1940 Chevrolet

The 1940 Chevrolet was a car with a much more stylish look. The 1939 models still had the roundish look that was so common in the 1930’s. The new look had some style. The running boards had disappeared, and the body had a more sleek and aerodynamic look.

On the inside, the most exciting change was that the shift lever had been moved from the floor to the steering column. You still had 3 forward gears and reverse, and it was a lot handier.

The shifting mechanism turned out to be the thing that gave the car a black eye. The engineers thought that shifting gears might be a problem, so they incorporated a vacuum assist. When the car was new, the shifter worked great. But, over time, it failed and you could hear the driver grinding gears from a block away.

In 1950, my Dad bought a 1940 model. It was in perfect condition, silver gray, and not a mark on it. By 1950, the vacuum assist for the transmission was going out. Dad could usually shift gears without making a noise, but it took all the finesse he could muster. Dad was an excellent driver and prided himself on his skill. He had driven a truck for a couple of years, hauling sand and gravel, so had a lot of miles under his belt. The shifting kept getting worse, and Dad, who hated working on cars, finally said “to hell with it,” and parked the thing in the back yard.

Meanwhile, I was working after school at Howard Motors, the local Chevrolet/Buick dealer. The head mechanic was Kenny Dickenson, who had a 1940 Chevrolet, just like Dad’s, that he drove to work. I talked to Kenny about Dad’s car, and he said he would show me how to fix it just like new. The shop closed at 1:00pm on Saturday’s, so Kenny told me to get the car down there that weekend. I went home that night and asked my Dad if I could have the car if I fixed it. He agreed and gave me the keys.

Saturday morning, I drove the car to work, grinding the gears after every stop. Right after 1:00 P.M., I drove it into the garage and parked in Kenny’s stall. We jacked up the car and Kenny showed me how to remove the vacuum booster unit from the transmission. We cleaned the unit thoroughly and used the parts from a kit to re-build it. I forget what was in the kit. It was probably a gasket and a couple of “O” rings. After re-installing the unit and adjusting the mechanical shifting mechanism, we went for a test drive. The thing shifted like a new car. It was smooth as silk. Kenny Dickenson had made my day.

The car was working so well, I was afraid my Dad might want it back. However, he found a perfect 1942 Chevy, the last model produced after WWII started.

I enjoyed driving the car for a year of so and then traded it for a 1950 Ford.

Dave Thomas

7/8/2021

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