Its 1947! A 14 year old Burt Fulmore thinks of a method of getting to school each day from his home in the small town of Economy to Bass River, Nova Scotia Canada, seven miles away. (This island province in eastern Canada is 450 miles above the US most northern state of Maine).
He knows his father’s 1937 panel truck is not used in the mornings for local deliveries from the family’s general store. So an agreement is made. Burt can drive the panel truck to school and in return he will make local grocery deliveries after classes twice each week for his father’s store. Sometimes he does not get home from deliveries until 7:00p.m., just in time to milk the family cow.
Burt soon transported as many as 10 class mates to school each day often in very bad weather conditions! (.50 cents per week per passenger) His friends did not hesitate to jump in the panel truck and sit on “butter boxes” or the floor for the seven mile ride to school. No, he did not have a driver’s license at 14 years old but the 1937 panel truck was the only option. In those early days, there were no school buses. (Maybe the one local policeman looked the other way as Burt was helping local children get to school). He got his license at 16 years old and continued to take his friends to school two more years until he graduated in 1951.
These pictures show the panel truck and 14 year old Burt posing for the photo in 1949. Note the round grill guard!
Burt then began attending Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, the adjacent province beside Nova Scotia. Yes, his transportation was still the old 1937 panel truck. He drove it 75 miles, to and from college every weekend until he graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 1954.
To be sure that the truck started easily every time during the winter, each summer Burt did major engine work. Replacement piston rings were added each year to ensure high compression for successful starting. Some of the shims in the rod and main bearings were removed, if needed, which insured the moving bearing surfaces had the correct clearance. He wanted no part of replacing a noisy rod bearing in the Canadian winter after classes in a parking lot.
As with some of us, if you must keep an older vehicle running during your youth it can be more on the fun side as it was for Burt. Therefore, years later he began to think about the “Good Ole Days” in terms of having another vehicle to repair just for old times.
As the years have gone by mostly Chevrolets have become Burt’s addiction. He began with two very rare GM vehicles, maybe the only remaining examples of their kind. These are a Canadian built 1934 Chevrolet Cabriolet (not even 200 made) and a 1937 GMC 1/2 ton (352 produced). Because they were both assembled in Oshawa, Ontario in such limited numbers over 80 years ago, Burt suspects these are the last examples. Being produced in Canada there are some features that are not like those made in the USA. The devout US restorer, soon sees there are things that are Canadian only. Finding those parts from about 80 years ago are almost impossible!
While these two major restorations, were underway Burt kept thinking of his father’s old 1937 Chevrolet panel truck that he drove and repaired for many years. The decision was easily made. If he could ever find another, it would be restored just like the one he drove during his younger years.
He became so sure he could find one, Burt bought a 1937 pickup with an un-restorable body. As the chassis are the same as the panel truck, he completed a major rebuild on all the mechanical parts. It became a new rolling chassis but with no body. He hurried to find a Canadian 1937 panel but with 847 produced there appeared to be almost none. He jumped at one in 1997 in Ontario, but when he got it home it was decided it was “too far gone”. What a loss. See photo. About 2 years later he found a restorable 1937 panel truck in New York. Finally Success!
Oops, Too Far Gone
Finally, a restorable 1937 panel truck
In October 1999 this second panel truck was delivered in Nova Scotia. Burt and Mike (his youngest of four sons) began the detailed body work and paint restoration in Mike’s garage with excellent results. Completion was two years later in 2001. 3 photos below are “under construction”.
This second panel truck is now like new. It is even much better than the one he had for so many years. Even the sides are hand lettered with the company name just like his father’s. The 216 cubic inch engine with 3 speed transmission is just what Burt drove to school so many years ago.
FOR THOSE THAT WANT MORE DETAIL READ ON.
A. About 1948 Burchell (Burt) met Lucia (Lu) in a high school class and they began dating in late 1949. It is said even their first kiss was shared in this 1937 panel truck. Burt and Lu were married in May 1955. They have four sons: Doug, David, Jim and Mike. They also share their father’s interest in all things automotive, but mostly Chevrolets.
B. Two months after the restoration was completed Burt and Lu made their first long vacation in the “new” panel truck. They toured some of New York State, visited friends and during the 2,800 mile trip had no problems.
C. After returning home from the New York vacation Burt and Lu sponsored a 50 plus reunion for their classmates to reminisce about their school days and talk about their riding in the old 1937 panel. Burt even made “Butter Boxes” (they sat on going to school) to place in the panel and several climbed in like the old days for photos.
Classmates standing in Front of the New Panel Truck
Sitting on “Butter Boxes” for a photo
Three Butter Box Seats inside the panel
Note: The wooden Butter Boxes came to the general store regularly with 60# of butter. (It would be repackaged in their store in smaller private label boxes for home kitchen use). These boxes made perfect seats for the 7 mile trip to school.
D. What a coincidence! Burt’s father had this personal initials BL, placed on the side of the early 1937. This restored panel is of course lettered the same as original however the BL can now also stand for Burt and Lu! What are the odds of this happening?
E. Notice the round grill guard attached to the front bumper. Burt removed this aftermarket accessory from a totaled 1936 Plymouth in the mid 1950’s. He then placed it on the everyday panel truck. He kept it stored over these many years. It now sets in the same position on his “new” 1937. He has never seen another!
The same grill guard Burt added to the older 1937 in the mid 1950’s
F. Look at Burt in 1947 sitting on the hood at 14 years old. Look at Burt in 2001 sitting on the hood of his new 1937, 53 years later.
2001 1947 (Check the round grill guard)
G. Note the center indentation on the rear photo. This was GM’s idea to allow the person loading to get closer to the body. Good Idea!
H. The panel truck has now been driven over 22,000 miles. Burt and Lu traveled as a team to places like Vermont, Quebec City, Maine and New York. That does not include so many car shows plus trailering to two national more distant shows sponsored by the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America in Flint, MI and Nashville, TN.
The happy couple about 2015
Below is a group photo of Burt and Lu’s vehicle collection. Left to right. 1957 Bel Air convertible, 1952 Styleline Deluxe Two Door, 1937 GMC ½ ton Pickup, 1937 Panel Truck, 1936 Maple Leaf 1 ton, and 1934 Master Cabriolet.
Jim Winters of Rochester, Minnesota looked two years before he found the vehicle he wanted to restore in his retirement years. He did not want to spend the time and money required for a major rebuilding unless it suited him just right. Many cars and trucks were checked but few gave him that special feeling he wanted. When he saw an unrestored 1946 Chevy Panel Truck for the first time in 2001, there was no hesitation. This was the one! His retirement project would be this very rare vehicle. It was so untouched. If Jim looked carefully, he could see the remains of the lettering on its sides of a Lenox Plumbing and Heating Company in Rapid City, South Dakota. A panel truck was a natural for this type business, long enough for iron pipe and secure for hauling a furnace out of the weather. These panel trucks were used in the early years by grocers, bakeries, flower shops, small constructions companies etc. They were a perfect all-purpose vehicle for companies serving the many new suburban neighborhoods developing at the edge of cities and towns. The main buyers were commercial, not the home, farm or apartment owner. When Jim’s panel truck reached its new garage behind his home, the BIG project began. Piece by piece it was disassembled with most parts marked. A digital camera was also great help. Good records of the 60 year old parts were a necessity. The 930 pound panel truck body was lifted by canvas straps attached to the garage rafters and the chassis rolled outside. Then more disassembly occurred until the long frame was all by itself. It was then checked for cracks and bends before sandblasting and finally powder coating at a local specialty shop. It was then extra hidden rust was discovered in the large double panel under the rear door and in these doors. No reproduction panel truck parts were available. Talented metal benders and formers had to be hired to actually create the numerous unusual and important parts. By, now there was no turning back. A stack of unrestored 1946 Chevy parts would be of little value to a buyer. There was no choice but to move ahead creating the new handmade metal panels. With metal craftsmen from Kuhn Auto Specialties in Rochester, MN making the panels, there is almost no filler in this vehicle. At completion of his truck restoration, Jim would have in just body and paint receipts, $10,000! During the rebuilding Jim added several improvements that would allow for more pleasurable driving on today’s highways. The truck 216 cubic inch original engine was ok for the local in town work 65 years ago but Jim Winters knew this large panel truck body required more horsepower on current roads, especially in high winds. Thus, the extra power from a 235 inline six cylinder engine was a perfect drop-in replacement.
Almost the Beginning
Instead of the original non- synchronized 4 speed transmission, he added a modern 4 speed synchronized from a 1967-69 Camaro. It has a floor shift like original. The 4.11 ratio closed drive shaft differential was replaced with a 1958 ½ ton 3.9 ratio which was then rebuilt with a higher speed 3.38 ratio ring and pinion. Just $1,200 more! The wheels and tires are 17”. This is from a ¾ ton, not the ½ ton 16” wheels. They provide extra to the highway speed but do not add much to the vehicle’s height. All of the above gives Jim a speed up to 75 mile/hour on level highways. This is about a 20 mile/hour increase. WOW! What a change. This became a 9 year restoration project due to the passing of his daughter with an incurable disease that even the most professional hospitals could not cure! The rebuilding came to a complete stop many times.
Nose to Nose
A Restored Floor with Siginaw Transmission Installed
The High Dollar Apron & amp; Doors – PERFECT!
Yes, it’s all 235!
A Perfect fit for a 235
Few accessories were available for trucks in 1946 but Jim has located most of them. The 1942 fog lights (added later) are pure GM. A 4” reflector was an important safety accessory for vehicles with a single tail light. See recent technical article on the reflector at the end of this article. The big find was locating an accessory passenger seat. Very few panel trucks were given this extra. Look at the unusual Chevy truck grill guard. This is pure GM. It is given an opening down the center so the engine could be hand cranked in an emergency. Jim’s panel truck also has a GM dealer installed cigarette lighter, radio at left of steering column, a 2 motor heater/defroster assembly, a cargo light that is secured inside above the rear doors, and a rare right side taillight bracket.
Original Right Seat 2 Motor Heater-Front / Side
Dip in Rear Bumper and Rare Right Taillight
By doing it all correct the first time Jim Winters has a new 68 year old panel truck that is ready for modern traffic of this century. People love it! He has attended 3 local car shows and received 3 first place awards! You may contact Jim Winters @ firstname.lastname@example.org
A Little extra on this Special Panel Truck:
To add better night visibility to all trucks, Suburbans and panel trucks, General Motors offered a 4 inch diameter reflector as a dealer installed accessory. With the single small factory taillight, seeing of these vehicles on the road could be difficult especially if their one bulb burned out. To help correct this problem GM offered a larger reflector that could be attached to the rear license plate bracket. It greatly improved visibility to others at the rear during night driving.
This was a time when town street lights were limited. Of course, on the open road these were no lighting along the highways! This simple GM reflector was offered by the dealers to prevent rear end accidents. The customer could buy this dealer accessory from about 1940 through 1953. One of the attached photos is taken from a 1949 Chevrolet Truck Data Book. The 4 inch lens is a Stimsonite # 24 and the metal Guide ring has a stamping of X-19.
Jim Winters of Rochester, Minnesota has both a restored 1946 panel truck and ½ ton pickup. He found these reflectors for both his vehicles at local swap meets. Few people recognize what these reflectors were used for. Jim found his in a box of miscellaneous unmarked parts.
Attached are some pictures of the correct 1947-1955 GM panel truck seats. The right side was a factory option. This would be special ordered if the owner was planning on two passengers. Though they have been recovered with cloth instead of factory “leatherette”, they are correct in all other ways. What is interesting is how GM made the optional right side seat to fold up against the dash. This was necessary to allow easier access to merchandise up front. No need to unload freight to get to the front storage area. It appears the seat frame and floor is painted the original grey color. A thin sheet of insulation is placed between each of the body supports. This was to lessen road noise and slow some heat from entering the cab on hot days. Another interesting feature on panel trucks; the single horizontal oak board on each side of the interior helps prevent damage to the exterior sheet metal walls. If a stack of transported items tipped while the panel truck was making a corner, there was less chance of dents being placed on the sides. Note the long metal lid over the floor box which is under the factory optional right seat. This is only provided in the panel truck and canopy express bodies. It kept the driver’s papers in a neat compartment so they did not slide or blow across the floor.
It’s another era in our country. We were just coming out of the Great Depression. Employment was on the upswing and car sales were better than since the 1920’s. Families with a little more income began to move away from the downtown centers and new neighborhoods were developing at the edge of cities.
Public transportation began serving some of these new housing areas; however it was often not convenient for the new residents to walk to the bus line. They would need to ride to the original mid-town, return home with a supply of groceries, clothing, hardware items, etc. There was only so much a person could carry on a bus or street car.
Thus, the large numbers of small family-owned and operated neighborhood stores began to emerge. These quickly became important to the woman of the house. The husband would drive the family car or take the bus to work. The housewife remained at home, usually with the children, and was the purchaser of groceries and related needs. Neighborhood stores soon realized to be successful, they needed to take groceries, and laundry items to the customer.
With the above being said, the following describes one of the best examples of an all original grocery delivery truck of the last century. This little 1939 GMC panel truck was discovered over 16 years ago by the present owner, Paul Flammang.
He found it in a small garage behind what was once the Laura’s Family Grocery Store in Jewell City, Connecticut. The store was typical for the times, a two-story building on the corner. The shopping area was on the first floor and the owner and his family lived upstairs. Over 50 years ago this building was converted to an upper and lower duplex as the growth of large supermarkets put an end to the family-owned grocery stores.
The delivery truck, used by this grocer was locked in a back garage and had remained there over the years. The family still owned the property.
Paul, a local resident and old car enthusiast, had only heard rumors of the stored delivery panel truck. One day he found a family member with access to the garage and he asked if he could see the panel truck. He could not believe his eyes! It was just like when parked there in the 1950’s. The store logos were still readable on the sides and a few unopened grocery items remained inside undelivered. The log book in the glove box showed the last delivery in 1951 as well as addresses of many regular customers in the neighborhood.
A small ice box was still in the back by the double doors. It held meat on customer deliveries. The water from the melting ice ran through a drain hose in the factory hole for the spare tire clamp and then onto the street. Adjacent to this ice box was a small chopping block and scale.
To Paul, it was love at first sight! He owned a handmade furniture business and wanted the panel truck to add to the character of his company. Negotiations were successful and other than removing the ice box equipment, the panel truck was left as is. Our photos taken in 2012 show how it was found 16 years ago and after it was placed in storage in the 1950’s.
Paul immediately used it to deliver his furniture to New York and Boston twice each month, about 100 miles away for many, many years. Yes, a few motor changes occurred but the exterior has never changed.
We recently met Paul Flammang at our Midwest store with his 1939 GMC panel on a drive from Connecticut to Arizona. He is now retired and will spend his winters near Phoenix. It will be his daily driver there.
The current engine is a Chevrolet 216 six cylinder. Who says low oil pressure babbitt bearing engines can’t stand up to long hours of use?
If you wish to contact Paul Flammang by email: email@example.com
These years are the ‘last of the breed’! Due to the increasing popularity of the new G-series van, panel truck sales had continued to suffer since the mid 1960’s. By 1970, General Motors panel truck production came to a halt. GM did not even wait until the end of the body series in 1972! This ‘enclosed body on a pickup truck chassis’ (used over 50 years) was now history.
If you ever see a 1967-1970 Chevrolet or GM panel truck, tip your hat. You are looking at one of the few survivors that were once seen everyday in residential neighborhoods making deliveries.
Even before the 1920’s, light commercial hauling using panel trucks had found a loyal growing customer base. With increasing numbers of small businesses and the population gradually moving to the cities, the panel truck found a place in our society. By the 1930’s, most all truck manufacturers had designed a panel body to fit on their existing pickup truck chassis.
Advantages of the panel over other trucks for small business are numerous. Their weather-tight body protects cargo from rain, snow, driving wind and summer sun. Very important is the security feature. Merchandise is out of sight and can be locked. They are economical over big trucks and much more maneuverable than the larger commercial vehicles. Panel trucks are just right for moving in crowded streets and narrow alleys.
Retired panel trucks used for storage (above)
Even at the end of the panel truck’s life, auto wrecking yards often kept a few for storage. The bodies were excellent for protecting used parts (starters, generators, bearings, clutches, etc.) from the weather.
During the mid 1960’s, a major drop in panel truck popularity began. The vehicle that was once wanted by most every business in America was now being overlooked because of a ‘new kid on the block.’ The General Motors G-series van had arrived! This new van with short nose, had better turning radius, more cargo space on a like wheelbase, and a side freight door. It was the truck to buy. On most models the price was even lower.
The panel truck could not compete! It’s sales began dropping almost every year. Their popularity became so low that GM discontinued the vehicle even before the end of the 1967-1972 body style. This tells how the sales had dropped. Production was stopped even though the assembly line was operating and the tooling was able to continue stamping the body panels. In 1970, General Motors called it quits. The panel truck was history!
1970 G Series Van (above)
With the major sales decline during the final years, you will see less of the 1967-70 units than of the earlier designs.
Even finding a rough final series panel is a rare occurrence. The newest is now over 30 years old. They were built for work responsibilities. Few were kept out of the weather. Most were owned by companies and driven by their employees.
What a rare panel truck! This little 1934 Chevrolet is almost a “one of a kind”. With it being under construction, we just had to share these pictures.
You can see it was originally assembled from metal sections. A wood framework secured the metal panels to make a solid usable vehicle. As long as the wood remained strong, it served it’s purpose. Unfortunately, the enemy was leaking canvas top plus rust and wood rot on the lower level. The cost of replacing the canvas top was probably close to the panel truck’s value in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Thus, this panel truck is one of the last of thousands sold that year.
(left-right) Leaning against the left side | The four doors | Hood not yet removed
(left-right) New wood door parts and top support | Wood makes left door complete | The rear floor is started
With the introduction of the Advance Design panel truck in mid 1947, it was soon evident that a serious safety hazard existed with a few companies, some night deliveries required the rear double doors to be open. This prevented the taillight from being seen! No doubt this caused some accidents particularly with a fast vehicle coming from behind, with dim older bulb headlights.
The General Motors Product Service Bulletin (issued regularly to dealers) dated May 31, 1948 relates to this condition. Though it is dated over a year after initial panel truck production, it warns dealers and offers an alternative to lessen this unsafe condition.
The following is a copy of the suggested GM modification to correct the problem. As this particular product service bulletin was issued in Canada for their Canadian dealerships, it is not known if the announcement was also made to dealers in the USA .
It may be of interest that this extra light #916877 also used the same number in the Chevrolet Master Parts Catalog as the left 1939 car taillight assembly. (It appears GM used no extra tooling to create this new panel truck extra.) Note: They even requested the dealer to solder the water drain hole in this car light and re-drill because of its different mounting position.
The following is taken from the May 31st, 1948 Product Service Bulletin.
Rear Signal Lamp Released – All Panel Trucks
Some requests have been received for a signal lamp, which would be visible on Panel trucks when the rear doors are open at night. This type of lamp, which will operate in conjunction with the tail lamp, can be mounted on the roof panel, as shown in Fig. 77. The material necessary to make this installation is shown in Fig. 78.
Fig. 77 (above)
Fig. 78 (above)
Fig. 79 (above)
Of the material listed in the chart, the insulated wire, the metal plate, and the two rubber washers are to be made up locally. The dimensions for the metal plate are shown in Fig. 79 and the dimensions for the rubber washers are given in fig. 80. Assemble the bayonet connection to one end of the insulated wire and the eye terminal to the opposite end. A drain hole will be found in the side of the lamp rim. this should be plugged with solder and the same size hole drilled in the bottom of the rim for drainage.
Fig. 80 (above)
The installation procedure is as follows.
1. Center the metal plate, Fig. 79, nine inches from the rear drip molding over the center of the rear doors.
2. Using the plate as a template, drill two 7/32″ holes and one 3/4″ hole in the roof panel.
3. Drill a 7/16″ hole in the roof left side rail, “A” Fig. 81, and another 7/16″ hole “B” in the lower side panel behind the left rear door.
4. Place the two rubber washers over the studs in the lamp and the rubber grommet around the wiring. Assemble the metal plate on the inside of the roof panel and install the lamp using the attaching stock supplied.
5. Connect the 6 ft. of insulated wire to the plain wire in the lamp by means of the bayonet connection. Note: A two filament bulb is used in the lamp. One 3 C.P. and the other 32 C.P. The plain wire connects the 3 C.P. filament. Cut of the other wire.
6. Thread the insulated wire through the holes drilled at “A” and “B” Fig. 81. Install one of the wiring clips under one of the screws in the rear door upper striker plate “D” and the other clip under the screw at the rear of the belt strainer “C”. Compress the clips so that they fit snugly around the wire.
7. Connect the wire to the tail lamp switch “E” at the same terminal as the black tracer wire.
The very practical panel truck produced from the early 1920’s through 1970 was an excellent cargo vehicle. Merchandise was protected from the weather and equally important from easy theft. Being a freight hauler, its cargo floor is like the pickup truck. Hard yellow pine and cross sills support the weight and merchandise slides on the metal strips.
Though not obvious, a major floor design occurred in the 1/2 ton panel truck in 1950 of the Advance Design years. Prior to this, the floor consisted of about six wood panels, each separated by 1/4″. Covering this gap was the necessary 1 1/2″ wide metal bed strips. To prevent dust from coming through the wood plank separations, GM changed the bed to a single piece of 3/4″ marine plywood in 1950. It appears this was the same size that was used with the flat floor board Suburban. However, with the panel truck the plywood was grooved for the bed strips. Once installed in the truck it looked like strips between the earlier individual planks.
The reason for the new plywood design was to lessen dust entering the storage area (at least in cool weather). Most back roads were dirt and gravel. Thus, owners complained that small amounts of dust would come in between the bed strips and settle on merchandise.
With the change in the bed floor, the length of the strips were reduced from 82′ to 79 1/2″ at least three of the punched holes in the early and late strips are in a different position.
In designing the panel truck, engineers realized that this vehicle must have a bumper for body protection. This bumper however, created a slight problem! It held the person loading freight further away from the vehicle cargo floor. He was required to lean further forward to reach merchandise.
To help solve this problem, GM modified the standard bumper to come closer to the middle of the body. The bumper was simply given a stamping at the manufacturer and the solution was achieved. Though it gave the worker only a few more inches, it helped increase his reach.
In today’s world, the indented panel truck rear bumper (1946 and older) has become difficult to find. Most panel trucks are restored with a bumper from a pickup truck. Few owners are even aware that this specially formed bumper existed.
During the first half of the Advance Design years (1947-1955), GM offered a special panel truck as an option. This deluxe model was designed for a company wanting to give a more upscale appearance to their retail customers.
During the era of one car families, the lady of the house looked more toward home deliveries for essentials. GM knew there was a demand for this type panel truck in nicer residential neighborhoods. They targeted stores and shops that provided home deliveries. With a relatively small investment GM added a stainless steel trim package that gave their pre-existing panel truck a very special look. The chrome grill and bumpers plus stainless trim around the windshield and side door windows was already being used on the deluxe pickup.
GM then created some extras for their panel. Three horizontal strips at the lower edge of each fender, a long narrow horizontal spear toward the top of the front fenders, and a stainless edging surrounding the two rear door windows added to the panels appearance. Wheels were body colored with three stripes, not black as on the standard model.
The slower selling one ton panel was also available with this deluxe option. This nicely appointed larger panel was right at home in new exclusive suburbs delivering carpet rolls, furniture, carrying pipe for the plumber, etc.
Production of these Advance Design deluxe panel trucks was ceased in mid to late 1951. Korean War shortages and the resulting high cost of stainless steel eliminated this optional package. After the war years this deluxe model with the many horizontal trim strips was introduced again as the 1954 through mid-1955. With limited production, the short lived optional deluxe panel truck is a very rare sight in today’s world. Locating most of the necessary parts to transform a standard panel to a deluxe model is now possible from Jim Carters Truck Parts.
1947-50 1/2 ton Deluxe Panel (above)
For Panel models, this option includes bright metal reveals for side door windows, rear door windows and windshield; garnish moldings for side door windows; arm rest for driver’s side door, bright metal moldings for front and rear fenders, right-hand sun shade and chromium-plated radiator grille. (Not originally available on Canopy Express models or Carryall Suburban’s, however will fit both perfectly.)