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1937 GMC ½ Ton

During our 18 years’ experience with the Featured Truck of the Month Series, we have never located even one GMC ½ ton pickup of this vintage year. When we discovered it a few months ago, it was an immediate candidate to be posted for all to learn about.

The truck is a 1937 GMC T-14 ½ ton pickup owned by Larry Shisler of Tigerton Wisconsin. It spent most of it life in Montana doing rural hauling for a farm as most pickups did during the 1930’s. Larry discovered it about nine years ago near his home in Wisconsin, its old attached license plate was 1963 Montana. He immediately knew it was a perfect match for him and his interest in rare vehicles.

In 2013 he personally began the disassembly process to check all areas of the frame for cracks. This backbone of his future new older GMC had to be just right. The search for some needed replacement parts became a major project. Due to the rarity of this 80 years old lower production work truck, sometimes Larry often had to rebuild what he had.

Yes, this little GMC shares much from its Chevrolet cousin, however the GMC differences are quickly noticed. Some big changes you begin to see as you look under the hood. Other changes are the grille, the placement of the exhaust system, bumpers, dash gauges, GMC letters on tailgate, etc.

Of course, the first unique feature you see is the grille. Nothing is like this on the Chevrolet. It is totally redesigned to make the GMC look different than any truck on the road. In a time of conservative colors for truck (and cars) these brightly colored non-chrome grilles and striping made many take a second look as it moved down the road. Larry matched its Mallard Blue and Canary Yellow paint just as this ½ ton came from the factory. He found several places with spots of original color.

Larry has a factory 1937 GMC option book that shows deluxe items such as a chrome grille and bumper. It was probably made an option to allow a customer the lowest base price during the depression years.

This little GMC is about 90% finished but we did not want to wait to feature it for all to read. Maybe we can encourage a reader to even find a tired 1937 GMC like this at the end of this article!

Why a GMC small truck?

Our feature truck of the month was the second year a small truck from GMC the big truck division of General Motors. (Chevrolet has produced lighter trucks since 1918.) The US was experiencing the Great Depression and GMC was in big trouble! Sales had slowed to the level that the remaining new big truck GMC dealers were surviving by maintenance of any vehicle, selling used cars and truck plus often taking on new agricultural lines such as tractors and related farm equipment. Something had to be done fast! Thus, trying to survive resulted in the entry of GMC into the small truck market.

Timing was so important to get the first small trucks in the GMC dealerships that they used much from the Chevy pickups. Yet it was disguised with appearance items that were GMC only. If the potential buyer did not know trucks he might have not noticed the Chevy parts used in the GMC or the dealer could always say “A GMC is so improved over a basic Chevrolet!”

Because the big truck GMC dealers were usually in medium or larger cities where more sales existed, their new light trucks found a larger percentage of city buyers over farm purchases as compared to Chevrolet. Most small US towns had a Chevy dealer which sold cars and trucks.

Points of interest on this 1937:

• The two-tone grilles were usually all painted, not chromed.

• Note the left tail light. It and the bracket are pure GMC. None of the taillight items are from Chevrolet. Larry personally hand made a reverse bracket for the right side. (There was no right taillight on any GM pickups in the late 1930’s.)

• On the 1937 only, the right side seat cushion is removed to gain access to the gas tank. (Too bad for the passenger that had to step out in the cold rain or snow and wait for a fill up while the cab interior got cold in the winter!!!) See photos of this very unusual requirement for fueling a 1937 GMC Chevrolet truck.

• The carburetor was recently replaced with an original single barrel 1937 Zenith. This company was a large carburetor provider in the 1930’s & 1940’s.

• The GMC has the logo on the rear of their 1936-46 tailgates. During these years Chevrolet placed it only on the 1939 and 1940.


A very small GMC ID plate is on the lower right cowl. Nice touch!

Engine in New GMC ½ Tons

GMC never used a Chevrolet engine until about the mid 1960’s.  Though the GMC Truck Division was developing their own inline six cylinder engine, it would not be introduced until 1939.  Due to slow GMC truck sales during the Great Depression, there was no time to wait until 1939 for a light pickup.  The remaining GMC truck dealers needed help immediately!!

Thus, the GMC Division looked at the GM cars currently being marketed and decided the best engine available was in the Oldsmobile with their 230 cubic inch inline six cylinder.  It would fit in the Chevrolet frame GMC would be using. A modified front cross member was added to connect to the Oldsmobile flat head engine.  This was then used in the 1936-37 GMC ½ ton.  For 1938, one year only, GMC used the Pontiac flat head engine in their ½ ton that even had an Indian head cast in the side of the block. (The Oldsmobile engine was continued in the 1938 light trucks above the ½ ton) Both of these two flat head engines (valves in the block) had a full oil pressure system as vehicles do today.  Therefore, the oil gauge in the GMC dash reads 0 to 80 lbs.  Chevrolet low pressure dipper system in dash gauge reads 0 to 30 lbs.

Larry found papers in the truck showing a new Oldsmobile engine was installed in 1948. It looks just like the 1937 but various improvements had been done internally by Oldsmobile. Larry removed the old pan, all checked good, the pan was cleaned and reattached. It now runs great! It will soon be painted the original Oldsmobile green.

There was another very big difference in the Oldsmobile verses the Chevrolet engine. The intake and exhaust manifold combination are on the opposite side of the engine block! This required a change in design of the exhaust and the tail pipe to be on the passenger side of the truck.

On the GMC truck, this manifold position change required fuel line protection because the GMC shared the cab and gas tank with Chevrolet. The fuel line that came from the tank, now ran parallel and close to this muffler and exhaust pipe. Too dangerous not to make modifications. See photo showing the original metal baffle plate from the frame to lesson exhaust heat transfer to the fuel line. (We hope other early GMC restores remember to add this protection.)

Larry will have a new tail pipe specially made in a few weeks!

CONGRATULATIONS to Larry Shisler for saving and restoring about the rarest of the GMC ½ tons. It is a part of US history created during difficult economic times. American engineering at General Motors helped save so many GMC large trucks struggling dealers.

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