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Local Hero: 1939 Chevrolet Master 85 Sedan

Old Cars Weekly reader's '39 Chevy project comes full-circle.

For some 35 years, my old 1939 Chevrolet Master 85 two-door sedan sat in a barn in rural Oostburg, Wis., waiting to be brought back to life.

In 1998, Marion, an elderly widow, had an auction so she could downsize to a condominium. Among Marion’s items was a 1939 Chevrolet Master 85, purchased new by her father-in-law. Upon Marion’s marriage to her husband, Rich, in 1946, the young couple bought the car from his dad and used it until the early 1960s. The Chevrolet’s useful life ended when it was parked in a barn with many other items at that time.

After the ’39 Chevy left the hands of its second owner, the daughter-in-law of the original owner, it was disassembled by every subsequent owner. I finished the job, but am also responsible for putting it back together. It’s pictured here while it was coming back together.

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A young man purchased the Chevy at Marion’s auction in hopes of building a street rod. Too many distractions and not enough time kept the young man from completing the project, so he sold the partially disassembled Chevy to my brother, Lee, who, with his son, further disassembled the car. Three months into the project, my brother found another old Chevy, a 1938 Master Deluxe two-door sedan that was a driveable street rod, but in need of some TLC. The 1938 Chevrolet became their project of choice and the ’39 Chevy went up for sale again.

The Chevy was then acquired by another young man with street rodding in mind. He, too, disassembled the car, but also began sand blasting its parts and stored them away, though he also bought parts to complete the project, including a 305-cid V-8 Chevrolet engine and an S-10 frame. This owner was hot and heavy into the project, but with dwindling spare time, the Chevrolet was soon ignored.

Upon visiting my 1939 Chevrolet’s second owner, she sent me home with this photo of the car decked out with streamers on her wedding day in 1946.

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While talking to my brother about old cars and looking at his 1938 Chevrolet in envy one day, I said, “I would like some day to build an old car into a street rod.” My brother’s son Jeff was acquainted with the current owner of Marion’s 1939 Chevrolet, and he said the ’39 Chevy might be for sale.

Upon hearing this, it didn’t take me long to see if the Chevy’s current owner was interested in selling the car. Sure enough, this owner didn’t have enough time to work on it, so we agreed on a price. To my surprise, he still had the title from the widow. Her name was signed on the back when she sold it at auction several years before, and not one of the subsequent buyers had signed the title in their name.

I quickly found a trailer and loaded everything on it. The ’39 Chevy looked sad in its completely disassembled state and stacked on a trailer with other odd Chevrolet parts its previous owners had bought.

I tracked down the house where my ’39 Chevy was photographed in 1946 and posed the car in front of it for another photo.

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On the first possible day I had available to transfer the title, I went to a Wisconsin DMV office. I soon learned from a DMV employee that the name signed on the back of the title did not match. The name on the front of the title was that of the widow’s husband, but the signed name was that of the widow. He told me I would have to bring Marion a document and have her fill in her husband’s date of death.

I did know of Marion when I was much younger, but had not kept up with her whereabouts, so I didn’t know if Marion herself was still alive.

The moment I returned from the DMV office, I looked in the phone book and there was her name. I called the number listed and she said, “Come on by. I have a picture of that car from my wedding day you can have.”

We spent an hour talking about the old Chevy, life, kids, dreams, holidays, Christmas and all the things you talk about with nice ladies who want to talk. I also went home with a signed legal document and a nice black-and-white photo of my 1939 Chevy decorated with streamers parked in front of a home from Marion’s wedding day.

This 1939 Chevrolet came out of an auction near my home, but shuffled through several owners who disassembled it and began turning it into a street rod. I finished the rebuild and have been enjoying it ever since.

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The next two years were spent building the Chevy into my dream street rod, and at the end, it looked pretty nice. Today, the Chevrolet is back with a 350-cid V-8 and a four-speed, modified Chevrolet S-10 frame, 1958 Chevrolet rear end, 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme interior, 1969 Camaro tilt column and AM/FM radio with a CD player. We’re keeping up with everyone on the interstate now.

When it was done, I began looking for the old black-and-white photo of the car, and found it stuffed in the back of a cabinet. While examining the photo, I began to wonder where the house in the background was located. Then I flipped it over, and on the back was an address and street, which I determined to be in the nearby city of Sheboygan, Wis.

I quickly drove the completed ’39 Chevy to Sheboygan and found the house while driving on the street name written on the back of the photo. The house still looks much like it did in the 1940s, and the house nearby looked a lot like the one in the picture. It turned out the best man in Marion’s wedding lived in that house when Marion was married.

To add another chapter to the ’39 Chevrolet’s history, I took a photo of it in front of that house one more time.

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