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1931 Chrysler CD8 Roadster Rebuild Diary


Gunsmoke
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Many of you know I've been playing with a barn-find 1931 Chrysler CD8 Roadster for about 6 years now. I've posted several threads over the years, looking for advice, parts, ideas and have gotten great feedback. I've decided moving forward I will consolidate everything about my journey in this one thread. I don't want to repeat too much already dealt with, so will start with a few pictures as it sits today, and will add 2 or 3 posts  shortly summarizing how I got to this point for those not familiar with the first 5 years.  

   

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More photos of CD8 as it sits today, Dec 5 2020. I've put a few things on body to ensure fit, including the deck cleats I made last winter. Some of the gauges are only there for ensuring hole size is OK (I have a full proper set, I made this dash from scratch back in 2017/2018, original had been cut from car in 1970's). Pretty much all the disassembly, cleanup, finding and rebuilding of 1,000's of parts and pieces has been completed, rolling chassis is 90 percent done, so from here on it should be just a case of positive progress, fingers crossed.  

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Well done Gunsmoke.

I've been following your posts, and getting the car this far is quite an achievement. I note your comments about your front fenders being too rough to restore, but the body was in similar shape and look what you have achieved. I still think there are guys out there that can repair your original fenders, yes it may be expensive, but this is going to be a beautiful car on completion. Keep up the good work, hope to see it finished in all its glory one day.

Viv.

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A brief trip down memory lane. When my Dad realized in the 80's that I had a passion for pre-war cars, he talked about only 2 cars. His 1936 Auburn he owned before the war, and his friend Walter Keys "Big Black Chrysler Roadster". Dad and Walter were both mechanics, loved getting cars working better than factory, and enjoyed stock car racing at the local 1/4 mile ovals. He told me Walter had modified the Chrysler Roadster using a 40's Caddy Flathead V8, LaSalle tranny and Auburn dual ratio rear-end, and it was such a "cool car". By then, he had not seen the car since the 60's and figured it had been sold out of the area. Up to time of his passing in 1999 he regularly mentioned his old friend Walter's car. 

 

I never thought about the car after his passing. But on a trip back home (about 200 miles) in 2014, I asked an old car friend if there were any interesting old cars lurking around. After initially saying NO, everything has been found, he told me an old gent who lived 4 miles away had died a couple years earlier, and in the 80's the guy had a couple of old cars in a shed on his property but would never sell them. I went to visit his 85 yr old widow who confirmed the 2 old cars were still in the shed, "go have a look"! My jaw dropped when I opened the overhead door to find a "Big Chrysler Roadster" staring me in the eye, rough shape, loosely assembled, with a Cadillac flathead V8 sitting along side. I returned to the house and asked if it was for sale. "My son was here yesterday and we decided it was time to sell it". I put a deposit on it and closed the sale the next day. These were taken the day I found it. And the journey began.

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As part of my effort to learn more about the Chrysler Roadster, I contacted one of Walter's sons who told me his Dad had sold the car to a good friend, who could tell me it's history. I met the guy in 2015 (he was then 92) and he told me of Walter's passion for cars, that Walter had rescued the roadster body from a scrap yard in about 1953, and that in 1957 Walter had bought a rare 1941 Packard 4 door convertible and sold him the roadster. He gave me pictures he had of the car taken in 1957. Another friend of mine had pictures of the car taken at a car show in 1966, and the widow had a photo take in about 1969, last time car was on the road. In all the photos, the car wears proudly the same front bumper, which I think is from a 1935 era International truck! As can be seen, none of the cars original brightwork survived and even the lovely dash had been cut from the car at some point.

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Last post for today. Bringing home an old car is always a mix of excitement and trepidation. A few pictures of the day of pickup and it's arrival 200 miles later at my property. To say it was rough and partially incomplete would be an understatement, confirmed later on as I began to realize just how many alterations had been made. The first decision was deciding to actually keep it and make it into something. The second  was a choice between rebuilding it the way Walter had in the 1950's as an historic "modified", or try to return it close to 1931 specifications. Having decided on the latter, the Caddy V8 had no value, nor did the LaSalle tranny so I donated them to a hodrod friend for use in one of his eventual builds (they are now the power plant of a 1930 Ford Coupe hotrod, very cool old school). The Auburn rear-end (which was in perfect condition) fetched a good dollar (about 1/3 of what I paid for the whole car) at Hershey in late 2015. And those Electroline 1950's headlights fetched $600 on ebay! Sold the bumper and the Plymouth Goddess hood ornament that also came with it and by the time the financial dust settled, I was into a starter project for under $1700USD. But a long and expensive road remained.  

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  • 2 months later...

Having bought this "barnfind" in late 2014, I spent about 3 years into mid 2018 trying to gather parts suitable for a rebuild, picked up correct headlights ($500), cowl lights ($400), door handles and gauges ($500) and planned a wood sub-chassis rebuild in the absence of any photos, info or details on how these roadsters were originally built. I initially had a lead on a 1931 CD8 Sedan in Minnesota as a potential donor car, advertized in Hemmings, but asking price was too high. So I found a CD8 Deluxe engine (short block but 3.25" pistons etc) at $1000, a DC8 Dodge rearend and transmission and started on a wood subframe (similar to early 30's Dodge Roadster). At this point I was only half heartedly moving along. Block turned into a bust, had internal cracks in valve train area, impossible to fix. In 2019, I was alerted to a rough, but mostly complete CD8 Sedan in Virginia, which I eventually bought and transported home. Made decision to use that rolling chassis for the roadster and put Sedan body on the original roadster chassis and sell the Sedan as a project for someone else. Finally I had 95% of  a 1931 CD8 car and could proceed knowing the finished job would be as close to original as I could afford and accomplish as a DIY project. a few photos to follow of these interim somewhat wasted steps.

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So March 2018 decision is made to buy this sad looking ticket!. But other than one running board and one wheel, it was complete and price was right. Dragged it home and eventually set roadster rough body on Sedan chassis

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Summer 2018, you can never take enough pictures for future reference, I took about 200, still missed some minor stuff. This set also shows the newly made roadster body side rails as well as the old Sedan body sitting on a newly made frame,  part of a friends project.

 

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Rolling chassis at car show 2019, new dash in rough with gauges, bumpers straightened, sand-blasted and epoxy primed for future decision and rear inner fender pieces fitted to steel floor from sedan and new side rails.

 

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Fall and Winter 2019-2020 floor panels made, Sedan fenders modified and fitted to rear quarter salvaged panels (came from Oregon to Maine to Nova Scotia), and finally car loaded for trip to the body shop, September 2019, where the body would reside for about 18 months.

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Sedan fenders are about 3" narrower at top as they tuck in under upper body. Roadster body at this point is about 6" narrower requiring the extra material shown in photo. I spot welded these initially, bodyman would later stitch weld seams. Had to make a set of 3 bows and couple photos showing the dash which consists of 2 pieces with the mounting bolts welded to the inner piece before securing the 2 pieces together. A lot of care is needed to get the 2 sets of gauge holes in perfect alignment, and note dash face holes are 2" and 3" but backing holes are 2&1/8" and 3&1/8". Post from this point forward should only include progress being made after this date, i.e. welcome to 2021!. Hard to believe I've been at this car for 6 years! 

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  • 2 weeks later...

After getting body back from bodyman, the work begins trying to put the puzzle pieces together before dis-assembly for painting. Fitted the floor this week, a mix of under-seat pan from the sedan, R/S toe kick from original roadster, and some new plywood infills as well as cowl toe board. Not sure what original roadsters had for a floor, as everything was missing from this barnfind except for the R/S area toe kick and one vertical brace. Also put these wood "upholstery" tack strips on, they are originals although I'm not sure how material secured to them (no sign of staple holes etc. Back curved strip had many tacks on underside. Later this week I will try fitting seat in place. Looking for seats for Rumble area, have nothing.

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I have rear seats from the 1931 CD8 Sedan, no where near correct, but may use springs and frames in a modified form as starting point for Rumble Seat. I agree Narve N that almost anything could be used for a core, I doubt they will ever be sat in!

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So today I had a good look at the 1931 CD8 Sedan back seats (which were about to be tossed in the dumpster by the guy I sold the sedan to), and they will provide an excellent core for Roadster rumble seat. As per pics, the Sedan seat bottom is 45" wide, but the wood platform is about 39.5", exactly correct size for Roadster rumble seat width, and 20.5" deep, exactly as needed. Will mean I have to remove one row of springs from each side, it has 12 tightly packed springs in 6 rows now, will reduce to 10 springs in 5 rows, and cut and alter metal framing to suit. The rearward most row of springs will get removed to clear the rumble seat lid when it is in upright position. This seat also has heavy steel mesh bottom as shown including a cutout for the floor hump over the rear-end area. Height is correct pretty much as is. The wood platform had 2 "ears" sticking out on front edge which I cut off so platform fits in nicely. These photos deal with rumble seat bottom/seat. 

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The rumble seat back core requires a bit more finesse. Current Sedan backseat is 45" wide and 24" high (25" at center), with 4 rows of 10 springs. I only require 37" of width, and so I will remove a spring at both ends of each row, and one row from bottom edge of back to finish with 3 rows of 8 springs, and a seat back measuring about 37"x 21". The Sedan seatback currently has about 1" of curve on upper edge which will have to be cut to a straight line and upper-most row of springs(which currently follow the curve) realigned into a straight line. Finally, the rumble seat lid has a vertical curve of about 2.75" which will require adding curved hardwood framing on back side to match profile of R/S lid and also find some suitable large head tabs/bolts that can drop into keyhole openings in R/S lid to hold seat back in place. I include a photo from internet showing an original R/S setup.  Getting that nice taper on upper edge will require some strong wiring down of last row of springs and some serious horsehair padding!

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Among other things this week, I have 4 rad ornaments of various qualities and styles picked up over the years. some may know the first series CD8's only came with a winged ornament. The Gazelle was added later as a MOPAR accessory, and eventually a factory issue. I plan to use the "non-gazelle" winged type (my car is a first series), and I picked up an excellent all original one this week, think it would look more racy on a roadster. While it has lost some original bright finish, it has very little pitting and chrome on sides is excellent. I may seek advice on options for polishing it up if I decide not to re-chrome, a process that is not only pricey, but usually mean a loss of a lot of the fine feathering detail on wings. The gazelle ornament is a 2 piece job, I picked up the very good original Gazelle without a base several years ago (has antlers shortened), and found the rough base separately. The winged one next to it I bought on ebay, but it arrived with one tip broken off in shipping. It appears to be a former base for a gazelle, it has the gazelle mounting holes underneath and they and rear fin filed/filled in prior to re-chroming. 

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Last post for tonight. The radiator shells on the early CD8's were painted body color except for a thin series of raised moldings which were chrome (see pic from original late 1930 brochure). As I understand it, the designers/stylists felt this made the cars look longer (especially the hood) and sleeker. The process involved chroming the whole rad shell, and then masking and overpainting with body color except for raised moldings. I've shown my sand-blasted shell with the body color portrayed in black tape to give an idea of the pattern of chrome. 

 

I'm planning on talking to the local "powder-coat" guy to see if he can duplicate this effect using the body color of my choice in powder- coat and also "chrome" powder coat as shown. I don't know if body color could be sprayed on full shell and "cooked" and then overcoat of chrome and cooked etc. Alternative would be to powder coat moldings first in chrome, carefully taped off, cook it as per regular process, then paint rest of rad shell body color when hood is painted (to ensure a perfect match. I would prefer to have whole shell powder coated for greater durability as it will get lots of bugs, dirt tossed at it flying down the road compared to sides of car which is not so exposed.  Any experience/advice out there? BTW, not interested in the full chrome option, I like the early version. I do note some have also gone to a full body color rad shell with raised moldings same color as beltlines etc. (pic off internet).

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

This week was spent making "cores" for the rumble seat cushions, and similarly fitting a front seat (all of which were missing from my CD8 roadster and impossible items to find).

 

For the front seat I started with a 1932 Dodge Coupe seat, donated to the cause by our good friend Rob in Maryland. It was a "fixed bench" type, with a spring loaded fore/aft adjuster on bottom, moving whole seat at once. I disassembled it into 2 separate pieces and tossed the original side frames. The bench will suit as it is, proper dimensions all around, and other than figuring out a means of securing it in place, it just needs reupholstering in leather. Similarly the back will also work, but needs a bit of tweaking along top edge to mate against the horizontal and vertical curves in the roadster tub. I sat in the seat, and position is perfect, good clearance to steering wheel (which I have in lowest of 3 possible positions), and good reach to pedals (I'm 5-11", a guy 6'-2" would be OK, taller might be problematic). Some may know the CD8 roadster seat was fixed in place except for the split back cushion on driver side which could be moved fore/aft 3" via a turn knob on back of cushion.

 

As mentioned in earlier post, I am using the rear seat of a CD8 Sedan for rumble seat cores. The seat was relatively easy, simply removed a row of springs at each side and one from back (going from 72 springs to 40 springs) and narrowed the steel framing top and bottom, and Bob's your uncle. The lid cushion needed a full monty. The lid curves about 3", so needed to make a plywood carcass to clip to lid. Then used 4 rows of 6 springs from the old seat back and a lot of tweaking of edge framing to get something close. In next few days I'll test fit some temporary material to these pulled down tight, and check for any interference where back meets bottom as lid is lowered. I'm aiming for a tight fit between the cushions when rumble seat is open, I've seen pics of a snug fit and others with a 1" gap. Not sure what originals had. I will sit in it to see comfort level, but doubt anyone will ever sit in it except a 50 lb grandchild! 

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Edited by Gunsmoke (see edit history)
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Hi Gunsmoke,

 Saw this CD8 roadster  on facebook being restored by a guy in Italy, thought it might interest you, and maybe you can help each other with advice.

keep up the good work

regards

Viv. 

 

 

 
 
It is a tough challenge to restore an American car from the 1930s in Italy.
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Posted (edited)

Thanks viv w for posting on the "Italian Job". That looks like a great project. I'm guessing he started with a complete and largely solid car and is simply restoring. 

 

My project on the other hand started as a roughly re-assembled barn find, good hood, decent cowl(less dash), a heavily modified rear tub, a decent rumble seat lid, decent but modified doors, windshield stanchions and a "clear title". Most everything else needed to be found or made. The good news was my initial purchase price (net of re-selling un-needed parts) was only about USD$1700. So low starting cost left me room to invest in what was missing. And people on this site have been of great assistance and encouragement. While I've enjoyed the ride, having done this one, not sure I would recommend anyone else taking on such a major rebuild unless the car had some special meaning or rarity.  

Edited by Gunsmoke (see edit history)
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