It’s huge! Presenting the most recent addition to the Car Spotter’s Guide series at Mac’s Motor City Garage: Here we tackle the 1932 to 1942 Chevrolet passenger car line. These were some of America’s most popular cars in their day, so let’s dive in.
MCG’s previous Spotter’s Guides to date covered the 1933 to 1936 Ford and the 1937 to 1940 Ford and Mercury. But the Chevrolets need some love too, so we’ll start with the 1932 to 1942 models. Arguably, these are the second-most popular vehicles in the street rodding world, next to the Fords, and they’re extremely popular among restorers as well.
As gearheads, we’d all like to be able to identify these fine cars unaided in car shows and on the road. Car spotting is a highly valued car guy/car girl skill—in MCG’s estimation, anyway. For each year, we’ve tried to call out an easy-to-spot, easy-to-remember identifier. So here we go, starting with 1932.
The 1932 Chevrolet Confederate Series BA line was marketed by GM as the “Baby Cadillac” in some venues. Note the chrome-plated, Caddy-esque radiator shell and the rectangular cooling doors in the hood sides in lieu of louvers, a feature first seen on Cadillacs in 1930. GM car divisions across the board adopted these opening hood doors in 1932—a handy car spotting fact.
On DeLuxe models the hood doors were chrome; on Standard models they were painted body color. At $625 list, the 5-passenger Landau Phaeton was the most expensive model in the 1932 Chevy lineup, and this would be the final year for the elegant, Victoria-like body style.
The 1933 CA models, marketed as the Master Eagle, received all-new sheet metal. The hood doors were slanted back at the same angle as the grille, A pillars, and windshield for a more streamlined, modern look. These angled hood doors are a one-year item for Chevy. The vent windows in the front doors are another new Chevy feature for ’33. Note the sculptured, semi-integral metal trunk on this two-door Master Eagle Town Sedan.
Well into the 1933 model year, Chevrolet introduced a new Standard series, also known as the Standard Mercury line. Intended as a price buster as the country struggled through the deepest point of the Great Depression, the Standard (Model CC) was a no-frills offering built on a three-inch shorter wheelbase (107 in.) than the regular Chevrolet Eagle. Note the plain, louvered hood without doors. The ’33 Standard Mercury was sold in three no-frills body styles : Coupe, Coupe with rumble seat, and two-door Coach.
For 1934, the Chevy’s rectangular hood doors disappeared altogether, replaced with three speed-line styled vents. In Chevy parlance of the era, a two-door sedan like this is typically termed a Coach. Note the ducktail or kickout at the rear lower edge of the body, another familiar Chevy “tell”—and since GM shared body stampings and styling cues across divisions in those years just as it does today, the feature is also found on Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles.
Here’s a 1934 Chevrolet Master Eagle Sedan, Series DA. The Master Eagles featured “Knee Action” Dubonnet independent front suspension for the first time in ’34, while Standard models continued to employ a front beam axle with twin parallel leaf springs.
For 1935 the Chevy Master line was redesigned, combining the look of the previous V-grille front doghouse with a bigger, rounder body shell. Aptly-named suicide front doors were introduced this year—open at the front, hinged at the rear. They were a step forward in style and convenience but, with the benefit of hindsight, a big step backward in safety. Also note the stamped artillery-style wheels for ’35. Welded wire wheels were rapidly growing obsolete across the industry.
Shown above is a 1935 Master De Luxe Coupe with rumble seat. The story of American auto styling in the ’30s is bigger, rounder, and bulgier with each passing model year, producing greater interior volume and a more streamlined look. “Turret Top” (in GM marketing lingo) roofs of all-steel construction (no fabric insert) also made their appearance in ’35. Also this year, the three horizontal hood vents were reduced to two on Master De Luxe models.
For contast, shown here is a 1935 Standard Coupe, Series EC. Its lines are straighter, tauter, stretched over a more petite form overall. Note the three parallel hood vents, wire wheels, and conventional, rear-opening doors. The Standard used a beam front axle on its 107-in. wb chassis, while the Master De Luxe (113-in wb) was available in both Knee Action (EA) and beam axle (ED) versions.
The restyled 1936 Chevrolet passenger cars are an easy spot with their one-year-only “fencer’s mask” fine metal grille. Also note the conventional, rear-opening door and oval quarter window on this Master De Luxe Coupe.
In 1937 the Chevy line received another restyle, creating one of the most popular model years of the ’30s for GM’s low-priced brand. As on the ’36, the headlamps on the ’37 Chevy attach to the bonnet sides rather than to the fenders. However, the diagonally clipped top grille corners make this Chevy another easy-to-identify, one-year design. Here’s a Cabriolet, a relatively rare body style today.
The two-door Coach was a far more familiar model in 1937. With no external trunk, a small interior storage area was provided behind the rear seat. The humpback or trunk sedan version of the two-door was called a Town Sedan by Chevrolet; the four-door with trunk was a Sport Sedan, officially.
The Chevrolet line received a minor facelift for 1938, with fresh-looking grille and hood styled by Frank Hershey, who was also responsible for the Pontiac Silver Streak chrome ribbon—a gimmick designed to camouflage the Pontiac’s Chevy-derived body pressings.
Here’s the 1938 Chevy doghouse in closeup, showing the grille details and finely formed hood trim. The lineup for ’38 featured 12 models in six Master and six Master De Luxe versions.
Reflecting both industry styling trends and the prevailing tastes in Harley Earl’s GM styling studio, the ’39 Chevrolets sported a sharp, boat-like nose, but the rest of the sheet metal was inherited from the previous year. A vacuum-assist column shifter was offered as an option in 1939. This ceremony celebrating 25 million units of production stars a 1940 Chevrolet. Among the assembled dignitaries is General Motors Chairman Alfred P. Sloan, second from right.
The 1940 model year also marked the beginning of a three-year Chevrolet styling trend as each year, the headlamp nacelles sank a bit further into the fenders. In ’40, the lamp pod was recessed about one-third into the fender.
Hollywood star Spencer Tracy (left) admires his 1941 Chevy Station Wagon, which has been fully kitted out with dealer-accessory lamps and bumper guards. Note how the headlamp is now recessed around two-thirds into the fender top.
This closeup of the 1942 Chevrolet doghouse shows off an increasingly modern look, with a nearly full-width, horizontally oriented “American Eagle” grille and headlamps fully enclosed in the fenders.
A new Chevy body style for ’42 was the Aerosedan, a quasi-futuristic two-door fastback. The design was introduced the year before in the Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, and Olds lines, then passed down to Chevy the following season.
The 1942 Chevrolet’s front fenders faded halfway into the doors, with only vestigal running boards. Civilian passenger car production at Chevrolet ended early in 1942, following Pearl Harbor, and would not resume again until the 1946 model year.