Q: Greg I am an “old geezer” age 87 years old with lots of memories. I’d like to find out something I’ve been trying to find an answer to for many years. It has to do with convertibles, as I’ve seen them in the early 1930s and early 1940s. I’ve even seen them in 1937 and 1938. But I’ve never seen or heard of a convertible in 1939. What do you know about this? Did they (the U.S. car companies) make a convertible in 1939?
I also used to race at Moc-A-Tek Speedway dirt track between Scranton and Hawley, Pa. in the early 1960s. I enjoyed many good years back then in my 1936 Hudson Coupe with a de-stroked Hudson Hornet six-cylinder engine in it that measured 308 cubic inches. We had two years where we were the high point trophy champions and it was number 45 on the side. They kept tearing us down after the races we won, but we were always found legal and we got to keep the tear down money posted by the competitors who challenged us. We drove them crazy!
My daughter lives in Owego, New York, and she saves your articles for me and I really enjoy them. In one of your stories, you mention a Pontiac V8 in 1955. Did you know that Pontiac made a V8 in 1932?
I’d love to talk to you in person one day and maybe we could swap a few stories. John “Butch” Wittenbrader, Jefferson Township, Pa.
A: John thanks so much for your hand written letter. I sure do appreciate all your nice comments and am happy you enjoy my columns.
Let’s start with that convertible you seek to find from the year 1939. According to my records, there were several manufacturers here in the USA that built convertibles. Ford built the most, as it assembled 14,000 Deluxe models that year out of a total of near 300,000 Fords built. However, that’s less than a 5-percent convertible to coupe/sedan ratio!
Buick, meanwhile, only built 5,600 convertibles in 1939 from a total run of near 208,000 units. That’s just 2.7-percent of the total and many were “special order only.” Other manufacturers produced less than 500, which is probably why you haven’t seen a 1939 convertible at any of the recent car shows or, for that matter, in your 87 years. Of note is that Hudson did indeed have a convertible in 1939, both in Deluxe and Country Club models. However, both are very rare and production numbers are unavailable. Olds, Packard, Plymouth, LaSalle, Lincoln and even Mercury in its initial year had convertibles, but also in limited numbers.
As for your speedway accomplishments, congratulations on a fine career and your many wins. Regardless of when you raced, winning two championships in that 1936 Hudson is worth a nice “pat on the back.” Being that you ran dirt at Moc-A-Tek Speedway, you already know as well as I do that it takes a special breed to win on dirt. Additionally, and being I started going to the races back in 1958, I remember well those great years and what it took to win consistently. That de-stroked Hudson Hornet engine, similar to those that dominated NASCAR in the early 1950 decade, ala those Fabulous Hudson Hornet entries, were tough to beat even though they were six-cylinder engines running against V8 competition. As for the tear down competitor “challenges your legality” monies you got to keep, that’s great.
Finally, I did know that Pontiac had a V8 in 1932, a unique “sideway compression” flathead type model designed by Oakland, the latter car company purchased by GM in 1909 and then eliminated in favor of Pontiac. It measured 251 cubic inches and produced 85 horsepower. Pontiac discontinued the Oakland V8 in 1933, and went with an inline Straight 8, which it used through 1954. Then as you note, the new Pontiac overhead valve V8 appeared in 1955 as a 287-incher putting out from 173 to 200 horses.
Again, I want to thank you for your letter and I’m glad I was able to clear up that 1939 convertible question you had on your mind for many years. When I get a chance, I’ll look you up and we’ll have a cup of coffee together.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist who welcomes reader input and questions on old cars, auto nostalgia or old-time racing at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, Pa. 18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org)