TORRINGTON, CT – It’s a family heirloom in vivid green; a slow-moving 1950 Chevrolet sedan delivery model that owner Mark Langenheim Jr.’s grandfather once drove as a teenager delivering groceries for the long-gone Mencuccini’s market in Torrington.
“My grandfather used to drive it when he was younger. Years later, he found it in some guy’s yard; half in the ground, rotted away, and decided to bring it home and restore it,” said the 27-year-old Langenheim back in July as he sat inside the Chevy that was parked in dusty parking lot near his Torrington home.
His grandfather was Harry A. Langenheim Jr. “He passed away in 2004, so it’s been mine since I was eight,” he said. “I remember this when it was frame rails sitting in the garage. I remember all the steps. He built it in a little tarp shed in the yard, so, yeah, I felt pretty special when it was going to stay with me.”
Langenheim received the now-73-year-old Chevrolet because his grandfather believed he would appreciate it the most of any family member. “When it was not even fully done my grandfather and my grandmother would take me and my sister to fairs and stuff, and pile in the back with chairs. Yeah, the truck has been a big part of my youth,” he said.
The car’s history is a bit spotty, such as how long Mencucinni’s used it or what immediately came next. Langenheim said his grandfather “found it again” in the mid-’90s, discerning its origin by “the paint and where it was in town. He just knew it was one of theirs.”
It took a while to convince the owner to sell it. “He bugged the guy for years to buy it and then finally one day the guy let him purchase it. Brought it home on a flatbed,” Langenheim said.
His grandfather replaced some of sheet metal and painted the panel truck a factory color.
“He was no body man by any stretch of the imagination. This is just single stage paint. It’s thin in spots,” said Langenheim, reiterating that the work was “done in a tarped garage. He did the best he could with what he was doing and it came out half-way decent. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s cool because it was backyard-built pretty much.”
When Langenheim finally got his driver’s license, his father balked at allowing him take out the panel truck. “When I turned 16, my dad didn’t want me to drive it yet ’cause it’s no power steering, no power brakes, three on the tree. I want to say I was 17 or 18 (when) he finally let me drive it.”
His father, Mark Langenheim Sr., later revealed that among the panel truck’s other shortcomings are inadequate mirrors, no turn signals and only a single brake light in the rear. “He was a brand new driver,” Langenheim the elder said of the prohibition. “It was probably best for him to get some experience beforehand.”
The younger Langeheim eventually discovered that the Chevy is “a handful. It’s like driving a boat out on the water. It’s just you’re constantly keeping her straight, and it doesn’t stop real well. You gotta pretty much stand on it. It’s old. It’s different brakes. It’s not like your modern day car at all,” he said.
“When I started driving it, I think I drove it for a year and then I had it outside my house running one day and it was leaking coolant out of the head gasket, so I took the top of the motor apart with the guy who helped my grandfather do the motor the first time.”
The Chevrolet has an inline six-cylinder engine and the aforementioned three-speed manual transmission. Helping with the engine originally, and helping Mark as well, was Harry’s brother-in-law, Bill Sekulski of East Litchfield.
The inside of the 1950 panel truck has period features – a starter button in the dashboard, a pull-out hand brake lever under the dash and a high-beam button on the floor. It had 88,388 miles on the odometer when RIDE-CT visited. “Whether it’s rolled or not, I don’t know,” Langenheim said.
The Chevrolet doesn’t collect dust. “I drive it a fair amount. Probably every other weekend I try and take it out,” he said, noting it was made to be seen. “Some people like the green. Some people hate the green. As far as the truck goes, it definitely gets a lot of people’s attention ’cause you never see the panel trucks.”
Langenheim shared one other memory of his childhood that involved the truck and his grandfather. “When I was little I was walking past the car with a screwdriver in my back pocket and I scratched the front fender, and they all thought he was going to get mad and he said, ‘It’s no problem. When I walk by it, I’ll remember my grandson.’ Now I got the car to remember him by.”