Monday, November 18, 2013


by Ken Neal
 My dad was a Chevrolet man at a time when  Chevrolet and Ford were the two most popular autos for most people. Plymouth was a distant third.
       It is difficult today to understand the arguments between fans of the two. Fords and Chevies today have much in common. Indeed, without the markings, mechanics would have difficulty distinguishing a Ford engine from a Chevy engine.
       That wasn’t so when I first got interested in autos.
       Henry Ford designed the iconic Ford flathead V-8, putting it in a few Model B Fords in 1932. That engine powered Fords through the rest of the 1930s, through World War II and was finally discontinued in 1953.
       Chevrolet introduced an equally iconic engine in 1927, replacing a four-cylinder, overhead valve model.
       That engine was dubbed the Stovebolt Six, so called because of the large headbolts on those engines.
That Six in various disguises drove Chevies until 1962.
       The version with which I am most familiar was the 216 Cubic inch version brought out in 1937, lasting pretty much in that form through 1952.
       Dad started work for American Airlines early in 1946 when American moved its overhaul base to Tulsa from LaGuardia Airport in New York City.
       He was driving a 1939 Chevrolet that had served us during the war years when automakers quit making autos and shifted to airplanes, tanks, and other war material.
       By 1948, the automakers had built enough new cars that the shortage during the war was beginning to ease. Dad had to have a new car. He bought us a Fleetline torpedo sedan, a jet black beauty.

       Mechanically, it was virtually identical to the 1939 Chevy. In fact, every Chevrolet on the road had the 216 Stovebolt except for larger versions of the engine built for trucks. GMC had a bigger six for its vehicles.
       There were a lot of Stovebolt engines on the road. There were a lot of Ford V8s on the road, too, but the Chevies were easier to work on.
       In those days, engine oil was simply oil, the only distinction being the weight, or viscosity. It came in 10W, 20W, and 30W.
       More alert motorists used 30W in summer months and 20W in the winter. But most motorists weren’t alert. The Stovebolt Six didn’t have an oil filter, so sludge was common and as a result, most of those engines needed a minor overhaul at 45,000 miles.
       Oil filters were accessories. One had to pay extra for them. This lasted until 1962 when Chevy built a Six with a filter cast in the engine block.
       The fact of a great number of easy to work on engines, most of them needing a minor overhaul, was a fortunate thing for dad and me.
       Pop had worked on auto engines all his life and before American had worked in garages. He said the standard price for an overhaul of a Model A Engine was $9.99 in the middle 1930s.
       After the Great Race, in which he outran a new ’47 Ford with our ’48 Chevy, his reputation at American soared.
       Guys lined up to have him (and me) overhaul their Chevies.

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