1937-1939 Chevrolet

The development of the 1937 Chevrolet had its roots in the models of the decade before. The background story offers some insight on Chevrolet's evolution.

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A larger, lighter, more powerful six-cylinder engine was at the heart of the 1937 Chevrolets.
A larger, lighter, more powerful six-cylinder engine was at the
 heart of the 1937 Chevrolets. See more pictures of Chevys.

When Chevrolet introduced its 1929 line in December 1928, it advertised "a Six in the price range of the Four." Which, in fact, it was. At $595, the top-selling coach -- as two-door sedans were called then -- cost only $10 more than 1928's four-cylinder Chevy in the same body type.

The public may have wondered how it was done, but there is little doubt that engineers throughout the industry knew the answer to that riddle: The first-generation Chevrolet Six, though a very attractive and generally serviceable automobile, was in some respects no better than it had to be. (By the way, we know it's not exactly fair to think of the 1929 as the first Chevrolet Six. Chevrolet had built two lines of six-cylinder cars between 1912 and 1915, but so few of them were sold that they remain of little significance, except, perhaps, to automotive historians specializing in that era.)

In order to produce a good looking, decently finished six-cylinder car with adequate performance for so low a price, some corners had to be cut. For instance, the aluminum pistons employed by the four-cylinder 1928 Chevrolets were replaced by cast iron buckets in the new six. Hence the sobriquet, "The Cast Iron Wonder," by which Chevrolets were known for more than 20 years.

As a further economy measure, three main bearings were employed where four would have contributed substantially to the engine's longevity. Poured babbitt was used in lieu of inserts for the connecting rod bearings, and lubrication was by the primitive "splash" system.

Buyers willing to forego a few amenities could have a new 1937 Chevrolet for as little as $618.
Buyers willing to forego a few amenities could
have a new 1937 Chevrolet for as little as $618.

The head bolts looked like something that might have come from grandma's kitchen range, hence, another widely used nickname, "The Stovebolt Six." Underneath, axles were notoriously weak and subject to breakage when put under too much strain.

As fitted to the 1929 models, the new six had a displacement of 194 cubic inches and was rated at 46 bhp, six more than its principal rival, the four-cylinder Ford Model A. By 1935, the axle had been strengthened. Displacement had grown to 206.8 cubes and, thanks to differences in the carburetor and compression ratio, horsepower had risen to 80 (though it was backed off to 79 for the 1936 models).

But the Chevrolet faced vigorous competition from both Ford and Plymouth. By the mid-1930s, it had become obvious that a new, stronger engine was needed if Chevrolet was to maintain its preeminent position in the low-priced field.

For more on Chevrolet's new engine, see the next page.

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