Shown here is the long wheel base 1938 Chevrolet Master Deluxe Sedan. This of course was one of the Chevrolets built and sold during the Great Depression and was part of the more modernized series that began in the mid 1930's. Like most 1930 Chevy's it's a great collector's car.
This automobile sold new at $877. The 1938 Chevrolet was built with an 85 HP, six cylinder engine along with a 3 speed manual transmission. Both the Master and Master Deluxe models in 1938 were powered by an overhead valve six-cylinder engine that displaced 215.6 cubic inches. The vehicle has four wheel hydraulic brakes. The vehicle seats five people and weighs 2,940 pounds.
Chevrolet had used different series names until 1934. Beginning then, models were grouped into Master and Standard lines. In 1935 the term "Deluxe" was added. The year 1935 was also the model year where more modernized styling took hold. Another advantage that Chevy had were hydraulic brakes, mentioned above, beginning in 1936. Ford Motor didn't offer these until 1939. In fact, Ford lagged Chevy in improvements throughout most of the 1930's.
The Master Deluxe Series and the Recession of 1938
Chevrolet's Master deluxe Series cars targeted middle class buyers. The country found itself back into a new recession in 1938, sometimes referred to as "Roosevelts Recession". Because of this reversal to what had been somewhat of a steady yet slow recovery process, Chevrolet sales fell that year. In fact for Chevrolet, sales plunged about 40 percent. In addition to the recession, Chevrolet had priced their Master Deluxe about 4 percent higher than the 1937 models.
The Master deluxe advertising slogan for 1938 was "The Car that is Complete". Aside from the fact that the slogan wasn't actually attention getting, the 1938 Master Deluxe was little changed from the 1937 models. The most notable difference to the buyer would have been it's newly designed grille with horizontal bars. In addition to the new grille, the Master Deluxe has a wider rear tread and larger hood louvers.
One reason cited for the few changes with the 38's was that Chevrolet had spent more than twenty million dollars retooling for the 1937 model year. After spending that kind of money on retooling it's not a surprise that Chevy decided to take it easy with new designing for 1938.
The plain unimaginative ad slogan along with the price increase mentioned above plus the weak economic climate made for a tough year. Interestingly enough, despite the rough economic climate, Chevrolet did beat Ford in sales that year. While Chevy volume was down over 40 percent, Ford was down over 50 percent and Dodge over 60 percent.
1938 production totals for the Chevrolet Master was 162,400 units and the Master Deluxe 302,700 units. Out of the master deluxe totals, some 186,000 units built were 2 door Towne Sedans. Towne Sedan pricing started at about $750 and was considered the entry vehicle of the Master Deluxe series.
The 1938 Chevrolet Master Deluxe was 180.5 inches long, 70 8 inches wide and 67.8 inches in height. The fuel tank held 14 gallons. This particular model had a log wheelbase of 112.3 inches.
See our photo article on the 1939 Master Deluxe Business Coupe.
Improvements in 1939
Chevrolet made several improvements with their 1939 model year vehicles. The goal was to keep their lead against Ford. One improvement was the "vacuum gear shift". In came with a short lever next to the steering wheel. By eliminating the floor shifter, more space was usable within the cabin. Using a vacuum cylinder, changing gears required only minimal effort. The vaccum shifting option became standard equipment in the 1940 model year and continued so to 1948.
Sales increased in 1939 over 1938 by about twenty-five percent but still didn't reach the totals seen in 1937. The 1939 models also had slightly reduced prices from 1938, most likely due to the 38 recession. The economic climate started to once again improve as 1939 progressed.
See the 1938 Chevrolet Master Deluxe
The 1938 Chevy Master Deluxe featured here is on display at the Texas Transportation Museum in San Antonio. Chevy 1938 models are also exhibited at the Antique Auto Museum at Hershey in Hershey Pennsylvania.
(Photos from author's collection)