Segment Three: 1937-1940 First Modern Pickups


Author: Don Bunn
Chevrolet's modern pickup era began in 1937 when management filled in the holes in the model lineups. Prior to 1937 the company produced a Commercial model (1/2-ton) and a Heavy Truck (1 1/2-ton). The gaps were closed with the introduction of 3/4- and one-ton models. Actually these new models came late in the model year in July 1937. Another interesting development was that the trucks again shared the styling traits of automobiles.

Way back in 1921 and 1922 Chevrolet built a 3/4-ton chassis cowl only. No bodies were offered to say nothing of a pickup. It was not until 1937 that Chevrolet began to offer 3/4- and one-ton models as standard models -- pickups, chassis cabs, stakes, panels, etc. Shown is a 1937 GC Master 3/4-ton pickup. Wheelbase length was 122 1/4-inches and its engine was the new 216.5 cubic inch six. (Photo: Arnold Paradis)

The new 3/4-ton truck had a wheelbase of 122 1/4-inches, a payload capacity of 1,500 pounds and a GVW of 5,800 pounds. The one-ton differed from the 3/4-ton in that it had larger rear brakes, heavier rear springs and bigger wheels and tires.

Available bodies included pickup, stake, and platform. The new pickup body had an inside length of 78-inches, an inside width of 45 3/4-inches and an inside height of 14-inches. Its capacity was 32.2 cubic feet or an increase of 13 percent over the 1/2-ton model.

This extremely attractive 1938 Chevrolet HC Master 1/2-ton pickup had been recently restored when photographed at a car show in July 1998 (Photo: Don Bunn)

The OHV truck engine, for all models, was increased in size to 216.5 cubic inches. Compression ratio was at 6.25:1. Brake horsepower increased to 85 at 3200rpm and torque was at 170 ft-lbs.

In 1937 Chevrolet also offered a Commercial Series built on an automobile's chassis. Included were the

Sedan Delivery and a Coupe Pickup. The Coupe Pickup was simply the Master Series coupe with a slide-in pickup body. The trunk lid could be removed when using the pickup box. The Coupe Pickup dated back to 1936 and the Sedan Delivery was a modified two-door Chevrolet Sedan. Chevrolet's exclusive Suburban station wagon was in its third model year in 1937.

The 1938 models carried over with only minor styling changes. Although minor, the changes to the grille and hood sides greatly enhanced the truck's appearance. The other styling change of note was a new front bumper. The 1938 bumper was wider with a recess running down its center and it was tapered on the ends. New models for 1938 included the 3/4- and one-ton panels.

The 1939-1940 Chevrolet trucks received a restyled and reengineered cab and front sheet metal. These new trucks were by far the best looking trucks in Chevrolet Division's history.

The new cab was designed for driver comfort and convenience. A more attractive and functional instrument panel was easier for the driver to use. Controls like choke and throttle were recessed at the lower edge of the panel at its center and the instruments were clustered for easy reading.

Seat backs in the cabs were made nearly three-inches lower and the cab provided more headroom. Softer seat springs had about two-inches of "give" to get the additional headroom. Seats were made three-inches wider, which enabled three men to sit abreast.

All 1939 models had longer wheelbases: 113 1/2-inches for the half-ton; 123 3/4-inches for the 3/4- and one-tons and 133 and 158 1/2-inches for the heavy models.

The 1939 Chevrolet Series JC Master half-ton pickup was built on a 113 1/2-inch wheelbase chassis. Chevrolet called it a "Cab and Box". It sold for only $572 list. Road ready it weighed 2,925 pounds. (Photo: Don Bunn)

The surest way to identify a 1940 Chevrolet pickup is to look at its topmost grille bar. It is higher than that of the 1939 model and has a large Chevrolet name written in red script letters. The 1940 half-ton pickup was the Series KC Light Delivery model, which sold for only $572, or the same as the 1939 model. (Photo: Don Bunn)

There were no additions or deletions to model offerings for 1939. Although beyond the scope of our interests, Chevrolet did launch its first factory-built cab-over-engine trucks in 1939.

The 1940 cab remained the same but the instrument panel was curved with a rectangular gauge cluster taken from the passenger cars. Sealed beam headlights were also new for 1940 which caused the designers to give the trucks a separate parking light mounted on top of the front fenders. The best styling clue to differentiate a 1939 from a 1940 is to look at the top of the grille. The 1940's grilled had a wider chrome strip at the very top with the Chevrolet name written in script letters.

Next Segment: 1941-1946 Art-Deco Pickups