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1955 GMC Suburban Pickup

To many in the U.S, this most eastern location in North America is almost unknown. The large island of Newfoundland is several miles from the mainland of eastern Canada. Here is the home of our extremely rare feature truck of the month; a 1955 GMC Suburban Pickup.

The proud owner is Barry Tippett, a long life resident of Holyrood, Newfoundland and an avid car and truck enthusiast since his high school days. He started driving with a $100.00 1952 Chevrolet 1/2 ton. His interest in older vehicles has never stopped!

Of his current collection of at least 10 very collectable older vehicles his near favorite has become this very rare 1955 GMC Suburban Pickup. From mid-1955 to mid-1958 only about 300 were sold at GMC dealerships. These were a great attention getter in the GMC truck dealers’ show room. The goal was to attract the public that hopefully would later purchase a more practical work truck that GMC was known for.

Yes, a person could even order one of these special pickups from the factory (choice of color, transmission, etc.) but usually most GMC big truck people were not a buyer for these deluxe non work expensive pickups! Thus, the low sales number!

The GMC cousin; the Chevrolet Cameo, did much better in show room sales because Chevy car buyers had more interest in a well-appointed pleasure pickup.

Barry knew the rarity of these early GMC’s when he attended a specialty early vehicle auction in Toronto about 10 years ago. He had never seen one of these rare pickups! It was a California truck and lacked the usual rust. Barry knew it would be a perfect addition to his collection. He won the auction and in two weeks it was at his home in Newfoundland (a very long distance from Toronto).

With research and closely studying his new GMC he realized it had been restored in past years. The exterior, bed, and inside cab were attractive to most but several visual areas were not quite correct as when it came off the assembly line 65 years ago. See below.

Barry decided, for now he would not change the overall nice appearance. His total effort would be to rebuild or freshen up the mechanicals to look factory fresh!

All sheet metal was removed so the bare frame, engine, transmissions, differential, and suspension were easily acceptable. This part of the restoration then began. No area was left unrestored. See photo showing the new mechanicals. They are as clean and detailed the day it left the factory.

This GMC has a very unusual transmission option, a 4 speed Hydra-matic. These are built strong for pickup use in the mid-1950’s, but the extra cost and the concern of the price and inconvenience of rebuilding years later, slowed sales.

This year was the first for placing a V-8 engine in a GMC light truck. How this came to be is a story in itself! Prior to this, all ½ through 2 ton GMC’s came with the almost bullet-proof 228 through 270 cubic inch inline six cylinder. However, in recent years the V-8 engine had become popular, at least with car buyers.

In America, GM buyers of larger cars had been provided V-8’s for several years. With the introduction of the totally new GM truck body style in 1955, the time was right to add a V-8 engine as an option.

Chevrolet had recognized this trend and its own small block V-8 had been in development for several years. It was ready by 1955. Of course it was offered as an option in Chevrolet’s new pleasure truck: the Cameo as well as all their trucks.

GMC’s pickups also needed a V-8 to better market their own NEW light trucks including the new design featured in this article.

Big Problem! GMC did not have a small V-8 engine and there was no time for development. The V-8’s they produced then were very large and used in their over and off-road commercial use. Not the size correct for ½ tons. What now?

GMC did the same as in 1936 during the Great Depression. At that time, GMC’s big truck sales had dropped to the level that their survival was questionable. An emergency gamble was to offer a light pickup. It was displayed in their big truck dealership for the first time. Then, as in 1955, they did not have a small engine!

For both times of need the car divisions of General Motors, “stepped up to the plate” with a small engine. In 1955, it came from Pontiac (In 1936 it was Oldsmobile). Thus, Barry’s GMC Suburban Pickup has a 1955 Pontiac 316 cubic inch V-8 engine. NOTE: The new value covers were made with GMC letters for a better appearance for this truck division. Their generator is placed on top for their easy servicing as is the power steering pump. GMC advertised their V-8 as the largest of “any” pickup in the market.

Color is correct Flame Red and Dover White. Few pickups have such an attractive instrument dash in their cab. GMC created the chrome grille assembly as an observer could instantly recognize it was this marque!

Only if you are a pure perfectionist, do you need to read on!

– Seat fabric and the addition of cloth door panels are beautiful, but not GMC Suburban Pickup.

– Bed floor clear coated not Black paint as it left the factory.

– Wheel outer rings really add to the appearance, but are not GMC.

– Note the attractive chrome fillers between the front bumper and parking lights. 1955 GMC only!

– Notice the factory inside cab controlled spot lights. They came with this truck. Were under the seat “new” in a GM box.

– Inside bed “sides are Dover White”! Same color on cab top. Correct for GMC.

– The two-tone steering wheel is a GM extra for just this Suburban Pickup. Not on basic ½ tons. The colors are completely reversed between a Suburban Pickup and a Cameo. In this example the restoration years ago used the Cameo color two-tone design.

You can contact Barry at: btippett@eastlink.ca

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