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1955 Chevrolet ½ Ton 4×4 NAPCO

What a rare unusual survivor of early GM pickup trucks. This early 1955 Chevrolet ½ ton short wheel base four wheel drive was created for off road work. When a person bought this type pickup sixty-five years ago they had off road work needs. The over 70% additional cost made them not financially practical for daily driving to work or taking the family on outings. They were almost never washed. Probably only saw water when it rained.

Because of this, they had a limited demand by second or third owners. Before, they were worn out; their very final stop was the salvage yard for parts!

Our feature truck of the month is one of the few remaining. It has been restored ground up to appear much like the first owner saw it.

The owner and restorer is Bill Lorrain of Colfax, California (in the Lake Tahoe area). He has been a serious early truck enthusiast since he was 15 years old. Then, his father gave him a 1953 Chevy ½ ton (bought locally for $150.00) to get ready for when he was of age to get a driver’s license.

This quickly became Bill’s enjoyment (all types of early trucks) and it has never slowed. Now, almost fifty years later, he still collects and restores old commercial vehicles but Chevy trucks have remained at the top of his interest.

The most unusual truck in Bill’s collection is our Feature Truck of the Month. He first noticed this Chevy 4×4 parked by a house on his way to work 32 years ago. He was really impressed. Though not for sale, the owner said what is often heard, “I am going to fix it up someday!”

Bill thought to himself, “I will just wait”. Because it was love at first sight, he would knock on their door about every six months. He even became friends with the owner as they talked about this Chevy ½ ton or even non related subjects. Bill looks back and now says, “I did this almost 30 years!”

Bill plus so many others had “knocked on the door” at least once. It is strange the owner didn’t put it in storage out of sight! It always sat by the house and was never moved. We can only assume because he loved to talk to people, this opened the door to many great conversations.

About three years ago the truck owner passed away. His widow had kept Bill’s phone number so he soon became the owner of an “un-restored” early 1955 Chevrolet ½ ton with an aftermarket four wheel drive assembly made by the NAPCO company of Minneapolis, MN.

After a 30 year wait, Bill was really excited to add it to his truck collection. He stopped all he was doing with his truck collection, and immediately started a ground up restoration on this NAPCO ½ ton. Having restored other trucks he had the ability to take it down to the bare frame in less than three weeks! He was totally devoted to this project but still worked full time with his construction company! There is an old saying, “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person”.

It is difficult to believe, but in one year he had his ½ ton restored to look just about like the day it left the factory sixty-five years ago! These photos show the quality of his workmanship.

Bill had to laugh when we asked: What if people would now knock on your door for thirty years to request you to restore their truck so well in such a short time?

The following are some details of Bill’s special NAPCO truck:

– Originally ordered by the Tahoe City Utility District in North Tahoe. California. It spent its whole working life in a twenty mile radius. Less than 30,000 miles are on the odometer.

– Bill’s pickup is a ½ ton short wheel base. Its engine is one of Chevrolet’s greats, to an inline 235 six cylinder, with factory optional four speed transmission.

– The Chevrolet Truck Division did not offer four wheel drives as an option until 1957. Thus, this pickup was immediately taken to a special NAPCO branch that installed this major accessory. The company home office was the Northwest Auto Parts Company (NAPCO) with headquarters in Minneapolis, MN. They had installation locations in most many U.S. larger towns. This entire “kit” was delivered to the branches in a large wooden crate, weighing about 1,400 pounds. Different crates for different makes and sizes of trucks.

– Bill’s 1955 ½ ton was the first year Chevrolet offered a short wheel base with an open drive shaft! Thus, for the first time a ½ ton Chevy could be given a four wheel drive system. All had previously been on ¾ ton and larger trucks.

– It retains its original six volt electrical system as Chevrolet had used successfully over 95 years! Why not? This six cylinder engine has the necessary starter, lighting, and ignition system. With the two correct ground cables and good battery, it serves the owner well!

– It came with the accessory non push button AM radio.  Because of limited dash space GM placed the speaker overhead attached to headliner bows.

– The recirculator round core heater is the base priced unit.  Three screws secure it to the passenger inner side of the firewall.  NOTE:  With no outside air being heated, the cab air continues to be recirculated for a quick warmup.  On a cold day, the humidity from the driver’s breath often created fog on inside windows.  Thus, a wiping cloth is needed to keep the glass clear on very cold days.

NAPCO TRIVIA

For those having a stronger interest in Chevy NAPCO pickups, the following more detailed data may be of interest!

The early 1955 year was the last of the famous Chevy/GMC 1947-1955 Advance Design trucks. What is of more interest, it is the first year for the open drive on their ½ tons. Thus, for the first time NAPCO ½ tons could be given a four wheel drive system. All had previously been on ¾ ton and larger trucks. Problem! Because the differential housing is not centered under the front of the truck as the one in the rear the front axle housings and axles are different lengths. These could not be obtained from GM so NAPCO made their own!

With the introduction of the open ½ ton drive shaft, NAPCO did not have axles with six wheel studs on the outer ends. What now?

For this short lived (about five months), early 1955 ½ ton (the second series ton would have this corrected) NAPCO used what they had with limited alterations. Their ¾ ton axles were altered just enough to fit the new 1955 ½ ton. They would slide into the ½ ton front differential carrier. Thus, the 3.90 ratio differential is kept (must perfectly match the ratio on the rear) however, NAPCO’s ¾ ton altered axles are used.

Surprise! This early 1955 ½ ton NAPCO has ¾ ton eight bolt wheels on the front, not the expected as six bolt two wheel ½ ton’s had.

Another surprise: How did NAPCO get eight bolt ¾ ton wheels to replace the six bolt wheels on the rear of the standard ½ ton pickup? (Of course four wheel drives could only have one design spare tire and wheel). No buyers would purchase a truck with two wheel bolt patterns.

An ingenious NAPCO creation: For this five month produced ½ ton, they provided steel adapters, secured to the ½ ton rear wheels by lengthened six wheel studs. Eight wheel studs were pressed in these adaptors and now they could place eight bolt wheels on the rear to match the eight bolt wheels on the front. American ingenuity!

It is suspected, Bill Lorrain’s NAPCO ½ ton is one of the very few now in existence. All mechanicals still operate perfectly after his complete restoration.

Here is Bill’s photo of the rear spring bolt hanger used in this 1955 NAPCO conversion. It hangs down from the frame rail 8” (muffler seen in the background) much longer than the ½ ton. To make the conversion easier, NAPCO made these hinges to use the same holes in the frame rail as when it was a two wheel drive.

The original 1 ¾” wide rear spring remains for the NAPCO conversion.

You can contact Bill Lorrain at: highsierracustoms@gmail.com

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