(This article originally appeared in Hemmings Classic Car #120, September 2014)
Looking Deep Into the 1947 Chevrolet
American citizens were eager to buy new cars when the United States emerged from World War II. Auto manufacturers were just as eager to sell but, due to the war effort, they could offer little more than 1942 models with some minor improvements in trim and styling features. Mechanically, the 1946-1948 Chevrolets were identical to 1942 models, relying on the same 90hp/216 cubic inch engine and 116-inch wheel base chassis that served the automaker before the war.
Fast forward to today and note that if you are doing an authentic restoration on a 1947 Chevrolet, you won’t want to use period sales literature as your source for learning about original colors on chassis components. Why? Well that’s because Chevrolet used a color-coding system in their literature for suspension, engine, braking, fuel and exhaust systems. The color-coding graphically illustrated the components of each system. Users then just needed to read some highlights and specifications and be fully aware how each system functioned and the value, comfort and convenience it provided the driver and passengers. The literature essentially resold 1942 models but it found a unique way to make old features come to life and seem exciting to a population ready to buy new cars.
For example, a 9 1/8” X 8 ¼” sales folder pointed out that “the quiet, easy-shifting Synchro-mesh transmission has helical gears in all speeds” and “rear springs are enclosed in metal covers, which retain the lubricant and keep out dust and grit” and also instruct a buyer to “note the simplicity and sturdiness of Chevrolet’s unitized Knee-Action [front suspension]” These weren’t new features but they sure sounded sexy to eager buyers! Meanwhile the colored parts made it quite obvious which system the parts belonged to.
The most unique piece of 1947 Chevrolet sales literature comes in the form of a 9” X 12” spiral-bound catalog that had illustrations on clear plastic pages. When the reader first opens the cover they see the ’47 Chevy exterior. As the pages are turned, layers of the car are revealed and that catalog’s color-coded system takes over. For example, as the exterior door skins are removed we see the inside of the body. It is colored green (fitting into the “Durability” color code) and a corresponding caption emphasizes the use of heavy gauge inner and outer steel panels and how it protects the inside upholstery from the elements. Another page exposes the Chevy’s torque tube drive and hypoid axle design. These features fall under the “Performance” category. In total there are 54 features and components highlighted in the catalog.
Interestingly, the color code categories were not the same between the two pieces of literature. While the traditional catalog focused on specific categories like braking, fuel and exhaust systems, the spiral-bound catalog categories were more generic and discussed durability, comfort, safety, economy, and performance. Perhaps the spiral-bound catalog was used more heavily by salesmen in the showroom where visitors are more likely to be emotional and impulsive whereas at home (where the traditional catalog was likely more common) prospective buys were comparing hard facts and statistics between various manufacturers.
It is likely that automakers could have produced no sales literature in the first few years after World War II and still sold plenty of cars. Since they couldn’t offer a restyled car in 1947 marketers found a unique way to make old features appealing. Chevrolet production hit 695,986 in 1947 and by 1949 production would exceed 1-million units for only the second time in company history and the first time since 1927.