For generations, technology has allowed us to record our most precious memories, whether it be in the form of a photograph or a video. Joel Smith was delighted to discover lost footage of his parents’ 1953 wedding on their 60th anniversary. After watching the video though, he was inspired to devise an ambitious plan to surprise them.
Joel’s plan was captured on video by Hagerty, an insurance company specializing in classic car and boat insurance. Protecting a range of vehicles worth $30 billion in total, the company also has a successful YouTube channel, boasting more than 272,000 subscribers. However, even with ten years’ worth of content, Joel’s video is still one of their most popular posts.
Titled “My Parents’ First Car – 1948 Plymouth convertible,” the post was uploaded on February 26, 2013, earning more than 1.3 million views. It opens with a picture of Joel’s parents, Joe and Beverly Smith, posing on their beloved car, before Joel explains its importance to the pair. “When my parents were married, they had the ’48 Plymouth convertible, and they’ve talked about the car ever since,” he recalled.
“It’s my mother’s favorite car. Dad loved it. It was kind of like their first real car,” Joel continued. “Then my dad was drafted and went to Korea, and they had to sell the car. They always talked about the car forever – how much fun it was, and the great times they had with it.”
On the day they celebrated 60 years together though, Joel received an unexpected surprise. “This year was their 60th wedding anniversary,” he said. “The whole family went back, and they had like 50 people at a sit-down dinner. Someone had found video of their actual wedding. They found it in the archives of someone’s basement.”
“The car was in the videos, with all the ‘Just Married’ signs and the cans behind it, the old traditional stuff,” Joel continued. “We talked a while about how much fun it would be if they had the car, so I began searching around in different places to see if I could find a ’48 Plymouth. Not something that was easy to find!”
Although it proved a challenge, Joel eventually found four vehicles that fit the description, two of which had already been sold. The third was located in a museum, while the last one had been advertised on Craigslist. However, despite the advert having expired, Joe and Beverly’s son had some luck when contacting the owner of the car.
“It was a little guy in Indiana, 81 years old, the second owner of the car,” Joel recalled. “The car had been garaged, and [he] claimed the car was in very, very, very nice shape, never been in the winters, so it had 31,000 miles on it. He couldn’t send me pictures, couldn’t do anything.”
“He didn’t own a computer, didn’t want to own a computer, so I had a friend drive up and look at the car and take a bunch of pictures of it,” he continued. “He had all the maintenance records, the original manual for it, all kinds of things for the car. It was pretty amazing what he had.”
With that in mind, Joel eventually bought the car, shipping it back to his home. From there, the next stage of his ambitious plan came into effect, as he contacted a former work colleague of his father’s to hide the vehicle. Donnie Cooper, who was Joe’s service manager at the latter’s Chrysler Plymouth dealership in the past, also agreed to do some mechanical work on the car.
However, that decision presented another issue for Joel. “That got pretty funny, because we were trying to keep this thing totally under-wraps, and my dad knows everybody, so it has a real lot of challenges to it,” he says with a grin. After successfully keeping his father in the dark, he started work on the Plymouth with Donnie.
From there, Joel triggered the final stage of his plan. “I flew my youngest son Colby in, and he faked a fishing trip with grandpa,” he recalls. “I go to Donnie’s house early in the morning. We pick up the car, drive it up to Delavan. [We] stop in the parking lot in downtown beautiful Delavan, wait, and I text my son and let him know that we’re going to come up the hill.”
“He had a little video camera, and he turned it on,” Joel continues. “They didn’t know that the video camera was operational.” Colby subsequently captured his grandparents in their living-room, just moments before they received the surprise of their lives.
The red Plymouth comes into view through one of their windows, with Joe spotting it immediately. As the car approaches the house, he seemingly pieces the entire situation together. “I told you he’s lied to me,” the smiling father tells Beverly from his armchair.
The pair go outside to take a closer look at the car, but Joe is clearly overcome with emotion as he peers into the driver’s seat. “That’s beautiful,” he says tearfully, before Beverly responds, “Isn’t that something? Uh-oh, Grandpa’s got tears.” Within moments though, they both enter the vehicle and take it for a test-drive, joyfully waving at the camera as they leave.
“They were always great parents,” Joel says. “And it was kind of a give-back, it was like ‘boy if you could give back some youth’”. Meanwhile, both Joe and Beverly are delighted by the surprise, reflecting on the impact it had on them since.
It’s like we are, it’s a classic,” Joe says of the Plymouth. “It brings back the memories of when we were young, and could run around the block, but now we have to drive. To drive around in the older car is just super, you get in it and feel proud all over again. It’s like a gift from heaven.”
However, Joe reserves special praise for his son’s efforts. “It’s great thought from a young lad that thinks that much of his folks that he would spend that much time to look for something, and that he knows they would greatly appreciate [it],” says. “Plus, he got one on his dad, where his dad usually gets one on him!”
While Joe and Beverly might have lost their original Plymouth, Joel has no plans on losing this one for the foreseeable future. “The car will stay in the family forever,” he concludes. “No matter what happens, the car will never be sold and it’ll stay in the family. It’ll be part of that, and those memories will be there forever, which is just irreplaceable, especially the way we pulled it off!”
Thanks to technology, our most precious memories can be preserved for the rest of our lives. For Joel Smith, though, the discovery of a lost video led him on a quest to surprise his loving parents. Now, with their beloved old car back in their lives, new memories are being created every day.