The primary objective of the University of Texas student branch of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is to enhance engineering education by requiring students to apply what they have learned in their courses to real-world, hands-on engineering design projects. In addition to the Formula SAE racecar engineering project and the Challenge X projects, we have our 1937 Chevy projects. The UT SAE’s 1937 Chevy team was formed in 1987 and currently involves two 1937 Chevrolet Master 4-door sedans. The “Master” was the second tier Chevy in the 1930s; the top-of-the-line Master Deluxe was the first Chevy to have an independent front suspension system, which was introduced in 1937.
The first of our 1937 Chevys was acquired in 1987 when our Faculty Advisor, Prof. Ron Matthews, was driving up north Lamar and saw an unfinished but nearly complete street rod '37 Chevy coupe sitting in the lot of a small business. Dr. Matthews pulled in and asked about the car. He was unable to make a deal for that car, but the owner had another '37 Chevy on his ranch that he was willing to trade for a spare turbocharged Buick V6 engine that we had. It was then that our hot rod '37 began being customized to attend future hot rod events and school functions. The ’37 team spent a lot of effort over the next several years doing body work, but somebody (we think our local frat house) dumped our ’37 in Waller Creek one night. The team began doing body work again, but there were now cosmetic problems that were beyond the skill set of students. The project fell into a non-productive state for a few years when obtaining parts and getting the body work done seemed insurmountable. More on our hot rod ’37 Chevy follows, after our second 1937 Chevy project is introduced.
Our second '37 is a restoration, rather than a hot rod. It was donated to UT SAE by Mr. Frank Blankenbeckler of Carlisle Chevrolet in Waxahachie, Texas. When former UT SAE '37 Chevy Team Captain John Ramsey went home for Christmas vacation in 1996, he decided to stop by Carlisle Chevrolet to see if he could get a look at a Camaro with an LT-1 installed to get some ideas about how to install one in our 1937 Chevy street rod (details in the following paragraph). Although they didn't have a Camaro with an LT1 on the lot, they did have a stone stock 1937 Chevy Master 4-door sedan, just like our 1937 Chevy hot rod. John struck up a conversation with the owner of Carlisle Chevrolet, Mr. Frank Blankenbeckler. He found out that Mr. Blankenbeckler was a graduate of UT and so were all of his children. When John asked Mr. Blankenbeckler if he would donate his 1937 Chevy to UT, he said that he would be happy to. It had been previously restored by Mr. Blankenbeckler, and it was in remarkable condition, but had been sitting so long that it required a bit of work to get running again. The ’37 resto team got serious about getting it running in early 2000 when Matt Simister volunteered to head up the ’37 resto effort (while John Ramsey ran the ’37 hot rod effort), with help from Aaron Riley and John Langsdorf. After much effort and $1200 in new parts, the ’37 resto was running again in the Spring of 2001. Because the bias-belted tires had suffered the slings and arrows of ozone exposure over the years, Prof. Matthews spoke with John Taube, an engineer for Goodyear, who donated a set of original-style tires for the restoration. John Langsdorf assumed the reins as ’37 Chevy Team Captain for 2001-02. He and his team devoted most of their time and effort to sorting out wiring problems that had cropped up on the 1937 resto. This was so successful that the Mechanical Engineering Department used chauffer-driven (by John Langsdorf) rides in the restored ’37 Chevy as prizes at an ME party at Eastwoods Park for the faculty, staff, and students. Due to the limited space available in the “SAE garage”, this car was parked outside for a few years, resulting in the usual problems. However, as of Spring 2006, the restored 1937 Chevy was still running and 95% complete; the fuel gauge and coolant temperature gauge didn't work, but these were all it lacked to become fully functional. Unfortunately, when Prof. Matthews’ daughter, Margaret, and Dennis Kinney (who became ’37 Chevy Team Captain for 2006-07) were driving it to show it at the Kids & Cars car show (to benefit the Austin Children’s Hospital) in June, 2006, the clutch started having problems and we soon discovered a bad bearing in the differential, too. Austin Drivetrain rebuilt the differential for us, donating the labor after we purchased the parts. While we had the rear end out, we removed the gasoline tank and Muffler King (south Austin) boiled it out for us gratis. In late Fall 2006, Mark Phillips, an electronics technician for the Texas Materials Institute, fixed a problem with the voltage regulator that had been killing the battery. We also decided to rebuild the engine and the transmission, since we had to remove both to replace the clutch and pressure plate. Kanter Automotive donated the clutch plate and pressure plate. Austin Drivetrain also repaired the transmission gratis, replacing the worn parts with tranny parts donated by Obsolete Chevy Parts courtesy of owner Tim Tygart. While the differential, tranny, and engine were being worked on, the ’37 Chevy team went through the brakes and replaced shoes, drums, slave cylinders, and so on, using parts purchased from Kanter. Although the ’37 Chevy team was going to rebuild the engine in the ’37 resto, Dennis Kinney talked to Mr. David Black, owner of Travis Engine Center, who said that these old engines are a bit tricky to rebuild because the innumerable improvements in engine design and manufacturing mean that none of the current college students have ever had to repair an engine that is similar to this one. However, Mr. Black offered to have his company rebuild the engine for us gratis. To aid us in this rebuild, Egge Machine donated a carb rebuild kit and Kanter Automotive donated a new OEM-style fuel pump. Once the ’37 resto is back together and running again, Colvin Automotive will install a new headliner gratis and Steele Rubber will donate all of the seals required so that we can replace the few pieces of window glass that are in bad shape plus any other seals that no longer keep out the rain. Our only remaining task for the ’37 resto will be a fresh coat of paint.
The UT hot rod team became reinvigorated at the beginning of the Fall semester of 1995 when John Ramsey joined the team and immediately became Team Captain. John stayed on as ’37 Chevy Team Captain throughout his pursuit of his BSME and also while acquiring his MSME, handing off the reins in 2001. When John and his team mates began working on the Chevy in 1995, the 1937 street rod was basically a shell (to which the prior teams had done a lot of body work) and rolling frame. However, both were still in need of work. John and his team grafted on a Mustang II style independent front suspension with GM disc brakes, two inch dropped spindles, and rack-and-pinion steering system, purchased from Heidt's Hot Rod Shop. Then they acquired and installed a rear suspension and differential from a wrecked late ‘60s Camaro. Because the stock 1937 Chevy came with 16-inch wheels, they decided to outfit the 37 street rod with 16-inch Corvette wheels (16-inch wheels were rare at the time). Prof. Matthews acquired the 16-inch Corvette wheels for the project and Firestone donated a set of tires. After convincing GM MotorSports to generously donate a 1996 Camaro/Corvette LT-1 engine and 4L60E transmission, they installed them in the 1937 frame. Upon completion of the various frame modifications required for installation of the new front and rear suspensions and the engine and transmission, John and his 1937 Chevy team stripped the frame, and had it media-blasted by Commercial Services in Austin (for free) and then powder coated by Petty Industrial Coaters in Austin (also for free). The smooth operator that he was (and still is), during John’s tenure as 1937 Chevy Team Captain, he was successful in acquiring generous donations of power windows from Specialty Power Windows, an HVAC system from Vintage Air, a floor shifter for the 4L60E tranny plus a floor-mount emergency brake system plus accelerator and brake pedals, all donated by Lokar, Delta Flow mufflers donated by FlowMaster, a chrome plated tilt steering column donated by Ididit, a polyethylene gas tank donated by Tanks, Inc., several stamped steel body panels donated by Engineering and Manufacturing Services (better known as EMS), a custom-made radiator suitable for a 350 CID V8 that fit a ’37 Chevy grill shell from Walker Radiators, and a cash donation from Amoco.
During 2001-02, the team focused on getting the body work finished and getting the ’37 street rod painted. The team had previously contacted every body shop in Austin and the surrounding area, but nobody wanted to touch a 1937 Chevy. The vast majority of body shops these days just cut off wrinkled and dented body panels and weld new ones on in their place; almost nobody knows how to actually fix a dent anymore! When Prof. Matthews was telling a good friend of UT SAE, Franz Hofmann, about our inability to find anybody who was willing to tackle the body work, Mr. Hofmann came to our rescue. Mr. Hofmann works for the Texas Railroad Commission and provided invaluable aid to our Propane Challenge Team. At the time, Mr. Hofmann was a member of the Central Texas Studebaker Club. He said that a retired IBM employee, Ken Berry, was doing all of the body work and paint for the members of the Studebaker club and that he would ask Mr. Berry to take a look at our ’37 street rod. Mr. Berry agreed and met Prof. Matthews at the Pickle Research campus, where the car was being stored due to the normal lack of sufficient space in the SAE garage. Mr. Berry looked it over and said “Well, it’s not a Studebaker, but I’ll do it anyway”. Our ’37 hot rod had a long wrinkle in the roof that was one result of somebody pushing it into Waller Creek one night when it was sitting outside of the SAE garage. Because this wrinkle would have been extremely difficult to straighten, Mr. Berry found a 1937 Chevy Master Deluxe 4-door for sale cheap, so he bought it, did the necessary body work, and painted it metallic burnt orange. Apparently, Mr. Berry had a good experience doing body work on a non-Studebaker because he has since opened his own business, Classic Auto Restoration in Hutto.
Robert Pearsall became the 1937 Chevy Team Captain for 2002-03. Once Mr. Berry had finished making our ’37 street rod beautiful (see prior paragraph), Robert hauled it back to the Pickle Research campus and stored it in the solar car trailer, since it wasn’t being used for anything at the time.
The 1937 Chevies hit hard times again in 2003-04, when no students wanted to join the team or be Team Captain. Because of this, Prof. Matthews decided that he would personally take the time to ensure that progress was made. He asked Enduro Powder Coating of Mesquite, TX, to ceramic coat the headers, which they generously did free of charge. With the body off the frame, damage to the powder coating became obvious. Fortunately, the Austin Independent School District had a program for seniors that allowed them to spend several hours each week at a local business. They asked Prof. Matthews if some students could spend time at UT getting introduced to engineering and he was happy to help. He got a series of seniors from various high schools to strip off the powder coating, using lots of elbow grease. Soon after, Curtis Johnson’s son, Richard, was taking classes to become a professional welder and generously volunteered to repair some problems with the welding on the frame. In the summer of 2004, Kevin Shotts, who had been a very active member of the UT Formula SAE team from 1999 to 2001 returned to UT to take the final course he needed to get his BSME. As the only student on the ’37 team, he became Team Captain. He painted the stripped frame the metallic gun metal gray that was the body color of Prof. Matthews’ 1986 Cavalier Z24.
Fortunately, Nicole Munguia joined SAE in the fall of 2004 and volunteered to be Team Captain, a post she held for two years. Major progress began to be made almost immediately. Because the polyethylene gas tank had mysteriously disappeared, a stainless steel gas tank was purchased from Rock Valley Auto and installed in the newly painted frame. Stainless fuel lines and brake lines were installed next, by Prof. Matthews, along with a wiring loom with the wires for the in-tank fuel pump. Then dropping the engine and transmission was no easy job, but with careful planning from the ’37 Chevy team members and machine shop personnel it got done. Shortly after, the restored body, mounted on the rusty frame from the ’37 Master Deluxe, was retrieved from the Pickle Research Campus by the team. Mating the body and frame became quite a challenge as well. The restored body and rusty frame were rolled off UT SAE’s flat bed trailer, then the body was lifted off the rusty frame and carefully mated to the freshly painted frame without scratching the custom paint job. Two became one in January 2005. The remainder of 2004-05 and much of 2005-06 were devoted to acquiring the parts needed to get the engine running. When GM Motorsports gave us the LT1, it did not have an engine wiring harness, PCM, or many of the necessary sensors. Much time and effort went into figuring out what we were missing and sending partial lists to Manny Rocha of General Motors Service and Parts Operations, who generously donated the parts. Unfortunately for UT SAE, Mr. Rocha got promoted to another job. His successor started off sending us parts soon after we requested them, but then apparently got too busy to devote much effort to our requests.
Dennis Kinney joined the ’37 team in the spring of 2006 and became Team Captain for 2006-07. Through the President of Vintage Air (Rick Love) in San Antonio, he secured a spot for our hot rod ’37 at the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA, which used to be the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association) show in Las Vegas in the fall of 2006. This lit a fire under the team, who completed the engine wiring and got the engine running before the SEMA show. Team member Ashwin Dalvi generated Solidworks drawings of the UT SAE ’37 Chevy Project logo, which Mark Smith of the ME Machine Shop CNCed into center caps for our 16-inch Corvette wheels and inserts for the door and trunk handle holes. Prof. Matthews and Nicole Munguia applied three different colors of One Shot paint to the lettering and to Bevo wearing shades on these just before installation on the hot rod ’37. Dennis got many companies to make donations to help our ’37 Chevy team get the hot rod ready for the SEMA show:
· Painless Performance donated a complete body and engine wiring harness
· Borgeson donated stainless steel U-joints and shafts to complete the steering
· Jefferis Hot Rod Glass donated a one piece windshield (as shown in the picture gallery, the stock ’37 has a two piece windshield)
· The Glass House donated all of the remaining glass except for the one-piece glass for the front doors
· Steele Rubber donated rubber seals, weather stripping, etc. plus $100 in cash to help pay for the SEMA trip plus a “UT SAE ’37 Chevy Project” banner for us to use in our SEMA display
· Hagan Street Rods donated a frenched headlight kit
· Gardiner-Wescott donated stainless steel fasteners for the engine and for the fender attachments
· Cool Flex donated a set of their chrome-plated radiator hoses
· Covercraft donated car covers for both of our 37s
· MBM donated a stainless steel master cylinder and a stainless steel brake booster
· Henna Chevrolet (Austin) donated LT1 engine parts and provided lots of invaluable help in other aspects of completing the ’37 hot rod and in getting our team to the SEMA show
· I&I Reproductions donated $1000 in parts
· Autolok will give us a discount on power door locks and a power trunk lock
Colvin Automotive, who rebuilt Lance Armstrong’s GTO on the Overhaulin’ TV show, was very generous in helping us get our hot rod ’37 Chevy ready for the SEMA show. Without charging us a cent, they mounted all 4 doors, installed the rear door glass with power window motors and regulators that SPW donated back when John Ramsey was Team Captain, installed the rear quarter window glass and the rear window glass (including weather stripping for all of the glass), and installed the power door locks and power trunk lock (including the wiring and miscellaneous electronics for the door and trunk locks).
As it approached time to haul the ’37 Chevy hot rod to Las Vegas in late October 2006, it turned out that only two ’37 Chevy team members could take a week from school. Dennis Kinney and Art Noorian made the long haul (Prof. Matthews flew). Since the “UT tow truck”, our 1999 Silverado from the Ethanol Vehicle Challenge, was approaching 100,000 miles and had evidenced some problems, they used a dually generously provided by South Austin Speed Shop. (In December 2006, UT SAE got our own diesel dually, donated by General Motors via GM Vice President and UT alum Ken Cole with lots of footwork and effort by the GM Mentor for our Challenge X team, Chris Graham.) Shell, via Adrian Juergens at the Westhollow Technology Center, donated $1000 in pre-paid Shell credit cards, which covered almost all of the cost of fuel for the round trip. Engineers and car nuts Dave Tuttle and Steve Robalino, who were auditing Prof. Matthews’ Race Car Engineering and Project Management course in Fall ’06, gave $300 each to help with the costs of preparing the ’37 and going to Las Vegas. While at the SEMA show, we got donations from many generous vendors:
· Holley Performance Products, via Matt Held, Media and Trade Show Manager, donated a Weiand roots blower plus a Holley intake manifold, and carburetion
· General Motors Service and Parts Operations, via Bill Martens, donated a small block 350 suitable for a supercharger
· Flex-a-lite, via Marketing Manager Michelle Radin, donated an electric radiator fan
· Because the ’37 hot rod sits so low that the front tires can’t turn much, we needed an air suspension system. Air Ride Technologies, via National Sales Manager Tony Bicknell, agreed to a deep discount on their system, possibly including installing it at their facility. Additionally, Firestone Industrial Products, via Graham Brookes, Engineering Manager of the Control Systems and Dynamics Group, agreed to donate all of their components for the “smart” air suspension leveling system to Air Ride for our ‘37.
· Julie Brothers of Auto Custom Carpets, generously agreed to donate carpet for the ’37 rod
· Because Prof. Matthews says that “If you aren’t shifting, you aren’t driving, you’re just aiming”, we talked to Mr. Vic Wood at B&M Racing and Performance Products, who agreed to donate a 5-speed manual tranny with bell housing plus clutch and pressure plates
In the Fall semester of 2006, Prof. Matthews taught his Race Car Engineering and Project Management class again. Each student has a course project, related to one of the SAE projects, instead of a final. Prof. Matthews came up with two projects for the ’37 team that may lead to commercial products that, in turn, would result in a long-term income stream for our team. One, chosen by Albert Ogoe, was a Longhorn third brake light, with horns that “run” to act as turn signals (which are normally NOT incorporated in the third brake light). The body for this light was designed by Albert, with help from Prof. Krueger in making the prototype body via stereolithography. Mark Smith, a machinist for the ME Department Machine Shop, made the lens using Albert’s Solidworks design. Mark Phillips, an electronics technician for the Texas Materials Institute, generated the electronics, including LEDs for the running horns and conventional bulbs for the remainder. We installed this in our ’37 Chevy when we took it to the 2006 SEMA show. In early 2007, Prof. Billy Wood, who was co-Faculty Advisor for UT SAE when UT founded the Formula SAE competition, made improvements to the original design by incorporating a base (to allow this to bolt to the package tray below the rear window) and a structure to help support the lens. The second course project, selected by CJ Duggan, was a Longhorn steering wheel. This did not get completed in time for the 2006 SEMA show, but we hope to have a prototype soon. In late 2006 and during the spring of 2007, Aaron Macy took on the Longhorn steering wheel project, which should be completed before the summer begins. In March 2007, Prof. Matthews called Stacie at LeCarra steering wheels and asked them to donate the steering wheel adapter for an Ididit column to a 9-bolt steering wheel. Stacie asked her boss and they generously agreed to donate this part. When Prof. Matthews talked with Prof. Steve Nichols, who teaches an entrepreneurship class in the ME Department, about these two course projects that could lead to an income stream for UT SAE, Prof. Nichols said that he always encourages the students in his class to “think bigger” and that UT SAE should make similar products for A&M, USC, etc. One of the students in this class, Jack Cartwright, works for Internet Auto Parts, an Austin company that sells to more than 25,000 auto parts stores. He volunteered to be the sales and distribution arm for these two products. Additionally, he has a friend who can get the parts manufactured cheap.
Rick Love of Vintage Air in San Antonio has secured prime spots for BOTH of our ’37 Chevys at the 2007 SEMA show. Thus, the UT SAE ’37 Chevy team has a challenge ahead. Great thanks to our sponsors for getting us this far. With your continued support, we will have both '37s on the road in the near future.
Thanks to our Sponsors
Enduro Powder Coating
1210 W Scyene Road, Suite B
Mesquite, TX 75149
2008 Avenue N
Austin, TX 78727
1701 W US Hwy 287 Byp
Waxahachie, TX 75165
P.O. Box 24362
Cleveland, OH 44124