When did Dad get the ’52 Chevy?

By Willa Wick in Community, Motors, People

I have two brothers and a sister. All of us live about 3 hours apart so as we age we see less and less of one another. Email is wonderful, except even though convenient, hearing from them is quite sporadic – unless of course you make a mistake.
Recently I needed some information – and the following are excerpts from the responses:
(Willa) My memory is failing me, dad was involved in an incident with mom’s ’38 Oldsmobile – am I right in thinking the next vehicle was the green ’52 Chevy? Do any of you remember when he got it?
(Mark, almost immediately) It was a ’50 Chevy bought in ’52. I remember cause I wasn’t born yet.
(Willa) See, that’s why I included Mark whether he remembers when he was born or not. For years I’ve been thinking the car was a ’52.
(Annette, a few hours later) Yes Willa, following the Olds was the green Chevy, the car with which I learned to drive (and also managed to put a ding on the fender).
(Deryk, shortest response time ever) Hi guys, you have pretty much solved the history puzzle. There is almost nothing to add, but I’ll add it anyway… One morning in late October 1952 (about a month before Mark’s emergence) dad greeted the world looking a little scruffy. There was bruising, ribs wrapped in tensor bandages, a few scrapes on the arms etc. It developed that the Oldsmobile was no more. A few days later he came home with a pale green 1950 Chevrolet, 4-door deluxe model with rear fender skirts, analogue clock but no radio. It had a straight-six engine and manual transmission (three-on-the-tree) that developed an annoying habit of jumping out of third gear. Although two years old, it was in almost pristine condition except for a small crack in the passenger side windshield that grew a little bit over the years and I don’t think ever was fixed.
The car had a manual choke, which was a good idea as General Motors never could get the hang of making automatic chokes that worked. Although automatic chokes (that didn’t work) came along in the sixties, they were so unreliable that Canadian Tire offered a kit that enabled you to convert your automatic choke into a functioning manual system. Dad always said the automatic chokes were invented long before the sixties – the Oldsmobile from three decades earlier had one (and it didn’t work either). The solution with that car was a jerry-rigged fix involving a leather bootlace strung from the carburetor through the firewall and you pulled the bootlace when you were starting the car.
So the Chevy had a pull-button with “C” on it for the choke – and do you remember – there was another pull-button with “T” for throttle. That’s right, you could rev up the engine either with the floor accelerator or with the throttle button, and with the latter, it would stay locked, kind of like a prehistoric cruise control. Deadly, however, when you think about it, because it wouldn’t disengage at the tap of the brakes
I’m sure you all remember that the ’50 Chev didn’t start with the twist of the key, but rather had a separate chrome starter button – a feature now found on luxury cars. It had a proper chrome horn ring on the steering wheel, something you could actually find when you needed it. And of course, it had the floor-mounted headlight dimmer switch. (Funny how the under-40 crowd put “do-you-remember” pictures of those things on Facebook like they’re antiques or something! For heaven’s sake, floor dimmer switches were used right up to the late seventies. Mark’s old yellow truck, after I fixed it, is the only vehicle I know of where you kicked the dimmer switch sideways…
The Chevy had chronic brake issues, but that might not be all General Motors’ fault. To save money dad used to try to do most of his own brake repairs, and maybe that wasn’t one of his greatest skill areas. The car was also a rust bucket, but that may not have been GM’s fault either. Pretty much all of the cars in the area at that time rusted to pieces in a very few years. The farmers’ cars were particularly affected. They had to contend with tons of road salt in the winter and then calcium chloride, its chemical cousin sprinkled on the side roads in summer to keep the dust down.
None of the above matters a hoot of course, as this whole exchange was about dating the car, and you have correctly established it to have been a 1950 model. Dad bought it two years old from Walter Grosz (Harriston Motors) for the sum of $1,500 plus the trade-in of the bent-in Olds. That, of course, was 1500 dollars of 1952 currency representing probably full year’s take-home if you were making Princess Pats at the stove foundry or cranking out burial boxes at the Harriston Casket Co.
Now that we’ve covered more than you could ever wish to know about the Chevy, I’ve got to wonder about one thing, and that’s how there could have been this confusion in the first place about its year of manufacture. Willa, it’s true that the bodies were virtually the same from 1949 – 52, but it’s the tail-lights, girl, the tail-lights! On the ‘49s and ‘50s the tail-lights were mounted below the trunk, just inside the fenders, but on the ‘51s and ‘52’s they were wider, and mounted right on the seam of the fender itself. I trust this information will be helpful to you in future, because you never know when you’ll find yourself in a heated discussion about the finer style points of mid-century American automobiles.
Now, one final thing… I don’t want to pick on anyone here, but did someone refer to the Oldsmobile as a 1938 model? In the interest of historical accuracy, I must beg to differ. It was in fact a l935 model, quite possibly driven its first year by Walter Grosz himself. It was a somewhat rare model distinguished from the rest of the Olds herd of the day in that the rear trunk line went straight down from the back window to the bumper (like the more modern Chrysler PT Cruiser). The more traditional 1930s design featured a trunk “bump” – out from the back window about a foot, then down.
In 1936 Walter sold the Oldsmobile to local carpenter/house builder Malcolm MacMillan. He was already in failing health so it fell to his daughter Margaret to do the driving. She wasn’t thrilled initially as she had a distrust of automobiles dating back to 1919 when at age five she narrowly escaped being Harriston’s first traffic fatality – being run over, on the sidewalk, by an out-of-control Model T. During the time she was looking after her ill father plus learning to drive, Margaret started “keeping company” with a young farmer, Bill Tilden. In 1938 they launched on their honeymoon in that 3 year old Oldsmobile with the bootlace choke cable.
On their way towards eastern Ontario they went to Hamilton via Hwy 6. The infamous Clappison’s Hill was a much more formidable grade than it is today. Margaret had the idea, and Bill concurred, that they could save both fuel and brake linings by shutting off the ignition, leaving the car in gear, and using the clutch and engine compression to control the speed of the car. This is called a brain cramp, especially since Bill should have known that engine braking with the key turned off will suck highly explosive gasoline vapor in one side off the engine and spit it right through into the exhaust system. As he said later, “It was a very loud Oldsmobile at the bottom of the hill – it blew the muffler right off the car.” Nonetheless, that Olds survived for 14 years until that fateful night in l952. But the car lived on – it had a great engine, and Walter Grosz took it out and put it in his tow truck.
(Willa) Wow, it’s great you can recite all that. This will be terrific history for me to add to the recent purchase I made for son-in-law Andrew’s birthday. It’s a model ‘50s era green Chevy, and the only story I was going to be able to quote was that it was just like our second family vehicle and the buggy in which I was driven to the church when I was married.
(Deryk) Now here’s another correction along with a real bit of obscure family trivia: First you were not driven to the church in the green Chevy. It was retired (at the suggestion of an OPP officer due to its age and multiple safety defects) a few months beforehand. Its replacement (and your wedding carriage) was the pale green 1961 Falcon – four-door with an anemic 144 cubic inch straight six and two speed automatic. It was a terrible car, but it did have an AM radio.
Well no wonder I can’t remember sitting in the Chevy in my wedding dress. Geesh, all this info, and all I wanted to know was when dad bought the
darned car.


Mom's 1935 Oldsmobile showing an unusual straight slant back rather than the usual trunk hump

Mom’s 1935 Oldsmobile showing an unusual straight slant back rather than the usual trunk hump

Old green Chevy after the fenderskirts rusted off (1962 Willa Wick Photo)

Old green Chevy after the fenderskirts rusted off (1962 Willa Wick Photo)

10 inch Model Chevy purchased for son-in-law's birthday

10 inch Model Chevy purchased for son-in-law’s birthday