’38 Chevy Coupe Back with Family for Third Time
By Jeff Barnes
It’s not unusual for someone to sell a collector car and buy it back if they miss it enough. For the Chaleks of Bellevue, that turned into three different family members selling and buying it over 60 years.
Dave Chalek is the newest owner of the 1938 Chevrolet coupe after his dad owned it in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s and his brother in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The return to town is more than thirty years after the Chaleks thought they’d seen the last of the Chevy.
The story begins in 1956 when Bob Chalek Sr. bought it as a junker for $85. “I had a ’55 Chevy that I drove to work until someone keyed it,” he said. “(The coupe) was running on five cylinders, just a high-school kid’s car and in primer when I got it.” It became his daily driver but he also used it to take his wife to the hospital when his first son, Bob Jr., was born.
The senior Chalek began working on the car and got it running right, trading out the original engine for a ’54 235 hp 6-cylinder and then a ’55 V-8, and having body and upholstery finished off. He painted it Limefire Green, which was used as a 1957 Pontiac color. He sold the car in 1961 and saw its second owner taking it to shows and winning trophies, and even getting a feature story in Car Craft magazine.
In 1977, a family friend saw the coupe on an Omaha car lot. Bob Jr. had graduated from high school and he bought it this time for $1,600. He completed the resto-mod, with new glass, mechanics, transmission train and interior, plus putting regular bumpers back on the car. He got it to the point where it was displayed at the World of Wheels at the Civic Auditorium in the mid ‘80s, but then sold it in 1986 when buying a house. Unfortunately, street rods weren’t hot then, at least if you were a seller. “I gave it away,” he said. “I knew how much I’d put into it – I asked $14,000 but only got $8,500.”
The Chaleks (owners of Chalek’s Auto Body in Bellevue) said the car stuck around Omaha for about a month before it went off to California and disappeared for three decades. Then – two years ago – a California friend found the car at a swap meet. “He sent us a photo and I blew up the photo to get the phone number off the window sign,” Dave said. He immediately called and found out it had sold; the seller wouldn’t name the buyer but said it was going to Bakersfield.
Dave then played a waiting game. He watched Craig’s List for two years and sure enough, the owner listed the car on Craig’s List this past January. After first balking, the seller relented in April and the ’38 coupe was back in Bellevue in May.
Dave declined to say what he paid for the car, “but he pretty much knew he could get his asking price.” He’s happy with the buy, however, getting an appraisal that’s higher than his purchase price. “It’s unheard of to find a body like this and it weathered well,” he said. “It was in storage for the last twenty years so the only thing I really had to do was buff it out.”
Dave did change out the tires (“I’m not a whitewall guy.”) but was happy to see the last owner added air conditioning, stereo, and new gauges. “The only thing I might do is add turn signals,” he said.