May 13

Print this Post

Chevrolet in ’41

Carrying America through the war … and beyond

by Robert Jay Stevens

(This article was published in Cars & Parts May 1981)

Left. In coupe form, the ’41 Chevy assumes a bold, blunt posture, conveying assurances of rock-solid dependability.
Right. One of the most familiar models to Americans of driving age in the 1940s and early ’50s, the 1941 Chevrolet rolled up a lot of miles keeping Americans on the move during World War II, despite the limitations of gas rationing.

Although they didn’t realize it at the time, most 1941 Chevrolet buyers would have to depend on their new cars for a span of five years or more in one of the most trying periods of automobile ownership in America. The devastating multi-theater war would soon involve America and impose rationing on fuel, tires, etc., and present a powerful need for scrap metal of all types. A trying period for motorists, indeed.

And then, after nursing the old buggy through the war, most Americans desiring a replacement car were faced with a long wait as manufacturers converted from war to civilian production and fell hopelessly behind in their attempts to satisfy the swelling post-war demand of car hungry America.

Chevrolet greeted new car prospects in ’41 with a redesigned and restyled lineup keyed to two series – the Master De Luxe AG and the Special De Luxe AH. Both lines encompassed three and five-passenger coupes, two-door Town Sedans and four-door Sport Sedans. In addition, the Special De Luxe series offered a Cabriolet convertible and a woodie station wagon.

1941 Chevy Front Fender

Well-rounded, almost bulbous front fender houses the headlamp for the first time. Headlights were still riding atop the fenders in 1940. The fender ornaments, scaled down versions of the hood ornament, are, along with the radio and optional hood ornament, among the most difficult ’41 Chevy pieces to locate.

The complete Chevy line was restyled for 1941 with the headlights relocated into the crown of the fenders. The front parking lamps, previously atop the fenders, were also integrated into the fenders, just below the headlamps. The wheelbase was stretched from 113 to 116 inches in 1941 and hinging on the rear doors was switched from the rear to the front-leading edge. Running boards were retracted into concealment behind the doors and body lip.

The Chevy grew some in 1941, attaining an overall length of 196 inches and featuring a front seat three inches wider than in the preceding year. All of the engineering and cosmetic changes refined the overall appearance and feel of the car and set it clearly apart from the 1940 offering. During the year, the Fleetline Sedan, a new four-door model, entered the Chevy camp.

All models in ’41 featured knee-action front suspension as standard equipment, along with vacuum-power shift, concealed safety steps (retracted running boards), all-steel welded construction with “uni-steel turret top,” and a box-girder frame.

1941 Chevy 216.5-cid ohv six

“Old Reliable,” the 216.5-cid ohv six, was rated at 90 hp.

The entire line shared the same engine, the rugged little in-line six that was becoming synonymous with Chevy reliability. Unchanged in size at 216.5-cid with a bore and stroke of 3 1/2 x 3 3/4, the ohv six took on a new name – Victory Six – and provided a bit more power with a rating at 3,300 rpm of 90 hp (29.4 taxable hp), up from 85 in 1940. Redesigned heads and new pistons accomplished the boost in power. Other mechanical improvements included new valves, rocker arms, water pump and valve settings.

Feeding through a one barrel Carter W1 carburetor, the six featured four main bearings, water cooling, five-quart oil capacity, six-volt electrics and a modest 6.5 to 1 compression ratio.

The six was teamed with a three-speed manual transmission with column-mounted shifter and a 4.11 to 1 rear axle. A 9.125 inch single dry plate type clutch was used. The transmission featured Chevy’s infamous vacuum assist, which ensured smooth, effortless shifting, albeit a bit on the slow side.

Against a promotional backdrop of “Go Chevrolet … the saving way,” GM’s flagship division posted another winning season in 1941, topping annual challenger Ford. A lengthy ride in a ’41 Chevy, even the bottom-of-the-line Master De Luxe Business Coupe, provides convincing evidence as to the appeal of the ’41 Chevy to the new-car buyer market of that year.

At $712, the AG Business Coupe was the cheapest model in the line and at 3,020 lbs., it was also the lightest. The Special De Luxe version ran $57 more and added 20 lbs. to the curb weight. Prices for other 1941 Master De Luxe models were $743 for the Five-Passenger Coupe, $754 for the Town Sedan, and $795 for the four-door Sport Sedan. The more expensive Special De Luxe Series was priced as follows: Five-Passenger Coupe, $800; Cabriolet, $949; Town Sedan, $810; Sport Sedan, $851 and Station Wagon, $995.

Colors available in ’41 were basically conservative, consisting of Black, Maple Brown, Banner Beige, Cameo Cream, Ruby Maroon, Kingston Gray, Cruiser Gray, Constitution Blue and Admiral Green. Added during the model year was a quartet of sharp two-tone combinations blending Santone with Indian Suntan, Cimarron Green with Ridge Green, Nassak Gray with Squadron Gray and Marine Blue with Squadron Gray.

Large circular dial with black numerals on a silver background comprises the 100 mph speedometer with built-in odometer. Horizontally-mounted gas, temperature, battery and oil gauges appear to the left of the speedometer. A second housing identical in size and dimensions to the speedometer unit appears on the passenger side of the dash and accommodates an optional clock, although this business coupe fills that slot with a decorative plate.

Once the buyer picked his color, the fun had just begun as Chevy brought its ’41 entries to market with a full complement of appearance options, as well as functional accessories. Among the items in the latter group were: Vacuum-operated windshield washers ($2.95); remote-controlled spotlight ($12.50), right-hand sun visor ($2.75); town and country horn ($1.50); back-up lamp ($2.50); foglamp ($5.85 each or $11.00 a pair), No-Rol “hillholder” ($8.75); De Luxe and Super De Luxe heaters ($11.50 and $15.50); dual defroster ($7.25) and direct heat dual defroster ($9.75); rubber fan defroster ($4.00); under-seat heaters, front and rear ($17.00) and an auto compass ($2.95).

Particularly useful during the war when fuel and tires were rationed and hard to get were a locking gas cap ($1.50) and a spare tire lock ($1.75).

Chevrolet offered three radio systems, all push button units, in 1941, plus two antennas, a reel antenna raised and lowered from inside the car and a cowl-mounted whip antenna that could be extended to 96 inches. The base radio was a five-tube, 3.7-watt unit with illuminated dial and automatic drift compensator. It sold for $24.95, including antenna. The De Luxe radio, a six-tube, bronze-colored system, provided automatic drift compensation, elliptical speaker and a pointer with a lighted edge for $49.95, including antenna.

The top-of-the-line nine-tube system combined a radio with a short-wave. Priced at $64.50 with antenna, the combination short-wave and radio had a noise limiter, automatic volume control and band spread on the short-wave. The short-wave was tuned for both American and foreign stations, a feature that cast suspicions of collaborating with the enemy on many ’41 Chevy owners who opted for the short-wave system.

'41 Chevy rear fender rubber gravel guards

Rubber gravel shields were added to the rear fenders in ’41.

Some of the more novel items offered by Chevy in 1941 included fender markers at $1.25, flared exhaust extension ($.65), tack-on center arm rest for the front seat ($3.50), rear window sun shade ($5.00), umbrella carrier ($2.95), outside thermometer ($.90), visor vanity mirror ($1.00) and an electric visor vanity mirror with two lights ($1.95). Also available for a dollar was a spare tire air connection that allowed filling of the spare tire from outside the vehicle. A De Luxe steering wheel with a circular handgrip mounted between the wheel and the cross-bar was offered. This rather dangerous-looking item was priced at $12.50.

Most popular with collectors, of course, are the dress-up items. Heading the list are skirts ($12.75), formally called fender streamliners, which had bright moldings at the bottom in unison with the ribbed moldings on the psuedo running boards; chrome front fender trim pieces at $4.00 a pair; chrome license plate frames at $1.50 a pair, clock in either electric ($8.85) or wind-up 30-hour ($4.90) versions, and a cigarette lighter at $2.00. The outer wheel moldings retailed at $7.50 for a set of four, while the wheel discs mounted between the hub caps and wheel moldings sold for $8.50 a set.

1941 Chevy Special De Luxe Coupe

The fancier and more expensive Special De Luxe line carries more elaborate trim and additional standard equipment, including the clock, woodgrained instrument panel, special steering wheel with horn ring, passenger sun visor, glove box light, special interior trim, etc. This ’41 Special De Luxe Coupe, photographed in 1970 by L. E. Reznicek, Trenton N.J., is equipped with optional grille guard ($6.25), rear fender guards ($2.50), wheel discs ($8.50), wheel moldings ($7.50) and radio with antenna.

Although less luxurious and, in the minds of many, less attractive than the highly-appointed Special De Luxe version, the Master De Luxe series is neatly trimmed, attractive and a bit less ornate. Although some consider the Special De Luxe line excessive in styling trim, the more modest Master De Luxe line suffers from a lack of the gorgeous woodgrain-effect dash standard with the Special. The less pretentious Master models – appropriate for the austere war times – are still bold and distinctive with modest but adequate trim.

While the ’41 Chevy is sturdy and pleasing in appearance, it’s even more satisfying on the road. In fact, a few shortcomings aside, it’s a real joy to drive.

1941 Chevy rear body and fenders

Sharp downward flowing rear body and fenders, accentuated by the coupe design, provide a pleasing view from the rear. On the business coupe, the rear tire is stowed in a compartment beneath the wooden floor, permitting removal of the tire without unloading luggage or cargo. The large, heavy trunk lid is firmly supported by self-locking rods. Taillight lenses are genuine glass. Brake and turn signal lights are also contained within the same housing.

Although billed as a full three-passenger model, the Master De Luxe Business Coupe is more practical for two adults, although the rear compartment can serve as a jump seat in a pinch. Normally, the compartment is a handy parcel shelf and can actually accommodate several suitcases or sample cases. All this is in addition to the spacious trunk.

Starting the ’41 Chevy is simple, but a bit awkward. After switching the ignition on, the starter pedal located in the center of the floorboard where the firewall joins the transmission hump is depressed. This requires heel-to-toe synchronization between the accelerator pedal and the starter button, respectively. A dash-mounted throttle is available for the less acrobatic. Characteristically, the engine spins slowly with six-volt cranking power, but spurts to life quickly. Even in frigid weather, the choke, which is controlled via a dash-mounted pull/push knob, is needed only briefly as the faithful six will quickly idle smoothly and without serious threat of stalling. A minute or so of warm-up operation is recommended before leaving the starting gate, however.

Interior of the 1941 Chevy Business Coupe

The interior of the business coupe is plain and business-like. Starter pedal is on the floor to the right of the accelerator pedal.

Immediate impressions can be deceiving. The huge steering wheel and the housing for the turn signal system, a $7.90 option that looks like and is a factory add-on, at first appear cumbersome and unwieldable, but both become more natural in appearance and use as the miles roll by.

The vacuum-assisted shift, which utilizes the conventional H-pattern, is difficult to manipulate when the engine is off. But once the engine is running and vacuum power is up, the lever can be moved freely and firmly from gear to gear, although speed shifts are out. The parking brake is positive and almost impossible to forget; it’s actuated by a huge lever that projects prominently toward the driver when applied, and the car’s soft-acting clutch and little six aren’t particularly excited about over-riding it. The clutch, a 9.125-inch diameter single plate unit of the dry variety, is a pleasure to work and produces little slippage or chatter, even under hard usage.

When wheeling the ’41 Chevy onto the highway, one is fully aware of the massive, well-rounded hood with its narrow, high-riding hood ornament. At 3,020 lbs., the Chevy is easy to manuever with very responsive and precise steering allowing ease of parking and finger-tip control on the highway. Care must be taken on the highway not to crowd the line, though, as the front fenders extend several inches beyond sight out to the sides. The car measures 72.5 inches wide.

The 1941 Chevy hood ornament

Standard hood ornament is streamlined and graceful with sharp definition. An optional flying figure ornament, priced at $3.90, consisted of a chrome plated female figure with a rear flowing wing of transparent Lucite.

Running at 55 to 60 mph, the Chevy is performing at its best; the engine settles into a smooth rhythm as if it were grooved for that speed. Yet it is still sheltering enough reserve power to handle any reasonable passing exercise without serious objection. It imparts the feeling that it will run at that steady pace forever without lulling its driver to sleep, thanks to the massaging of its suspension system. The old knee-action front shocks work quite well, but do allow for considerable movement. On choppy roads and in tight cornering, the Chevy promotes some body movement thanks to its softly-sprung suspension. Passengers seem to be adequately isolated to the point where “leaning” is not really that noticeable, though. In straightline running on its 6.00×16 tires, the ’41 just loafs along with little concern for all but the biggest of chuck holes.

Stopping chores are dispensed quickly and effectively with very little softness or fade, and even less cause for concern, courtesy of 11-inch drums and powerful, fast-acting hydraulics.

View of the '41 Chevy frontend

Riding on a 116-inch wheelbase, the ’41 Chevy is a good-riding and stable highway performer.

Standard on all 1941 Chevys was an inside-activated hood release, a welcome feature during the war when spare parts were often as difficult to acquire as gas, oil and tires.

All in all, 1941 was a grand year for Chevrolet. Model year production soared to 1,020,000 while the war shortened calendar year held production to 930,293 for 1941. Business Coupe output for the model year amounted to 48,763 in the Master De Luxe series and 17,602 in the Special De Luxe line.

The 1941 Chevy, representing a larger, roomier and more powerful entry in the low-priced field than its predecessor, provided America’s biggest auto maker with one of the most pleasing body styles. And it was a good thing, as that basic body style had to endure until Chevy’s first post-war restyling effort in 1949.

Permanent link to this article: http://antiquechevyclubofqueens.org/2018/05/chevrolet-in-41/