When They Were New: 1937 Pontiac Convertible Sedan
In 1937, the United States was on the emerging side of the great depression and the years of deprivation were slowly melting away. Highlights for the year included the opening of Golden Gate Bridge on May 27th in San Francisco. Americans could now lay claim to the longest suspension bridge in the world. On June 22nd, the great Joe Lewis won the heavyweight boxing title by knocking out James J. Braddock in the eighth round, paving the way for his entry into the annals of boxing history. There were also a few mishaps in 1937 as the German airship Hindenburg exploded on May 6th, while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. America also lost one of its greatest aviators when Amelia Earhart disappeared on July 2nd, and was never seen again. Innovation and technological improvement seemed everywhere, and this was no more evident than in the American automobile. Body styles were changing, engines were becoming more efficient, and Americans were treated to anything from economical transportation to luxury beyond measure. Overall, 1937 was an event filled year that saw the nation in a lull before the storm clouds of World War II gathered.
After many years of suffering in the economic doldrums, the American car buyer was now ready to spend a few dollars. Although many looked to Ford, Dodge, or Chevrolet for an economy car, Pontiac advertised that it cost only 15 cents more per day to own one of their cars than other low priced models. Touted as “America’s finest low-priced car,” Pontiac would have a banner year in 1937 building 236,189 cars for the model year. This was Pontiac’s best sales record in the history of the company, and one need only take a look at Pontiac’s handsome offerings to figure out why.
Starting with a new X-member frame, Pontiacs were refined for 1937 with new longer, one-piece solid bodies. A higher hoodline featured the Silver Streak styling theme, which carried all the way down the body centerline. A stylish 39-degree slant on the windshield also gave the ‘37 Pontiacs a sleek look. Under the hood, Pontiac buyers of the Series 26 models got an in-line six rated at 85 horsepower, while the upper line Series 28 got a 100 horsepower eight. Maneuvering the 1937 Pontiac was a little easier thanks to new 19:1 steering ratio, and a two-piece propeller shaft transferred power to the rear wheels.
If all of the mechanical refinements weren’t enough to entice car buyers to the showrooms, there was always the graceful styling theme of the front-end itself. Inspired by Bentley, the front grille and headlight treatment was sheer beauty in a myriad of 1930s styling. The bold look of Pontiac’s 1937 models still makes one stare to this very day. It’s a clean look that’s highlighted by the simplistic lines of the front grille, and the torpedo styled headlights that were set high on the front fenders. Buyers who previously thought of Pontiac as nothing more than economical transportation were now enticed by the smooth flowing lines of the Silver Streak styling theme.
Representing the heaviest and most expensive car from the Pontiac line-up was the convertible sedan. Weighing at 3,505 pounds and selling for the impressive sum of $1,235, the big sedan featured plenty of room for the family while motoring in the country with the top down. Although Pontiac produced a number of models for 1937, none are scarcer than the convertible sedan. The fact that it was an expensive car offered by a GM division that prided itself on economy meant that most car buyers with dollars to spare usually laid their money down at the counter of the local Cadillac dealership.
Prospective buyers of a convertible sedan had a few manufacturers to choose from in 1937. Buick offered a convertible sedan on its Special, Century, and Roadmaster chassis. Ford also chimed in with a convertible sedan on the Model 78 that featured V-8 power. Of course, Chrysler also offered a convertible sedan on several of its models. These were certainly large and fairly expensive cars, which makes them rare in today’s collector market.
With Pontiac’s Series 28 convertible sedan production totaling only 1,266 units, finding one is extremely difficult. That’s what makes our featured convertible even more exciting because it happens to be the second one that John Lyons has owned in his life. John’s story is certainly an interesting one. It seems that a 1937 Pontiac convertible sedan caught his eye in high school and after some negotiation he bought it. He had always enjoyed the convertible, and when a call came in from Uncle Sam giving him an all-expense paid trip to Europe for World War II, Lyons put the Pontiac up on blocks.
When he returned he went straight to the barn where he was greeted by four blocks, but no car! His father had sold the car while he was away. As a Pontiac dealer in Thomaston, Connecticut, Lyons kept his eye out for another convertible sedan, but it would not be until 1960 that another turned up stored in a shed in up-state New York. Lyons bought the car and treated it to a cosmetic restoration. Since then it’s been nothing but driving pleasure.
Not many cars have the rarity and excitement of a 1937 Pontiac convertible sedan, and it’s a car John Lyons intends to keep. After all, how many collectors can say they’ve owned a car for over forty years? John Lyons has the thrill of owning a rare car that’s a true pleasure to drive.Would he ever sell it?According to Lyons, “When I bought it I said that I would try it for awhile, I guess after 40 years I should hang on to it.” Keep on driving John, and let’s hope the next 40 years are just as good!
BY THE NUMBERS:
Price comparisons for 1937 convertible sedans from Pontiac, Ford, and Chrysler.
Pontiac Series 2849: $1,235
Ford Model 78: $860
Chrysler Model C 16: $1,355
Present market value*
Pontiac Series 2849: $33,000
Ford Model 78: $38,000
Chrysler Model C 16: $31,000
*Assumes all vehicles represented are in number 1 condition.
Dennis David is an automotive journalist living in Connecticut. He has been a collector of antique automobiles for over 25 years. . He is a member of the prestigious Society of Automotive Historians and serves as the Technical Editor for the National DeSoto Club. His work can be read on the pages of many magazines, and he has authored several books.