interiors and he has done several of Ward’s cars. He upholstered the Plymouth in black and silver leather.
Much of the Belvedere’s bright trim is stainless steel, and Louis Myers of Fort Osage polished it back to brilliance. The bumpers have been rechromed.
As Ward walks around his finished project he beams. His pristine Belvedere reflects more than his perseverance and perfection, it also reflects his deep-seated love of cars. And, in a distant way, it is one more connection with his son, Jay.