A tale of two cities — and a Chrysler – Litchfield County Times
MALMO, SWEDEN — Gather ’round and you will hear the story of a mysterious red 1949 Chrysler convertible.
The car, which is in Sweden and lovingly restored and cared for by its present owner, Bengt Olsson, of Malmo, was first purchased in Litchfield in the late 1940s. Despite numerous attempts to ascertain the first owner and subsequent early history of the red Chrysler, known formally as a Windsor Highlander, Olsson has come up empty. Hence the mystery.
Olsson, a teacher of cabinet-making, has determined from Chrysler’s Historical Services that the automobile was produced on April 22, 1949, and shipped to Litchfield on May 8 of that year to a dealership owned by Alfred A. Lautier, whose garage at the time was located behind the Village Restaurant on West Street. According to the Litchfield Library and Archive, by 1962 the business had moved out of the center of town and the building was torn down to make way for a municipal parking lot.
“I have always had an interest in old cars,” said Olsson during a conversation from Sweden. “Around 2000, I was visiting a car show and saw a Chrysler convertible, circa 1948. I told my wife (Wiveca) that I would like to have such a car. She looked at me and told me to ‘keep on dreaming.’ I just loved the design, they are big, and the shapes. These cars are art.”
Olsson enjoyed browsing through car magazines and visited the website hemmings.com. “Suddenly I saw a blue Chrysler 1948 for sale in Chicago. It must have been around 2006 or 2007. I looked at the pictures week after week. Then I decided to write and ask them about the car. But the day I made the decision, the ad was gone.”
Olsson continued his quest and discovered his red Chrysler convertible in the fall of 2009. “I wrote to the seller and we started to argue about price. We made a deal and I told my wife that I wanted to buy the car. You can´t imagine her eyes. She only saw problems in front of us. Payment, transportation, storage and so on. I decided to buy the car and sent the money. My wife thought I was cheated.”
Olsson used a Swedish shipping company to pick up the car in Ohio and take it to Sweden for the sum of $7,000, on top of the $32,000 purchase price. The car was bought from Canton, Ohio’s MotorCar Portfolio, and before that was located in Hazelhurst Wisconsin’s Crown Point Classics.
“I bought the car without seeing it myself and without meeting the people who sold it. But it worked out.”
Then the hard work began. Olsson lovingly restored the automobile. He spent around $30,000 on the work, which included a new paint job, new chrome, fabric and leather, upholstery, new tires and other parts.
“Every person I talk to about the car is impressed and think it´s lovely. My Chrysler isn’t just a car anymore. It´s a museum object. If I found out about the original owners, it would give another picture of the car with a bit more history. I imagine knowing who the first owner was, what he did for a living and so on. I want to follow the car from the beginning forward.”
Olsson said he and his wife take the Chrysler out during the summer on nice days. Like any garage queen, the car doesn’t budge in inclement weather,
“We drive to shows as often we can. It’s fun to speak with other people about the car and it feels good in my heart to listen to all praise. Last summer we did a long trip over 10 days. We visited four shows. We drove about 1,000 miles on the trip, and the car ran good. People were waving and taking photos along the roads.”
U.S. classic cars are popular and a big business in Sweden, Olsson said. The red Chrysler won Finest Car 1956 and Older at the Swedish Chrysler Club Summer Meet, and also won the People’s Choice award at the Swedish Power Meet, one of the biggest car shows in the world. There were 22,000 U.S. classic cars at the latter.
“I don’t have other classic cars. This was my first and probably the last.” Olsson is hoping for information about the origins of the car’s first years on the road. “I am looking for the history of the car. Maybe someone had seen the car around the Litchfield area. Maybe someone knows someone who has owned a red Chrysler convertible 1949 in the ’50s and later. Chrysler produced 3,234 of these convertibles and offered about 10 different colors, so I think that there might have been just one red one sold and used in Litchfield. I am convinced that there are people who remember and maybe will say, ‘Ahh, that was grandpa’s car.’ I know the car was given a lot of love during its years.”
Olsson has visited the United States three times and plans on visiting again next September, when he and his wife’s youngest son will be married in Las Vegas. “My plan is to take a flight to Boston, visit Litchfield, and then pay a visit to an owner of the car in Wisconsin.” He also plans on displaying the Chrysler at the Malmo Motor Show in Sweden, an indoor show for invited cars.
Who knows; by the time Olsson stops by Litchfield next year he may have uncovered some clues as to who was the first owner of the red Chrysler convertible that is drawing ooohs and aaahs from people in Sweden these days.