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1939 Chevrolet ½ Ton (Australia)

Owner: Colin Carvolth

 If you are a person that has followed our Feature Truck of the Month series you know we try to find GM trucks between 1934 and 1972 that are just a little different. Their criteria are they should have a different flair in some area that makes them almost a one of a kind!

Therefore, even though our featured truck for March’18 is unrestored and been sitting outside in dry air for almost 50 years. It is being shown to our readers that enjoy learning about an almost 80 year old ½ ton that most did not know ever existed.  We hope you enjoy this article as much as we had fun in discovering this unique “creature”.

This pickup is not just a 1939 Chevrolet ½ ton (rare in any country) but is one of the few survivors that was assembled in Australia. Its owner is Colin Carvolth of Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory.

The original owner was the Coolahcore Company that manufactured refrigeration cooling coils for Australia. Their logo still remains above the windshield and on each door as was painted in the company colors of orange and black in 1939.


Colin bought it from a 90 year old orchard farmer in Wombat, NSW, about 230 miles west of Australia’s east coast. Thus, no salt air or snow.  The farmer had driven it under an old wooden carport in the middle of the orchard.  It was left there 20 years sunken in the dirt up to its axles before he bought it.  Colin could not pull it out with his 4-Ton truck, so the farmer got his tractor and a 50 foot chain.  They wondered what would break first: the chain, the tractor, or the farmer!  Fortunately, the tractor not only (very slowly) pulled it out of the soil but was able to drag it up on the trailer in the photo.  After Colin brought it home, it has been stored behind his home garage another 30 years!

Now the time for a full restoration has arrived! The rebuilding has become more on Colin’s mind in recent years and he has recently bought miscellaneous parts. He has become very committed to a total restoration.  Recently, a person heard about his 1957 Chevy station wagon and would not take no as the correct answer when he asked to buy it.  Colin now has a garage and a little extra hobby money!

Many things show this unusual pickup as a pure 1939 Chevrolet, however, several changes will cause a US knowledgeable truck enthusiast to quickly take a second look.

From the factory the Australian ½ tons came with no beds. Two new rear fenders were wired flat to the rear frame rails (for the new owner to use if he wanted). * It was his job to build a flat bed or equivalent as he needed.  In this case Colin’s photo of it being pulled from the orchard (by him after the purchase over 30 years ago) shows the rear fenders in place but their tops cut away to make room for the home-made low flatbed (or as Colin calls the bed in Australian a “tray”).






Why was no bed provided? The Australian government required a certain percentage of the new assembled trucks to be furnished by their country for economic reasons.  This includes the lack of a bed (it also lowered the cost), locally made wiring harness, glass, tires, floor mat, exhaust system, paint, etc. After all, a truck was for work and the new owner was most interested in an affordable truck.

Note: The major mechanicals and front sheet metals were shipped from the Oshawa, Ontario factory in Canada to be put together in GM’s Holden factory in the Camperdown, Australia assembly line (near Sydney). All of the cab is pure Holden in Australia; this is similar in the United States, when Chevrolet cars once had their bodies by Fisher.

Here are some things that may seem very different to a 1939 US Chevy truck owner or even a 1939 pickup assembled in New Zealand less than one thousand miles away.


The rear fenders (mud-guards) for a ½ ton were usually included with the new bare frame pickup. It was felt they would be needed after a home-made bed was made by the owner.  This would stop mud and water from being thrown after a bed was created and installed.


About the most unusual item on this truck is NO swingout windshield. The bottom of the lower edge of the frame is straight across, not with a slight upward arch as on the US 1939’s.  Therefore, how do you get outside air to flow into the cab?  This is by a method not seen in most 1939 trucks.  Note the vent doors on each cowl panel between the door and hood (bonnet).  Opened by a lever from the inside of the cab.

Thus, there is no top air vent on top of the cowl. Almost all US trucks and cars had top cowl vents in those years, but not this 1939 Chevy ½ ton.

Look at the rear cab window. It’s slightly taller than other country’s 1939’s.

The wide panel below the bottom of the door is really different!

There is a very wide horizontal belt stamped in the cab along the doors and around the back of the cab below the rear window. Not seen is other country’s 1939’s.  Belts can give metal panels stability.

Interesting is the gas spout on the left side of this right hand drive truck. All is just the opposite on a left hand drive vehicle.

The length and diameter of the headlight buckets are the same as passenger cars in Australia and the US. This results in 7’’ reflectors vs. 7.5” in the US on trucks.  The reason is unknown.  (Unfortunately the longer headlight bucket allows for easier metal to metal contact when the hood “bonnet” is opened or closed).

We note that the front bumper on this 1939 ½ ton is the same as 1937-45 1 ½ ton larger trucks in the US.  Thus, this bumper extends further on the edge of the front fenders.

Check out the seven I.D. plates Colin removed from the cab for safe keeping. They show it was assembled at the factory near Sydney, Australia in Camperdown, NSW.  These plates each have something to say (in the US trucks did not have a different cab company and there is only one plate).

FYI: The Australian 1939 Chevy trucks are so rare! Two big reasons:

  1. Australia entered World War II in 1939, not late 1941 as the US. This was to provide assistance to England as Germany continued to move closer to invading Australia’s mother country. Their army went to help! Soon after, the Australia vehicle assembly lines were shut down to be changed over to making war supplies.
  2. After the war, when these pickups finally required major mechanical repairs it was less expensive to convert them. The frame rails were cut behind the cab. This provided the beginning of a utility trailer. The two “stubs” of the frame could then be pulled together and a hitch assembly added. All that the owner then needed was to build a bed for hauling. Yes, the differential stayed in place for the rolling support of the trailer. This was done over and over!

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