In Norris Waterfield’s Manassas garage is a 1931 Chevrolet coupe in rough condition. It needs a lot of help, so the past few years Mr. Waterfield has been gathering 1931 Chevrolet parts necessary for a restoration.
Two years ago he received a tip that a 1931 Chevrolet sedan was advertised for sale as a parts car.
When he went to see the condition of the car, he found a standard four-door sedan painted serge blue with black fenders that had been restored in 1991. The owner had never been able to get the 194-cubic-inch, six-cylinder engine to run reliably.
An elated Mr. Waterfield quickly purchased the “parts car,” which was in considerably better condition than his coupe, and trailered it home in June 2003.
From what information Mr. Waterfield has collected, he believes the car was sold new for $635 in New York. He also is of the impression that he is the third owner of the 74-year-old Chevrolet.
Once he got the 13-foot, 10-inch-long sedan home, he immediately replaced the ancient 4.75x19-inch tires as well as the front brake linings and rebuilt the starter and the ignition switch.
Records indicate that 52,465 such cars were manufactured in 1931, each one weighing 2,685 pounds. This was the third year for Chevrolet’s six-cylinder “cast-iron wonder” and it was vastly improved from the first one in 1929.
The 1931 engine that was in all of the 12 body styles had a more efficient harmonic balancer, a more rigid crankshaft, an improved flywheel and strengthening ribs cast into the block. It still developed 50 horsepower, which supposedly could push the speedometer up to the 85-mph maximum. However, Mr. Waterfield says, “Forty is where she runs the best.” A Carter carburetor drinks from an 11-gallon gasoline tank.
Fully enclosed mechanical four-wheel brakes with internal expanding shoes on 11.5-inch drums both front and rear stop the car.
Lovejoy brand shock absorbers at all four corners make for a comfortable ride on a 109-inch wheelbase.
A single vacuum-powered wiper blade is suspended from above the windshield to clear the driver’s view. The one-piece windshield can be hand-cranked up a couple of inches to permit fresh air into the cabin. A baffle on the black dashboard is designed to catch some of the air rushing in and direct it down to cool the ankles of the front-seat passengers. “It makes a big difference in hot weather,” Mr. Waterfield says.
The Chevrolet has what was common back then, an outside key lock on the right front door only. That was a safety feature to keep the driver from stepping out into traffic.
Mr. Waterfield was impressed with the reupholstered mohair interior and the three-spoke hard-rubber steering wheel molded around a steel core. Four controls around the dashboard instruments are for choke, throttle, headlights and spark.
Both the hand brake and the gear-shifting lever sprout from the floor. “It’s best if you double clutch,” Mr. Waterfield advises.
Under the dashboard, by the passenger’s feet, is a two-door heater.
To the left of the heater is the floor starter button. All the handles and controls, Mr. Waterfield says, are nickel plated.
There are two ashtrays in the rear passenger compartment. Virtually everything on this car is an extra-cost option and each ashtray cost $2.50. The battery was priced at $8.70 and the gorgeous eagle radiator cap was $3.50. Bumpers were on the verge of becoming standard equipment but these double-bar bumpers sold for $20 a set. Later in the year the double-bar bumpers were dropped in favor of a wide singe-bar bumper.
Mr. Waterfield encountered the same unreliability that had plagued the previous owner but through perseverance — and luck — tracked the problem down to a mechanical part in the electrical system. With that corrected, the old Chevrolet runs like the proverbial clock.
Mr. Waterfield noted the lack of pinstriping on the car and enlisted the aid of a friend to rectify the problem. The two men spent entirely too much time taping the car so that dual medium cream pinstripes to match the color of the 40-spoke wheels could be applied.
Now that the car runs reliably, Mr. Waterfield has driven it about 600 trouble-free miles, pushing the odometer reading up past 34,600 miles, a figure he believes to be accurate.
“It’s a fun car,” Mr. Waterfield says of his “parts car.” “I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Now it’s time to get back to the restoration of his original 1931 Chevrolet that has been ignored the last two years.