Wednesday, February 18, 2015

62 year old Gowanus cheapskate

America in the post-WWII era was at the height of optimism. Every country in the world looked on in awe of the productivity, technical prowess, and seeming wealth of each of its citizens. However, even in the midst of such unprecedented good fortune some people just needed basic transportation. I present to you the following example:
What we have here is in many ways rarer than the much more popular '57 Chevy. This is a 1953 Chevrolet 150 4 door sedan. The 150 was the bottom of the barrel price wise, and just about as frugal as a domestic car could get. The only car more single-minded in its thrift was the Studebaker Scotsman which sported cardboard door panels, rubber mat flooring, and painted bumpers instead of chrome to go with its racist name ("frugal as a Scot" was the slogan!).
At least Chevy offered the dignity of shiny chrome bumpers and at least a little bit of trim on their lowest priced ride. The dimensions of the '53s are very balanced, with a hood only slightly longer than the trunk and plenty of passenger room in both the front and back.
The easiest way to identify the vintage of '50s Chevys is the grill which changed every year of the decade. Some of my favorite tidbits of this overall design are on display here; the body line crease that starts on the headlight surround is a nice touch, as are the bullet turn signals and fat chrome grill bars. 1954 would see the addition of 2 more of those bars for 5 total.
Those 4 holes in the middle of the rear door represent a missing piece of trim; there was originally a gravel/chip guard that protected the lower half of the rear fender bulge. It was really the only trim on the side of the 150 (besides the gas door spill guard), whereas the midrange 250 and top of the line Bel Air would've had a body length chrome spear. Unfortunately all it took was this 1 piece of trim for water and salt to collect, rotting out the rocker panel.
From this angle we can see that the roof is painted flat black while the body is mostly glossy. It seems this is midway through a restoration. Overall it looks pretty damn good for 62 years old!
That single exhaust pipe is connected to the 235 Thrift King inline 6 cylinder engine, which in 1953 was only available with a 3-on-the-tree manual transmission. In the following years you could order a number of different power trains but in this, the inaugural year for the 150, you got what you got.
From the back there is no way to differentiate between the trim levels.
This rear light housing was shared on all trim levels in '53. The top light is strictly a running lamp while the middle is the turn signal and brake light combo. The bottom lens would be a reverse light which was still an option and not standard equipment. My guess is that the lens contains nothing as someone opting for the 150 line is going for cheap.
It's a bit faint in this pic but you can just see the roof gutter line where it curves up and over the door openings from behind the rear door windows. The blank triangle of space between the rear door and the gutter would've been filled with a decorative chrome piece in the nicer models.
This interior is as plain as Chevy could make it for '53! Every other GM car had a chrome horn ring but the lowly 150 gets a horn button in the center of the steering wheel. That gauge cluster contains the speedometer, turn signal indicator light, and fuel gauge only. The circle to the right of the speedometer is where the clock would be if it was ordered, but what is there is just the blank. The expanse of chrome in the center of the dash would contain the speaker for the optional radio if they went for the extra cost. The radio was a tall tube model that had the speaker built in to the top.
If you haven't seen one before this is what a three-on-the-tree gearshift looks like. They are a bit strange to drive at first but easy enough to get the hang of. That little handle sticking out from under the dash where the reflective glare is is the parking brake. The lighter and even the ashtray were options!
This is the hubcap you get for being a cheapskate. This is also the hubcap you get on fleet cars which represented the lions share of 150 sales. Police cars, taxicabs, and companies that had dozens of workers or inspectors on the roads would order the 150 in quantity. Cops of this era spoke about brand new cruisers that came without even a heater being installed (which was actually an option too!).
Who needs a heater when you have good old 1950s optimism? Here's a stylized jet hood ornament for your troubles.
All it takes is the omission of a headlight surround to make this thing look like a wide-eyed dolt with braces wandering the streets.
The Chevys of '53 were all 6 volt cars which made for dim headlights. For this reason the lenses on the turn signals have magnifying facets like miniature lighthouses for better visibility.
We'll leave this hearty little stalwart shown here on a warmer day in Gowanus. Due to the lighter overall weight of a car so sparse that it was built without carpet or sound deadening material these were the choice for hot rodders looking to go fast while looking plain-Jane (this is even more true of the 2 door models). The fact that they were incredibly spartan, and were delivered mostly as cop cars and taxis to be chewed up and spat out, they are very rare today. I was pretty excited to see one parked in Brooklyn, as you might see 20 Bel Airs before seeing a single 150. If you wanted a classic that gets decent mileage, has available parts, and is a good conversation piece this is an excellent choice. Try finding one though!

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