Sunday, December 30, 2012

James Dean's 1955 Delray Club Coupe

Many of you know that I like to spend a few hours each week trolling the Jalopy Journal website. Its a traditional hot rodder's forum that appeals to those who cut their teeth on flathead Fords and Chrysler Hemi-powered Model A coupes back in the 1950's and 60's. While chopping up a pre-1965 car isn't my cup of tea, the appreciation for the way the car hobby USED to be certainly is. Fuel Injection is shunned. Carburetors are praised. Fuel economy, safety and comfort don't exist. Its a cleansing reminder of the original quest for speed and power in the pre-EPA era. I dig it. With thousands of years of automotive knowledge available at the touch of a button, the Hokey Ass Message Board section is by far one of the most powerful tools in a gearhead's arsenal.

The HAMB website also has a really great appreciation of automotive art, vintage photography, and Hollywood culture. So imagine my suprise when I came across several pictures of James Dean behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet Delray Club Coupe in their nearly 3000 page-long "Vintage Shots From Days Gone By" post. Apparently, besides driving his race-prepared Porsche 550 Spyders and sleek Mercury coupes, James Dean enjoyed a stripped-down six cylinder Chevrolet now and then.

All photos courtesy of the HAMB, Richard Miller, photographer.

The first photo is great because, well, he's smoking. He's also wearing shades. And he's reloading a cooler full of beverages somewhere in the middle of West Texas. You can tell a lot from this photo. Here's a couple of breakdowns:

The Film Geek Analysis: In 1955 Dean would have been filming exterior shots for the George Stevens epic Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Exterior scenes were mostly filmed near Marfa, Texas, way out on the western edge of the state. I can't say this for certain, but I assume that while filming on location, Dean probably either rented or bought the Chevy and kept his leadfoot & Porsche at home because he was actually prohibited from auto and motorcycle racing under the terms of his contract with Warner Brothers! It seems they were worried that his risky pastime could cause a deadly accident, and they wanted to protect their investment in the young star. So its only fitting that he skipped the "Turbo Fire V8" option and stuck with the six. After all, once filming wrapped, he could go home and hop back into his Porsche and blow out the carbon, right?

The Car Geek Analysis: Dean's Chevy is a 1955 Delray Club Coupe. It appears the car was painted in Onyx Black with an India Ivory top. His car is also missing the V8 emblems under the tail lights, so that means it sported the standard 235 cubic inch "Blue Flame Six" of that year. We can also tell that someone backed the car into something hard, as evidenced by the collapsed exhaust pipe. Oops.

Here's Dean taking a little siesta in the front seat. The same front seat where he would later sign autographs for his adoring female fans. I think the woman in the windshield is sticking her tongue out at the photographer though. Classy. 

Check out that pleated waffle pattern on the vinyl interior! That's standard equipment, baby. Kinda looks like a 50's custom "tuck and roll" job you see at car shows today. The Delray coupes actually looked good for a cheaper car. Not as upscale as a Bel Air Sport Coupe, but nice. From 1954 to 1958 they were produced and geared towards thrifty buyers, fleet purchasers, and customizers that wanted a cheap two-door with a little more style than your basic 150 or Biscayne model.

The 1955 Chevy Delray Club Coupe

The last two images were taken while driving down the highway and running in third gear. I can't tell if there's an overdrive unit on the car, but it could definitely use one out there on the West Texas highways. Another interesting note is that the original stamped aluminum dash trim is missing* and the 'cove' area has been painted the same white as the two-tone exterior. Dean did enjoy a custom touch or two on his cars and bikes.

 *Reader Jonathan Peters informed me that the Chevrolet 150 and 210 models did not actually have the stamped dash trim that Bel Air cars did, so this car is 100% stock. Thank you for the info, Jonathan. 

This last photo suggests that he's really not digging the ride, or he's deep in thought. Should have opted for the 265 V8, Jimmy. You would have been there much quicker. At least the cigarette lighter worked.

And those are the pictures of the mysterious James Dean Delray Coupe. Tragically, we all know what happened to the legendary actor from Fairmount, Indiana. Filming wrapped on Giant, and he went back to California and returned to racing and living the life of a Hollywood star. In September of that year, he met his fate behind the wheel of his beloved Porsche 550 Spyder that friend and stunt driver Bill Hickman had nicknamed "Little Bastard". A car that fellow actor Alec Guinness called "sinister" and predicted would claim the life of Dean. I can only imagine how different his life and career would have been if he stuck to stripped down six-cylinder Chevrolets. 


Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Wrap Up / Winter Warm Up

Hope everyone had a good Christmas this year (if you celebrate it), and got a few days off of work. It was a great holiday in our families and we only wish we had more time to spend, but such is life. Oscar got a cool gift from Santa: A Super Deluxe Accessory Heater Defroster! Its the nicest model of heater that they made and was more expensive than the underseat heater. It cost a whopping $36 back in 1947. The unit has one of the biggest heater cores I've ever seen for a passenger car model, too.

Its in good shape and will likely only need a little paint and some TLC and then its ready to be installed. I'm very grateful that Dad & Mom found it and it will go to a good home! Thanks you guys. Car parts for Christmas is always great :)

-In Other News-

Its only December 28th, but the winter doldrums have officially set in. So on my day off, I decided to start Oscar up for the first time since before Thanksgiving. I realized I forgot to even take the battery out nor did I fill up the gas tank before winter. I did check the coolant though, and air up the tires. At any rate, here's a little video I made this morning of me sniffing exhaust fumes and pining away for the warmer months of motoring still ahead.

Hope you all are able to get some R & R before the new year and from Sarah, Mabel, and I, we wish you the best in 2013! 


Saturday, December 22, 2012


Growing up in the far north Chicago suburbs, we all got used to the village sticker being a required part of the annual cost of owning a car. It usually cost $20 or $30 a year and owners had to have one for every vehicle in the household. It added up pretty quick if you had a couple of cars. You needed one to park on the street, or needed one to park outside in your driveway. You needed one, or Johnny Law would issue you a ticket. Heck, Johnny Law might have issued a ticket if you didn't have the current village sticker affixed to your windshield on the first of July minutes after you went to the village hall to buy the new sticker. Ask my Dad about that one...

The refreshing part about the village or city sticker is that it usually got scraped off with a razor and replaced every year with a new one. That meant a unique design, a new color, or something subtly different to spice things up for the next 12 months it clung to your windshield, right?  Of course it helped to clean the pieces of last year's sticker completely off otherwise the new one would bubble & the corners would lift. They also blocked your view. Come to think of it...those damn stickers were a pain!

But what I dig now is a vintage car or truck with a village or city sticker that remains intact to remind us what the designs and hopes of yesterday were. A quick glance at a preserved sticker can hint at a city's vision, and style of a particular era. Here's a few that caught my eye from recent car show travels.

What about you guys & gals? Got an old village or city sticker that you never scraped off of your old ride? Share it at


Sunday, December 16, 2012

2013 Great Race To Pass Through Peoria

Just as winter began to set in and the weather took a turn for the worse, I picked up my latest copy of Hemmings Classic Car magazine and read something that melted away my seasonal depression: The 2013 Hemmings Great Race course route is a trip down the Mississippi River beginning with the Minnesota Street Rod Association's  famed "Back to the 50's" show and includes a detour and lunch stop in Peoria! Yes, Peoria is (sort of) getting a national collector car event. After that, the route passes through Hannibal, Missouri, and Arkansas before snaking through Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and finishing in Mobile, Alabama. Check it out...


For those who are wondering what the "Great Race" is, its a roughly 2000 mile annual road race that is open to vintage cars from 1969 and earlier. The challenge is that the race follows a predetermined route and checkpoints in an effort to rank cars by how precisely they follow the course WITHOUT using GPS, phones, computers, or your odometer. (The organizers cover yours with tape.). Its just you, your navigator, a course map and a well-oiled machine. Think of it as a throwback to the way things used to be. A person had to know how to drive, know their far to push both man and machine. Handicap points are given to older machines that can't drive as fast but its a pretty level playing field overall. The 2011 winner was a 100 year-old Moline, Illinois-built 1911 Velie racer if that tells you anything. The route is usually a scenic one that takes participants through some gorgeous countryside and hotels, banquets, parties and meals are included in the entry fee. Lastly, the race planners throw in a nice $150,000 purse to the winners, which makes it pretty appealing. Sounds like a good time, eh?


It looks like the 2013 Great Race promises to be a major collector car event and I'm psyched that Peoria is on the map! If only Dad, Gordon or I had the $4500 entry fee or some sponsors, I'm sure we would sign up Oscar and participate. He's a reliable old brute with many of his mechanicals in tip-top shape! Of course there was that one time where the transmission shift arm popped off on Knoxville Avenue during afternoon traffic. And then there was the time his carburetor got clogged with dirt in Metamora on Easter Sunday and we barely made it home. Those problems were solved, but he is a 65 years old car. Perhaps spectating is the smarter choice. These Great Race folks usually have bigger bankrolls than we do and can plan for the unexpected.

Heck, they'll be in the Quad Cities for an overnight where I'm sure people can stop by and view all the entrants and watch them do some quick repairs and prepare for the next day. Sometimes they even have evening cruise-in type deals where the racers display their cars while relaxing after the day's grueling drive. Once I learn where they plan on running through Peoria, I hope to setup a camera and a lawn chair so I can see some of these rare birds in action. Priceless Aston Martins, Bugattis, Auburn Speedsters have all been part of this race in previous addition to the clean old standard production Chevrolet, Ford, and Chryslers of the past.

Well, running the Fleetline this coming year is appealing but I can't imagine dealing with something like a bias ply blowout in the middle of the Mississippi backwoods. I also wouldn't want to picture Dad or Gordon or I sweating on rattan seat covers in a black car with no A/C in the southern summer heat for a week. Yes, I think spectating is the way to go this time.

Unless you all want to sponsor us...