Owner: Will Peterson, Winnemucca, Nevada
I purchased my 39 Chevy in 1973 for 500$US. I drove it in original condition for several years. After 3 wives, it has been the only thing I could hold onto. I used it for wood hauling, then with a 600 gal. tank, for water, then in the 80’s, it went mining with me, serving well hauling gold ore down a treacherous road. Finally, it was ready restoration, which started with a new water pump, then a new head gasket, and on and on. I tore it down for a frame off restoration. I sand blasted the frame, checked the 4 speed transmission, installed all new brake stuff, and a clutch replacement. Then I checked out the bottom end of the engine and gave it a new valve job. New glass and upholstery followed and Finally paint and reassemble. It is almost totally original with a 41- 46 stepside pickup bed.
While tearing it down, I removed the top from the non-synchro 4 speed to clear the cab when I pulled the 216. It looked very good gear-wise for all the thrashing it has absorbed. It makes noise in first gear as do all spur cut gears.
The 216 runs pretty good, so I removed the pan and re-shimmed the rods, replaced the seals and gasket. It was so nasty, with rat poop and nesting, old grease and who knows what. No rust though I had a vision of it shiny and clean, like brand new, pulling me back to a simpler time. My wheel base is 158.5 in. but the frame is drilled for 133in. which will put it in long bed pickup box category or short bed with 110 in. That makes it a heavy duty pickup with single wheels at the rear. An Express model..
I bought a good sandblaster and new compressor, and ordered new brake parts, new motor mounts, new cab mount kits from Carters. When I pulled engine and transmission I found really caked on old Saudi oil on it. So I pulled pan and head and side panel, lifters. Next came pistons. The block did not require ridge reaming, and I bought a digital c-clamp for measuring all of this. Bore is standard, as is the crank , so cool. Crank and rods are in good shape, I installed new rings and pistons, the gap on mine is 1/16 in., and the manual calls for .005 to .015, I read 1/32 can be acceptable. I re-shimed rods to .002, using the method the old mechanics used in 1941 manual. After reading the manual, I am lucky to not have to do the crank.
It was interesting to find out how the babbit rods work. The misconception of dipper is that it is a dipper type system for all engine speeds. But actually the dippers only dip at very slow engine speed, as there are nozzles that direct a high pressure stream of oil to the dipper holes when engine is at higher rpm. It is a very good system, misunderstood. Even when one installs replaceable insert type rods in this engine, it is still the same dipper-nozzle type oiling. It really works good if set up properly. I installed an oil filter and detergent type oil is used.
New clutch disc, new rings and pistons, new motor mounts, master and wheel cylinder repair kits were ordered.
Cab work: I removed all the inner panels, only rust on the overhead wiper cover. Very good condition for 66 years old. I removed the dash to redo the gauges. Sorting out all the fasteners, I had to use them as samples. Not one of them was useable. One thing missing was the horn. It is a two tone type, as there is a switch on the dash with city tone or country tone. The next project was the cab and windshield. The windshield was tough, as the lower v-strap was rust-welded in the 377$us frame. I managed to salvage most of it but I had to buy new v straps and glass, repair the frame a bit, and paint over the repairs.
I pulled the dash out with all the wiring, so the cab was now totally stripped. I sand blasted the whole cab and put in sound proofing after interior painting. All the wiring and some of the switches were replaced. I was thinking, “This thing will be like brand new, almost….I know there is an end to it, somewhere down the line…It is just so much fun”. I got a new windshield for 40$us. This was the best deal I got.
New parts from Carter showed up. The crank and rods were just fine. I re-did the shims on the rods according to a 1941 manual. Did not use plastigage, they showed how to get it tight and then loosen by .002 so the rod would just slap back and forth by hand. I removed 003 from each rod bearing. I put the engine back together with new oil tube for rockers, new water pump, valve job, and gaskets.
March 13, 05, I installed the engine, started it without water, ran for about 20 seconds, sounds good…. I got a 1955 stepside bed, 78 in long, with no fenders on it, but with good metal and a tailgate. Fenders from Jim Carter’s go for $250.00 each. I can run it around without rear fenders for awhile anyway. I do plan to get to Hot August Nights in Reno this year. I had to repair the wiper motors and the covers by riveting aluminum sheet over a section of rusted out metal. I then installed new brake lines, all new rubber, brakes are ready now.
Body work is unending sanding. I got new side window, it seems like everything I touch has to be fixed in some way. I decided on sunrise red trim, fenders and running boards brown with the cab and bed Almond. Saw the older Chevy on the front of the Jim Carter’s catalog and was inspired. I installed cab with new mount. The grille had small red remnants in the horizontal lines and the front Chevrolet emblem was red. Evidently it was a decal. Using one color for the big basics unitized the beauty of the 39 design. Brown looks good in the interior.
I ran the motor for 1 hr, all was well after I adjusted the valves. This engine sounds like a new one, with no unusual noises. By this time I was almost done. I installed the interior trim from Carter’s. It looks like a new pickup. Red trim was next. Upholstery was initially a Saddle Blanket type. I installed antifreeze and new side terminal battery on April 7, 05. Now that I was nearly done, it was similar to having a kit car shipped to my garage with all the engineering done. Just put it together. I got a very sound feeling of pride, an appreciation of 10 for the people that created this truck back in 1939.
On April 19, 05. I installed the wiring for the alternator (I kept the original generator ), started it up, charged just fine. I tried to turn it off, no way. Then I remembered reading in Carter’s catalog about a diode to stop that. The alternator provides current at idle to operate the ignition, bypassing the battery. I also installed the hard yellow pine into the bed. I used polyurethane for protection. The bed only has 7 boards, making it a 1946 model, according to Carter’s, and it looks the same as earlier, down to the square nuts used. It is also a wee bit wider than 1939 models. A lot of the bed components were the same from 32 to early seventies. I installed a new glove box from Carter’s, it is made real good and fits super. Red wheels, hard yellow pine bed boards, red hold down strips, were installed and look good. Now , it was time to bleed the brakes, wire up the Chevy taillights. I think it is done. I think I will go for a ride with no license plate but and old 1934 Calif. one I found many years ago. I bet the cops will let me go……
Editors Note: Because many dates were not noted, this article has been edited slightly from the original diary format.