Car of the Week: 1931 Chevrolet hot rod

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By John Gunnell

Brothers Scott and Mike Mitzke operate an auto repair shop in Poi Sippi, Wis., near Old Cars Weekly headquarters. In addition to old cars, the brothers are into “old school” hot rods and have one with real family history. Their family’s life with the hot rod dates back to 1963, when their father Clyde bought the car from a man who lived in the nearby city of Berlin, Wis. With Father’s Day approaching, Clyde’s Chevy is bringing his boys lots of notoriety.

The 1931 Chevy is not a shiny, pro-built hot rod that is going to win the Riddler Award or a top prize at the Oakland Roadster Show. However, it is a sort of  roadster even though it was a closed-body car the day it left the factory. When it was hot rodded, someone cut off the top to create an “open air” ride. Clyde didn’t build the car this way; he bought it as a roadster in the early ’60s and drove it until about ’67.

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Clyde also drove a big rig all over the country. When he took that job, he parked the old Chevy along with his Harley-Davidson. At the time, he didn’t know that he would be leaving his sons a gift that they wouldn’t unearth until 45 years later. Clyde passed away in 2012 and that’s when the Chevy saw the light of day again. It was the spitting image of the hot rod Clyde took ownership of in ’63, except that somewhere along the line, he had added fenders to appease the local constables.

The car is powered by Pontiac’s second V-8, which arrived in 1955 (the first  was offered in 1932). Unlike the ’32 version, the ’55 Pontiac V-8 had overhead valves and hydraulic valve lifters.
The 1955 Pontiac V-8 displaced 287 cubic inches and generated 173 hp at 4,400 rpm. It was a hot engine; it was even hotter in a cut-down ’31 Chevy. In fact, it was literally steaming in Clyde’s hot rod, because there was no room in the engine bay for a cooling fan. At least not back in the mid ’50s, when cooling fans were big and heavy. According to Scott and Mike, their dad had to drive the hot rod fast so as not to overheat when he went through small Wisconsin villages.

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Other items that never got worked into the original build were windshield wipers and a horn. (The small-town police probably had a field day writing out tickets to Clyde.) The car does have headlamps, but the boys have no idea what they came from. The front axle is an I-beam type from a Ford and it has an early-’30s Pontiac grille. The tail lamps are from a ’52 Pontiac. A ’39 Ford donated its rear bumper. The cycle fenders came from a Harley. The centers of the rear wheels were cut out. Then, the outer rim was “deep dished.” The steering wheel looks like something from the 1920s or earlier.

When the brothers took the car out of storage, they found out the transmission had stripped gears. Miraculously, a new set of points, a rubber fuel line and a fresh battery got the car going. They then found a 1936 Olds transmission to replace the ’37 Olds tranny. The car has no rear shocks and telescoping gas shocks are fitted in front. Scott and Mike installed a smaller “pusher” fan ahead of the radiator where it’s practically invisible.

The first year they took it out of storage, Scott and Mike took it to the Symco Shakedown hot rod show, which was in Symco, Wis., at that time. When they entered Unionville there, people crawled all over this piece of Wisconsin hot rod history. After all, how many sons can say they own their father’s hot rod, and it  looks 95 percent the way it did when he put it into storage back in 1967?

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