The Latest Ultimate Curbside Classic: 1946 Chevrolet Pickup – The Oldest Working Daily Driver Truck?

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(first posted 4/12/2014)    The overarching purpose of CC is to document the older vehicles still on the streets. And when they’re in front-line duty, as daily drivers or work trucks, the goal is really being fulfilled. Therefore I called the 1956 Ford F350 that still hauls big loads of recycled cardboard in Eugene every day “The Ultimate Curbside Classic“.

Now, I was aware that this older Chevy truck existed, and had even shot it some years ago, but it was sitting in the driveway of its home. What I didn’t know then is that this ’46 Chevy is still very much in front-line duty; it’s a daily driver, and has been ever since its owner James bought it 45 years ago for $100. So now we have a new Ultimate Curbside Classic, at least until something else tops it; which wouldn’t really surprise me. Is there a Model T still at work?

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Back in the spring of 2009, when I was just starting to shoot CCs, I found this truck sitting next to its owner’s home. I was kind of picky about cars being shot curbside, and never wrote it up. Its patina was still in the early stages back then. Then I started seeing it around town, hauling a little trailer full of yard equipment, but I never caught up with it.

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Until just this morning, only a few blocks from my house no less. James does lawn and garden maintenance, and hauls his equipment in this fine little vintage trailer, which I forgot to ask about. Well, we did get a bit caught up in talking about his even finer truck.

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The 1946-1947 models were essentially identical to the 1941s; not surprising given the war hiatus. They sported a wonderful grille, one that James is planning to get re-chromed one of these days/decades.

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This was a great era for truck design, the final blow-out of the Streamline Moderne era. We did a CC on the 1941 Chevrolet COE truck here, and I still get a steady stream of e-mails asking if that one is still for sale (not!).

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And we think the current Ford truck grilles are brash? Well, brash can be tasteful too. Best “Chevrolet” ever.

Chevrolet truck 1939

Truth is, I rather prefer the somewhat more restrained ’39-’40 version, which was an all-new truck that year (1939), and essentially the same as the ’41-’47 except for the front end. The 1948 “Advanced Design” trucks replaced these generation, and became an icon (CC here).  When I moved back to Iowa City in 1971, these ’39-’47 trucks were still fairly plentiful, and were the cool thing for Iowa City “hippies” to drive; kind of like a Toyota 4×4 was in the 80s and such. Just drive out in the country, spot one sitting next to the machine shed or garage and knock on an old farmer’s door…$50  probably did the trick.

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James found the truck of his lifetime sitting with a dead engine sitting behind a building in a little hamlet near Yosemite Park. As he tells the story, its former owners were a pair of sisters that were deaf and mute, and that they drove the Chevy by accelerating it in each gear until it wouldn’t accelerate any more, then upshifted. Well, the old stovebolt six eventually had enough of all that valve float, and called it quits.

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When James told me that his truck has a 235 cubic inch six, I jumped to the conclusion that it had been swapped in at some point, assuming that only the 216 inch version was available back then. Strictly speaking, not so, according to my American Truck and Bus Spotter’s Guide, which says the 235 arrived back in 1941. But it was an option for heavy duty use, and I suspect few if any found their way into pickups. I’ve only heard of the 216 six in these, as the original power plant.

So this likely isn’t the original engine, but no matter, it’s still purring along, better then ever thanks to a recent valve job and a lick of “Blue Flame” paint.

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This is not a Mega Cab. More like a Cozy Cab, actually.

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Instead of a wood-grain dash, this is what’s called “Metal Grain”.  Takes many decades to achieve, unless one’s cheating, which I hear is becoming more common as folks get on the patina fad-wagon. James says that the speedometer/odometer were dead 45 years ago when he got it, and they haven’t miraculously sprung back to life, so there’s no way to know what kind of mileage has been rolled up over the decades. Ample.

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The stick shift for the four speed transmission sports a little lock-out lever for reverse gear, something that went away with the Advance Design trucks, if I remember correctly.

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And James has restored the foot-operated starter switch, as the previous owner had bypassed it for a dash switch. Just in case some of you younger readers don’t know, but these were once ubiquitous, and is of course the source of the expression “hit the starter”. Maybe they’ll come back, since the fad of dash-mounted button starter switches is getting a bit old. Maybe not…I can see issues with that.

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They call this the “bed”, unless you’re from Australia in which case it’s the “tray”. This one is rather tray-like. Or how about just “box”? Could we all agree on that? Looks like a sandbox to me.

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James has me and my ’66 F100 beat by eighteen years and $400, in terms of length of ownership and purchase price. And he uses his rather more often than I do. So my hat’s off to him. But I suspect we’re both in the same place about our trucks likely being the last one we’ll ever buy.

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It’s not like they’re going to wear out before we do.

2018 Update: I no longer see James and his truck around here, so I’m guessing they’ve finally retired.