There is something special about these exquisite cars of the past. Not everyone could drive a car 80 years ago, because driving was a challenge without such things as power steering, electric windows and cup holders.
The car business was still relatively new, and Chrysler was only 5 years old when this elegant 1929 Chrysler Sports Roadster was built. About 12 years ago, Orinda resident Bill Nichols purchased it from a widow in Portland, Ore., whose husband had been a car collector. Nichols saw a photo of the car, flew to Portland and bought the Chrysler for $27,500, then paid an additional $1,000 to have it hauled to Orinda.
This is not a show car, or as the classic car folks say, not a "trailer queen," a car that is hauled to car shows. Nichols actually drives his 1929 Chrysler almost daily. If he needs to run errands, he jumps in the classic. After 12 years of ownership, he has driven the old Chrysler 32,000 miles, mostly in the area, but also on the back roads to such places as Santa Maria and San Luis Obispo.
The history of the car is somewhat of a mystery. Nichols suspects the car was restored in the 1960s and then stored in a warehouse. He also suspects that the car is not completely original but rather a combination of at least two 1929 Chryslers.
"As near as I can figure out, this car is a composite. I think someone found a nice roadster body, then searched for a chassis. Since the chassis for all the Chryslers of that year were the same, someone probably found a sedan, threw away the sedan body and bolted the roadster body on."
His proof is in the number of leaves in the springs. "Sedans used nine leaves, and the lighter roadster used eight. My roadster has nine. It makes for a more firm ride," Nichols said.
As one would expect, things do go wrong with 80-year-old machines, and Nichols said "every now and then I would hear expensive noises."
As a result, he has had to replace the rear end, the drive shaft, the radiator core, the gas tank, the clutch and, while he was at it, he had the engine reworked, as well. Nichols was able to do much of the work himself.
"Chrysler had the reputation for building strong cars," Nichols said. "For example, they were the first inexpensive car to use hydraulic brakes. All others used mechanical brakes. They were 10 years ahead of Ford and six ahead of Chevrolet."
In advertising products, sometimes a disadvantage is promoted as a feature. Nichols said, "I think it was General Motors who came up with the slogan 'Solid steel from foot to wheel' to combat the hydraulic brake feature."
This is the top of the line for Chrysler in 1929. It is 174 inches long without bumpers and 185.5 inches long with bumpers. It sits on a 121-inch wheelbase and weighs 3,190 pounds. It has leather seats, a leather rumble seat, a windshield that folds flat over the hood -- if you want maximum air along with a few bugs in your teeth -- or that will open out from the bottom.
Like some more expensive cars of that day, it has a golf club door on the right side of the car so the owner can slide his clubs onto the floor in the rumble seat area.
A unique feature: the automatic radiator shutters. Controlled by the thermostat, the vertical venetian blind-type shutters open or close depending on the engine's temperature. Another unusual feature is the lockable left interior door panel that conceals the tools such as special wrenches and screwdrivers provided with vehicle.
The two-tone blue Roadster has two spare tires mounted in the two front fenders; each tire has a rearview mirror belted to it. The trunk literally is a trunk, like a "Captain's Truck" attached to a luggage rack over the rear bumper.
The car came with an instruction book as opposed to an owner's manual. It states the Chrysler has a 248.9-cubic-inch, straight-six-cylinder engine with an HP rating of 25.35 and a three-speed manual transmission. The instruction book allows the owner to learn how all parts of the vehicle work, and how to maintain and repair it.
It has a chart showing lubrication points with at least eight locations that should be greased every 500 miles. Almost everything should be checked every 2,000 miles.
The instruction book gives directions on how to drive and how to stop the car. "When it is desired to stop the car, the throttle should be closed and the clutch disengaged. Movement of the car may be stopped by use of the foot brake ..."
Probably a good thing to know.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at firstname.lastname@example.org.