Cohort Classics: Ford and Chevy Tilt-Cab COE Twins Caught Together

These shots by Jon O’Grady posted at the Cohort are terrific: the two long-running COE (Cab Over Engine) tilt cab trucks from Ford and Chevy, side by side and in the same livery. The near-immortal Ford C-series is the more common of the two, having been built for a whopping 33 years, from 1957 through 1990. We’ve paid tribute to it here, as well as several other posts. The Chevy tilt cab was obviously a response to the Ford, arriving three years later, in 1960. And although it was reasonably popular, it never achieved the overwhelming success of the Ford. Why exactly, I can’t say, as Chevy trucks were very dominant up to this time. The Chevy tilt cab lasted through the 1970s.

COE trucks had been a staple for decades, offering more payload space for a given wheelbase. But White redefined that genre in 1949 with its new 3000 series tilt cab COE, which placed the cab much further forward for even better space utilization. And the tilting cab gave unparalleled access to the engine and other mechanical components. The White 3000 was hugely popular, and used in a wide range of applications from local delivery to over-the-road transport with a sleeper cab attached. Its influence cannot be overstated. International followed suit, and then Ford plunged in, with its boxy C series in 1957.

Like the White 3000, the Ford found itself adapted to a very wide range of applications, but was perhaps most dominant in urban settings for curbside garbage hauling, utility service, and other fleet applications, along with beverage delivery and so many other roles where its tighter turning radius was advantageous.

Chevrolet had the time to improve on the C-Series, at least in its styling. In typical GM style, it was more sophisticated than the Tonka-truck boxy Ford. And that applied to its independent front suspension too, which was the big new thing on 1960 Chevy and GMC trucks. That turned out to be a costly mistake, as higher maintenance costs and other issues. By 1963, solid axles were back, but that detour may well have cost Chevrolet (and GMC) a substantial chunk of their market share, and likely contributed to the tilt-cab’s weak start that it never quite overcame.

Like the Ford, the Chevy came with a wide range of engines, starting with the 250 and 292 sixes and small block V8s for the lower end. The big block V8s (348, 366, 427) were next, as well as the HD GMC V6s, in 401 and 478 CID versions. Diesels came with either the more expensive 4-53 or 6-32 DD two-strokes, or the unfortunate Toro-Flow 4 cycle diesels, related to the GMC gas V6 engines. There might have been others too.  A zoom in on the Chevy shows a 427 badge on its side; in truck tune it was rated at 260 hp. As a kid, it was kind of a big deal to see one of these with the 427 badge, given the status that engine had in the late ’60s. And it sounded mighty good at full chat.

The Ford also came with a variety of six and V8 gas engines, as well as Cat, DD, Cummins and other diesels. Given its 33 year lifespan, the engines covered numerous generations of engine families. Here’s a comment about C Series engine left at a previous post by Bob B.:

Some of the early ones had ‘truck’ versions Ford of Lincoln and Ford Y-blocks before the common ‘FT’ (truck version of the FE) V-8’s. Super Duty V-8’s were offered in the heavy 800 and 900 models, and various Ford 6’s in the 500-600 versions. As for diesels, a few used the British Dagenham 6 cylinder in the 60’s but the Caterpillar small V-8’s (1100 and later 3208) were the most common I saw. I never saw a Cummins V-6 or V-8 in one, but I believe they were yet another option. A few had Detroit 6V-53’s. Starting in the late 70’s, the FT’s were replaced by the Lima 370 and 429, the Super Duty V-8’s were dropped, and the Detroit 8.2L added. 1986 was the last year the C was built with a gasoline engine (my company bought one of the last ones) and from that point on it was 3208 Cat or 8.2L Detroit only. The end came in 1990 when neither of those engines could meet emissions regulations. Due to the design of the cab floor, the truck could not accommodate any of the then-new Cummins or Caterpillar turbocharged aftercooled in-line 6 diesels.

Both of these cabs were also offered in raised versions; a true tall over-the-road Ford, and a slightly raised Chevy/GMC, as they also had their own big COE trucks for that role. Here’s your chance to own a matching set. They’re sporting BC plates, but no exact location was given.