Car of the Week: 1932 Chevrolet Confederate Special Sedan

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By Brian Earnest

In official company nomenclature, it was known as the 1932 Chevrolet Model 21BA Confederate Special Sedan. Hal Hartel and his wife Beth just casually call it “the Chevy.” As in, “Honey, I need to run down to the store for a loaf of bred, should I just take the Chevy?”

“And she calls it her ‘Bonnie and Clyde car, too” adds Hal with a laugh.

The Hartels, who live in Yorktown, Va., both chuckle at the notion of their superb specimen being “just a Chevy,” but Hal justifies the term “because I’m a Ford guy! Actually, I tease Beth that it’s her car, not mine. I’ve always been a Ford man!”

But the Hartels were in agreement when it came time to pull the trigger and buy their lovely sedan eight years ago when it unexpectedly went up for sale. The couple had been involved with the car hobby previously with a 1967 Mustang, and they also have a unique 1928 GMC firetruck, but a ’32 Confederate sedan was a whole different animal.

“Actually, a friend of ours had pictures of the car that he was showing around,” Hal recalled. “The car was his neighbor’s and he wanted to sell it, and we have kind of an informal cruise here on Saturday nights and he wanted to know if I knew anybody that might be interested in it. I said, ‘Yeah, we might be,’ so the wife and I went over and looked at it, and she thought it would be a good investment.

“I said, ‘Sure dear!’”

If nothing else, the venerable sedan has been an investment in fun for the Hertels. They frequently take it to hobby events, weekend joy rides, and even used it in their son’s wedding. The classic black paint job is accented by light-yellow wheels and white-sidewall tires which, together with the car’s liberal amount of shiny chrome, make it hard to ignore wherever it goes. “It’s got its Senior award from the AACA, and we do some local shows with it,” said Hal. “But what I usually do is put a sign in it that says ‘Do Not Judge.’ We’re so involved with everything and with our charities, we’re not really into [judging]… That’s not why I go to car shows, anyway.

“We just really like the early-‘30s stuff. To me, it’s a very classy car. Even with the hot rods and stuff, I still like the early-‘30s cars.”

The “Confederate” moniker was applied to Chevrolet’s 1932-model-year cars and included 14 different body styles and seating arrangements. Only three of those were four-door cars, with the Special Sedan being the second-most popular choice among all 14 Chevrolets with 52,446 units built — second only to the two-door Coach.

The ’32s had some noteworthy styling updates over the previous year, including the prominent door-type hood louvers that were chrome on the Deluxe models. Also new for the year was a longer hood design, deeper-crowned fenders, a downdraft carburetor, additional frame cross member, and a counter-balanced crankshaft. Other standard features included a tilting windshield, a built-in sun visor and an adjustable seat.

The engine was the familiar “Stovebolt” inline 194-cubic-inch six-cylinder that produced 60 hp. The wheelbase was 109 inches and the car rolled on 18 x 5.24 tires mounted on spoked wheels.

Options for the model year included front and rear bumpers, single and double sidemounts, heater, cowl lights, dual wipers, mirrors and metal tire covers. Standard equipment on the upscale Deluxe models included two ashtrays, assist cords, armrests, curtains for the quarter windows and a vanity case. The Hartels’ car is equipped with the twin sidemounts, and with its two horns up front, it has a lot of curb appeal.

The car has just 69,000 miles on its odometer. An extended stay as a car dealer showpiece has no doubt preserved the Confederate and helped it remain in such good shape. “As far as the body and interior, it’s had a fairly good life,” Hal said. “For about 35 years, it sat inside a Chevy dealership. The father had it inside the showroom for years, and when he turned the business over to his son, the son didn’t want it in the showroom anymore… Other than that, the only thing we really know is that when we put the tags on it, they told us the car had spent the majority of its life in Virginia. They aren’t allowed to tell you much… But it’s pretty much an original.

“The guy I bought it from had it for about five years. The interior and body were in real good shape and I haven’t done anything to that. We’ve had the pan off … Did the Babbitt bearings on it, and we’ve given it a tune-up and valve job. She’s got about 69,000 on her and until recently we used it almost every weekend.”

The Chevrolet isn’t quite as challenging to drive as the couple’s 19-foot firetruck, but it still requires some effort and caution. “It’s funny — when you stick your arm out to turn left, everybody thinks you’re waving at them,” Hal laughed. “And it only has the one brake light on it. I’ve had people yell, ‘Hey, your brake lights aren’t working.’

“You’ve gotta be aware of your surroundings. You gotta drive more slowly and be more aware. It takes two or three times longer to slow down than a modern car. It’s still got mechanical brakes on it. It does fairly good [on the road]… It’s not a car you want to push on the Interstate, but it will cruise all day at 30-35 mph … we have a lot of fun with that car, it gets a lot of thumbs-up.”

Hal and Beth both take their turns behind the wheel, “but I tend to drive it more,” Hal said. One of those trips was to a car gathering that included former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, who took a shine to the Hartels’ Chevrolet. “They were doing a promotion for one of the Midas dealers here, and he came over and got into the car. There were lots of cars there, and for him to come over and pick out our car, that was pretty neat.”

Hal said even the mohair interior remains original, but that has never deterred the Hartels from putting some fun miles on the Confederate. “None of my cars has million-dollar paint jobs on them, or anything. They are drivers,” he said.

And even if Hal and Beth ever decide they’ve had “the Chevy” long enough, they already have the next owners lined up. “My wife says one of my problems is I don’t ever sell anything,” Hal said. “But we have five grandkids, and only four cars, so we need one more.”

Got a car you’d like us to feature as our “Car of the Week”? E-mail us and tell us about it: brian.earnest@fwmedia.com
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