The cars that Chevrolet produced in the late 1930s and late 1940s were some of the most beautiful of the era. Just like other manufactures, Chevrolet was involved in war production between 1942 and 1945. Since those cars are very uncommon, I won't include them in this list. Before 1937 Chevrolet used wood frames in the construction of their car bodies. As a result, not many early examples have survived. I'm going to focus on the cars you would be most likely to encounter in the "wild". As usual I'll stick to the easily noticeable things and skip the minor details.
1937 & 1938
Above: (left) a black 1937 Coupe (center) a blue 1937 Coupe (right) a bronze 1938 Coupe
1937 would introduce the all steel bodied Chevy car. I've not been able to find an easy way to tell these two years apart. Other than some '38 models will have turn signals placed on the tops of the fenders, but I'm fairly certain those were aftermarket add ons, not something that Chevy did from the factory. The easiest way to identify a '37/'38 Chevy is to notice the emblem at the top of the grille. It is a stylized version of the Chevy bowtie we all know today. That tells you that you've got a Chevy. The next thing is to look at the side of the car. Notice the ridge that runs above the top of the front fender. It travels through the cowl and ends just passed the middle of the door. This is a sign you are dealing with a '37/'38.
Above: (left) a blue 1939 Coupe (right) a black 1939 Coupe
The 1939 model year is a very easy to identify. The grille turns down at the rear on the top. They also include a pair of small grilles on either side of the center grille at the bottom. Depending on trim level the small grilles can either be painted or chromed. If they are painted the same color of the car it will take a good close look to recognize them.
Above: (left) a black 1940 Coupe (left) a sales brochure for the 1940 Chevy line up.
The all new 1940 Chevy had a unmistakeable grille. The curving lines and horizontal grille bars were definitely something new. Chevy thought so much of it they put the grille on the cover of their sales brochure for 1940!
Above: (left) a black 1941 Coupe (right) a rusty, dusty survivor 1941 Coupe
Not too much changed in 1941 for the Chevy lineup. The most noticeable difference on the '41 is the addition of parking lights/turn signals just below the headlights. Other than the thicker chrome trim around the edges of the 1941 grille the two years would be pretty much the same. This would be the last year designs from Detroit would not be compromised by WW2. Chevy made very few cars during the war years and as a result we won't go into them here. The differences mainly had to do with the materials used in producing stainless steel trim and chrome. For the most part war cars would look much like the '41 models.
Above: (left) a black 1946 Coupe (center) a maroon 1946 Fleetline Areosedan (right) a much more common two toned 1946 two door sedan.
Once the war was over Chevy cranked up their car making endeavors again. The 1946 grille is a easily recognizable one with a curved top border bar and parking lights / turn signals now incorporated in the grille work. While the body of the car was similar, styling wise to pre war cars, it was quite a bit larger. This is most noticeable in the door area. Chevy would introduce a new design to their 2 door sedans. As an option the Fleetline Aerosedan was introduced in '46 and would be made until the '48 model year. This might just be the first example of a "fastback" car.
1947 & 1948
Above: (left) a black 1947 Coupe (right) a heavily optioned, two toned 1948 Coupe
The curved upper grille bar would disappear in 1947. The parking lights / turn signals would remain in their same location. In truth, there isn't much difference between the '47/'48 model years. What Chevy and all other American car manufactures did in 1948 was add accessories to their cars. Just imagine all of the different things you can currently get for a Jeep applied to a car. Extra pieces of stainless trim, fog lights and hundreds of different interior accessories became available for the 1948 model cars. Those accessories were encouraged by all automakers at the time. Why? With the exception of Cadillac, the big three would be releasing their all new lineup of cars in 1949. Auto makers had to do something to sell a few cars in 1948 so they added accessories.
1948 Chevy Sedan Delivery. Photo Courtesy of: Hendrick Motorsports.
Different Body Styles:
I've used the Coupe body here to give some structure for our examples. Chevrolet produced multiple different variations during these years. The most common body types made were the Coupes, Business Coupes, Two-door Sedans, Two-door Sedan Convertible, Fleetline Aerosedans and Four Door Sedans. In addition to those body types they also made Sedan Deliveries (in a number of different wheel bases) and Utes. In the U.S. Sedan Deliveries are not that uncommon, but certainly are a rare sight. I have never seen a Chevy Ute before. While looking for pictures I did come across a few of them, so they exist.
Please keep in mind, while you are out spotting, I am mentioning the differences in cars sold in the U.S. market. If you will excuse me, I hear the open road calling. Keep on Cruisin'!
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