Gil Losi Sr.’s rapport with Plymouth’s 1950s Belvedere goes back some 60 years to the ’54 that his dad owned. Vividly, Losi illustrates dad’s ’54’s flathead-six and black-and-green color scheme in the sort of nostalgic way you’d expect any son to look back on his old man’s wheels: “It was the ugliest car I’d ever seen.”
Ugly, yes, but, according to Losi, he stole the keys when pop wasn’t looking, thus laying the foundation for a half-century-plus relationship between a man and a car that often goes unnoticed. “When the 1956 came out,” Losi says, “I liked ’em even though nobody else did.”
Losi’s been modifying cars his whole life. At age 15, he’ll tell you that he had the lowest car in all of California’s San Fernando Valley—a 1949 Ford that’d undergone the sort of simple modifications you’d expect from a kid barely old enough to drive. But by 40, and after founding Team Losi—one of the most renowned radio-controlled car makers in the world—customizing life-size cars was put on hold. “I gave up all of my hobbies,” he says about some of the sacrifices he made at the expense of the business.
Team Losi went on to make one of the biggest impacts in radio-controlled-car history. The company’s first car, a tenth-scale two-wheel-drive, off-road buggy called the JRX2, was a hit due to industry firsts like its multi-link suspension, rubber race tires, and carbon-graphite chassis instead of cheaper stamped aluminum. In 2001 Losi sold the brand to Horizon Hobby, who continues to carry on the Losi legacy. “Toward the end, though, I found time to get back into it,” Losi says about how his passion for hot rods was rekindled after selling the business.
The passion’s evident in Losi’s collection of custom builds parked within his Murrieta, California, estate’s garage, one of which is the ’56 Plymouth convertible that indirectly harken’s dad’s old sedan. “I wanted to show the Ford and Chevy guys that there was another car out there,” he says about the other reason why he looked to the Plymouth for his latest project. “So I did.” Finding the right one was as hard as you’d think it’d be, too. “I found a ’55 that was so rusty it was ridiculous,” he says about the sort of specimens he’d come across. Losi’s search was further narrowed, limiting the pool only to ’55 and ’56 models of convertible ilk. “The roofline just doesn’t look right,” he says about the hardtop, “so I got a convertible.”
The car that took Losi 10 years to find and was ultimately sourced on eBay—just 30 minutes from his house—wasn’t perfect, though. “The first thing wrong with these cars is the front bumper,” he says about the Plymouth’s styling. “It’s about a foot higher than it should be, so we wedge cut it to make it fit halfway decent. That was the first thing we did.”
By we Losi means his design input accompanied by the fabrication prowess of Oklahoma City’s Steve Cook Creations. “A lot of the ideas are mine,” he says about the build, which he commissioned renderings for long before the chassis was sourced, “but Steve Cook built it.” The car’s classic lines were preserved, but every panel that sits above the custom Art Morrison chassis has been reworked. Cook’s three-man team channeled the body over the frame, extended the bottom, and tucked and shaved the bumpers that flow into a custom-made splash panel underneath. “It’s great, but it looks sad,” was what Cook told Losi, despite all of the reshaping. Cook retrofitted ’56 Chrysler 300 headlights up front to shed the Plymouth of its genetic frown and peaked both fenders to match. “This was pretty straightforward for Steve,” Losi says about the build that took about four-and-a-half years to complete.
Old meets new underneath the hood where Losi commissioned Dodge’s SRT8’s 6.1L Hemi engine that mates up to a Magnum five-speed automatic gearbox and a Ford nine-inch rear end out back. Engine mods are few and selective, which include a custom air intake system and one-off headers formed by Cook that terminate into MagnaFlow mufflers.
Losi hasn’t driven the ’56 much yet. Since it’s completion, the car’s been hauled across the country on a year-long tour, where it was barely nudged from the elusive Ridler award by a Chip Foose-built ’65 Impala. “It was between mine and Chip’s, and he won,” Losi says before highlighting what went down at last April’s fifteenth-annual Goodguys Del Mar Nationals where, this time, the Plymouth secured its place ahead of Foose. “That was the first time I beat him anywhere,” he says, eluding to what exactly the ’56 might be capable of.
Reminiscent of pops’ old ’54? Without a doubt. Ugly? Not according to the judges. Dad would be proud.
Words by Aaron Bonk