The strictly two/three passenger coupe/business coupe style petered out in the late forties and early fifties, depending on the brand. It was no longer was worth the investment in body tooling for the small numbers bought. Some were replaced by a club coupe, that was shorter than the two-door sedan, and could be had with or without a back seat (called business coupe in that case). But even that went by the way, as it made no sense to have two two-door sedan/coupe styles, and Chevy made the last one in 1953.
So starting in 1954, the two door sedan was also offered in a utility sedan style, minus the back seat. And this one even made it into this fine PR photo shoot, decked out in whitewalls, no less.
Let’s go back and take a brief look at the evolution of Chevy’s business coupes to utility sedans.
1938 was the last year for the true 2/3 passenger coupe at Chevrolet. This is the Business Coupe, which apparently had a fixed rear seat back, but a very long trunk to compensate.
The Sport Coupe had divided seat backs, allowing easy access to the luggage area. That’s because it had a rumble seat and continental spare tire, and thus no external trunk opening.
These coupes shared much of their lower body with the Cabriolet, including the rumble seat, so strictly speaking, these are four seaters. In good weather, that is. Must have been a trip, riding in the rumble seat.
The new 1939 Chevrolet coupes had a longer greenhouse. That created the first storage area for the business coupe on the inside, in addition to the trunk.
And in the Four-Passenger Coupe, that area was used for seating. But instead of a bench, there were two fold-down seats facing each other. Quite curiously, there was no 1939 Chevrolet cabriolet! How odd. Hard to imagine, actually, but there really wasn’t one.
The Cabriolet reappeared in 1940, and now as a 4-6 seater with a rear bench seat.
And the Four-Passenger Coupe got the same back bench seat too. The Business Coupe was essentially the same inside as before. These same basic bodies were built through 1948.
The new 1949 models (1950 shown) continued that, although the rear seat area looks to be a bit larger thanks to a longer roofline.
This coupe body style had its last year in 1953.
It was effectively replaced in 1954 by the new Utility Sedan, a two-door sedan minus the rear seat.
The 1955 brochure is the last one that bothers to give space to the Utility Sedan, as sales were modest and it wasn’t exactly very sexy.
The two-door Utility Sedan continued through 1961, as can be seen here. What’s curious about this brochure page is that there’s a separate Biscayne Fleetmaster series, of two and four-door sedans, specifically targeted to fleets. How much could they strip from the regular Biscayne? Obviously every penny counted with large fleet orders.
The Utility Sedan was gone in 1962, since there was now a cheaper Chevy II two-door sedan. And it came with a back seat!
Speaking of dollars and cents, our featured 1956 Utility Sedan listed for $92 less than the regular two-door sedan. That’s $890 in today’s dollars, so it was not exactly insignificant.
Well done as usual, Paul. Willy Loman would highly approve of your chronicle of his preferred ride..
The missing convertibles in 1939 are an oddity, especially since there wasn’t a federal law forcing the change. GM kept convertibles on its other brands. Chrysler went the other way in ’39, dropping convertibles on its new big body but leaving them on Plymouth, which stuck with the ’38 body. Plymouth, for once, was able to get ahead of the GM curve with the first powered top.
The primary reason for carmakers to drop the convertibles was they were low-volume and more labor-intensive and costly to build. Even with the higher prices, they were loss leaders, kept mostly to generate showroom traffic and public image. The 1939 Chevrolet and Pontiac Quality Six shared the new Fisher A-bodies. If a Pontiac convertible was wanted the buyer had to spring for a Deluxe Six or Eight B-body model. GM promoted a sliding sunroof option at the time but it failed to catch on.
Chrysler Corp. did the same gambit, dropped all their 1939 Chrysler-DeSoto-Dodge convertibles but the held-over Plymouths which still carried slightly updated 1938 bodies. Briggs Body supplied most of the Mopar bodies then,
Among the independent carmakers, Studebaker dropped their convertible coupes after 1935 but contracted with Central Manufacturing, the spin-off of Auburn to build four door convertible sedan bodies for 1938-’39, then dropped the body style until 1947. Willys hadn’t built a convertible since 1933, a few 77 roadsters, Graham quit after 1935, except for a tiny number of 1937’s and a few Hollywoods from left-over Cord stampings. Both Nash and Hudson continued to catalogue convertibles, though the numbers built were miniscule.
Apparently the lack of convertibles was viewed as a detriment to their images, the style returned for 1940.
Things changed quickly in the 1930s. The convertible roadster had always been the cheapest body style. The last year for that was in 1935, for Chevy.
In 1938, it cost $755, still pretty reasonable. When the cabrio came back in 1940, it was now $898, one of the most expensive body styles.
Convertibles had quickly morphed from being cheap wheels to a luxury item. The closed cars were the default.
When in high school in mid1960’s, my buddy bought a green 150 for $150…. it was pretty much perfect but considered old and out of style by them… I was impressed by how smooth and quiet it was and the 265″ 2 bbl. V8 w/ 3 speed manual on the tree delivered surprising acceleration feel… compared to my ’55 Morris Minor which my Dad picked up for $150 in bushel baskets… later I dropped $75 on a nearly perfect ’57 Olds 98 Starfire… the used car dealership couldn’t get it started… just a hidden vandalism cut in the coil wire? Maybe it had been repossessed?
I always figured the ’61 Biscayne with extended roof ledge out over back window to make it ugly and all those door posts and body posts actually cost more to make than the simple elegant hardtop!
The roadster didn’t really morph into the cabriolet, at least not directly. The roadster and the cabriolet were actually sold alongside each other for several years from the late ’20s to the mid ’30s, and always served two different purposes.
The roadster was an “open bodied” car that was always the cheapest, most basic type of car available. The 4-door equivalent, known as the Touring or the Phaeton, was dropped at the same time the roadster was. From what I understand, these cars’ bodies were actually different from the closed bodied cars, always being produced internally by Chevrolet, not supplied by Fisher Body. They went away in the mid ’30s because by then carbuyers had come to demand the comfort and convenience of a closed bodied car, even in the low end price bracket. In their last year, 1935, Chevrolet built only 1,176 roadsters and 217 Phaetons.
The cabriolet (or convertible) by contrast, was a “closed bodied” car in the sense that it used the same body as the closed bodied cars, and with its roof up, it was theoretically supposed to seal up just as tightly as a true closed bodied car would. I’m sure it was always considerably more expensive than the roadster, although it may not have always been as expensive, relative to the rest of the lineup, as it eventually became. That may not have come along until after the body it shared with the coupe gained a passenger compartment large enough for an enclosed back seat – it would have been hard for a car with a rumble seat to take on that kind of elite status.
IIMN, there were a couple of other occasions prior to 1939 when the cabriolet disappeared for a year, one of them being 1935. I think the cabriolet just wasn’t a high priority in this era. It didn’t sell in huge numbers; it hadn’t yet become the crown jewel of the lineup that it eventually became; it didn’t serve as a price leader the way the roadster did. Sometimes when a new design was introduced, due to this lower importance, it was simply a “Day Two” (or more succinctly, “Year Two”) item. I think that’s what happened in 1939.
I’m aware of that, and didn’t mean to make a direct comparison. It was just to point out that the day of the cheap roadster were over, and that if one wanted an open car, it was now going to have to be a pretty expensive cabriolet.
Trust us Aussies to come to the rescue! Here’s the local Holden-bodied ’39 convertible.
That ’39 Chevy convertible was sleek looking!
Great reminder. Don’t forget to add the 1976 Chevette Scooter which had optional rear seats. (And in Canada, there was the Pontiac Acadian counterpart, the ‘1+1’)
And the Vega Panel Delivery, which only came with a driver’s seat standard (passenger seat was an option, tho).
When first introduced, rear seats and an opening rear hatch window were both options on the AMC Gremlin.
Thats one I dont think we ever got prewar we got the regular coupe in 39 up untill september when war broke out and new cars evaporated, post war only four door cars were locally assembled
In the early ’70’s a neighbor had a AMC utility sedan of some sort….I was struck by the lack of a back seat. He was a musician and loved the utility.
Toyota offers a Utility Package on the Tacoma Access Cab pickup. For $1175 credit (2021 price list) it deletes the rear seats and cup holders, the rear windows no longer roll down, and there are some cosmetic trim changes as well. This isn’t a two door; it still has rear suicide doors for access, but in other ways including the Utility name seems a worthy successor.
I guess I’m not totally surprised that Toyota offers such an option on the Tacoma, since I removed and stored the jump seats in my Ranger when I replaced the carpeting. I decided I wanted the extra room for tools, luggage, groceries, packages, and dogs more than I needed the seats, which were never used. And given how small the seats are – especially when they’re folded – I was surprised at how much more I could fit back there with them removed.
It’s probably due to Toyota eliminating the base, regular cab Tacoma. And I would imagine it’s not too easy to find a Utility Package equipped Tacoma, either. They’re likely limited to big Toyota fleet dealerships, and then maybe only on special order.
Not too hard to find in stock here. Lots of small businesses buy them, as well as fleets.
These seem much more like the successor to business coupes than cars of the Chevette Scooter variety, which I think were sold mostly as personal cars for people looking for the lowest possible price rather than cars for the traveling salesperson or other “business” use.
My Dad had a black 1951 Chevrolet business coupe bought at a Salem, OR government surplus auction along with three Fords. His father and brothers came to Salem.by train and drive the Fords to their home in San Francisco where they were flipped for more than they would have in Oregon. Dad, who was a GM man until the Cadillac Eldorado Diesel, kept the Chevrolet and got a rear seat from a salvage yard. He drove it until a drink made a left turn in front of him.
I had a ’56 150 in exactly that green. Mine hade a back seat, AM radio (kaput), heater (almost adequate out in LA), PG and FULL hubcaps! Of course, when i bought her in Jan, ’70 the paint was not shiny, and the RH side had a gash from wheel well to wheel well. Her old, HEAVY 6 lasted @ 2 weeks, despite showing just over 102K miles.
That old girl was pretty much my daily driver and then garage queen for 20 years almost to the day. I put a ’66 275hp 327 with aluminum case PG in her early on. Over the years I rolled over 85K miles on her including a trip as a tow vehicle for all our worldly goods from the LA basin to Madison, WI. That was done at the height of the first gas crisis in 1974: nothing like a premium guzzling 327 towing a loaded brick of a U-Haul at 10-11 mpg over @ 2200 miles. What, me worry?
This ’56 is the one car I very much regret $elling. Despite no handling, brakes, economy or ride comfort, I dearly loved that old Chevy! 🙂 The car got me thru ACCD (the excu$e for buying her-how could I possibly carry all my supplies on a motorcycle?) while keeping me dry during Winter rains. We all ended up back in the LA area for about 2 years, but then it was back to the Mid West for good. The second time my ’56 rode on a train; left LA spotless, arrived in Elkhart, IN BURIED under GRIME..the car was black instead of Mojave Gold.
Unfortunately in 1990 I was $tupid enough to sell her for what was then a decent price. Considering the prices of Tri-5s now…I practically gave her away. I still miss the simple old “tank”, but co$t notwithstanding I don’t believe I’d ever buy another given the absymal vehicle dynamics these Tri-5s had. OTOH, I certainly loved driving that old street rod all over the LA area and up on the Mojave! We had lots of fun in the old car…………DFO
I think I must have been in a carpool to kindergarten in a utility sedan, year unknown, but unless you were the first picked up, you had to stand in the back and hold on to the back of the front seat. Nobody really minded, and there were certainly no laws against it; it was just unusual.
Or it could have been a regular sedan that someone had taken the back seat out of, though why they would I don’t know.
Wouldn’t business coupe buyers be better off with a sedan delivery, which had much more room for stuff as well as not having two detached cargo areas? Or did buyers want to separate some things from others? Or was it all about price since I assume sedan deliveries/panel wagons cost more?
The juxtaposition of “business” and “coupe” seems odd to me since I grew up after they were a thing. I associate “business” cars with company cars which were almost always sedans in my lifetime.
In the back seat you would keep your sample case, promotional materials and your route book/file box. The trunk would be for your “car stock” to keep it out of sight.
The wagons/sedan deliveries were considerably more expensive. Absolute low cost was the primary issue here.
My dad was a commercial traveler in the thirties. Just the kind of person this sort of vehicle was aimed at. He explained (years later) that your vehicle had to look modern and well-maintained, or clients wouldn’t trust you, but not so fancy that they’d think you were cheating them. You had to have plenty of room for samples, true, but a sedan delivery or panel van conveyed the wrong image; you were not a tradesman. You wanted something car-based, roomy and stylish.
He bought a 1935 Chevrolet Master close-coupled coupe (aka ‘sloper’), a local Holden bodystyle. Apparently slopers were very popular with travellers. It looked impressive, provided plenty of enclosed room for his samples, he could carry four people if needed, even sleep in it, and you could open the rear window hatch-style for ventilation. Somewhere I have a photo of dad’s car; this is from the net. Not a business coupe but more versatile.
Here’s a rear view of a restored one. Shorter-bodied than the US two-door sedan. I’d like to think it looks sportier too, Dad did.
Because of the weight savings, drag racers loved those utility/business coupes without the rear seat.
And, although it technically doesn’t fit the category because it still has a back seat, I’d go so far as to suggest that one of the last, ‘ultra’ strippos was the old Chevette Scooter that came with cardboard interior door liners.
In college, I used to go into L.A. to buy cases of foodstuff (generally #10 cans, six to a case) for the restaurant I helped run. I would do it in my Mazda RX-3 coupe(!) by taking out the back seat and the passenger seat, and throwing them in a corner somewhere. Four bolts to get out the back seat and four more to remove the passenger seat. I could get about fifteen cases at a time in there. But I think the weight of the load probably was on a par with the limits of what a light duty pickup would (or should) carry. It was low-riding in the slow lane all the way back with the goods, but it always worked.
Beautiful collection of images, Paul ! Who could resist this comparison ?
Photograph Copyright © 2000-2021 Mecum Auction, Inc.
Not surprisingly, the rendering is considerably longer. 🙂
The Chevy rendering has Buick proportions!
I removed the jump seats from my Sonoma for the exact same reason. I also frequently remove the passenger seat on solo camping trips to maximize the amount of secure and dry storage space available.
From Wikipedia on the Fleetmaster:
In 1960, a lower-priced, sparsely trimmed version of the Biscayne called the Fleetmaster was produced. Aimed primarily at the fleet market, the Fleetmaster included a lower grade of upholstery than the standard Biscayne and deleted routine convenience items such as a cigarette lighter, door armrests, and passenger-side sun visor. In addition, many parts were painted rather than chrome plated. Both two- and four-door sedans were available.
A number of economy-minded options were available exclusive to the Fleetmaster model, although the performance-oriented engines and transmissions were also available (for police applications or performance-oriented customers who wanted the lightest car possible). The Fleetmaster was dropped after 1961.
I’m surprised then Chevrolet didn’t re-used the Delray nameplate who was once used for the fleet market in 1958.
There was a similar Ford model in 1960-61 called the Custom 300. These seem to have been introduced in reaction to the 1958-61 recession, but neither sold well, and both were dropped within a few years of their introduction. It turned out that decontenting the Biscayne and base Fairlane beyond their existing state resulted in a car that apparently had no appeal even to fleet buyers – or buyers who were that pressed to economize just went out and bought Falcons instead.
I think a back seat was technically an option on the Chevy Vega in the name of a low advertised list price, although most Vegas had back seats. A contemporary print ad for the Fiat 128 had the headline, “What’s the world coming to when a back seat is optional equipment?”
The Vega sedan had a standard back seat. The Panel truck didn’t.
That Fiat 128 was targeting the Chevette Scooter.
Wow, the VW Rabbit didn’t include rubber pads on the pedals? That’s cheap. I do recall the base ’75-76 Rabbit looking like a military vehicle inside. Bias-ply tires and drum brakes at all corners too.
In 1975, from what I understand, VW offered special ultra stripped-down versions of the Beetle and Rabbit in the U.S. which existed purely to get the base price for the lowest-priced version of each below a specific number (it may have been $3000) for purposes of advertising. Very few could be found on dealers’ lots. I don’t know if these models continued beyond 1975.
Yes, it was just that, to have an advertised $2999 price. A friend bought one; it was my first drive in one. Mighty basic interior, but it sure drove fantastically, compared to my 40 hp Beetle.
Packard also offered a business coupe in their junior six and eight cars thru 1942, but not from 1946 to 1950. For some strange reason Packard once again offered a business 2 door sedan in 1951, but it was such a poor seller it was dropped for 1952. Years ago I had one of these rarities, but in the early 1980s no one wanted it, so it was parted out.
It is interesting how Chevrolet recycled the “club coupe” moniker for the 1980 Citation two door sedan.
And GM would later use that name for the GMC S-15/Sonoma and Sierra extended cabs in the ’80s and ’90s, but AFAIK not the equivalent Chevy models.
Although the ’56 is my least favorite of the Tri-Five Chevys, the car in the lead ad looks really good. In fact, that chrome side trim wasn’t standard on the ’56 Utility Coupe, was it? It really helps the look and, if it was an extra cost option, would definitely be worth the price.
The cheapest ’56 Chevy is actually nicely trimmed, inside and out. An upgrade from the ’55 150 series.
I didn’t know that the 1939 coupes had two fold-down seats facing each other rather than a regular rear seat. I always assumed that Chevrolet added a rear seat as soon as the larger coupe greenhouse arrived. I wonder if GM still wasn’t sure if they wanted Chevrolet to have a coupe with a true rear seat, or if they wanted to leave that to the more upscale GM brands?
I think the main reason the coupe body style disappeared after 1953 was that it had become too similar to the two-door sedan to justify offering both styles. Before 1939, the two were quite different, with the coupe having a much shorter roofline and lacking an enclosed rear seat. From 1939-48, they became more alike, as coupes gained a larger greenhouse capable of accommodating an enclosed rear seat, but the coupe still had a noticeably shorter roofline; they were still very easy to tell apart. In the new 1949 body, though, the rooflines became pretty similar. The coupe was probably still shorter, but not by much. The two had different styling in the rear window area, but functionally there wasn’t much difference any more. When the coupe was dropped, Chevrolet felt that there was still demand for the business coupe, so the concept was moved to the two-door sedan body and renamed the Utility Sedan.
My Grandfather’s first (and only) car was a new ’51 Chrysler Windsor; he owned a Mom & Pop grocery store, and frequently used the Windsor to stock his store other than the deliveries by truck. His store was small, of course, but had lots of variety, he even kept live chickens that he’d kill on order for customers.. He probably could have used a business coupe or even a pickup, but I think wanted the Windsor for other uses, he did have a family so he wanted them to be able to ride in it, but the store was open 12 hours/day for 6 days a week, so working those hours he likely didn’t get out much….he passed away in the 60’s, as he worked as miner and had black lung before he bought the store (and the home he lived in above it, plus an apartment he rented).
Think there are commercial vans you can buy without back seat; Ford’s Transit used to have a cargo model (probably still do? haven’t checked recently). I think they offered more variations on one model, but of course they really only had one “standard” car back then, plus maybe pickup truck models, before say, 1960.
I’ve just recently read that Chevrolet has eliminated hand-crank windows for the 2022 Silverado. That, compared to this car, shows the dramatic changes in manufacturing over the course of 65 years. Nowadays, it’s cheaper to give everyone power windows than to remove them for price savings.