In My Own Words: Dad’s Memory Lives in This 1938 Chevrolet Master

James Beamer's father purchased this 1938 Chevy coupe for $200 so he could take it drag racing. It has been in the family ever since. Cameron Neveu

Last summer, Mr. Beamer emailed me the following tale. By the second line, I was hooked by his direct but plain language that so eloquently communicated not just the who, what, and where but also the emotions behind the facts—rare, even among professional writers. We endeavor to present Member Stories as they were sent to us, editing only for clarity, length, and style, but we loved Beamer’s original prose so much that we’re presenting it in its entirety. Let me know what you think. — Larry

My father bought this ’38 Chevy when I was one year old. I would call it mine but in my mind it will always be his.

He left the Virginia farm at 17, in 1956, for the Army. When he was discharged in 1959, he had saved enough money to marry my Momma and buy a new Impala. 348 with three deuces, three-speed, and Posi-Traction.

He told me he knew so little about cars, the first time he tried to change the oil, he screwed out the drain plug in the transmission. Pisser. Over the next few years, he sure educated himself. Soon the Impala had a 409 with two fours, a four-speed, and 4.56 gears. Drag racing was his thing. He had a ’59 El Camino he used to tow Impala to the track. Transmission came out of the El Camino one night coming up Fancy Gap Mountain, so he fired the Impala up and with the help of Roby Felts steering pushed it home.

He used to ride around on weekends looking for parts he could use or make a dollar on. Junkyards and garages. One weekend, he saw this ’38 Chevy sitting at Lucky Carson’s garage with no motor. He knew the car from drag strips, probably Farmington or East Bend. Lucky priced it to Daddy for $225. Sounds cheap today, but the man only made a dollar an hour at a local knitting plant that closed about 40 years ago. The car still had its original paint.

1938 Chevrolet Coupe front three quarter
Cameron Neveu

He and Momma went back the next week with his money, and some he had borrowed from friends. Lucky said he’d changed his mind and wasn’t interested in selling the car. Daddy said he was there for the car and Lucky was a man of his word so he started writing a receipt. Daddy said he had $200 in what we used to call a trucker’s wallet, which was attached to him with a chain, and the other $25 in a money clip. He gave Lucky the $200 and was reaching for the $25 when he saw Lucky write the price of $200 on the ticket, so he kept the other $25 in his pocket. Money has always been hard to come by. My dad was an honest man, but that’s how he bought the car. He and Lucky were friends and I know had a few laughs about it later.

They towed the coupe home and soon it was hitting the tracks with a 409 and two fours. It evolved to have a 375-hp 396. I was riding shotgun on a warm-up pass when the big block dropped a valve.

That ended its racing career. Daddy had plans and bought a mid-’60s Vette to build a better dragster. The coupe was not ignored. He thought it too nice of a car to ruin on a drag strip, so he went to work making it what I guess we now call a street rod. New 370-hp 350 LT-1 with angle-plug heads, Crane roller valvetrain, and tunnel ram. Interior benefited from the remains of a ’67 SS Chevelle. In its day, for our part of the world, it was showworthy. Then it mostly sat.

1938 Chevrolet Coupe engine
Cameron Neveu

I always claimed it as my car. During and after high school, I had some pretty good hot rods, but in the mid-’80s I was lured away by the speed of motorcycles and stayed there for about 20 years. Fast forward and commitments keep me from killing myself having fun, and Daddy thinks what I really have always thought about as my car needs to move. I told him knowing what it might be worth I couldn’t afford to buy it.

One day in the mid-2000s, I was working on the farm and I saw his rollback coming down the road with the coupe riding along. It needed some work and it took a while, but I got it up to spec. He was proud of it. When I had it about right, a few years ago, we went riding around on Father’s Day.

1938 Chevrolet Coupe James Beamer portrait
Cameron Neveu

I don’t have my father anymore but I sure understand how he felt as a younger man, and his need for speed.

I need to wipe away a few tears now. I’d been thinking about sending you this but didn’t know how to send you the pictures I wanted you to have. I had an accident and have been broke down for a couple of months.

I’m rolling the dice and hitting send before I sober up.


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    Very cool car and VERY cool story. I agree with the editors that Mr. Beamer told it just right. I wish James the very best and hope he gets to enjoy this car for many more years. 👍

    Anyone notice the Kustom tailights on the 59 Impala in the background shot of the coupe in primer? I’ve seen a ton of Kustom 59s, but none done like that. If that was his Dads car, he was also a Kustom car builder!

    love these WONDERFUL stories! ive had a 3 window coupe since ’74- (hi school sweetheart is what i call it) it has had several configurations i.e. drive train…so i can fall into these stores w/ease an reminince….

    Great story. Nothing like a dad / son relationship that is as close as this. I still got my sons 1997 Honda Civic. Dont laugh. It means everything to me.

    Love me some 37 and 38 Chevy coupes. My first hot rod was a 38 coupe with a Z-28 302 and 4 speed with a Chrysler pistol grip shifter.

    My dream hot Rod would be a 37 or 38 built 60’s gasser style with candy green paint and gold leaf lettering.

    Great story. I have to wonder which side of the mountain they lived on since I’ve been on Fancy Gap road many a time while visiting family on the NC side. (I’ve had my own car problems, an overheating ‘72 Nova, on that very same road.) Thank you for not messing with it!

    Very cool story. I’m sure we all have a car that brings back memories of our parents in one way or another. Some of us are lucky to still have that car to be reminded of the love they had for the car and hopefully you too.

    A great story, but it triggered my memory for the first car I ever restored back in the early eighties. Yep, a blue ’38 Chevy coupe from the original owner with only fifty two thousand original miles on it. Her husband had bought it for her just before he had gone off to war, and he didn’t come back. I had noticed it going to the A&P grocery every other Wednesday and made it a point to just “happen to run into her there” about once a month and chit chat with her. Only once did I tell her that I was interested in her car, and that was the very first time I met her. She said at that time that everyone in the county wanted that car. Over the next three years I noticed the car getting a few scrapes on the running boards from the one car garage she kept it in, and one Wednesday she said “I have been looking for you! My son told me that I am too old to drive, and that I had to sell my car. You have bugged me more than anyone else, and so I think you should have it.” I made her a very fair offer and then restored it to look like the day it left the factory. Ten years later a fellow from North Georgia showed up at my front door ( he was visiting his sister nearby and saw it in my driveway) and he offered me more than I thought it was worth so I sold it. I have regretted it ever since.

    This is my favorite article published by Hagerty. It’s close to home in every way. Thank you.
    Elk Creek Dragway?

    I recognize the red back end of a Stewart Warner Tach on the firewall. I have that same tach from my 56 Ford Fairlane that Pop bought me in 1962 when I was a Sophomore in High School. Wish I still had the car but at least I saved the tach.

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