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1948 Chevrolet ½ ton Funeral Hearse

It will be difficult to ever top this Feature Truck of the Month! Rarely do we find a Chevrolet ½ ton so unique. It may not have been a one of a kind but in today’s world it is close to it. The truck is a 1948 Chevrolet Funeral Hearse on an all original ½ ton chassis.

We discovered this unusual vehicle seeing photos of a recent club truck driving event in the country of New Zealand, though the other trucks were very interesting, this stood out as so much different than the others. This Chevrolet is probably the only 1947-55 Funeral hearse now surviving! So different and yet it is obviously an Advanced Design 1947-53 truck

The reason for a hearse body on a Chevrolet ½ ton is simple. In the US as well as other countries, small communities do not have the population to justify the expense of a top of the line hearse. The request for a more affordable vehicle for the “last ride” has always existed. Some vehicle body companies realized this need and marketed a hearse at a fraction of the cost to funeral homes. During the 1950’s and before, most people in many countries and the US had very little disposal income. Thus, a lower cost funeral was a requirement for so many families.

With extra research we found the owner was the Chevrolet Enthusiasts Club of New Zealand. We made contact with two of their members: Grant Williams (long time member and often the hearse driver) and Rob Webster (the club president.) Between the two members, we were able to learn of the hearse history or as much as is known.

When new in the 1950’s the frame, mechanicals and no bed were shipped from the assembly line in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada where GM’s right hand drive trucks were produced. Many were then shipped to New Zealand and other countries to a specialized local manufacture to make and install the hearse body.

The club members state it has been owned by their National New Zealand Club for about 20 years. It is perfect for carrying merchandise for club events and always seems to have the required room for what is needed. All club members refer to it as their bus or van.

Rob (one of the longest running club members and now their president) remembers them buying it from the fourth owner. This person had used it basically as is. It was the third owner of 4 years that removed the dark blue velvet material from the sides and ceiling, a wood dividing panel with a small sliding window behind the bench seat and all the funeral related apparatus.

The enclosed photos show it for sale on the street in the late 1980’s with the traditional black paint.

For sale in the 1980’s

 

It is understood during the beginning years two funeral homes had ownership, one buying it from the first owner used.

It is so much like a usual ½ ton. Wheels are 16’ with 6 holes. The dash is reversed like most New Zealand GM Advance Designs trucks with right hand drive. Engine is the correct 216 valve six cylinder and still has the original 6 volt system. This 1948 has a floor shift 3 speed transmission. (In the US, the last year for this early 3 speed was 1947.)

The change in the hood (bonnet) size is very interesting to appear less like a ½ ton pickup on the front. The body manufacturer created a high hood from the Canadian import to appear much like 1946-48 Chevy cars. After all, a hearse should not look like a truck! Good sales feature! It even appears to have a Chevy chrome hood ornament very similar to a 1948.

FROM A CLUB MEMBER

Note: During the email exchanges several questions were asked to Grant. Here is our questions in black and Grant’s answers in red.

–          Made by a body company in Australia?

Body was definitely made in NZ. All Chevy pickups and panel truck were given the final assembly in NZ. They were not imported as complete vehicles. It would have come from Canada as a rolling chassis with bonnet (hood), front guards, front windscreen, and running boards. Everything else was made in NZ including the doors.
You will note that the bonnet is higher than standard to line up with the rest of the body (this alteration can be easily seen on the underside of the bonnet)

–          Know anything about the body company and did they only make hearse vehicle’s and only for Australia? Sold to NZ?

Not sure which company but there were several that made bodies in NZ at the time.

–          Is it on a ½ ton chassis? 6 bolt wheels?

Yes it is built on a ½ ton chassis. It has 16’ wheels and not the 15’ split rims that the heavy duty trucks had. Yes, 6 stud wheels.

–          Original engine?

Yes, original 216 & 3 speed floor shift transmission.

–          How long have you owned it? Where did you get it?

The club had owned it for over 20 years and it has just been used as we purchased it, the club has only kept it in useable condition and has not been restored. One of the previous owners had it for four years and in that time it was stripped out and entered into the “Variety Bash” which is a fundraising rally for all types of vehicles from race cars to fire engines and everything in-between. The bench seat was removed at this timeframe and fitted with the current seats. The wall behind the front seats were originally a complete wall with sliding windows and not the current walk through arrangement.

–          Was it used in small towns?

It was used by at least two different undertakers and they were in smaller towns in NZ.

–          Original paint?

The paint is not original as this was, of course, black and done up in blue velvet with all the usual equipment. By the time the club purchased this vehicle all this equipment was well gone.

–          Is the bed bottom wood planks?

The bed in now plywood.

–          Front sheet metal like a pickup?

Originally yes, but the hood and guards (fenders) were modified. The overall effect makes it look more like the 1948 car.

IS THIS UNSUAL OR WHAT?

Take a closer look:

The body sides extend out to the edges of the running boards. Yes, the boards are the same as on the conventional ½ ton pickup! This gives the passengers the convience of stepping up into the cab easier. See following photo. Therefore, the front doors must be constructed by the body builder and the fenders were also modified. VERY interesting.

Front View Shows tall reworked Hood
CLOSED                                                                                OPEN

Good Distant View
Full view Dash                                                     Different seats added later


Flat door Panel probably once covered                 Door remade with non-opening wing-vents.
with blue velvet as the rear                                          Running board still in place!
The normal 216 engine. Oil add position on both draft tube and valve cover. Hmmmm!
Horn may be aftermarket!
Probably how it left Canadian factory in 1948 (maybe ever more disassembled and without rear fenders)

Proudly owned by

If you have any questions on this unique hearse contact Rob Webster at : robwebster@slingshot.co.nz

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