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Saving Granddad’s Dodge

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, Nov. 29, 2013, at 8:22 p.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at 12:05 a.m.

Ed Shank’s 1946 Dodge Town Sedan has traveled an interesting path during the 67 years since it rolled out of the factory, headed for delivery in a country starved for new cars following World War II.

In fact, although the car came equipped with all the controls for a heater, it was delivered without a heater because copper was so scarce at the time, Shank explained. The car had been fitted with an aftermarket heater by the time Shank’s grandfather, Henry Shank of New Cambria, bought it used in 1951, the year of extensive flooding in Kansas.

“The flood had ruined his 1942 Dodge and he was haggling with the insurance company about replacing it,” Ed Shank said. “He wound up getting this car at a Salina dealership.”

The big black Dodge served his grandparents well.

“There was just him and my grandma and he got too old to drive it,” Shank said. The car was parked in their garage and left to deteriorate.

“There were mice in the headliner and all that. All the fenders were scarred up. Grandpa was a horrible driver when he got older,” Shank said.

Some time after his grandfather died in 1966, Shank’s grandmother was approached by a man who wanted to buy the car. He offered her $5 for it.

“She asked if my dad and I wanted the car because if we didn’t, she was going to sell it to him for $5,” Shank said. The father and son wasted no time picking up the Dodge and hauling it to Wichita.

Shank drove it as his work car for several years.

“I overhauled the engine myself. It really didn’t need much … just rings and rod bearings and I ground the valves,” he recalled. “I talked to several people who had these old Dodges and they all said these were very dependable old cars.”

The engine is the original 230 cubic inch flathead 6-cylinder, which produces 102 reliable horsepower. The transmission is one of Dodge’s “Fluid Drive” units, which combines a fluid coupling bolted to the flywheel, which is then mated to a more conventional dry clutch and 3-speed manual transmission.

Shank explained that once you use the clutch to get the car moving, you can drive it like a modern automatic from that point on. When you stop at a traffic light, you hold the brake pedal down and then merely step down on the accelerator to pull away, no gear-shifting required.

Like many American automobiles, the 1946 Dodges were just pre-war 1942 models given a quick makeover, often involving nothing more than new grilles and trim.

What Shank didn’t realize at first was that his Town Sedan would be a more difficult car to find parts for because it was significantly different from the Dodge Four Door Sedan of the same year.

Chrysler and DeSoto used the same basic body shell, but the Dodge was the only one of the three to have a center-hinged folding hood.

The standard Dodge Four Door Sedan, interestingly, still had the old style “suicide doors” in back, while the Town Sedan came with all doors opening from the rear to the front, like modern cars. The Town Sedan also has one less rear side window, making for a smoother-flowing roofline.

Shank said his research indicates Dodge built less than 30,000 Town Sedans from 1946-48, while it cranked out over 400,000 of the regular Four Door Sedans in the same time frame.

That meant that the battered chrome trim down the sides of Shank’s Town Sedan was almost impossible to find when he began restoring his car.

“For some reason, they have all disappeared. I’ve seen one running car in all these years and two others and they were both in salvage yards,” he said.

When he found one with the correct trim in a salvage yard in Rocky Ford, Colo., he bought the chrome fittings on the spot and hauled them home.

“The guy very reluctantly sold it to me,” he said.

The car was also in need of hubcaps, so when Shank noticed a set of new, old stock hubcaps for sale in a Hemmings Motor News advertisement, he immediately called the seller, expecting to pay well over $400 for the set. He couldn’t believe his luck when he sealed the deal for less than $150.

He also was able to replace grandpa’s time-worn steering wheel with a like-new version, authentic right down to the sculptured finger grips in the top edge of the rim.

Shank had the car repainted at the now-defunct Jackson Brothers Body Shop in downtown Wichita after the dents and dings were smoothed out. The car was sprayed in the correct black lacquer.

Inside, the Dodge remains nearly factory perfect.

“Most people back then, the first thing they did was put a set of seat covers on a new car to protect the seats,” Shank said. He believes the upholstery under the seat covers currently on the car is in pristine condition.

Front and rear bench seats each offer comfortable seating for three full-sized adults — unless the long center armrest is folded down in the back.

The dashboard consists of an impressive array of controls and gauges incorporated into an art deco layout set into stylish metal panels. Rectangular gauges, a round 100 mph speedometer and a vertical pushbutton radio are all set off by the faux “wood-grained” painted dash.

Shank and his wife, Lucy, enjoy getting out grandpa’s Dodge for the occasional parade, car show or cruise-in.

“It bothers me that you don’t see old, original cars anymore. They surely haven’t all been chopped up and hot-rodded,” Shank said.

When a friend suggested he put a rack-and-pinion steering unit in the Dodge to improve its road-handling, Shank’s response was right to the point: Are you kidding?

He loves the way the Dodge Town Sedan handles and drives and he’s not going to do a thing to change that.

“I can’t see myself ever parting with it,” he says.

Reach Mike Berry at mberry@wichitaeagle.com.

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