Collecting Chryslers: A mighty fine ’39

Jack Eeles’ 1939 Chrysler Royal actually sat on
 blocks in a previous owner’s living room for many
 years before finally getting back on the road.
 Only a new paint job in 1995 keeps
 this car from being completely unrestored.

If only cars could talk! What tales they would tell about where they’ve been, what their headlamps have shown upon — and, in some cases, how strange some of their owners might have been.

Strange doesn’t describe Jack Eeles, current owner of the 1939 Chrysler Royal sedan shown here, but just ask him to tell the story of this car’s “first family.” We’ll get to that in a moment.

With the 1939 models, Chrysler took a giant step forward in styling. It would turn out to be an unusual one-year transition step between the squared-off designs of the 1930s and the rounded silhouette that debuted the following year and carried throughout the 1940s.

In a clean break with the past, a V’d, split windshield replaced flat one-piece glass, the roofline flowed smoothly into the deck, eliminating the previous trunk “bustle,” and teardrop-shaped headlamps were mounted in the fenders. Runningboards still ran between the front and rear fenders, but they were narrower.

A transitional compromise between the vertical radiator grilles of previous years and the wall-to-wall horizontal designs to come, the layered grille consisted of chrome-trimmed horizontal louvers sweeping back from a sharp prow ahead of the hood. Below it were vertical air intake slots on the fender aprons and front panel with waterfall-style bright trim. Tail lamps were mounted flush with the rear fenders in nicely designed chrome bezels. The accessory skirts Eeles has fitted to this ’39 complement the sweep of the fenders.

The four-door sedan was the most popular 1939 Chrysler body style with a few less than 46,000 built in the C-22 Series. C-22 designated the Royal and Royal Windsor sub-series, built on a standard wheelbase of 119 inches. Boosting the compression ratio of the previous year’s 241.5-cid six-cylinder engine from 6.2:1 to 6.5:1 raised the advertised horsepower from 95 to 100 on the 1939s, and an optional 7.0:1 head was good for another 7 hp.

The Royal sedan cost $1,010 new; moving up to the Royal Windsor cost $65 more and gave the buyer a package of nicer interior appointments. Chrome script near the front of the hood sides identified the Royal and Windsor sub-series.

Other advancements for 1939 included moving the three-speed transmission shifter to the steering column and offering an optional “Cruise-Climb” kick-down overdrive. “We can cruise at 65-70 mph easily and get 20-21 mpg at 60,” Eeles said.

To improve the ride, he has installed 225-R16 wide whitewall radials, the replacement size for the 6.50 x 16 originals. During his 32 years of ownership, Eeles has added the front bumper overriders, found in a Gettysburg, Pa., junkyard; a radio bought from a flea marketeer at Barrie, Ontario; a “light group” (fog, spot and back-up); and wheel trim rings.

And what about the car’s hisory?

 “Well, I can’t vouch for the truth of it, but the story I got was …”

With that disclaimer, Eeles produced the original bill of sale stating that one Ernist (sic) Anderson took delivery of the car on Nov. 1, 1939, in Tacoma, Wash. It might have been a discounted left-over, as the 1940 models went on sale in September, 1939.

“Supposedly, the owner got in it in 1941, drove down the West Coast, across the southern U.S., up the East Coast and headed back west across the northern states,” he said. “When he got to Fargo, N.D., he got sick and eventually died there.

“His sister and brother drove the car back to Washington and set it up as a sort of shrine in the living room of his house in Yakima, and it stayed there until 1975, after both the sister and brother had passed away. While it was in the house on blocks, they had the local Firestone service guy come once or twice a year to change the oil, service it and start it up.”

Indeed, there is still a sticker on the left door post verifying service on Aug. 14, 1975, when the odometer reading was 17,099. “I still have the original spare in the trunk with the owner’s name on it in chalk,” Eeles said. “He must have had a flat repaired at some time.”

The owner’s estate eventually sold the Chrysler to a Washington auto museum. It was then sold to a buyer in Ontario, from whom Eeles purchased it. But Eeles does not park it in his living room!

The Chrysler carried the Eeles from their home near Toronto to the WPC Club national meet south of Pittsburgh this year. “We’ve been across Lake Michigan on a ferryboat from Ludington, Mich., to Manitowoc, Wis., and we drove to the Iola Car Show the year the Chrysler meet was in Baraboo, Wis.,” he said.

Considering it a great-driving, original car to be driven and enjoyed, Eeles has added 60,000 miles to the odometer in the past 32 years. And the beat goes on!

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