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Oldest ‘Four-Ninety’ Chevy to be at Iola Old Car Show

The oldest surviving “Four-Ninety” Chevrolet four-passenger touring car known to exist will be displayed at this year’s Iola Old Car Show.
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The oldest surviving “Four-Ninety” Chevrolet four-passenger touring car known to exist will be displayed at this year’s Iola Old Car Show, set for July 11-14 in Iola, Wis.

The car is owned by Dr. Gerald and Sharmon Perschbacher of St. Louis, Mo. Dr. Perschbacher is a longtime writer, reporter and columnist for Old Cars Weekly and chief judge for the Golden Quill Award.

“We have owned the car for over 20 years. Its endearing features include a good portion of its original seat upholstery in remarkable condition and it has front-seat entry on the passenger side [because] the car is a three-door,” says the owner.

The “Four-Ninety” gained its model designation from its initial sale price of $490. It was a direct competitor to the Model T Ford. The “Four-Ninety” was the first Chevrolet made to compete head-on in production with Ford.

“The only option for the ‘Four-Ninety’ was electric start with electric headlights ­which came at a cost of $60. There was no spare tire, but the fold-down top was standard in that first model year,” Dr. Perschbacher said.

This survivor was verified as the oldest surviving “Four-Ninety” by experts in Horseless Carriage Club of America back in the 1960s and was verified by Chevrolet historians as holding true in recent years. The car was exhibited several years ago in a six-month display called “Shifting Gears” at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

“We determined that the car was constructed in St. Louis by what had been known as the Banner Buggy Co. owned by Russell Gardner,” explained the owner. “He contracted with William C. Durant to be the largest mass producer of the model which began production in the spring of 1915 and continued through much of 1916. This, then, is an early-1915 version of the model run. The fenders are typical of the early production models,” explains the owner. “The St. Louis factory was producing cars so efficiently that Mr. Durant had experts study the technique and applied it to other factories. Russell Gardner contracted with Mr. Durant to supply dealers up and down the entire Mississippi Valley, which meant the deal was very lucrative. Soon after this car was made, Mr. Gardner sold his facility to Durant, all this happening while Chevrolet was an independent car maker prior to its inclusion in General Motors. After the First World War, Russell Gardner and his two son (both fresh out of military service) then formed the Gardner Motor Car Co., bought back their old factory, and made the Gardner automobile in St. Louis.”

Gardners with eight-cylinder Lycoming engines are now included as Classics by the Classic Car Club of America.

William C. Durant took over GM a second time thanks to a good part of the sale success of the early “Four-Ninety.”

To learn more about the 2013 Iola Old Car Show, visit

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