Car of the Week: 1947 Dodge business coupe

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By Brian Earnest
 

 

The last thing Rick Boldrin figured he’d be ordering for dessert when he took his wife out for lunch was an old Dodge coupe. But when you’re a car nut and your wife shocks you by telling you she’d prefer the old car rather than the pie and ice cream, you don’t ask questions.

“I started off with a ’39 Plymouth, actually, which was an old four-door sedan, and that was back in about 1973,” said Boldrin, a resident of Bothell, Wash. “Well, my wife and I were at a restaurant, and when we came out we saw this beautiful ’47 Dodge business coupe, and my wife fell in love with it. She just liked the car. She loved the lines of it and how it looked… The car wasn’t for sale and the fellow that owned it was inside having lunch with his girlfriend. Well, he looked at my Plymouth and I looked at his Dodge, and he wasn’t interested in my Plymouth, but he was interested in getting money for his Dodge. I think we gave him $2,500 for it, and we’ve had it ever since.”

“I figured I might as well get a car that makes her happy. To her it’s ‘my’ car, and she can drive it anytime she wants to, although she hardly ever does. She’s been very supportive al these years, so I bought it and kept it because she liked it. That’s probably the biggest reason why I’ve kept it all these years.”

Boldrin figured he’d eventually get around to giving the car a good restoration effort at some point, and that time finally came about eight years ago. At that point, he took the car apart, had the interior updated and “refurbished everything.” That included boring out the Dodge’s six cylinders to .60 inch over, and installing new rings, bearings and forged aluminum pistons. Inside, he installed a new headliner and door panels and had the bench seat reupholstered. The Dodge also got a fresh coat of beige paint, some re-chromed brightwork and new 3-inch whitewalls.

“It was kind of a mess when I got it,” Boldrin recalled. “It was burning a lot of oil and it had about 80,000 miles on it.

“It was off the road from about 2003 until probably 2006. Yeah, it was all in pieces … Over the years, gee whiz, I’ve rebuilt the engine. I put the old ’50s-style intake manifold on it. It used to have two Carters on it, but I put it back to stock now. It has a high-compression cylinder head, which was something offered back in those days. It’s been repainted and has a new interior. I repainted it about five years ago — that was the first time the car had been repainted. Up until then, I just kept waxing it and working on it over the years. I really hadn’t used the car much over the last 30 years, because I had to make a living and had kids to raise. But finally about five years ago, I had some more time to get back into the car and take it apart.”

“I cleaned and scraped the frame. I had the front clip off and the doors and fenders and everything. I did all of it myself as far as mechanicals — all of the prep work and assembling. I sent the block out to get worked on. I had a local fellow [Bob McNeil] do the headliner and re-upholster the seat for me. I did the door panels myself, and put new carpet in it. The paint was done by Spray King in Linwood, and they did a really good job.

“I like to say it’s refurbished, not restored, back to perfection.”

One thing Boldrin made sure he did not mess with was his Dodge’s original “Fluid Drive” transmission arrangement. Dodge used Fluid Drive from 1941-54, replacing the traditional flywheel with a fluid coupling. The coupling resided ahead of the conventional three-speed manual transmission and clutch, and effectively acted as a “hill holder” that prevented the car from stalling when leaving from a dead stop, even in third gear. The driver still needed to activate the clutch when shifting between gears, however. The Fluid Drive was also used with Chrysler’s semi-automatic transmissions, with the Fluid Drive allowing the driver to ignore the clutch and keep the car set in high gear all day, if they wanted — although avoiding low gear wouldn’t do much to help the Dodge’s already modest acceleration abilities.

The Dodges of this era were mostly no-frills, blue-collar cars made for the Everyman, and there were few passenger cars more Spartan than the humble ’47 Dodge business coupe. It was available only in the lower-tier Deluxe series, and came with a rock-bottom price tag of $1,347. The ’47s were almost identical to the previous year’s offerings, with the main change being a slightly different Ram hood ornament.

Under the hood was a 230-cid, 102-hp straight six, mated to a three-speed manual transmission — the Fluid Drive was optional. All models except the seven-passenger sedan rode on a 119.5-inch wheelbase. The business coupes came with 3.73:1 rear gearing, “which was good because you could keep the engine RPM down,” Boldrin noted. The Deluxe series included the business coupe, two-door sedan and four-door sedan. The higher-end Custom series, identified by the thin horizontal moldings on the fear fenders, included a four-door sedan, four-door town sedan, four-door seven-passenger sedan, two-door club coupe and two-door convertible.

The calling cards of the business coupes, of course, were the trunks. Those wonderful, cavernous, suitcase-devouring trunks! These storage lockers were so big, you might occasionally have had to crawl inside just to reach cargo up behind the back seat.

Sure, there was only room in the cab for two people — three if you were all especially friendly — but out back you had room to carry six months’ worth of groceries. “Yeah, that trunk is huge, and these were the kinds of cars in 1940s or ’50s where you could put your buddies in there and sneak them past the man at the drive-in,” Boldrin said. “When they were little, I used to take the kids out every year and we’d put a 6-foot Christmas tree in the trunk. That put a lot of smiles on the faces of the families when they’d see us do that. A lot of people were amazed, not only at the trunk size, but kind of the nostalgia thing, too. ‘Oh, I remember cars like that, with the big trunks.’ People really seemed to like it when we did that.”

Dodge built only a modest number of the business coupes in the late 1940s, following World War II. Exact totals by year are a little sketchy, but a total of 27,600 apparently rolled out of the plants between 1946 and the first series production run in 1949. Those numbers made the business coupes far less common than the other Dodge models at the time, with the exception of the convertible, and makes them a relatively rare sight today.

“I haven’t seen any three-passenger coupes around here,” Boldrin noted. “I know there are a few ’47 Dodges up here, but I haven’t seen any [coupes] in the Seattle area. These cars were being melted down like crazy at one time. They were all melted down and made into sedans. After the war, everybody was having kids and needed family cars. Not many people wanted these coupes anymore.”

Boldrin estimates he and his wife have rolled up about 24,500 happy miles on their Dodge since they’ve owned it. These days the car gets used as much as ever, but only when the weather is nice. Long days on the highway and heavy loads in the trunk are definitely in the past.

“It tracks really well, steers really well, brakes excellent for the period technology,” Boldrin noted. “It’s a little top heavy because we didn’t have rack and pinion in those days. But it can handle 70 mph just fine, although the engine is kind of busy, doing about 2800 rpms at that speed. But it accelerates well and it’s very comfortable up to about 70. Those cars were not necessarily built for freeways. If I put an overdrive in it, it would make it a lot easier to drive on the freeway, but I don’t put it on the freeway very often.

“It still draws a lot of attention and I put maybe 100 miles a month on it, but I treat it like an old lady, and give her her respect,” Boldrin chuckles. “She’s seen a lot of winter storms and hauled a lot of kids over the years, so I figure it can stay in a warm garage and come out for a nice warm day.”

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For car buffs interested in post-war Dodges, www.shopoldcarsweekly.com has a nice download for $4.99 that provides 15 years of history, production data, options and build data. It’s a simple PDF and it is packed with information. Click here to check out Dodge: 1946-61 Standard Statistics Download

 
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2011 Collector Car Price Guide
Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942

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One Response to Car of the Week: 1947 Dodge business coupe

  1. Nick Spiering says:

    Hi i own a 47 business coupe as well and have a problem with the frame its pretty rotted through due to sitting in a guys field. I was just wondering if you used the original frame or got another frame. I was wondering what type of frame you used or what frame would fit under it?

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