This Chevy truck is so unusual and nicely restored, it was a natural for our feature truck series that we have posted since the year 2000. For sure a one of a kind! This 1941Chevrolet Military Canopy Express is owned and was personally restored by Michel Nivarlet of Belgium. Always an enthusiast of older US motorized vehicles, he had immediate plans of how he would restore this truck when he first saw it for sale. Michel is a second generation from WWII (his father was in a German concentration camp) so this canopy express was to become a US military truck. It could join other restored WWII trucks in Europe that gather regularly to show their support for the prior generation that was totally caught in this world wide conflict.
The following are Michel’s own words to explain how his interest developed and how this Chevy truck became his example of the US Military being important to win this war in Europe 70 years ago.
“This story starts in 1945 when my father, freed from the concentration camp of Buchenwald, came back to Belgium and was hired as a civilian trucker by the U.S. Army. As the U.S. allied forces left the motor pool of Liège in 1949, my father brought a Harley-Davidson WLA that was in surplus. HarleyDavidson was from then on the passion of his lifetime. He transmitted his passion to me, and when I turned 18 in 1972, I bought my first Harley that we restored together. And then I bought a second, a third…and several more. A majority of my motorcycles are WWII army models in both Harley and Indian. I then added to my collection a legendary vehicle: a 1942 Ford GPW Jeep.
“As I became older and Belgium being quite cold in winter (remember the Battle of the Bulge), I wanted to get a vehicle that could be closed. Each time I read the book about all the models of vehicles used by the U.S. Army during WWII, I would stop at the pages concerning the ½ ton Chevrolet. My dream was to find a Panel, but at a time when having internet was not common, the research was more complicated than nowadays. I had abandoned that idea until I recently had the opportunity to buy this Canopy Express 1941.
“It was in civilian paint with some chrome, but corresponded to what I wanted. It is equipped of a 235 ci motor serial number F54Y of 1954 (the year of my birth!), which is more comfortable than the original 216. I started the restoration work by the replacement of all the gas lines and the cleaning of the gas tank. Then, I did all the elements of the brake system: master cylinder, lines, hoses, brake cylinders, shoes, springs…An alternator replaced the generator, and the electric equipment was changed to 12 V for a regular use.
“The esthetic restoration to give back its military appearance was the biggest work. The inside partition behind the front seats had been removed, which was actually not a problem since it allowed me to adapt two back seats for my children. Next, I sandblasted the chromes and the rusted parts of the body, I treated everything against rusting, I laid down new rubbers for the side and rear windows and the windshield, and I placed new cab windlace. After all this came the sandpapering and the vitrification of the floor, the fabrication of the lateral canvas. Last but not least, I did the complete olive drab paint job, except for the cab interior, dashboard, door panels, header panel, window trims that are painted in ‘cream medium’, since it was originally a civilian vehicle on which only the exterior was painted in kaki for army use.
After nearly a year of hard work and quite a few orders at Jim Carter Truck Parts, it was finally on the road again. Such a joy to drive!”
Concerning your questions:
– I bought it in Belgium but it was indeed imported from U.S.A. It is left hand drive and that is great since, in Belgium, we drive, like you, on the right side of the road.
– Yes, I have been a member of the Belgian Military Vehicle Trust for many years. It is one of the biggest clubs in Europe. We are over 400 members with over 1500 vehicles listed, from the bicycle to the Sherman Tank, and including motorcycles, Dodges, Jeeps, GMC, Autocars, Diamonds, Pacifics…From the lightest to the heaviest.
– When I bought my truck, it was equipped with a four speed transmission. After a few hundred miles, I decided last winter to replace it with a three speed gearbox because the four-speed was too noisy with the metallic body of the canopy that amplifies sound.
Michel can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org