Dick Coleman of Bristol drives a hot rod, a family hand-me-down that was given to him nearly 60 years ago when he was 16 years old. Before that happened, he can recall his great-aunt driving the black 1942 Chevrolet business coupe when she was 90. The car was purchased new by her husband, who was a doctor, just prior to the start of World War II.
“She sold the car to my brother – he’s five years older than I am – for a dollar. He drove it to college for a while and when he was done with it, my mother drove it back and forth to Pratt & Whitney from Manchester,” Coleman recalled.
“I got my driver’s license on it. Interestingly enough, for somebody’s that so interested in cars and so passionate about hot rods, I failed my first driving test,” he said. He did succeed in getting his license when he was 17.
Being a business coupe, the Chevrolet lacks a back seat. Conventional wisdom is the business coupes were built for traveling salesmen to have extra storage space where the rear seat would normally be, and that’s likely why it was purchased.
“As a doctor, I’m sure it was convenient for him to have that space for when he needed to do his doctoring because back then, obviously, they went to see people,” Coleman said, referring to what was once known as a “house call.”
“It’s never been off the frame. The car’s been kind of rebuilt over the years from the inside out,” Coleman said. It was last painted in 1978.
Coleman describes it as “a 50/50 car. It looks good at 50 miles an hour or 50 feet away. You get up close, you can see it’s been on the road. It’s got some dings.”
As it pre-dates the start of World War II, the Chevrolet shows a lot of flashy chrome. When World War II began, which prompted the freeze ofcivilian sales and the end of civilian car production, the flash disappeared and a blacked out grill appeared on the model.
While the car came with a 216-cubic-inch inline six-cylinder engine with three-speed manual transmission, it’s now powered by a much heftier 383-cubic-inch V8 with four-speed automatic.
“It’s pretty quick in-between telephone poles. It’s a nice cruiser. It handles very well,” Coleman said.
The 1942 Chevrolet business coupe owned by Dick Coleman holds a lot of sentimental value having served him well over the decades. And it’s been personalized. The rear shelf in the passenger compartment is carpeted and decorated with stuffed animals. The doors display deteriorating Superman logos.
Coleman choked up in recalling how the interior came to be redone, but not before noting that colorful bedsheets were first used to cover the aging upholstery.
“For years and years when we first put it on the road the interior was Superman cartoon bedsheets. Then we graduated – when my granddaughter was born – to Winnie the Pooh bedsheets,” he said. “The interior was worn and that’s all we could afford.”
When his father died, Coleman was left $1,500, which he banked and which ultimately went to an interior makeover some 10 to 15 years ago.
Parked in front of his house is a patriotic-themed 1949 Ford flatbed pickup. He also has a 1962 Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon that was acquired in 2003 for his wife, Maggie. Originally green, it is now bright red.
In July 2006, the couple took their granddaughter on a 5½-week cross country trip on Route 66 in the Bel Air.
“The car made a big difference in how much fun the trip was because people were interested in the car. We’d stop somewhere for lunch, they’d want to know about the car and they’d tell us about all the local stuff to go look at,” he said. “Route 66 was a lot of fun. Sometimes we didn’t make any forward progress.”
It’s the 1942 Chevrolet, though, that holds the most memories. It has taken them to hot rod events in places like Memphis and Minneapolis. The Colemans dated in it and their kids used it in their weddings.
Since the 1942 model year was shortened by World War II, the business coupe is something of a rarity. Coleman believes only 1,716 were ever made, but doesn’t how many remain.
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