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A family classic heads toward a new generation

The car has been in the family for almost 60 years.

Published May 13, 2007


ST. PETERSBURG - Fifty years ago, Bob Malloy drove his parents' 1939 Buick coupe to St. Petersburg High School.

And when St. Pete High's Class of 1957 held its 50th reunion last weekend, Malloy again arrived under automotive power - in that same '39 Buick.

The car, showing 154, 000 miles on the odometer, has been in the family since 1949, when Harold F. Malloy, Bob's father, traded a 1936 Chevy for it.

Both Bob Malloy and his brother John (Class of 1955) drove the car to school.

"We normally just rode our bicycles, " said Bob Malloy, "but for special occasions, we'd drive the car."

It has most of its original equipment, certainly the same stuff used to repair it after it was whacked by a train in the 1940s and repaired at R.S. Jones Auto Parts, where Harold Malloy worked. The car originally came off the Adcock Buick lot in St. Petersburg.

A straight eight-cylinder engine powers 107 horsepower. It has three on the column for shifting, a 3.70 rear-end ratio and an 18-gallon gas tank. It takes seven quarts of oil.

Period details include tapered running boards and adjustable side vent windows that crank. It has rear turn-signal lights in the middle of the trunk.

If Malloy wants to look up details about the car - if there possibly could be one he doesn't know - he can refer to its 1939 owner's manual still in the glove compartment.

An engineer by education, Malloy has been his own mechanic. Clotilda Malloy, his wife, presses him to tell the story of his first lesson. He was a 16-year-old tuning up the engine. Then he couldn't get it started for three days. It was the only car in the family, and while patient, Dad began looking askance.

With some advice from automotive friends, Malloy did get it fired up. He still seems a little embarrassed to tell the story.

But the car still fires up, a feat often better accomplished with a boost of priming needed, said Malloy, because gasoline composition is different today than in 1939.

He painted the car in 1966, a deep green that shows virtually no dings. His mom sewed seat covers, and Malloy put in a headliner using fabric off a bolt of cloth.

The car once took third prize in its show class, but it is not gussied-up like a fancy show vehicle.

"This isn't a restored car, " Malloy said. "It's just a maintained car to enjoy."

A nephew has shown interest in the car, he said. So it is likely it will stay in the family for some time to come. It sounds healthy enough. Once started, the engine runs smoothly. The doors shut cleanly and solidly, as one expects from a classic car.

"Every now and then, I hear a creak and I wonder if it's the car or me, " Malloy said.

[Last modified May 12, 2007, 19:27:33]

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