Back in the day, 1931 Chevrolet Deluxe Sport Coupe was 'gangsta'
When Russ Regnier first saw his 1931 Chevrolet Deluxe Sport Coupe, it "was more of a parts car than something to restore."
He found the car in Rolling Meadows in 1976 and wasn't deterred by its shoddy condition. After all, the Chicago resident had been smitten with the distinct 1930s automotive styling since he was a young boy.
"Every day of high school I would pass a parked antique car from the '30s and always liked what I referred to as 'Al Capone cars.' "
After acquiring the rough and not ready Chevy, the next several decades followed with Regnier slowly and methodically completing a total restoration. "I didn't want a hot rod but something that was reminiscent of 'back-then' days," he says.
One of the unseen attributes of this classic coupe that marks it clearly from an earlier time in automotive design became one of Russ's biggest hurdles for his build. "The entire body is framed in real wood," Regnier said. "None of the original pieces could be salvaged due to extensive rot and decay."
A new maple and oak wood kit was located and the newly straightened body panels were fastened on with "numerous tiny little nails" to the lumber frame. All of the original sheet metal was utilized, save for the rear fenders, which came from a supplier in Detroit.
After his crash course in automotive carpentry, Regnier set about overhauling the factory-bestowed 194-cubic-inch six-cylinder engine. The cylinders were cleaned, oversized pistons were installed and the valve guides and valves were hardened so the engine could run trouble-free on unleaded gasoline.
While progress was going forward on the Sport Coupe, Regnier suffered a major setback in 2003 with the passing of his wife.
"I saw the half-completed car as just something sitting in the garage and was more than ready to get rid of it," he says. However, it wasn't long after that his family stepped in. "My brothers, nephews and brothers-in-laws told me they'd come after me if I sold it. They wanted to see me complete this car."
With renewed vigor, Regnier took the primered rolling relic to Old Coach Works Restorations in Yorkville for the finishing touches. The car's Harvard Crimson paint had been long gone when Regnier bought it, but he was able to find a close match with a 1968 Fiat color. The original wheels were salvaged and wrapped with Coker whitewall tires. For added safety, the tail and brake lamps were replaced with significantly brighter LED units, making the regal tourer easier to spot during nighttime cruising. After two years of additional restoration, Regnier received his completed classic from the shop in 2006.
"Driving is just pure fun; you can hear the gears wind up and the shifting. I truly enjoy seeing the kids come up to it, baffled by such things as the mechanical brakes and updraft carburetor -- things they've never seen before."
While Regnier's ride is clearly from a driving age gone by, it does retain a feature that intrigues the youthful, and romantic, motorists from all generations.
"Something unique is the rear window, which rolls up and down. You can talk to the passengers in the rumble seat or if you're on a double date, you can pull the shade down for some much-needed privacy."
This stately 1931 Chevy has nothing to blush about and can be readily seen at area cruise nights, as Regnier relishes showing off his rolling labor of love and all its prewar engineering glory.