The Cumberland Post

The Cumberland Post
My Backyard, Six Miles from the Cumberland River

Monday, May 17, 2010

My First Car: 1941 Chevrolet Coupe, AKA the Monster

My first car, purchased for $50.00 cash in 1957, was a 1941 Chevrolet Coupe. Needless to say, it didn't look like the fine example in the photo. The 16 year old car's body was in fairly good shape with faded black paint but very little rust.  I found the car in the backyard of a neighbor of my high school friend, Doug. The grass was grown up around it and the motor would not run. But I had plans for this car. Big plans.

I had a job after school at Eagle Cleaners (no we didn't clean Eagles) and had saved a total of $90 over the previous six months. It seemed like a fortune in those days of $.28 cent gas. After the car's purchase, $40 remained most of which I used to buy a used, late 40's GMC truck engine at the junkyard. The car's engine had 217 cubic inches and produced around 80 horsepower. The truck engine was larger, 235 cubic inches with 90 horsepower. I imagined that the made over Chevy would be a hotrod.

My friend Bill Jenkins' father offered to let us use an old garage in back of their house for the work. Bill's father letting use that garage was a godsend, as my parents had no space and weren't too keen on the whole idea.

Bill, Wynn, and later George Jr. pitched in and we started work sometime in late October of 1957. We worked on it through Christmas and into February of 1958. We pulled the old Chevy motor and dropped in the larger GMC. That sounds a lot easier than it was. Bill wrote a note in my high school annual about it. Here are his exact words as he reminded me of the experience:
"'Hey man, watch out for that #!*%*+#! firewall' (puttin' the jimmy in the chevy). 'Be careful with that motor. Hurry up and let it down. The garage is falling down on top of us!"
I loved cars. But I was no mechanic. I liked to draw them and model them, but other than knowing a little of the hotrod lingo (two four barrels, three deuces, Isky cams, Hurst shifters, etc.), I knew nothing about actually doing what I was trying to do. I could do the grunt work but I had to have someone tell me what needed to be done. Luckily, Wynn, and later George Jr. handled that chore.

We labored on through that winter, scraping our knuckles and learning a new vocabulary of curse words, some of which we invented on the spot. At some point in the Fall, I bought a couple of cans of grey primer and brush painted the Chevy. That's me when it comes to cars. I've always liked style over substance. You'll see that tendency crop up in another later unfortunate car I bought. But, at the time, I saw lots of rods running around East Nashville in just a primer coat. It was the style Daddy-o. With it's new primer coat, the Chevy looked like it was ready to join the upper echelon of the hot rod ranks.

The main problem we encountered sometime in January was in trying to hook up the transmission to the engine. As Johnny Cash says in that famous "one piece at a time" tune about the Cadillac, we didn't have no adapter plate. My money was gone and my frustration was building. But fate intervened. Another guy at school, Gary, a hotrodder himself, heard about what I was doing. He said he'd trade cars with me if I could get the Chevy/Jimmy to run. That's when I called in George Junior who lived up the street from me. Junior said, "have no fear, I'll get the damn thing running."

If I remember correctly, George Junior's Dad had a stock car at the Nashville Speedway, and Junior had grown up around motors. He knew how they worked. He came over one weekend and within a day, we had the thing cranked up and running. Without an adapter plate, he had somehow managed to get the thing connected so that it was continuously in second gear. No low. No high. No reverse. With exhaust coming straight out of the manifold the thing sounded like a Monster.

We towed it over to Double Drive around midnight that night and tried it out. Gary came along to see if he wanted to complete the trade. He liked what he saw. Correction, liked what he heard. The people in the houses along that section of Double Drive didn't though. A couple came out on the porches and waved their finger at us. I forgot which finger. Figuring the cops were coming, we only made one run. But that was enough for Gary. He liked the Chevy/Jimmy Monster and the next weekend we traded cars.

Gary,  got the Monster and I got his 48 Chevy Fleetline Aerosedan. It was a damn good trade. Gary got the Monster running. He had the mechanical knowledge and the cash to make it what I'd planned to. I heard he raced it at the drags and did pretty well. As for my side of the trade, the Aero actually ran and I could drive it to school, to work, and use it for dates. I found out later that it had been Chevy's most popular model that year; over 210,000 were produced.

I'll tell more about it in another post at a later date. But here's a pic. Wrong colors though. Mine was solid black and had side pipes that came just in front of the rear wheels.

 (BTW, my friend Bill Jenkins, who was a DJ on a Nashville radio station in his last semester of high school went on to become a local TV personality in the 60's and 70's. I saw him once at Christmas during my first year in college. What we did for fun that night is a story in itself, which I'll maybe do a post about sometime. After that I didn't run into him much. But I heard about his successes. He even got in a movie once. I remember going to the big theater at Hundred Oaks Mall to see Altman's Nashville and at some point in the script a country music character arrives at the airport. There on the giant screen to interview the character was my old friend Bill. He had a part in an Altman movie. Cool. I lost track of him until a couple of years ago. I learned he had passed away. I'm really sorry I didn't get to reconnect with him. We had so much fun in those glory days.)


  1. I enjoy Dano's writing style. It brought back my first "pick-up/make out machine"...'55 Chevy, streight 6 with a 3 speed....ahhh, the good ol' days. Thanks for the memories...and keep 'em coming. Gee, I wounder, what ever happened to Elizabeth, my first true love?
    Montana G.

  2. Those old Chevys were GORGEOUS. Everyone and their brothers go on and on (and ON!) about vintage Fords. I'm glad someone else has fond memories of the Chevys. I know I do.

  3. George, Good to hear from you. And thanks for the compliment. I like those 55-56 Chevy's almost as much as the 57's. I'll bet your 3 speed six was a cool car. As for old Liz, I haven't heard from her lately! I'm glad you and Sarah made it back to Montana safely. I left a comment on your blog about the pic you posted. I know you're busy, but when you get time let us know how everything's going up there.

  4. Buck, I'm with you on the beauty of the Chevys of that era. The late 40's and 50's Fords were nice enough to look at but I think a lot of their appeal to guys in my age bracket derives from the flat head V8. In stock form, the flathead wasn't that hot, but it sounded good, and it had two more cylinders than the old Stovebolt six of the Chevy.

  5. My dad had a Chevy in the early 50s. I'm not sure which but I remember that it had what we called a dickie seat and Americans call a rumble seat that I used to love to sit in.

    BTW I saw that flood video last week on another blog - maybe Ace - and was stunned that there was so little mention of it on the news.

  6. Barry, I remember seeing some of those cars with rumble seats when I was a boy. Here's a link I found about when Chevy first introduced them; there's a nice photo of a restored Chevy here too:

    BTW, My son's name is Barry also and when he was a boy he was at times a little barbarian!

  7. I remember my best friend who also has the greatest love for cars! When we were younger he would always go to his Uncle’s car shop learn about cars. He would normally ask things about engines and stuff. And his Uncle’s employees were very kind in teaching him about car mechanics. So when, my brother was about to buy his first car we automatically ran to him for help in choosing the best car. He did talk to the auto dealer (Los Angeles) and ask things more on the car’s condition. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing that day; my best friend being an expert about cars in Los Angeles. Car dealer was also amazed on his knowledge about the wheels. He was impressed actually, talking to a boy about complicated things about cars.

  8. That's a touching story about the Chevy and your friends helping with you. The rewards for your hard works are sweet. My boyfriend, on the other hand, is really lazy. He needs to learn a thing or two about diligence, thank you for sharing this.

  9. Wow! You went through a lot with your first car, huh? The car sure is a beauty, judging by its looks. I have a lot of memories with my first car too, but it's too bad that it's gone now.

  10. That’s an awesome car! Did you know that it is one of the most attractive and popular model of among the Chevrolet brands. In fact, it has been described as “Everybody’s favorite” because of its very stylish look and good engine performance.