We’ve recently passed the end of an automotive era, one that surprisingly went unheralded on this site. Well that just won’t do, as it is our job here at CC to observe automotive milestones that other sites miss. Specifically, with the demise of 2015 Ram Cargo Van, the last sedan delivery vehicle has disappeared from the US market.
The Sedan Delivery (also sometimes referred to a Panel Delivery), for the uninitiated, is a relatively obscure body style of a van built on a car chassis. Typically, these take the form of a station wagon body, but with steel panels where the rear windows would be. Historically, sedan deliveries had two doors, but modern versions typically have four.
In the beginning, back when it was enough just to have four wheels and an engine, all light duty trucks were essentially sedan deliveries. A Model T with a car body was a car; one with a truck body was a truck. Even up until the 1940’s, light duty trucks were basically beefed up versions of their donor car chassis (Model TT, AA, and BB, continuing the Ford analogy). While Wikipedia will point to some Model A Town Delivery as the first Sedan Delivery, to me it is too close to the Model AA truck to be considered a true Sedan Delivery.
It is not until the 1940’s, when the major auto manufacturers began to use bespoke frames and bodies for their light duty truck lines that a Sedan Delivery (a van based on a car chassis) even became possible, in my opinion. In any case, I’m not here debate the first sedan delivery – we’ll leave that topic to future Curbivores. I’m here to talk about the rise and rapid fall of this unique bodystyle.
Regardless of what you consider to be the first one, there can be no debating that the period of time spanning the late 1940’s to the late 1950’s was the golden age of the Sedan Delivery. While Chevrolet and Ford dominated the Sedan Delivery market, a few other manufacturers (such as Pontiac, pictured above) got in on the action as well.
Studebaker even offered a Sedan Delivery.
Because these golden era sedan deliveries were based on two-door station wagons, it is no surprise that they mostly disappeared once this body style was superseded by the four-door station wagon in early sixties. 1960 was the last year Chevrolet would offer a full-sized two door wagon, and therefore it would be their last full-sized sedan delivery.
Ford also sold their last full-sized Sedan Delivery in 1960. However, Ford did soldier on with a Falcon-based sedan delivery until 1965. Then, almost as quickly as it had burst onto the scene, the Sedan Delivery was gone.
There were numerous attempts at revivals over the years. From 1971 to 1974, Chevrolet offered a Panel Express version of their Vega two-door wagon. These were slow sellers, with only around 10,000 being sold over the entire four-year run. They correspondingly rare today, if not highly sought after (although Ed Stembridge just recently stumbled upon one).
In 1977, Ford took a different slant on the compact sedan delivery with the Cruising Wagon version of the Pinto wagon (which as you will recall only had two doors). With a bubble window, optional mag wheels and rainbow stripes, it was clearly aimed at the conversion van crowd, not the tradesman.
Ford didn’t break down sales by trim line at the time, so it is impossible to know now many Cruising Wagons were sold. I recall them being not all that uncommon when I was growing up, so I would wager that it was in the tens of thousands. Ford sold the Cruising Wagon for the remainder of the Pinto’s run, until 1980.
The last hurrah for the Sedan Delivery would come in the form of cargo vans based on minivans. A cargo panel body style was available with the release of the Chrysler minivans in 1984. By my definition of Sedan Delivery (a passenger vehicle converted to cargo use, with sheetmetal replacing the rear side glass), I consider this to be true a Sedan Delivery vehicle. For similar reasons, I don’t consider the cargo versions of the Chevrolet Astro, Ford Aerostar or other early truck-based minivans to be true Sedan Deliveries, since they were built on truck platforms, not passenger car.
Ford did build a limited number of cargo versions of it Windstar minivan, which is a true minivan and therefore counts as a true Panel Delivery, in my opinion.
The two box sedan delivery body style enjoyed a bit of a resurgence in the 90’s and early 2000’s, with the introduction of retro styled wagons like the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR. While Chrysler never offered a sedan delivery version of the PT Cruiser (any that you may see are aftermarket conversions), Chevrolet did offer a panel version of the HHR.
In fact, Chevrolet appears to have offered two sedan delivery variants of the HHR: One with glass windows on the rear doors, like the car pictured above, and one with full metal panel rear doors, pictured below:
Note that the version pictured above still had four doors. However, there were no exterior door handles on the rear doors (to better facilitate signage). These doors could only be opened from the inside, and hence were referred to as “Cargo Doors” instead of “Passenger Doors.”
What I consider to be the last Sedan Delivery was the car I alluded to at the beginning of my piece, the Ram cargo version of Chrysler’s minivan platform, last sold in 2015.
We are unlikely to see another sedan delivery any time soon, if ever. Two door station wagons are as likely to make a comeback as poodle skirts. Chrysler appears to have no plans to make a steel-sided version of the Pacifica minivan, nor do they need to since the have the far more versatile Promaster van in their commercial lineup. So lets hear it for this now extinct vehicle body style.