Writer Jefferson Bryant had a chance to encounter a piece of history in Flint, where the oldest Chevrolet in the world gets ready to hit the streets. — Ed.
With the upcoming Centennial Celebration for Chevrolet, rare specimens are coming out of the wood work. During my recent visit to Detroit, I was invited to go behind the closed doors of the restoration room at the Buick Gallery, part of the Alfred P. Sloan Museum in Flint, Mich.. What was inside that room gave me chills; the oldest complete Chevrolet in the world.
Built in 1913, this Chevrolet Classic Six is powered by a 299 cubic-inch 6-cylinder engine that makes a whopping 40 hp. Also known as the Series C, the Classic Six was the first Chevrolet automobile, unveiled in 1911 and sold from 1912 to 1914. This particular model is #323, built in Flint, Michigan in 1913. This car is a driver; it has always been drivable, which is saying something about a car that is 98 years old.
First purchased out of southern Texas, the Classic 6 was driven daily until 1936, when it was bought by the Aldenhaven Family in Ft. Worth (who owned a Chevy dealership). It remained part of their collection until 1964, when it was placed up for auction. The Sloan Museum had been following the car for some time, and sent two employees to Texas with a signed check. The Chevy was twice bid up beyond the Museum's offer, but the Aldenhavens accepted the Museum's offer any way, as they knew the car would be appreciated and well kept. That makes this a three-owner car.
There are a few interesting tidbits of information about the Classic Six. The gas tank, a 20-gallon unit, is located directly under the driver seat cushion; you sit on the tank. The transmission is rear mounted; it attaches directly to the rear differential and is controlled by a series of long levers. The cone clutch mounts at the engine, and is made of leather. After sitting just a couple of months, the original leather will swell, locking it to the flywheel. This is the main problem the museum is trying to fix, as the car needs to be driven in the centennial parade. Using ratchet straps and gentle prying, they are trying to get the clutch unstuck; they don't want to disassemble anything if possible. The Classic 6 also has an electric starter, which had just been invented a few years earlier. The first car to get an electric starter was a Cadillac in 1912, which was not affiliated with Chevrolet at the time.
There is only one Classic 6 known in existence that is older than this one. It is in Canada and is a pile of rusty parts. A #93 built in the Detroit plant, the engine is not complete. The Centennial Celebration will be held in late July in Detroit, Michigan. Having stood beside this car, I can only imagine the feeling it would bring to drive it.
This story originally appeared on Red Dirt Rodz on April 24, 2011, and was republished with permission.
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