Roger’s ’41 Chevy
I am still in my 40s, so I am a relatively young person involved with the antique auto scene. I know there are many people my age who enjoy the rods and modified antiques, but I fall into a category that seems to be filled with people over the age of 55; I own an original, pre-war Chevrolet. I wish I could say that my experience is one of finding a car previously owned by my father or grandfather and restoring it myself, but mine has been a journey from a different perspective.
My First Antique Car Experience:  Our 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe by Roger Garret
My interest in antique cars goes back to the early 1960s when my parents owned a beautiful 1941 Buick Special. This was their everyday car, and they eventually sold it to purchase a car I later learned to drive on - a 1963 Chevrolet Belair Station Wagon (my friends called it the Tank). I drove the Tank all the way through high school and, except for steering linkage which caused no end of frustration, enjoyed the shifting of three on the tree immensely. When I met my wife Sara, I was introduced to my future brother-in-law, Doug Maxwell. At that time, Doug and his wife Robin owned a 1911 Maxwell and a completely original 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe Club Coupe. Many times we admired their immaculate vehicles and, in 1986, they invited us to attend a tour which began in Portland, Oregon and ended at Timberline Lodge at the summit of Mt. Hood. Doug chose the Maxwell for the trip, but he threw a rod in the engine the last 100 yards, and we just crept into the summit parking lot. While Sara and I rode back in a 1920s roadster with a rumble seat, the Maxwell had to be trailered back. Following the mid-80s tour to the mountain, I moved from the state of Washington to Montana to Michigan and finally to Illinois. During this time, I was intent on finding my current teaching position and had very little time to think about owning an antique vehicle. Still, whenever I saw one, I was immediately drawn to the beauty of a restored vintage machine.
During a cross-country trip with my family from Illinois to Oregon in the early 1990s, we spotted an old 1941 Buick at the side of the road. The car reminded me of my parents’ old Buick, and I decided to stop and look. Unfortunately, even though it was for sale, it was in awful shape and I elected to pass on the car. Fortunately however, the damage had been done, and I again turned my thoughts to owning a 1941 automobile. I began to scour magazines advertising old cars, and I visited websites featuring old cars that were for sale. It was while I was browsing online that I ran across a 1941 Chevrolet Special Deluxe 2-Door Town Sedan located in Bloomington, Wisconsin. It was advertised as all original with 34,000 miles. I called the lady who owned the car, visited with her about the history of the vehicle, and within 2 days I was traveling the 4 hours northwest from Bloomington, IL to Bloomington, WI. Apparently, the
car had been purchased new in Bloomington, WI in 1941 and was driven only around town during the early ‘40s and 50's. One of the mechanics in town purchased the car in the early ‘60s with the intent of restoring it to new condition. However, before he could do that, one of his mechanics talked him into selling the car to him, and it became the property of the family that eventually sold the car to me. The mechanic kept the car until the late 1960s when he was drafted into the Vietnam war, and he gave the car to his father. The father drove the car as an original vehicle in parades, to and from shows, and as a special interest vehicle until his death in the early 1990s. When I purchased the car in the summer of 1998, it had been sitting in a garage with a dirt floor for six years, and it was covered with dirt, cobwebs, and surface rust on the chrome. The engine compartment was filthy, the engine black, and the car showed little possibility of starting. However, the owner had had the local shop mechanic stop by and charge the battery as well as check the connections, and the car started right up. After a bit of negotiating and an inspection by a local mechanic, the car received an oil change, a radiator check, and I drove it home to Bloomington. I wish I could say the drive was uneventful, but we blew a belt on the way home and had to be towed to a gas station to replace it. The radiator was also pretty well shot, so we drove at speeds of 40-45 mph with frequent stops to let the car cool down. A four hour trip soon became an 8 hour trip, and my family wondered if perhaps I had not personally blown a brain gasket by the time we arrived home at 10 PM!
The rest of the summer of ‘98 was spent cleaning the car up and deciding what needed to be done to the Chevy mechanically. It still had the original 1941 Ruby Maroon lacquer paint on it, and my scrubbing and polishing revealed that, except for some spider web cracks and some chips here and there, the paint was still reasonably good.
Mechanically however, there were oil leaks, and the engine and transmission gaskets were dried out. The grinding in the transmission turned out to be a worn 2nd/3rd gear synchro assembly, the radiator needed to be recored, and the brakes grabbed hard, indicating oil soaked shoes and wheel cylinders that needed to be replaced. The master cylinder was shot, and the switch for the brake lights had to be replaced . We made our first mistake at this point. We took the vehicle to an out-of-town repair shop that advertised a specialty of classic and antique cars, and they proceeded to exceed their estimate by a significant amount, including markup of parts by (at times) 300%. We were promised parts back (which by law we should receive unless otherwise agreed upon), and we were told that those parts could receive core charges if we wanted to contact the vendors that offered such. When we picked up the car, the used parts that had been replaced were unavailable, as was any kind of warranty on the work that had been done. Further, we were promised a credit on parts that were sent back for core charges - after the credit card showed such a credit. This never happened. In short, the shop that advertised both repair and restoration work and guaranteed customer satisfaction didn’t follow through on their promises. This shop still advertises, “...Our business is highly service oriented...customer satisfaction is our Number One Priority!” It was later discovered that the shop had received credit for the parts only one week after they had promised to credit us for the parts. Further, we found that the shop had installed parts incorrectly (e.g. a retaining bolt on the transmission was installed backwards and eventually caused a leak), and we had to redo work. One of the rebuilt brake cylinders failed within 3 weeks, but without a warranty, we were stuck. There are many honest repair and restoration shops in Illinois, and it is unfortunate that all of this (and more) happened to us. However, we did what we should have done in the first place and, upon bringing the car home, found local people in Bloomington, IL to help us with the mechanicals that we couldn’t do ourselves. The first repair shop had replaced most of the front end, recored the radiator, and painted the engine and air cleaner correctly, but the rest of the work (brakes, transmission, carburetor, some electrical, and other odds and ends) all had to be partially or completely redone. I shared in this work with local shops, and we eventually had the car mechanically sound. I added white wall tires to replace the original black wall tires still on the car. I was lucky to find tubeless 600-16 radials at Diamondback Classics advertised in Hemmings, and it was a thrill to see that the original wheels allowed the tubeless tires to hold air. The difference between the ride of tubeless radials and the original tires was amazing.
During the next summer (1999), I took the car to a few shows around our area. Even with the paint in average shape and the original carpet, rubber, and trunk mat, we won third place trophies regularly. Near the end of the summer, I finished the detailing of the engine compartment, buffed the firewall, painted the trunk floor with POR-15 and top-coated the POR-15 with the correct color paint for the trunk. I replaced the mat, and fixed the trunk latch assembly. We attended one more show and won a second place trophy.
Sometime in November of 1999, I received a call from Ida who sells parts in Hemmings. She had been looking for an under-seat heater motor for me to replace mine and was calling to tell me she had an entire NOS under-seat heater and heater core - wiring and all! I purchased it very reasonably from her, and after struggling with the front seat bolts, put the new heater in without any difficulty. These cars stayed pretty warm regardless of the temperature outside, but with the three settings on this heater I will never have trouble staying warm on brisk days! At this time I also repaired the fog lights and windshield wiper assembly.
During the spring of 2000, I made the difficult decision of having the car repainted. The old lacquer looked good, but it was wearing in places, and the cracks and chips would not allow for a simple touch-up. After seeing so many cars at shows with lacquer paint jobs that were deteriorating after only eight or nine years, I decided to go with a base coat/clear coat system. We used the interior of the trunk and the firewall to help us match the original Ruby Maroon (with very fine metallic), and had Kurt’s Auto Body of Bloomington, IL strip the car, do some minor body work, and repaint it. The wheels were repainted as well, and the gold pin-striping was added exactly as the original appeared prior to sandblasting. As it turned out, it was a good that we repainted the car for there was some rust that was eating away at the fender beneath the splash apron in the back. When the car was stripped, we cut out the offending piece and welded a new piece in.
 While the hardware was off the car, I replaced the rear bumper with a rechromed bumper from The Bumper Boyz, but I kept all the original wingtips and bumper guards as well as the entire front bumper and its accessories. I replaced all door and trunk seals, and I purchased new rubber for the exterior to replace anything that could be seen. Additionally, the rubber door sills were replaced with reproductions, the rear fender gravel guards were replaced with reproduced stock, the rocker mouldings were replaced with NOS mouldings found in Hemmings, and I took my time over four weeks to buff and polish all stainless and chrome. New hubcaps, beauty rings, and correct metal stem caps put the finishing touches on this gleaming machine!
We replaced the interior carpet and rubber mat, but we left the rest of the interior alone. The headliner, seats, door panels, door handles, chrome rings, and dashboard all remain original. I added some clear coat lacquer to the woodgrain dashboard to keep it from deteriorating, and I had to replace the dome light lens with a NOS one, but there is no reason to replace anything else. I did have to remove the rare, 9-tube, 5-band shortwave radio set to have it fixed. After calling several radio repairmen advertising in Hemmings, I decided to send it to George Zaha in Michigan. I was not disappointed. He expertly restored the radio to new-working condition, and after I extended the antenna to its full length of 93 inches, I found I could use the multi-band control knob to access foreign countries. Wow!
It was a pleasure to drive the car 114 miles south to it’s first car show of the 2000 season. The competition was strong with some nice original cars in my class, but my 9-year-old son Peter accurately predicted the outcome: we brought home a first place trophy for best in class for the years 1900-1948. Since that time, we have accumulated well over 100 trophies or plaques, even winning 3rd place in the VCCA 40th Anniversary Meet held in Springfield, IL in 2001. We also were featured on the cover of the VCCA magazine, The Generator 7 Distributor, and the picture of our car won best cover picture for that year.
 In the fall of 2004, the engine threw a timing gear, and locked up. We had the engine rebuilt by a local mechanic, but he put the wrong main bearing in the engine and, sadly, left honings in the engine compartment. He also packed the rear main seal poorly, and we were dumping a quart of oil every 200 miles. Within six months, I had the engine rebuilt yet again by Doug Kwasigroh of Village Motors in Metamora, IL. Doug found that the engine in the car, while a true 216, had been in-line bored incorrectly - thus the mistake with the incorrect main bearings. The size was a fraction too small, and the engine would not take replacement bearings. The first mechanic had misdiagnosed the problem and installed GMC bearings from a later model truck, but the bearings would have eventually failed as they lacked a pin lock to maintain integrity. Doug had the engine re-bored, the camshaft reengineered and balanced, and the flywheel balanced at this time. While the engine was out, I had the firewall painted and I resorted the cowl tag describing the vehicle.
Once we retrieved the car from Village Motors, the engine ran wonderfully for about two months, then it began to backfire and miss. It was also very slow in starting. We discovered that compression in the number 4 cylinder was poor, and I took it back to Doug. This is where we separate an honest mechanic from a dishonest one. Doug discovered that the valve seat had failed, so he had to remove the head and replace all valve seats with hardened inserts. At the same time, I had the gas tank removed and checked, and Doug also addressed the hard starting problem. It turned out that the first person to do the engine rebuild had left materials inside the starter (!!), and it was dirty and corroded. Doug replaced the starter switch, and he rewired the reverse switch - bypassing it altogether. This resulted in more voltage and power - starting problem solved. This time around was quite expensive, but Doug did not charge us labor for removal and re-installment of the head - he felt that was a gray area in which it might have been a good idea to install new valve seats when he had had it out previously. We like Doug, and we like his work. We intend to keep using his services - and we hope he does not retire soon!
More important than car shows, awards, and return of investment is the joy of owning and driving a car built in 1941. My boys’ friends are envious when I drive them to school or to events, and we constantly visit with people at the store, the post office, and stopped at stop lights regarding the fine lines and appeal the old ‘41 displays. While I suppose I would consider an offer for the old gal if it was worthwhile, I would regret selling her; she has just been such a great part of our lives for nearly a decade. As long as she is running this well, we intend to keep driving her!