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By Brian Earnest
Pretty much anywhere he travels in his old car circles, Paul Flora has bragging rights in at least one department.
He got his car — a 1931 Chevrolet five-window coupe — at an earlier age than anybody else. If there is anybody who got their first hobby car earlier than age 4 — the age that Flora’s father bought him his Chevy — Paul hasn’t met them yet.
“Yeah, it is pretty amazing. I don’t really remember much before I had the car. I don’t really remember not having it,” Flora said.
“I remember going to pick it up. It’s just always been there.”
Flora’s infatuation with old cars came at such an early age, even his father, a fellow car nut, had to be surprised. He was probably scratching his own head and questioning his own sanity when he shelled out a bunch of his hard-earned greenbacks to give a car to a little kid who couldn’t even ride a bike yet.
But at that point, a deal was a deal, and the elder Flora had to pay off his end of a financial arrangement with his son. “Well, I had a lot of health problems when I was a child,” Paul said. “I had a series of operations, and every time I had one, he’d tell me when I got through the operation, he’d buy me whatever I wanted.
“He was probably thinking about a train set or something, but I wanted a car. I remember sitting on his lap and watching the “Untouchables” with Elliot Ness. I just always loved the styling of those ’30s cars.”
Flora, a resident of Highland, Mich., said he would have been happy with any old car, but the car that eventually became his had actually been in the family for a while. Flora’s uncle had owned the car and used it as a work car for his service station business. “What I know about it is my uncle had a gas station, and he bought this car sometime in the mid ’30s. It was pretty rough when we got it because it was his parts car for the station. It was his work car, and one of the things that was pretty unique about it was, my uncle had a Mobile station and the doors on the car were drilled and they had big sheet metal signs of the Pegasus on it. I’ve never seen any pictures of the car when it was the parts getting car. I’d love to see pictures of what it looked like.
“It wasn’t the nicest car. It was solid and it was original,” Flora added. “It was just a solid original car that needed a boatload of work. I was fortunate at the time, my dad was an automotive machinist. He would go make something or do something for the car each year. It was an engine rebuild one year, tires another year … Every year the car got something.”
Flora drove the car for a time during his high school years in the early 1970s, but in 1974 he took it off the road and started on a restoration project that ultimately lasted about 32 years. As has been the case with countless other restoration endeavors from hobbyists over the years, one thing led to another, delays and setbacks mounted, and the old Chevy was pushed far down the priority list.
“In hindsight I should have probably left the car alone,” he admitted. “But I wanted to make it perfect and make it look like a brand new car. I tore the car apart in 1974, but I really got sidetracked on the whole thing with college and getting married. But each year something got done on the car. A part got chromed, or something got worked on. Something got done… By 2001, the chassis was done and the mechanicals got done, but at the time I traveled a lot for my job and didn’t have the time to finish it.”
“I never lost hope. I kept hope through the whole thing. I knew at that time coming out of college, starting a family, that it would be a long, long, long drawn-out process. But over the years a lot of things got done, which was nice, because when I did take it in to get it [restored], a lot of the stuff was done and a lot of the parts were there.”
Flora’s 1931 Chevy isn’t a big car by most people’s standards, but the Chevys from that year were a little bigger than they had been. The 1931 Independence Series cars grew in wheelbase from 107 to 109 inches, and the cars had higher, larger radiators that made them look bigger. Headlights were mounted on a bowed bar in front of the radiator. The hood sides had multiple vertical louvers within a raised panel. Wire spoke wheels carrying 19 x 4.75 inch tires became standard equipment.
The three-speed manual transmissions were shifted on the floor. The brakes were mechanical an all four corners. The engine remained the inline six-cylinder that displaced 194 cubic inches and was rated at 50 hp.
Options included front and rear bumpers, single and dual sidemounts and sidemount covers, pedestal mirrors, dual tail lamps, a heater, cigar lighter, luggage rack, wind wings, quail radiator emblem and spotlight.
Twelve different body styles were offered in the 1931 Chevrolet lineup. Model year production came to 623,901 cars, making the Bow Tie company the No.1 carmaker in the nation — at least for one more year until the 1932 Fords broke onto the scene. By far the most popular 1931 body style among Chevy buyers was the two-door coupe, with 228,316 built for the model year. The five-window coupes were right in the middle as far as popularity in the lineup with 28,379 leaving the Chevy assembly line.
Flora didn’t care what kind of Chevy he got at the time. In fact, he didn’t really care what kind of car it was, period, as long it was old. “All I wanted was an old car with that big radiator on it,” he recalled with a laugh. “If it had been an old Model A, I probably would be have been happy just the same, but I’m glad it was a Chevy. I’m a Chevy guy at heart and you don’t see many old Chevys like this one.”
In 2004, Flora decided to finally get his coupe back on the road after it had been waiting in various stages of disassembly for about three decades — much of the time in his father’s or grandparents’ garage. He decided to have Bob Ore Restorations do the final restoration, and packed up the Chevy and all its pieces and delivered them to Erie, Pa. The shop didn’t cut any corners, and in 2007 Flora got back the car he had always dreamed about.
The body was stripped, repaired, sanded and repainted. Chrome pieces that were showing their age were re-plated, the car was re-wired, a new interior was installed and the old glass swapped out.
“It was anything and everything. I wanted it right and I wanted it nice,” Flora said. “I wanted to do it once and basically never touch it again outside of regular maintenance. And they did a great job with it.
“When I drove it again for the first time since 1974, it was a pretty proud moment.”
The Chevrolet has about 58,000 miles on it today. Flora isn’t overly protective of the mileage, but he admits he drives the car gently when he has it out. Fittingly, the car’s main duties these days are Sunday joy rides and occasional car shows.
“It drives really, really nice … obviously there is no power steering, so if I had to park it would be a bear … but driving it down the road, it’s an absolute joy. It doesn’t like to run much over 50, but it’s a pleasure to drive. Right around 45 mph is where it seems to do the best.”
The Chevy remains the apple of Flora’s eye when it comes to cars, but it has two longstanding companions in the fleet. Flora still has the 1973 Vega he bought new in high school, and the 1978 Corvette Pace Car he picked up from the original dealer in 1995. “That car’s only got 5,500 miles on it now,” he noted.
Flora looks back and laughs about a paper he had to write for a college class years ago. The subject was “some of the things you wanted to accomplish in your life … and I wrote about restoring the car. I checked that one off the list, I guess,” he said.
Now, he gets to occasionally look back and re-tell stories about how he was the only 4-year-old around with his own car. “I’m not a points guy, but we take it to a lot of shows and it always gets great reaction,” Flora said. “When you tell them how long you’ve had it, people are absolutely amazed by that.”
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