Have I destroyed any small hope of being taken seriously as an automotive historian? I’ll let you decide. But after the blunders I made in trying to help my friend Nick unravel the provenance of his little utility trailer that he picked up a couple of months ago for $100, my self confidence is as damaged as the Chevy emblem that once graced its oddly smooth tailgate. How could I have screwed up so badly? Now a very rare piece of automotive history (and likely worth several time what Nick paid for the trailer) has been rent asunder.
I met Nick at the beginning of this summer when I was shooting his awesome ’65 Dodge Town Panel, which will be featured here one of these days/months/years. It’s a work in progress, and I keep putting it off until the next phase of its evolution. Soon.
Nick is something of a free spirit, roaming the wilds of the high desert when not planning and implementing improvements to his truck.. He sent me this selfie just a couple of hours ago, behind the wheel of his truck and wearing a porcupine skin “hat” he fashioned from a road kill. But for almost three months, Nick lived with us and helped me during my busy summer re-rental/maintenance season, as well as other tasks around the Casa Niedermeyer.
Such as shelling beans from Stephanie’s garden. A more charming, insightful, intelligent and helpful house guest would be hard to imagine. He made a challenging summer perpetually fun. That is a huge gift.
So when he showed up one week with this cute little trailer, you might think that I might have returned the favor by giving it my undivided attention in determining its true provenance. I didn’t. It probably had to do with the fact that it really was a very demanding time: 65 days of hard work without a day off. Here’s how it all unfolded instead:
Nick had rightfully already identified the fenders as being from a Ford F-1. He showed me images from Google on his phone that convinced him. I should have looked a bit harder, and at more than just the fender, which clearly is from an F-1.
So Nick naturally assumed that the whole bed was from an F-1. And it was easier to just go along with that line of reasoning. Sure; someone made a trailer out of an F-1 bed.
And Nick did not like the Chevy emblem on the tailgate. It seemed jarring and inconsistent to see it on a Ford bed. Nick assumed that a previous owner had a Chevy truck, and wanted the trailer to match. Sure; makes sense.
We conveniently ignored the odd smooth tailgate “cover”, and instead put our attention on the odd taillights. We were stumped by them, and since I was so busy/tired, I put it out to you all to solve the mystery of their origins.
Not surprisingly, the (correct) answer came soon, from occam24, who pegged them as being from a ’57-’60 Ford panel truck, which coincidentally was a direct competitor to Nick’s Town Panel. And these tail lights are worth $200+. Nick had already made a 100% profit on his investment.
Now this all happened pretty early on after the trailer first appeared. Having satisfied himself that the trailer was a Ford, even if the lights were from a different model, Nick decided that the Chevy emblem on the tailgate had to go. Nick is not a Chevy guy, and it jarred his very particular aesthetic sensibility.
I casually assumed that the tailgate cover, made of fiberglass, was some kind of aftermarket piece, which I have seen on the back of custom stepside pickups over the years.
I told Nick the Chevy emblem was probably just slapped on with some kind of glue/mastic, and he started prying at it with a flat bar. It was NOT coming off.
If we had given these indentations on the inside of the tailgate, in which two machine bolt heads were ensconced, more careful consideration, we might have realized why this emblem was not coming off easily. These were not aftermarket indentations.
The other great mystery was why the backside of the stamped-in F O R D logo wasn’t on the inside of the tailgate. What the?? Is this some kind of dual-wall tailgate?
Nick took off one or two of the screws on the bottom edge of the fiberglass cover, enough to peer up into it with a flashlight. There was no second wall, and there was no logo at all. An American pickup tailgate without a logo embossed into the tailgate??
In my (weak) defense, I was a bit preoccupied with other matters when Nick determined to remove the bowtie. He borrowed my Sawzall, and cut the two bolts And showed me the results. There clearly were two brackets spot welded onto the steel tailgate that protruded out to the fiberglass cover, to properly support the emblem. This was not just some Chevy lover’s crude way to show his bowtie love. What was going on here? Something kept nagging at me, but I just wouldn’t properly allocate the preoccupied brain cells to plunge a bit deeper. Hey, it’s Nick’s toy; what do I really care? I’ve got real work to attend to…
Nick went off somewhere for a few days, and when he returned, he was excited to show me something about the trailer, something incredibly obvious that we both had overlooked: These Ford fenders were added later; the original mounting holes and the residue of the mastic or sealant where they attached to the trailer were all-too obvious. Doh!! How could we have missed these earlier?
By this time, the intense seasonal work was over, and I finally determined to unravel the mystery. Starting with the sudden memory recall that all Ford Flareside beds have flared tops on the sides, that jut out at something like a 45° angle, as seen in the ones further up. And a quick Google at Dodge beds showed the same thing. And IH too! But this bed’s side tops (sills) were perfectly flat. Who did that?
Chevrolet! The lights finally lit up, although only partially. This is obviously a Chevy bed! Brilliant.
The distinctive GM pattern of narrow, medium, and wide boards in the bed floor sealed the deal.
But…what about that blank tailgate, its fiberglass cover, and that bowtie on the back?
The only thing I could come up with (again) was a custom tailgate of some sort, as they are readily available. But something still didn’t jive.
Those two bolts that held the emblem on, for one. And what were these two unusual indented devices, attached to the inside sides of the tailgate. They had no apparent function, and the hook eye in each one looked less than original. And hooking the chain to them made the tailgate droop down some, less than the usual level. Anyway, there were those typical hooks on the side for that purpose. Hmmm. This tailgate was clearly not a normal Chevy tailgate, yet it was also not just a custom aftermarket unit either.
This riddle needed to be solved. I dug deeper into the old gray matter for an answer. Nick and I sat at my computer, having solved part of the puzzle, but not the key one.
Suddenly….a thought arose from the depths of the muddle, of a Chevy pickup that I once adored as a kid, but had not thought about in decades.
Cameo! Chevrolet Cameo carrier, to be specific, the first smooth-side pickup ever. Googles furiously…And there it is, the bowtie emblem on the back! Damn! Why didn’t I think of it sooner? It’s all so obvious now.
No less than Chuck Jordan came up with the idea for the Cameo, after a stint in the Air Force, stationed at Cape Canaveral, where he was inspired by guided missile carriers to start sketching pickups with a full width box.
Jordan wanted an integrated cab-bed, without any break, like Ford would eventually do with its 1961 “slick” pickups. GM’s engineers (rightly) vetoed that, saying that such a large unbroken expanse of flat steel would wrinkle from the frame flex of a truck. The compromise was a separate full-width bed, with a piece of chrome between the cab and bed.
I knew that the Cameo did not have a true full-width bed; Chevy just used the regular bed and added fiberglass panels on the sides to give the appearance so desired. And of course the tailgate had a smooth steel inner panel, and that fiberglass cover. And those two shiny indented things in the tailgate are the latches, with recessed handles. And there was a clever spring-loaded cable that was attached to the sides of the tailgate. Nick’s trailer had a Cameo tailgate! Mystery solved. How could I not have thought of the Cameo from the get-go? It’s all so obvious…now.
The Cameo was built in modest numbers between 1955 – 1958, when Chevy introduced the all-steel Fleetside tailgate.
Nick did a little research, and it turns out that Cameo tailgates sell for several hundred dollars, or more. Even just the tailgate emblem can fetch a couple of hundred bucks.
Of course, his is now a little bit worse for my stupidity. Why would someone stick a Chevy emblem on the back of a Ford pickup bed…Oh, that’ll just come off with a bar…
I have only one small consolation: none of you recognized that it was a Chevy bed and a Cameo tailgate either.