The Calbuzz Dustbin of History: Jerry’s Disappearing Plymouth


img_2051Annals of Jerry Brown, Chapter 36: The sudden reappearance of Jerry Brown’s famed 1974 Plymouth at his reception during the state Democratic convention recalled an episode of abiding mystery involving his iconic auto.

It happened on April 17, 1980, 29 years almost to the day before the car’s cameo at Brown’s party last week; the Plymouth suddenly disappeared from the Capitol, shortly after Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to seize it, following a legal dispute that involved eight hundred bucks in unpaid medical bills.

The shaggy car story actually began in August 1979, when then-Gov. Brown vetoed $390,000 worth of small claims against the state that had been approved by the state Board of Control and the Legislature. Among them was a bill for $808 for un-reimbursed MediCal expenses, filed by Barton Memorial Hospital in South Lake Tahoe three years before.

Stiffed by Brown, the hospital went to court in El Dorado County and won a judgment for the money, giving them the “right to attach tangible property” owned by the state of California.

“I couldn’t think of any property more tangible than the governor’s Plymouth,” hospital administrator Ron Newton told a reporter at the time.

But someone from the local sheriff’s office leaked word that deputies were on their way to arrest the car, which was spotted leaving the building’s underground garage just before the lawmen arrived. The governor himself had an alibi: he was in L.A. that day, tooling around in a second, state-owned Plymouth, and bureaucrats from a host of agencies proceeded to engage in round of finger pointing about who was responsible for producing Moonbeam Plymouth I.

The kerfuffle ended up back in court – more work for lawyers! – and the intriguing mystery of who drove it away, one step ahead of the posse, remained unsolved. Brown, now California’s Top Lawman, presided over a reception last Saturday promoting his bid for a second turn as governor, where the Outlaw Plymouth sat on brazen display in the driveway of the historic Governor’s Mansion, its greatest secret still intact.

Epilogue: Brown suffered a bit of karmic justice this week, when someone stole two tires from his hybrid in Oakland.

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There are 9 comments for this post

  1. avatar Anonymous says:

    It was his Chief of Staff, Gray Davis, who after combing the seat cushions for spare change drove Cybill Sheppard to Tahoe for the weekend.

  2. avatar Bill Bradley says:

    On that cover of Andy Warhol’s Interview, Jerry Brown — who turned down Warhol when he wanted to do his official gubernatorial portrait — looks a lot like … Gavin Newsom!

    Reviewing hours of footage I’ve shot of Gavin, he kinda sounds like Jerry.

    I bet he picked up a lot sitting on Jerry’s knee back in the day.

    Incidentally, Gavin’s father and grandfather were both Brown family retainers …

  3. avatar Anonymous says:

    Proving once more: ‘Murphy’ operates best during state capital crimes, but also in Oakland! 😉

  4. avatar Anonymous says:

    What say yee [self-proclaimed] “APOSTLE of COMMON SENSE”?

  5. avatar Anonymous says:


  6. avatar ChartWestcott says:

    I wonder what Gavin Newsome would be driven around in if he were governor.

    Hint: Custom Made Hybrid Bentley Continental w/ 22 inch rims.

  7. avatar juliana inman says:

    Please check your math. 1980 to 2009 is 29 years, not 19! I’m confused, though – at the notion that a personal debt can or should be “paid” by a lien on government property. Isn’t the car California State property?

  8. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    thanks — we fixed our bonehead math

  9. avatar Roberts and Trounstine says:

    At least half of us covered this story live at the time; reconstructing the details of what happened from a published account at the time, it appears there was a dispute about who owed the $808 – the individuals who were treated or Medi-Cal, and the hospital went after the deep pockets. Gov. Brown, in one of his fiscal conservative incarnations, refused to pay a whole batch of small claims of which this was just a tiny, tiny, portion. As they say in baseball, you could look it up…

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