1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster: Great woody wagon

Staff reports
Farm Forum

In the summer of 1996, Steve Comstock’s wife decided her husband needed a toy for his 50th birthday the following spring, and that it should be a wood-sided wagon. She wasn’t particular about the make, but she was definite about the year. It had to be a 1947 model.

A nationwide search was begun. Although she corresponded with station wagon owners far and wide, each inquiry proved fruitless. After several months, the tireless wife struck gold — less than 20 miles from home. It was there she found a freshly restored 1947 maroon Chevrolet Fleetmaster station wagon with white ash framing interspersed with dark mahogany panels.

Mrs. Comstock learned the original owner was a businessman who drove the Chevy until 1956 and then parked the wagon in his warehouse. The Chevrolet remained in the warehouse for 40 years until the owner’s death. A restorer purchased the old Chevrolet from the estate. He had just completed the restoration when Comstock’s wife came calling several months before her husband’s birthday.

She knew this was the perfect gift for her husband. The owner of the Chevy Fleetmaster agreed to hold it until May 18, 1997. Then he would deliver it to the Comstocks’ home and park it at an appointed hour on the front lawn, while the birthday party was going on under a garden tent in the backyard.

In attendance were dozens of guests, including family and friends from throughout the country. The unaware Comstock thought the party was going to be his big present. A few of the guests were privy to the plot, but no loose lips sank any ship that day. After the car was delivered, Comstock’s wife lead the parade of guests around to the front where she presented her husband with the keys to the 1947 Chevrolet saying, “These are for you.” He was surprised, grateful and speechless.

Steve Comstock also had never before driven a 1947 Chevrolet. After a quick course on where the throttle and choke levers were located, and, most importantly, how to heel-and-toe the starter, he spent the rest of the day giving the guests rides in his birthday car.

“It runs like a clock,” he reports. That it should, since all the running gear was overhauled during restoration. When the dashboard with the 100-mph speedometer was removed for regraining, the odometer was zeroed. The L-head, 216.5-cubic-inch, six-cylinder, 90-horsepower engine had just been renewed.

Comstock learned that his 3,465-pound wagon sold new with a base price of $1,893, the most expensive and the heaviest of the 1947 Chevrolet passenger cars. The four-door wooden body was produced in Cantrell, N.Y. Only 4,912 Chevrolet wagons were built in 1947, all classified as eight-passenger vehicles — three in the front seat, three in the rear seat and two in the shortened middle seat.

“It will run 50 mph,” he says, “but it feels best at 45 mph.” He exercises his Chevy on a favorite back-road route through horse country. The route is on roads first paved about a half-century ago, when his Chevrolet was new. “The car belongs here,” Comstock exclaims.

While he is driving at the leisurely pace his 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster station wagon was intended to be driven, Comstock thinks back to his 50th birthday and the present from his wife. “She got it exactly right,” he said.

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