Truckstop Classic: 1953 Diamond T Model 323 – A Rare Diamond In The Rough

(first posted 7/4/2011. Updated)   This Diamond T Model 323 is a rare find these days. My search of the web brings up little on this truck, so I’m going to have to piece together a bit of history on it as best as I can. (Update: thanks to a comment left here, more details were filled in and updated). I’m not even sure of the year (I forgot to shoot the manufacturer’s plate), but it seems that the 323 likely appeared in about 1953, a successor to the similar 322 that first premiered the new cab style in 1950 1/2. Diamond Ts had a legendary reputation, as being particularly well built trucks.  But first, a bit of Diamond T history, and a glorious one it is:

Chicago-based Diamond T started out as a passenger car maker in 1905, but switched to trucks in 1911. Like most small to medium independent truck makers, Diamond T bought proprietary engines, such as Continental, Waukesha, Buda and later Cummins diesels, as well as other main running gear components. But the quality of Diamond’s frames, cabs, and construction was always at or near the top of the crowded field.

Diamond T was often called “The Cadillac Of Trucks”, and its reputation was really burnished in WW2. Their large 4×6 prime mover 980/981 trucks were snapped up by the British Purchasing Commission, and went on to become the most famous tank transporters ever.

Powered by either a 895 CID Hercules diesel six making 180 hp, or the legendary 240 hp Hall-Scott 1090 CID “440” gasoline six, the 980 could pull a loaded trailer of up to 120,000 lbs. Top speed was 23 mph!. But their legendary durability and power made them an evergreen, and some were in military use as late as 1971.

After the war, surplus units were snapped up for the legendary road trains in Australia, like this one with at least seven trailers. The driver of this one said the top speed of 17 mph drove him nuts, and he had to find a faster-paced line of work. The 980 also became a well loved and immortal machine in English heavy haulage and wrecker service.

I got distracted, but the 980 does tend to do that; one of the all-time classic big trucks. On the other end of the size scale, Diamond T’s 201 pickup from the late thirties was their smallest offering, and is a highly coveted collector’s item, and competes with the Reo Speedwagon pickup in that category.

After the war, Diamond T dropped out of the pickup market, because its prices were to high compared to the mass manufacturers, a trend that soon wiped out all the independent pickup makers, analogous to what happened with passenger cars. That eventually happened with this 323 too, and Diamond T ended up building large trucks until 1967, when it was absorbed by White  and eventually married to Reo, to create the Diamond Reo brand.

Our featured Model 323 truck was the smallest model with the new look cabs, which were sourced from International, and is a one and a half ton truck in terms of its general class rating. Its actual load capacity might have been higher, depending on how it was configured.

It sports a pretty long frame, and a dual rear wheels, as well as a two-speed rear axle.

For those of you not familiar with two speed axles, here’s a closer look. This one is an Eaton, but a number of manufacturers made them. We’ll discuss their operation in one of the later Truckstop Classics, but the joy of splitting gears without hearing the axle grind was one of the compensations of truckin’.

Too bad about that dinged grille. These are very rare trucks now, and good luck finding replacements. But anything can be fixed, one way or another.

Let’s lift up that toy-truck like hood, and see what’s hiding there.

Like Reo, Diamond T built its some of its own engine for their smaller trucks, and relied on suppliers for the big ones. Interestingly, this engine is from Nash, their big OHV six as used in the Ambassador. It was known for being a tough engine, and as such, quite suitable for this medium-duty truck.

This Nash engine has 252.6 CID, and was rated at 113 (net) bhp, at 3600 rpm, and 216 lb. ft. of torque. It was constructed with seven main bearings and a fully counterweight crankshaft, which the Big Three didn’t see fit to do for another ten years or so. The intake manifold is an unusual two piece affair.

The shaft that extends from the back of the generator drives the water pump. The Nash engine’s design goes back quite a ways; actually its origins go all the way back to the late 20s (it was originally a flathead), and that water pump location is not unusual for its vintage.

The cab looks a bit worse for wear, but nothing that a bit of TLC couldn’t fix. It certainly looks like a runner otherwise.

The frame is a bit long and too light of capacity to make a nice little dump truck, but this would once again make a terrific RV, with a vintage trailer or a custom body on the back. Or how about a food-cart truck, with some class? Diamond T-burgers, or tempeh, depending on which part of town you want to feed.

Related: My CC 1956 Diamond T Pickup