Segment Six: 1955-1959 Early V8 Pickups

Author: Don Bunn
Chevrolet pickups sailed through the Advanced Design Era comfortably ensconced in first place in unit sales over arch cross-town rival Ford. Ford beat Chevrolet to market with the first modern overhead valve V8 engine in 1954, and this at a time when the industry was rushing to convert all vehicles to
modern high-performance OHV V8 engines. Early in the 1950s all luxury automobiles had already converted to OHV V8s. The other two low-priced brands, Chevrolet and Plymouth, were in line for new V8 engines in the 1955 model year. It is true that Chevrolet was one year later than Ford with an OHV V8 but that didn't mean Chevrolet was behind.

Chevrolet continued to sell these "First Series 1955" trucks until March 25, 1955. Visual changes from 1954 models are too minor to mention. A 1955 Chevrolet model 3014 pickup is shown. (Photo: Don Bunn)

Chevrolet's innovative small block 265 cubic-inch OHV V8 blew Ford's Y-block out of the picture. Chevrolet immediately became the pickup power leader over Ford.

Chevrolet's management dubbed the 1955 trucks their "Task-Force" line. Task-Force is a naval term. "Task" refers to a specific job or series of jobs the Task Force is to accomplish and "Force" is the inherent power with which they accomplish their tasks.

Task-Force pickups were all new. Their styling hallmarks included the truck industry's first wraparound windshield. Chevrolet advertising called it a "Sweep-Sight Windshield". This idea was first shown the year before on GM's innovative Buick LeSabre concept Motorama show car. Other interesting styling innovations included shrouded headlights in visored fenders, a classic egg crate grille, running boards

The "Second Series 1955" Chevrolet trucks were called Task-Force models. Chevrolet designers developed a new shape for these trucks called the "Load Pulling" look. Shown is a 1955 Chevrolet Second Series 3100 half-ton pickup. (Photo: Don Bunn)

concealed behind the cab doors and an optional "full view rear window" (wraparound).

New features for driver convenience and ease of operation included power steering, power brakes, overdrive for half-ton pickups, key-turn starts, tubeless tires, a 12-volt electrical system and a four speed automatic transmission on Series 3000 pickups.

A new level of glamour for pickups was set in 1955 by Chevrolet's beautiful new Model 3124 Cameo Carrier pickup, shown. Cameo was designed to attract attention and to create favorable impressions for its owner. Cameo was more than just beautiful it was also practical. Chevrolet engineers built it for work the same as every Chevrolet pickup. (Photo: Don Bunn)

The new Model 3104 half-ton pickup rode on a 114-inch wheelbase and carried 78 1/8-inch long by 50-inch wide and 17 9/16-inch high cargo box with flat flares, a rugged hardwood floor equipped with steel skid strips and an optional side mounted tire carrier.
New chassis features included optional power brakes and steering, tubeless tires, hotchkiss drive, I-beam front axle and leaf springs for all wheels. Standard engine was the 123 net horsepower 235.5 cubic inch Thriftmaster six which produced 210 ft-lb. gross torque. Optional engine was the 265 cubic inch Trademaster V8 which developed 132 net horsepower and 249 ft-LB
The 1957 Task-Force pickups received a fresh, functional new grille design featuring a flat oval shape inside the grille opening. The standard engine was the 235 ci six and optional power was from the 265 CI OHV V8. A 1957 Model 3104 half-ton pickup is shown. (Photo: E. Nebergall)

gross torque. Transmission choices included a three-speed synchro with or w/o overdrive, a HD three-speed, a four-speed automatic and a four-speed synchromesh. A new long box half-ton pickup for 1955 was Model 3204, which rode on a 123 1/4-inch wheelbase and carried a 90-inch long by 50-inch wide and 17 9/16-inch high cargo box. Its GVW was 5000 pounds, the same as Model 3104, the short-box half-ton. All chassis specs were the same for both pickups.

The Model 3604 3/4-ton pickup had a 123 1/4-inch wheelbase chassis and carried the same cargo box as the long box halt-ton. It was rated for a GVW of 6,900 pounds. Model 3604 was offered with the same engine and transmission options as that of the half-ton except an overdrive was not available. It had, of course, heavier or larger springs, axles, brakes, wheels and tires to give the extra load carrying capability.

The model 3804 one-ton pickup had a 135-inch wheelbase chassis and carried a 108 1/4-inch long by 50-inch wide by 17 9/16-inch high cargo box. It carried a GVW of 7,000 pounds and a payload rating of 3,100 pounds. Engine options were the same as above. Transmission options included a HD three-speed, four-speed synchro and a four-speed automatic.

Chevrolet Trucks dropped a bombshell on the industry with the intro of its famous limited production Model 3124 Cameo Carrier. Its cab and front sheet metal were the same as other 1955 models, but its big plastic rear fenders gave the impression that its cargo box was cab wide. Its GVW rating at 5,000 pounds was the same as the other half-

For the first time Chevrolet offered a cab wide steel cargo box, named the Fleetside, which replaced the Cameo Carrier. A 1958 Chevrolet half-ton 31 Apache Stepside is shown. All 1958 models featured a new grille design and dual headlights. (Photo: AAMA)

This was the last year for the Early V8 Pickups Era and for that reason very few changes were made to either their appearance or engineering features. The only styling changes of note was that the front hood emblem and fender side emblems on 1959 pickups were given a look distinct from the 1958 trucks. A 1959 Chevrolet half-ton Apache 31 Stepside pickup is shown. (Photo: Don Bunn)

tons and it retained all the utility and toughness and economy of all Chevrolet trucks. A plastic panel also covered the tailgate. Cameo was only offered in two-tone exterior colors of Bombay Ivory and Commercial Red. Its mechanical specifications were the same as all the other half-ton modes.

Chevrolet engineers and designers made numerous changes to the early V8 pickups for model years 1956 to 1959, we will highlight the most important changes. The 265 cubic inch Trademaster V8 was given an optional four-barrel carburetor which increased its horsepower output to 205. Fairly significant additions and improvements occurred with the 1957 pickups. First of all there was a new grille design which featured a large elongated oval shape floating in the grille's center. A Low-Hub steering wheel had its hub depressed three inches below the pane of the steering wheel's rim for added driver safety and better viewing of the instruments. The Trademaster V8 engine was increased from 265 cubic inches to 283 and its horsepower rating was up to 160 and gross torque was up to 270 ft-LB As a mid year introduction Chevrolet engineers released their first ever production 4WD pickups in half-, 3/4- and one-ton sizes.

The 1958 models featured a new grille and dual headlights. As a midyear model Chevrolet introduced its first cab wide (75-inches) Fleetside pickup box. The Cameo Carrier was discontinued when the Fleetside was introduced. The all-new El Camino pickup was introduced in 1959, the last year of the Early V8 Pickup Era but we will cover this truck in a later segment. The 283 cubic inch Trademaster V8s name was changed to Turbo-Fire in 1959 and a Super Turbo-Fire 283 cubic-inch V8, boasting of 230 horsepower and 300 ft-LB of torque, was introduced for the Sedan Delivery and El Camino only.

Chevrolet pickups led all other manufacturers in sales every year of the Early V8 Pickup Era.

Next Segment: 1960-1966 Fleetside Pickups