The Great Depression, many of the people who could afford a new, low-priced car had their sights set high, wanting a vehicle with a bit more style, power and refinement than the run-of-the-mill economy offering. In the early 1930s, those people often turned to Chevrolet, and drove off the dealer lot in a 1931 Independence or a 1932 Confederate.
General Motors' volume brand had been working towards taking the Ford Motor Company's best-selling crown for almost two decades, and with Ford's four-cylinder Model A aging and its yet-to-be-proven V-8 still in the wings, the six-cylinder-powered Chevrolet stepped in as the most popular car in America in 1931 and 1932.
"Chevrolet began selling the six-cylinder engine--commonly called the 'Stovebolt Six', and affectionately, 'Cast-Iron Wonder'--in 1929," explains 1931-1932 Chevrolet historian and webmaster Bill Barker. "They made minor improvements to it over the next few years. It performed much better than its four-cylinder rivals, and inspired the slogan, 'Get a Six for the price of a Four.'"
That inline-six integral to Chevrolet's identity was an advanced overhead-valve design, debuting at a time when flatheads ruled. Displacing 194 cubic inches via its 3-5/6-inch bore and 3-3/4-inch stroke, the three-main-bearing engine used a 5.02:1 compression ratio and Carter one-barrel RJH-08 updraft carburetor to make 50hp at 2,600 RPM and 122-lbs.ft. of torque at 1,800 RPM. This inherently balanced engine was upgraded in 1931 with a stronger engine block, stronger crankshaft and a redesigned harmonic balancer for markedly smooth operation, and its torquey nature and flexible powerband meant that fewer shifts of the unsynchronized three-speed manual gearbox were needed.
Chevrolet also differed from Ford in the way its bodies were built; while Ford's bodies were constructed primarily of steel, Chevrolet car bodies used a large proportion of wood in their "composite body" construction. Their advertising heralded this: "This is not only the strongest, safest, most durable type known, but it is exactly the same type used in the highest-priced cars. A framework of selected hardwood is fortified at all points of stress by staunch steel bracing. Over this strong framework are mounted sturdy steel panels, so that the wood reinforces the steel and the steel reinforces the wood." Ironically, this traditional method of body construction would be the Chevrolet's downfall, leading to its lower survival rate than equivalent Fords.