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Car of the Week: 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster convertible

One couple in Wautoma, Wisconsin has found a keeper in the form of an outstanding 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster convertible.
Car of the Week 2020
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Brian and Mickey Moore have owned plenty of collector cars over the years. Especially convertibles. There have been Mercedes-Benzes, Volkswagens, MGs, DeSotos, ‘60s Chevrolets. Quite a few nice machines have come and gone from their lives over the years as they have enjoyed the old car hobby.

The revolving door has apparently stopped in the Moore’s Wautoma, Wis., garage these days, however. It’s safe to say the couple won’t be looking to trade up from their current baby: a stunning 1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster convertible. As far as the Moores are concerned, there would be nowhere to go but down if they decided to sell off the glorious drop top and move on to something else.

“It’s a privilege to own this car, it really is,” Brian says. “I fell in love with it the minute I saw a picture of it.”

The Moores discovered the ’48 Chevrolet in the summer of 2010 when they were keeping their eyes open for a new toy to enjoy.

 “I saw it on the Internet and it was actually only 35 miles away from here in Oshkosh,” Moore recalled. “An older couple, Bill and Lois Ludwig, owned it. We went there in early August and looked at the car and went back and forth on price… and I walked away from it. We couldn’t agree on a price. Then about 7 weeks later we were up at my cabin and got a call on Sunday morning and it was Lois. She said her husband had died and ‘I’d really like to sell the car to you if your offer still stands.’ So it was really kind of meant to be. She wanted us to have the car, and it was kind of closure for them.”

The tried-and-true 216.5-cid “Stovebolt Six”

The tried-and-true 216.5-cid “Stovebolt Six”

The Chevrolet had 42,000 miles on its odometer at the time and had undergone some quality restoration work at some point. The convertible had apparently lived a good share of its life in Illinois before being sold to new owners in Wisconsin around 1996.

“I was told when they did the restoration they dipped this car — and you can that see when you look at the fenders underneath — which is a pretty classic restoration,” Brian noted. “It’s an older restoration, but it’s still in beautiful condition.”

Chevrolet Post WWII: What’s Old is New

Like most car and truck builders at the time, Chevrolet didn’t have a lot that was new to offer to customers immediately after World War II. Wartime production had taken precedence and there had been little time to work on post-war designs, and almost no time to tool up and actually get ready to build anything that was all-new.

That didn’t bother the buying public much, however. The demand for anything automotive was through the roof, and buyers happily snapped up warmed-over 1942 models badged as 1946s from just about any manufacturer who could get cars on their lots.

Chevrolet came out with three updated versions of its 1942 models for ‘46, replacing its Master Deluxe and Special Deluxe lines with the base-level Stylemaster, mid-range Fleetmaster, and top-end Fleetline. All carried the tried-and-true 216.5-cid “Stovebolt Six” that dated back to 1937, and all featured similar conservative styling that might not have made Chevrolet the winner of any beauty pageants at the time, but helped the company remain the No. 1 seller in the U.S. market.

The inside sports a woodgrained dashboard and window sills.

The inside sports a woodgrained dashboard and window sills.

For 1948, the Chevrolets were still very similar to the ’42 offerings, but the lineup had been trimmed to just the Stylemaster and Fleetmaster. The Stylemaster menu included a pair of coupes and pair of sedans, all priced between $1,244 and $1,371. The Fleetmasters had seven offerings, including two “Fleetline” sub-models, all priced between $1,381 for the two-door town sedan and $2,103 for the eight-passenger station wagon.

The Moores’ convertible was one of 20,471 examples built for the model year at a base price of $1,750. Like the other Fleetmasters, it had the 90-hp six with a three-speed manual transmission on the column and manual choke. Short, stylized spears on the rear corners of the hood had “Fleetmaster” identification badges. The windshield had chrome surrounds. Inside, there was a two-spoke Deluxe steering wheel (with horn ring); woodgrained dashboard and window sills; illuminated glove locker; leatherette rear seat scuff covers; front floor mat carpet inserts and leather-topped front seat armrests. The clock and cigarette lighter became standard on Fleetmasters and Fleetlines only. A dome lamp with automatic switch in the driver's door was also a regular extra feature on these lines. On the Fleetmaster, buyers could select two-tone Bedford cloth upholstery options or stick with the standard pile fabric choice. Triple, stacked “speedline” moldings once again graced front and rear fenders of Fleetline fastbacks. These cars had other Super Deluxe features as well such as five vertical slashes of chrome beneath the taillights and Fleetline signature script on the center of the deck lid. There was also a three-quarter length belt molding.

Among the accessories were the choice of a standard or deluxe push-button radio and antenna. Also available was: a below-dash heater and defroster; Deluxe in-dash heater and defroster; white sidewall tires; spotlight cowl windshield washer; low-pressure tires on wide rim 15-inch wheels; front and rear bumper wing guards; chrome-plated gravel shields; an external canister-type oil filter; wheel trim rings; directional signals and an external windshield sun visor. Perhaps the most noteworthy accessory sold by Chevrolet dealers was the woodgrained “Country Club” trim package for the Fleetline aero sedan and the Fleetmaster town sedan or convertible coupe. It was produced by Engineered Enterprises of Detroit and was sold only through authorized dealers at a cost of $149.50.

As was the case for its “Big Three” competitors, Chevrolet made do with its pre-war styling until the 1949 model year, when it debuted an entirely new lineup with more slab-sided profiles, new model names and a big new sales push.

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A TOP-DOWN RETIREMENT

With only 42,000 miles on the clock over its first 62 years, the Moores’ beautiful Satin Green convertible had clearly never been much of a daily driver. The couple figured they’d have some mechanical work to catch up on to make it a reliable hobby car, and that was the case for the first few years they owned it.

“[The previous owner] was pretty weak and had been in bad health, so he probably hadn’t done anything with it for a while,” Mickey noted.

“It was running good. I looked at it pretty thoroughly,” Brian added. “But when I shifted into second I got a little bit of a grind and that led to a new transmission. Actually, a couple of them because I had gotten a bad deal on a couple of transmissions that were rebuilt. Then I had a friend take it all apart and put a new clutch in it. Now she shifts great. … and everything is correct. All the gaskets and all the seals were replaced. The carburetor was redone. The rear end is new. The transmission is new, the master cylinder … all the brakes were done. We put new Coker tires on it. Whatever it needed, we did.”

The Moores have put about 7,500 miles on the Chevrolet in the past 12-plus years. Brian figures they will put 1,000-1,500 miles on the car every summer, making short trips to places like the Iola Car Show in central Wisconsin, where the convertible was on display in 2021.

“It runs like a dream. It runs as good as she looks,” Brian says. “It’s post WWII and that’s when they started making so many beautiful cars. And it’s all steel. It’s heavy! …I can go 60, 65 down the highway. I don’t go that fast very often, but I can take my hands off the steering wheel and it will stay as straight as an arrow. No power steering, no power brakes, so you get a little bit of a workout. No blinkers, just brake lights. Back then you didn’t need ‘em! It’s got a ‘banjo’ steering wheel in it, which was not original. It’s got a crack in it, but they are so expensive! I found one that was 900 bucks!”

It's been a dozen years, but the Moores’ enthusiasm for owning and driving their ’48 convertible has clearly not worn off. The car is in loving hands these days, and it will not be following any of its predecessors out the door.

“It is a sweet ride,” Brian says. “So many people just love the car, wherever we go. We’ve had a quite a few, but this is it. This is the one. We just feel honored and privileged to own it.”

The Moores' and their '48 drop top Fleetmaster

The Moores' and their '48 drop top Fleetmaster

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