- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

BLUE SPRINGS, Miss. (AP) - Reports vary about the origins of a 1940 Chevrolet Special Deluxe convertible.

“It wasn’t at the house during the war,” said Lynn McAlpin, 64, of Tupelo. “We think he got it after World War II.”

Her father, Guy Gravlee, flew 72 bombing missions in Europe, and he was preparing to continue the fight in the South Pacific when the war ended.

In his newfound freedom, he might’ve bought the blue convertible or he might’ve won it in a poker game.

Either way, Gravlee didn’t have room for the car in his life by the end of 1945.

“Once he met my mom, he only went to Calvary Baptist Church, Gravlee Lumber Co. and the National Guard,” McAlpin said.

“And he was happy. He was happy,” said McAlpin’s sister, Joy Kellum, 57.

Gravlee bought a Buick, and sold the Chevy to Walter Earl McCarty for $750.

“Daddy was stationed in Florida,” said Ann McCarty Brown, 66, of Blue Springs. “When he came home on leave, he bought this car and told his parents he’d found the woman he wanted to marry.”

He drove to Florida in December and picked up Lillian Thomas. They eloped and said their “I dos” in Georgia, before driving to El Paso, Texas, for their honeymoon.

The family eventually settled in Sherman and the 1940 Chevy cabriolet became the family car.

“We were coming home from Fulton. You didn’t have four-lane roads then. It was all two-lane,” Brown said. “We met an 18-wheeler coming the other way. It blew the top right off that car. We drove it home that way in the rain. That was the last time I remember riding in it.”

McCarty parked the car in a field. People made offers, but McCarty was a mechanic and intended to fix up the Chevy for his son.

That never happened. McCarty died in 1969, and his son moved the car into a barn in the early 1970s.

“It was in the old barn at my home place in Sherman for 40-something years,” Brown said.

The car’s story didn’t end there.

Brown and her husband, Harry Brown, 71, are classic car people. They own a 1972 Buick Skylark and a 1978 Ford truck. When her mom died, her brothers decided the pair should have the car.

“It had a chicken nest in it,” Brown said, “and dirt and all that stuff.”

She was thrilled to own the weather-beaten reminder of her parents, but her husband wanted more.

“I said, ‘We’re going to get this thing fixed,’” Harry Brown said. “‘It’s what you have left of your mother and daddy. We’re going to finish it.’”

They hired Dewayne Laney in Hatley to bring back the car’s past glory. It was one of those in-for-a-penny, in-for-a-pound deals. The Browns didn’t want to put a dollar amount on the project, but they didn’t mind joking about it.

That $750 her dad spent in 1945 might cover the cost of a door handle on the car in 2015, Brown said.

According to her husband, “I’ve got one boy. I guess he would be the one to get it someday. I told him, ‘Look at it good because that’s probably your inheritance money.’”

They call it “The 40,” and it’s a truly sweet ride, a steel and chrome piece of aerodynamic history done up in metallic blue with air conditioning added for good measure.

“The first car show we took it to was the Amory Railroad Festival,” Brown said. “We won a trophy the first time out.”

Allen McDaniel, director of the Tupelo Blue Suede Cruise, went to college with Brown. He’d made offers for the car over the years, and she wanted him to see the completed renovation.

“He walked around it. He laughed and said, ‘Y’all, if I was building it myself, I’d pick that color,’” Brown recalled. “He said, ‘The only thing wrong with this car is it doesn’t come with a cupholder.’ I said, ‘Wait a minute.’ I went over and pushed a button. The cupholder is hidden. He said, ‘Well, that’s perfect.’”

They have gone as far as Georgia to show off their machine, and they don’t put it on a trailer. The 40 was made for driving.

“We do 70 mph the whole way on the Interstate,” Brown said. “Everybody looks at it. That’s fun.”

The car has its own photo album. There are pictures of McCarty’s parents standing by it, as well as shots from the chicken nest days. The album also has the bill of sale from 1945.

One morning, the Browns drove their baby to Southern Carwash in Tupelo. It’s not like taking a modern-day car for a wash. An impromptu festival broke out, and Brown was happy to tell The 40’s story.

“Everybody at the carwash was having a fit over it,” she said. “I was showing pictures to people in the building. This one lady saw the bill of sale with Guy Gravlee’s signature. She said, ‘Oh, I know his daughters.’”

The friend called McAlpin at Walmart, and she called Kellum at Express Lube. They got to the carwash as quickly as possible.

“After it came out of the carwash,” Brown said, “we put the top down and drove it around. We let them drive it.”

“I didn’t drive it for the reason my dad said, ‘Joy sure can drive a car,’” McAlpin said. “He never said that about me.”

“I love to drive anyway,” Kellum said.

The 40 provides a direct line between Brown and her parents, and she was quick to realize how important their own connection might be for McAlpin and Kellum.

“We showed them the bill of sale. They said, ‘That’s my daddy’s signature,’” Brown said. “They remembered their dad. It was so sweet.”

“All I could think of was how cute he must’ve looked when he drove this car,” Kellum said.

“I imagined him driving it to Memphis to the Peabody Hotel,” McAlpin said.

The Browns haven’t taken it out much lately, but the weather’s cooling down and they’re looking forward to fall car shows.

They’ve also left an invitation open to McAlpin and Kellum.

“The next time my girls are in town, I’ll be calling,” Kellum said.

“Yeah,” Brown said with a smile. “Just call and we’ll ride around.”

The 40’s story continues.

___

Information from: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, https://djournal.com

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