Jim Springer received a phone call 35 years ago. His long-lost uncle through marriage had passed away in his home state of South Dakota. Jim had never met Uncle Virge, so his reaction was indifferent.
The estate attorney told Jim he was last on the list to see if he wanted Unc’s 1951 Chevy. And the catch? About 15 years of unpaid storage fees and a whole bunch of mouse droppings. That seemed reasonable to Jim and after delivery of the car, he was startled to see a rust-free original 42,000-mile car.
Thirty-five years later it has 49,000 miles on it. This proud survivor sports a 216.5-cubic-inch stove pipe six-rated at a whopping 92 horsepower.
In my best Andy Rooney, I had to ask, “How’d they come up with that half-inch?”
The combination of a steep 4.44 rear end gear and the ultra-low first gear on the non-synchromesh three-speed trans makes the little soldiering six move out. Don’t try putting a non-synchro trans into first gear while the car is rolling. It is akin to jabbing a wooden spoon in a blender while in puree mode.
This little put-put has a single-throat Rochester carburetor and fits right in today with 20 plus mpg. The DeLuxe has a fancier trim package than the base model. Fender skirts, stainless trim, and front bumper wingtips, yet this is a “radio delete” car. That meant no farm reports for Uncle Virge, though it does have a heater.
With a cost basis of zero, the restoration decision was easy. The paint was deeply faded from long summer suns, yet the body was well preserved from salt-free winters. The interior was decomposing. The “Turtle’s” shell was stripped, and a fresh coat of Fathom Green paint was applied. The languishing bumpers were re-chromed and the stainless steel buffed and refinished. Lastly, a period-correct wool interior was installed.
Jim was kind enough to allow me behind the huge steering wheel as we tootled about after a cruise night. As we sat at a light, the car was so quiet and smooth at idle I found myself checking to see if it had stalled. It had not. There was a slight shudder as I released the garden spade-sized clutch pedal. First gear is way low. Its sole purpose is to get the vehicle underway. Less than half a car length, and it’s time to gently sweep the shifter up and forward into second.
The skinny belted bias tires grabbed the wheel from me at every opportunity of road imperfection. This car drives like a cartoon. I imagined throngs of 1950′s drivers operating cars like these using exaggerated aerobic-like skill and coordination and pulling the bushel basket-sized steering wheel to make a corner. There’s no center slouching, no cell phone to ear, no eating, smoking, or reading a book when you’re driving this amazing Chevy.