When I heard from Gloria and George Gates that they had a 1935 Chevrolet five-window business coupe I couldn't wait to see it. My memory rolled back to when I was 16 years old and my father gave me my first car, a 1935 Chevrolet five-window business coupe.
They had their car parked in the driveway. The car has been professionally painted a caramel color with cream colored fenders. (My '35 Chevy was black and had been painted with a brush.) The seat and the door panels have been upgraded with tan leather and the dashboard painted to match the two exterior colors. The Gates car also has custom wheels.
Probably the most unique thing about the five-window business coupe is the suicide doors that open from the front and are hinged at the back. This is probably not what Chevrolet called them when promoting the car in 1935, but it's a slang term that developed as people witnessed the doors accidentally swinging open causing injury and damage. Over 78 years the wood framing holding the heavy doors has deteriorated some so the doors drop a half inch or so when opened.
In 1935 Chevrolet also made a four-door sedan with both front and rear suicide doors.
That model year, Chevrolet produced 548,215 cars of which 40,201 were the five-window business coupes, targeted for the businessman and traveling salesman. To carry all their samples or merchandise the trunk is about 6 feet deep going from the rear of the car to the back of the bench seat. The spare tire is mounted on the outside, below the trunk opening, what would be called a "continental kit" style today.
When new, this business coupe sold for $560 ($9,593 in today's dollars) and has the optional $20 ($343) knee action front suspension. Knee action was an independent front suspension system invented by the World War I French flying ace and race driver, Andre Dubonnet.
I had forgotten how small the interior of the coupe was, but in the 1930s cars still had running boards extending about 8 inches from below the door, so the exterior width of the car is not too different from modern cars but the interior space is considerably less.
Gloria and George Gates of the Niles area of Fremont are reluctant classic car owners. Neither could be classified as being mechanically inclined or even that interested in cars, but they own two classics. This 1935 Chevrolet five-window business coupe and a 1950 Chevrolet that Gloria Gates inherited from her grandfather.
The coupe has a special significance to Gloria Gates. Her son, Scott, had owned numerous cars but this '35 Chevy was his pride and joy. He acquired it by trading his 1975 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray for it.
"My son drove it until he got sick. He died of cancer in 1999 and I've had it ever since," said Gloria Gates. "I don't know anything about cars. I couldn't drive it and had no real interest in it. Meanwhile it was deteriorating in the garage but I couldn't get myself to sell it. Then I met George who guided me in finding a mechanic to get it running again."
A neighbor of the Gates' owns a repair shop in Fremont called Dando's.
"Ken, the owner, was meticulous and took great care in getting it going," George Gates said, "and it turned out he knew Gloria's son. He worked on the carburetor and some other things but nothing serious. Amazing to us and at not much cost, the car started right up." Underneath the fancy paint and snazzy interior is the original 1935 Chevy. This was the last year for mechanical brakes for Chevrolet before changing to hydraulic brakes in 1936. The odometer shows only 46,000 miles. I'm inclined to believe the mileage is accurate as the car has the original 206.8 cubic-inch six-cylinder 74 HP engine. The 2,910-pound car has a three -peed on the floor transmission. It has the 6-volt electrical system and the headlights are pre-sealed beam lights, so they don't light the road too well. It has only a single tail light which was probably a bean counter decision.
The challenge presented by mechanical failure is not one of the joys of ownership for Gloria and George Gates. "We used to take it out Niles Canyon," Gloria Gates said, "but we had an unfortunate and scary experience."
George Gates added: "We were at a blind curve at night when the electronic fuel pump failed and there was no place to pull off the two-lane road." They feared a rear-end collision.
Now the owners take their '35 coupe out every couple of weeks but only in the daytime. George Gates likes to wear his fedora hat as they proudly drive around the Niles area which would be a perfect Norman Rockwell setting for this beautiful classic car.
Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at MOBopoly@yahoo.com.