December 10, 2023

Man restores 1941 Chevrolet sedan, just like his dad’s

ELLETTSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Art Stevens grew up on the farm south of Bowling Green where he was born in 1948. He learned to drive behind the wheel of his dad’s 1941 Chevrolet sedan.

That was the mid-1960s, and Art’s father, Leroy Stevens, had moved on to a more modern car, but he kept the old Chevy around the farm. It eventually got parked for good “out by the old coal shed,” Stevens recalled.

He’s not sure if someone bought it or if the car disintegrated into the dirt.

Half a century later, back in 2015, Stevens was driving his Walmart semi across Illinois to a store in Beardsville, near the state’s western border. Parked in a field alongside the road was an old primer-painted Chevrolet, a “For Sale” sign in the window.

“The one my dad had was just like it,” Stevens said. “A 1941 two-door sedan, six-cylinder, three on the column. I knew when I saw it I had to pull over and take a closer look.”

He parked the semi, walked up to the house and talked to the owner, who bought the car a few years prior and worked on it some. He told Stevens the Special Deluxe had been parked 20 years in a garage in Missouri before he got it.

The owner wanted $5,000, more than Stevens was willing to pay. But he often drove past the car on his Walmart delivery route, stopping by over the next year to take another look. He told the man about his dad’s car and learning to drive in it.

“It took me over a year to figure out if I wanted to spend the money to buy it,” Stevens said. “I probably stopped and looked at it four or five times. I ended up paying two grand.”

He loaded the car onto a trailer and hauled it to his house west of Ellettsville.

“Fifteen minutes after I got home, we backed it off the trailer, put some gas in it, put in a new battery and it started right up. Those six-cylinders are pretty simple,” he said.

In 2017, Stevens and his lifelong friend, Allen Sheese, joined by Stevens’ two grown sons, finally got to work on the off-frame restoration. They rewired the car and replaced the 80-year-old six-cylinder motor with a modern 350-cubic-inch one from a 1995 Chevrolet pickup.

The shifter and console are from a crashed Chevy Cavalier. The bucket seats in front and the bench seat in the back came out of a totaled Pontiac Vibe. Stevens kept the original steering wheel, dash and instrument panel.

They switched out the drum brakes for disc brakes and replaced the front and back suspension.

“I’ll admit, it has a Ford rear end on it,” the Chevy man confessed.

He wanted to take the car to Evansville’s Frog Follies car show in August 2018, but the chances of having it finished were slim. With two weeks until the show, the car was in pieces inside Stevens’ garage.

“It was all off the frame, but somehow, we all worked together, a lot of nights and had it ready for the show,” he said.

They took it down on a trailer that year. In 2019, Stevens drove the vintage Chevy to the Frog Follies. He and the car intend to be there again next month, after missing out in 2020 when the pandemic closed everything down.

He and his grandson, 11-year-old Will Stevens, agree the car will be painted black. Stevens said it probably won’t happen until next year. For now, he’s happy with the smooth gray primer look, even lacking the chrome trim that won’t be affixed until after the car is painted.

For 80 years old, the Chevy is in pretty good shape. All of the glass is original, undamaged except for a crack in the driver’s-side vent window. Stevens is keeping it, a reminder of how a flaw can add character.