Wayne Bennin’s 1939 Chevrolet
Customer: Wayne Bennin, WI
Vehicle: 1939 Master 85 Two Door Town Sedan
How long have you owned this vehicle?
I have owned this vehicle since 2011
Where did you get this vehicle?
My grandfather, August Langenhahn bought this can new in 1939, in Kiel, Wisconsin, for approximately $800. List price was $669 according to an original Chevrolet brochure we have. Grandpa was in his late 50’s at the time and I believe this was his first new car and it was his retirement vehicle. He previously had an Essex, mid 1920’s. Grandpa drove the Chevy until the late 1960’s, and as he was then in his upper 80’s, he decided to sell it. Our neighbor had worked out a deal to buy it for $25, with the intention of making a hot rod, but when my brother Kevin found out about that, he talked Grandpa into selling it to him, on a Friday afternoon, a few hours before the neighbor was coming to pick it up. Grandpa gave Kev a deal, selling it for $20.
Kev drove the ’39 for a couple high-school years, which were likely the hardest years this car had seen. During the restoration process, we found that one back window was broken (from leaving a drive-in movie with the speaker still attached), the front bumper was bent (from hitting a tree while parking at a local lake, probably for a party) and portions of the steering linkage were bent (from the time the old Chevy wound up in a ditch, while fish-tailing on fresh snow). When Kev bought a ’66 Chevelle around 1972, the ’39 was parked with 50505 miles on the odometer. In 1980, Kev, my brother Dean & I began restoration, rebuilding the engine & transmission. However, life got in the way of the restoration, and it went back into mothballs until 2011, when I was able to buy the ’39 from Kev. Between late 2011 & August, 2013, my son Andy & I, with some help from a friend, did a complete body-off restoration. Work was completed in time for a couple end-of-summer car shows in 2013.
What condition was it in when you got it?
It was running when it was parked in the early 1970’s, so the engine rebuild was not a major project. Since we live in Wisconsin, all 4 fenders and door sills were rusted through, but only in small spots. Much of the glass was milky & delaminating and the interior was in poor shape. As long as I can remember, the driver’s seat was torn & Gramma had hand-sewn on a patch that was made from one of her old aprons. The running boards were probably in the worst shape of anything & were not salvageable.
What work have you done on this vehicle?We honed the cylinders .005″ oversize, put in new cast-iron pistons & rods, did a valve job & put the engine back together. Transmisson needed new shafts & bearings, but was otherwise serviceable. We did all the steel body work in my garage shop, reassembled the engine/transmission on the frame, replaced all brake shoes, lines and master cylinder. We took the body, fenders & hood to Midwest Customs in Howards Grove & they did the blasting, sanding & painting, including reinstalling the body on the frame. The grill, hubcaps, bumper guards & other parts were re-chromed at Custom Plating Specialists, near Brillion, WI. The Hampton Coach/Lebarron Bonney interior was installed at United Auto Trim in Fond Du Lac, WI. Running boards & many other replacement parts came from The Filling Station.
Is there any other work that you would like to do on it?
We’ve been driving the car to local shows, trailering to more distant ones & putting on 300 to 400 miles each summer, so there is just regular maintenance. We’re going to replace the battery cables this spring. We kept the 6V electrical system & the car starts very well, but we think there is internal corrosion in the original cables, causing it to crank slow & also the cables heat up when cranking.
What was the hardest part to find?
Hand brake cables for the rear. I could not find any direct replacements, but was able to find cables from a mid 1960’s Dodge that were very close. Just had to make different frame mounts.
What other vehicles do you own?
2013 Camaro, which has a lot of similarities to the ’39: black, 2 door, 6 cylinder overhead valve engine, manual tranny, rear wheel drive & of course, the bowties on both ends. And a 1 ton Dodge Ram to pull the toy hauler with the ’39 to more distant shows. At her age, the ’39 is a bit of a “trailer queen”.
After the ’39 project, I did a complete restoration on a 1947 Indian Chief, and completed that in early 2015. That bike was in worse shape than the ’39 at the start, but turned out pretty good. Still learning how to ride it with the right hand tank shift, left foot clutch, left hand throttle and right hand spark advance/retard.
What is your next project?
I have been working on a 1933 Chevrolet Eagle CB series 1/2 ton pick-up truck this past year. Once again The Filling Station is my go-to source for many parts. Just this week, I received the new bed rails & angles and have been/will continue to place orders for more parts each month as work progresses. I expect engine work to be done by late spring (Precision Carb & Machining, New Holstein, WI) and have almost finished replacing the interior oak, but body work, painting, reassembly & interior will likely take another year and a half. I’ve found it much harder to find parts for this model year, probably because it was made right after the worst year of the depression (I’ve read 1932 had the lowest vehicle production) and I think a lot of early 1930’s vehicles were recycled during the war effort, while the late 30’s vehicles had to be kept running until the war was finally over.
Do you have any advice for people thinking about starting a restoration project?
Don’t be in a hurry & realize your limitations. Don’t avoid pulling in experts to try to save a few bucks. And unfortunately, you should plan to spend more than the eventual value of the vehicle to do a proper restoration. The biggest pay-off with restoring a classic back to original is when an old fellow walks up at a show and quietly walks all around the car, looking at each detail. Usually, a few minutes later you’ll hear a great story about how he or his father/uncle/grandfather/brother had a Chevy of that era and all the good times they had with it. Although I appreciate the Cadillacs & Packards of that era, people really seem to identify with the Chevys & Fords, since those were the vehicles most people could afford.
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