Chevrolet: 1930s had some good years

1 year 2 months ago - 1 year 2 months ago #1066 by JP
JP created the topic: Chevrolet: 1930s had some good years
Chevrolet Motor Division, General Motors Corporation
Detroit, Michigan

1933 Chevrolet Eagle Coach

1934 Chevrolet Master Series

Many vintage cars are popular today in roughly the same proportion as they were when new. Chevrolets of the 1930s found favor in their time for the same reasons they appeal to collectors today: they had smooth-running six-cylinder engines, attractive styling, and lots of fellow owners with whom to trade stories.

Though Chevy out produced Ford in eight years of the decade, the Model A and V-8 would give Ford an early lead in popularity among collectors in the 1950s. But Chevrolet's following has been growing fast and if you count Corvette enthusiasts, Chevy may now even be ahead.

Chevrolet production first passed Ford's in 1927, when Dearborn stopped building its venerable Model T and retooled its plant in preparation for the Model A. Chevrolet's strength that year-and throughout the '30s was its "Stove Bolt Six," also called the "Cast Iron Wonder." The nicknames stem from the engine's Y4 x 20 slotted-head bolts and cast-iron pistons-not esoteric, maybe, but wonderfully effective, and as reliable as Old Faithful.

Press Photo Ormond E. Hunt General Motors engineer

The Chevy six was developed by engineer Ormond E. Hunt, who took his cue from an earlier design by Henry M. Crane and which had evolved into the 1926 Pontiac. The Chevy power plant used the same 3.75-inch stroke as the Pontiac, but a larger 3.31-inch bore. This gave it a displacement of 194 cubic inches, and by 1930 this unit was producing an even 50 horsepower.

With certain improvements over time, this solid over­head-valve engine remained the standard Chevy power plant for nearly three decades. For the 1933 Eagle and 1934 Master series it was given a new combustion chamber, a four-inch stroke, the name "Blue Flame Six," and was rated at 80 horsepower. Then in 1937, it was fully redesigned. Bore and stroke became nearly square at 3.50 x 3.75 inches for a displacement of 216.5 cubic inches. The 1937 power plant also had four, instead of three, main bearings, and was shorter and lighter than its predecessor. It was behind one of these engines in 1940 that a young Juan Manuel Fangio won the car-breaking 5,900 mile road race from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru and back with an average speed of 53.6 mph. Fangio continued to race his Chevy after World War II but eventually switched to Grand Prix cars, and became a legendary five-time world champion.

Harvey Earl 1948

Throughout its history, Chevrolet has usually made the right decisions at precisely the right time. After he'd introduced the Stove Bolt Six, Chevy general manager William "Big Bill" Knudsen assigned the styling to Harley Earl. The result was a line of elegant-looking little cars for 1929-31 with looks that resembled a scaled-down Cadillac, but mounted on 107- to 109- inch wheelbases. In 1930 and 1931, a single series consisting of roadsters for two or four passengers, a phaeton, three coupes, and two sedans was offered at $495 to $685.

1930 Chevrolet Universal

1931 Chevrolet Independence Phaeton

1932 Confederate Series BA

1933 Chevrolet Mercury

Each year's Chevys were identified by a special name: Universal in 1930, Independence in 1931, Confederate in 1932, Eagle (deluxe) and Mercury (standard) in 1933. Styling developed along the lines of the more expensive GM cars. The '33s, with their skirted fenders and graceful lines, were perhaps the most attractive Chevrolets of the entire decade. Body styles proliferated, and included such exotics as a $640 landau phaeton in 1932.

The 1933 Eagles had many features designed to win buyers from Ford: a Fisher body with "No-Draft Ventilation," airplane-type instruments, Cadillac-style hood doors, a cowl vent, synchromesh transmission, selective free-wheeling, safety plate glass, adjustable driver's seat, and even an octane selector. Many of these features were also carried on the standard Mercury line, which sold for no more than $475. These were good years for the division despite the prevailing Depression. Chevy production outpaced Ford's each year from 1931 to 1934. Output bottomed out at 300,000 units in 1932, rose to 480,000 in 1933, and was back to the 1931 level of 600,000 cars by 1934.

In 1934, along with new streamlined body styling, came a vital decision: "Knee-Action" independent front suspension would be offered for the Master series. This was Bill Knudsen's last act before leaving as general manager in October, 1933. According to writer Karl Ludvigsen, suspension engineer Maurice Olley tried to discourage Knudsen from using Knee­Action on the high-volume Chevy. Olley said there weren't enough centerless grinding machines in America to produce the necessary coil springs. Knudsen replied that this was just what the machine tool industry needed to get back on its feet, but nevertheless, they restricted Knee-Action to the Master series only. Not every Master buyer liked the suspension, however. From 1935 through 1940, Masters with solid front axles were also offered at $20 less than Knee­Action models. Standards continued to use the solid axle, and Knee-Action didn't spread throughout the line until 1941.

1935 Chevrolet Master Deluxe two door coach

The 1935 Chevrolets were the last models with any styling relationship to the classic era. A wide model lineup was offered. Masters sold for $560-$695, and standards were priced at $465-$550. While standards kept a 107-inch wheelbase, Masters used a 113-inch span and very rakish bodies with V-shaped windshields and streamlined fenders. The raked-back radiator had its cap concealed under the hood-an innovation at the time. Though the same Blue Flame engine was used on all models, those in the standards developed only 74 bhp. This dual-range marketing approach worked in the showrooms: Production rose to 793,000 units. Ford built more cars than Chevy in 1935, but it was the last time Dearborn would do so until 1959.

1936 Chevrolet Master Deluxe two door coach

Continued modernization occurred in 1936 as Chevrolets adopted the rounded styling of the streamlined look. They had die-cast waterfall grilles, steel­spoked wheels (wires remained optional), smooth fenders and body lines, and all-steel "Turret Top" bodies. A big plus in the continuing battle against Ford was Chevy's new hydraulic brakes. Ford failed to adopt hydraulics until 1939; mainly due to the stubbornness of Henry Ford. The year also saw Chevy's two series become more alike as both used the 80-bhp Stove Bolt Six. The dated phaeton model was dropped. Standards, now on a 109-inch wheelbase, were offered in coupe, cabriolet, coach, sedan, town sedan, and sport sedan form. The Master series had mostly the same styles, but substituted a sport coupe for the cabriolet. The Master didn't offer a cabriolet until 1937, and even then it came with a beam front axle rather than the Knee-Action suspension.

1937 Chevrolet Master Deluxe two door coach

With the new 216.5-cid 85-bhp engine tor 1937, Chevrolet was particularly well equipped for the sales battle. Although production had reached 975,000 units in 1936, it slipped to 868,000 for 1937 because of a recession that year-but that tally was still 20,000 units ahead of Ford's. Model names were not altered: Master designated the lower-priced line ($655-$725), and Master Deluxe was the tag for the more costly series ($685-$788). All models rode a 112.3-in wheelbase.

1938 Chevrolet Master Deluxe town sedan

1939 Chevrolet Master Deluxe town sedan

Styling became rather dull as it did for several other GM cars that year. Grilles were skinny and uninteresting; bodies were high and bulky. Chevys looked pretty clumsy in the closing years of the decade, particularly compared to the increasingly streamlined Fords. Still, Chevrolet continued to out produce Ford. In the recession year of 1938, its 490,000 units led Ford by 80,000; in 1939, the total of 648,000 cars was 116,000 more that of Dearborn's.

It wasn't until 1940 that Bill Mitchell, Harley Earl, and company produced a Chevrolet with styling equal in impact to that of the elegant 1933 model. Though the 1940 Chevy shared much of its general shape with its immediate predecessors, it had just the right detail touches to make it a stand out. Again, Chevrolets looked like junior Cadillacs. Perhaps this was why Chevy again outsold Ford by 300,000 cars that year.

This styling history should be important to the collector because classic-car enthusiasts generally agree that the most colorful, dashing, genuinely beautiful Chevys of the period are those built from 1930-1933. The 1934-35 models are relatively uninteresting, except for the collectible low-production phaetons. The 1936-39 cars are even more boring, if that's possible, at least from a design viewpoint.

1931 Chevy
There is more to the story than styling, of course. Every Chevrolet during the '30s was progressively better in engineering than its predecessor. Knee-Action in 1934, Turret Tops in mid-decade, the new Six in 1937-all were important to the technical progress of the make. Nevertheless, the desirable Chevys of the 1930s are those built during the first four years. If you find them pricey today (and they are), the next place to look for collector and investment value is 1940.

Hope you enjoyed this information. Ed's Swap is the place to sell your classic car, auto parts, business and expertise. Give us a try! JP

(About JP: He is the author of the book, Terrorism Defeated: God’s Plan to Win the War on Terror which was released in 2008. He loves the classic car community and has made a commitment to partner with his brother to bring you a website that is a worldwide swap meet you can visit every day on your computer to find classic car parts, cars to buy or sell, or the opportunity to link your automotive needs to one of this website’s advertisers and/or experts.)

Cheers, Fast Eddie, Founder of Ed's Swap
Last Edit: 1 year 2 months ago by JP.

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1 year 3 weeks ago #1174 by Hammer
Hammer replied the topic: Chevrolet: 1930s had some good years
Nice story!

I've got a 1933 Chevrolet 2 door coupe in great shape looking for a new owner. I've not yet posted here but your interest will get you more pictures and contact information about selling this beauty to you! Currently asking $18,000.

write back here and I'll post more about the car with contact information

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