If Only That (Almost) 80-Year-Old Machine Could Talk

By Joe Darby

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I’ve written about it once before but that was a good while back. If you’d indulge me I’d like to talk about that 3,640-pound, 207-inch long collection of metal, glass, rubber and cloth parked in my garage and known as a 1939 Chrysler Imperial.

I was inspired to write about the car because today (Tuesday). I brought her in for her periodic servicing to my mechanic Darren McCauslin. He and his assistant James take such loving care of her. Since I always drive the car I hardly ever see her in motion, but when James was driving her toward the front of the mechanic’s shop, she just looked so darned elegant that I felt I owed her a little tribute.

Let me say right off the bat that I call the car “her” and “she” for a good reason. She’s an Imperial and of course, that makes her an Empress, a female of high royalty, don’t you see. And why do I think an old car deserves a tribute anyway. She’s a survivor, of course.

I don’t know how many other 1939 Imperial four-door sedans there are on the road, but there’s not really very many. The great majority of those cars just wore out, were junked or wrecked over the years or left to slowly turn to rust in some vacant field. To simply last almost 80 years and still be just as driveable as the day she came off the assembly line is quite an achievement, I think.  I don’t know a whole lot about her history but her VIN number indicates she was actually built in the fall of 1938, one of the early ’39 models off the line. I think she was sold in Pennsylvania and I know she later was in Florida before being sold to someone in California. It was a San Diego classic car dealer from which I acquired my Empress, in 2010. So I’ve had her for 1/10 of her existence!

You may have seen her around town. She’s an attractive Sea Foam Green. And when we drive her to eat out at a local restaurant, she always garners lots of attention and questions. I’ve discussed her with many a tourist on Front Street, and I always enjoy answering questions about her.

The car still has its original straight-eight cylinder engine, which runs just as smoothly as could be. The guys who put her together back in ’38 did a good job. What was going on then? Well, Franklin Roosevelt was in his second term as president. Adolph Hitler was about to gobble up Czechoslovakia. The New York Yankees were getting ready to win another World Series. The Louisiana Scandals were about to break, involving Gov. Richard Leche and others. My sisters were 9 and 6 years old and I would be born three years later.

I would love to know how the Empress survived all of those years since then. I know she went through at least one rough period, because she has little rust bubbles on her lower doors and was probably not driven and left outside for a good while.

But, what about when she was an active, family auto. Did her owners hear of the news of the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor on her radio?. How about the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945? Surely, lots of Glen Miller and Benny Goodman music came out of that radio, which unfortunately no longer works.

Was she owned by a young couple? A growing or a mature family? A somewhat well-off but reclusive old lady who only drove the car to church on Sundays? Did someone ever propose marriage in that vehicle? What kind of trips or vacations was she taken on? I’d love to know all of that stuff. But the answers will almost certainly remain hidden forever.

In the meantime, I am her custodian. I’m her caretaker. Because I expect she will outlast me I suppose that when I can no longer drive I’ll pass her on to someone who will take good care of her. They will have to promise me that they will not “street-rod” her by putting in fancy upholstery and a modern V-8 engine in her. She’s made it this long in her original condition and by gosh she ought to stay that way.

If you see us around town, signal us to pull over. I’ll be glad to bend your ear some more about this amazing old machine.

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