Chevrolet introduced a beautiful and bigger all new car in 1941, but it was more than just a prettier face, although it had that too.
For the first time, Chevrolet embedded the headlights in the fenders, and Chevy was the first of the "low price three" (Ford, Chevrolet, and Plymouth) to completely conceal the running boards. The car was longer by 3½ inches and about 100 pounds heavier than its predecessor. The 116-inch wheelbase was 3 inches longer, and there were 3 inches of additional hip room.
They say times were good in 1941, that is until December 7. The economy was good, jobs were plentiful and Detroit was cranking out vehicles. But the country was getting ready for war with words and deeds, including promoting the 1941 Chevy 90 HP, 6 cylinder, 216 c.i. engine as "the Victory Six." Chevrolet sold more than 1 million new cars that year, including 34,162 top-of-the-line models like the Fleetline.
Livermore resident David Lawson bought his 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe Fleetline four-door sedan in 1979 for $1,800 and is the second owner.
"The Fleetline model was more formal," the owner explained, "and the styling really came from the 1940 Buick Special. Chevrolet kind of copied the body but made it smaller. The Fleetline had additional walnut wood grain on the dash and the extra chrome on the bottom of the front fenders for a spiffier look. The car sold for $877 new" (about $14,500 in today's dollars).
What's not to like about this 1941 Chevrolet? It's very solid. Even the clock still works. Several things surprised me about Lawson's 1941 Chevy. The vacuum column-mounted three-speed synchromesh transmission is sometime referred to as "fingertip" shifting. The vacuum takes 80 percent of the effort away from shifting gears. It was leading edge technology for the time, but some complained that the vacuum made it impossible to speed shift for drag racing or beat the guy next to you at the stoplight.
The second surprise is a center rear bumper guard that not only protects the back of the car but can be folded down to be used to tow or pull heavy items like another car. Third, is the starter pedal. It looks like an ugly giant mushroom just to the right of the accelerator. The driver presses the starter and accelerator simultaneously to start the car.
Lawson had no plans to make this a collector car when he bought it; he just needed transportation.
"When I bought this car, it was in very good shape, and I drove the 38-year-old car as a daily commute vehicle for a year or so without any mechanical problems," Lawson said.
But when he relocated from Fremont to Livermore, the old Chevy was almost abandoned, left outside to fight the elements. Eighteen years of outside storage ruined the paint and interior of the car.
About 2008, an older and wiser Lawson decided to make his now-67-year-old Chevy into a classy classic without spending a big bundle of cash. He wanted a driver, not just a show car. Understandably, he likes driving his car.
The first thing he did was get it painted the factory two-tone grey and had the interior redone to as close to factory specifications as possible. That included the plush rope that was strung across the rear of the front seat, often used to hang lap blankets, and pull straps mounted behind the rear doors to help people get in and out of the vehicle.
He upgraded the electrical system to 12 volt and installed tube shocks for better handling. He was concerned that the original engine didn't have a pressurized oil system, so he installed a 235 c.i. engine from a 1954 Chevy. All the changes were improvements, but it would take a very experienced eye to detect that the car is not 100 percent original. Lawson estimates his total investment is about $10,000 and believes the car's current market value is $22,000.
When talking to classic car owners, there is often a connection between the car they have or covet and their youth. This is the case with David Lawson, as he was always fascinated with the 1941 GM cars. As a kid, his dad had a 1941 Oldsmobile, and for him, this Chevrolet turns back the clock. It's similar to his dad's car, but smaller.
"I knew this was a car for me, and I would never sell it," he said.
As Yogi Berra would say, "it's Déjà vu all over again."
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.