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by Jim Carter
First GMC Light Duty Trucks
Prior to the mid-1930's, the two truck divisions of General Motors, Chevrolet and GMC, were mostly independent companies. If you wanted a 1-1/2 ton and smaller truck, Chevrolet (since 1918) could provide the model just right for your needs. If you needed a 2-ton and larger, GMC was the division to contact. They had been a large truck specialist even before 1920.
A gradual overlap began in mid-1936 with the introduction of the new "low cab" body. GMC brought out a line of light trucks in direct competition with Chevrolet. They were to give the current GMC dealerships additional sales by fulfilling their customer's light duty hauling needs. These new trucks shared most sheet metal with Chevrolet as well as transmissions, front suspension, wheels and differentials. A few minor changes were the grille, hood sides, lettered tailgate and hubcaps; however, the major difference was the engine.
At that time GMC did not produce a small engine that could fit their new light duty trucks. Their totally new small six-cylinder overhead valve power plant was still three years away. The solution was to use a pre-existing engine from one of the General Motors other divisions. They adopted the 213 cubic inch six-cylinder flat head engine from Oldsmobile. Its power, size and reliability in cars made it the best choice and replacement parts were already available from the Oldsmobile division.
This proven engine, in combination with the new low cab body, proved successful and allowed GMC to begin gaining ground in the small truck market.
This 213 full oil pressure insert bearing engine (updated by Oldsmobile in 1937 to 230) was main source of power during the early years of smaller GMC trucks, 1936-38. One exception was in the half-ton pickup in 1938. For this model and year only GMC now used a different smaller flat head six-cylinder. It came from the Pontiac car division and is said to even have the Pontiac Indian head symbol cast in the right side of the engine block. It had 223 cubic inches. The 230 was retained on GMCs larger than 1/2-tons.
Few of these light duty GMC survive today. They not only experienced the usual heavy work jobs as trucks, but with World War II new truck shortages meant few GMCs were set idle in storage.
Thanks to Mike "OlTrucks"Taylor for hunting this piece down!
Copied with permission.
My first GMC
I first submitted my 1936 GMC T-14 to the Stovebolt Gallery in March 2003. Working on my truck was just a nine-year hobby. It took such a long time because it was really hard to find parts for this rare and original truck. But we kept looking. And we got the truck out as often as we could. We traveled around Ohio a good bit -- for parades and special WBNX-TV events for the CW Television Network.
A little GMC background
GMC introduced their 1/2-ton trucks in 1936. Prior to this, GMC only made the larger (1-ton and up) trucks. They noticed Ford and Chevy selling the smaller trucks and they thought they'd like a piece of the pie.
Well, GMC only made the 1936 GMC 1/2-ton for six months. They completely changed the design of them, in the profile and front clip in 1937. They kept they same cab and bed. When you go to the library and look for a 1936 truck, you will actually get a a picture of a 1937 -- GM didn't have good records.
GM was noted for using parts and inventory from other factories. GMC had the Old's flathead 213 motors. That's a unique part of the history. They are not "authentic" Stovebolts since they were using old Oldsmobile and Pontiac motors.
(Read more of the history of the 1936 GMC 1/2-Ton from this article -- used with permission -- from Jim Carter. ~ Editor )
Original acts of kindness
When I was looking for parts during the restoration, I called Jim Carter Antique Truck Parts. Jim asked if I really truly had a 1936 GMC 1/2-ton. I assured him I did. Turns out, Jim was doing an article on the original 1936 GMC T-14. It was really nice because he wanted to be sure that I got original parts for an original truck.
Once the word was out that I was looking for 1936 parts to keep this truck original-like as possible, people started SENDING parts ... some for FREE! Don Johnson is a GMC truck enthusiast who I met in Pennsylvania at the Carlisle show. He's from New Jersey. He gave me the very-hard-to-find inner fender wells that were in GOOD condition
Tom Dulude (from Michigan), was referred to me by Jim Carter. Tom is a huge fan of GMCs also and he sold me his new grille bars just 24 hours before it was loaded and shipped to LA for the photo shoot (that story is below).
Next thing we know, parts are coming to us from all over the country. People were totally supportive of my efforts to restore an authentic GMC T-14. Some wouldn't take money. It was humbling. I loved it!
Once we were mostly finished with the restoration (is a restoration ever really finished?), we took some nice photos of the truck and sent them to GM.
The publisher for Old Cars Weekly, told me that GM was doing a 100 Year Anniversary book of GMC. He thought I might be interested in designing the cover for the book (that's my line of work). When I contacted them about it, GM said they wanted an in-house person to do it. They said they had been looking for original-looking trucks for each decade for the book. They particularly wanted an authentic first year T-14 1/2-ton truck. And that's what I had!
Well, GM printed the book in 2003 or 4. It was an honor to have my truck in there. And, it was cool!
One thing leads to another
After working on the history of the 1936 GMC with Jim (see the piece in the left-hand column), I ended up doing some ad graphic design work for him, including his new logo (now Jim Carter Classic Trucks) and catalog cover design [ pix ] which you all may have seen (in our left hand column).
About a year after the book was done, the GM ad agency tracked me down and requested to rent my truck. GM was going to shoot a television commercial for their new GMC Denali 1/2-ton. The television commercial would show the progression of the GMC 1/2-ton, so that would make mine the first in the line-up! The commerical started airing in the Fall of 2007 and is currently running (through 2008). Here is the television commercial if you haven't seen it.
The commerical was shot in California in the desert in a dry lake bed. We had almost four hours of shooting each day and they had to shoot each vehicle. [ line-up ]
The budget for the commerical shoot was over $250,000 a day AND it took three days! They shot the full line of trucks (several years beginning with my 1936) doing 45 miles and hour through a home made hole in the wall.
The crew nicknamed the '36 "The Runner." The truck's high speed was 42 mph and they were running the peddle to the metal for almost three days. They ran it and ran it.
The crew wore goggles, masks and bandanas. [ pix ] They looked like they were going to be painting a truck. [ pix ] After each "take," the crew had to completely clean and detail the truck because of all the dust, wind, and dirt from the dry lake bed. I wish I had a picture when it was "trashed" and covered with dirt, dust and mud. It almost looked gray, like it was covered in talcum powder. The crew kept wiping it off every hour in between takes. [ pix ] I ended up having to put a new condenser [ pix ] in it from all those non-highway, dusty miles!
I was on site to keep the truck going and maintain it so they wouldn't loose shoot time. For anything other than a quick fix, the agency would bring in their team. There were some damages to the trucks on the set. The wind would catch the doors. The '53 had it's cowl bent ... because of the truck going thru the hole in the wall. On the newer trucks, the damage was from the wind. Wind damage was severe.
They used a helicopter for the opening sequence in the commercial. It was an entire day's shooting. The pilot was flying very close to the ground to get the effect they wanted. None of us ever got to see all that footage but I got to see some and it was great! (I still hope to catch up with the lost footage.) There is one shot where the helicopter is overhead, just as the truck is about to hit the wall. It was impressive, exciting ... loud and dusty!
That's a wrap ... NOT!
I thought it was neat to go through all this in June 2007 for the television commerical. Here is a poster I made up after the first television shoot.
Six weeks later, the GM ad agency called and wanted the '36 for a photo shoot for a print campaign for magazines like Road & Track, National Geographic, Car & Driver, and others! Naturally, I said "Sure!" We talked about the dates they needed the truck, and we worked out a schedule to fly me out there. So, it was back to LA for another photo shoot. I made a second print poster for this shoot, too.
Ad agencies refer to any vehicle used as "movie cars" (even if it's a truck, boat or bike). When GM rents a movie car, it's because they can't find what they are looking for in the General Motor's museum.
The ad agency folks we worked with were the nicest people. You don't always know what an agency is thinking, though! GM sent a '55 Cameo truck out to California for a second photo shoot. At the last minute, they decided they didn't want to use the truck nor the 1972 GMC in the magazine print ads. Even if they did not end up not using my trucks, it was great to go along with the trucks for all three days (shooting television and print, they could change their mind again and again). They flew me out there and hauled the '36 out there ahead of me.
Do you happen to have another truck?
When the GM ad agency called the second time for the photo shoot, the rep mentioned they also needed a 1960 GMC 1/2-ton. "Do you have one to rent?" she asked!
I took a long pause and asked if I could call them back. I could tell by the sound of her voice she was really having a hard time finding a 1960 GMC truck.
After I hung up, I got back on the phone and looked all over the country for a 1960 GMC. I couldn't find one either. None of us could find a good looking '60 GMC.
However, I did find a nice 1961 GMC 1/2-ton in Georgia. I called and asked the owner if I could reserve the truck for a photo shoot. I wired my own money deposit to secure the truck. GM is so particular about what they do and why they do it ... so I acted on faith.
I took some pictures of the Georgia red '61 and sent them to LA and New York. Since it looked just like a 1960 from the side, the agency decided they could use it in the photo shoot. They were going to angle the shots, so the side logo on the front fender wouldn't be seen (an obvious difference between the '60 and '61). My '61 turned out not to have a logo on the front anyway because it had been painted. The "V6" logo for mine was actually still in the glove box. (This was the first year for the V6 305 -- it a very big heavy motor.)
A friend and I drove straight down to Georgia to buy the truck. We met the owner, signed the papers and I drove it on the semi GM had sent down to haul it to LA. Here we are ready to load up!
A few days later, GM flew me out to LA for the photo shoots. We met up with the foreign photographer and the ad agency crew who were from all over. We drove to the selected photo site for the two-day shoot in LA. Four trucks from different parts of the United States had been shipped in for the shoot. The director called to say that two of the trucks were canned ... only two old trucks were used in the print ad! And they were mine -- my 1936 GMC and 1961 GMC -- how cool is that? I was awestruck. Here's a copy of the ad.
By the way, not only is it hard to find a 1960 or 1961 GMC 1/2-ton ... it's even harder to find hubcaps for a '61! If anyone has some, call me right away! I have quit looking! ( And the '61 is also in the Gallery now, too! ~ Editor )
Did I say "hard to find"
In the process of all this (obviously), I got to know Jim Carter and his team very well. Early on when we first talking about the '36, Jim told me there was only one 1936 GM truck more rare than my 1936 GMC T-14 truck -- and that was a 1936 GMC Panel Delivery truck. He said he was aware of only three available in the county. (Since then, we are aware of four -- one more has shown up in Iowa.) So, for a few years, I spread the word that I was looking for one. (I'm still looking if you find another one!)
A few years after that discussion, one day, out of no where the phone rang. A man said, "Are you still looking for a 1936 GMC panel truck or 1936 GMC truck parts?" He gave me the information and phone number where he found a Panel. I called the number and got the information. It turned out the truck was near my sister's house in downtown Denver, Colorado. It was at an old saw mill / lumber yard.
I went to Denver to look at it and we ended up pulling it home in a U-haul trailer. It was primer gray and looked like a 1936 Winnebego (propane heat, tool boxes mounted on the running board, an an old fashioned wench welded on the front bumper -- it was a four speed truck transmission. This truck was definitely "mountain modified").
I now had my first 1936 Panel!
Shortly after that trip, I got a lead from Jim Carter and found the second panel truck in Nebraska. I got a phone number and we headed that way. This truck was ready for the salvage yard. This place was full of vehicles. We had to walk over them in order to access the Panel which was near the fence. It was pure rust and was lined up ready to go to the scrapper. The owner (Paul) of the truck picked it up with a fork lift and plunked it on my rental trailer. Martin took some black and white photos that are in the Webshots account.
When I went to pick up the Panel Delivery, it looked like a truck because it had been modified by the farmer in Nebraska. The body was very poor but the frame and running gears were excellent. So much so, that a pressure wash and paint, and we were good to go! That's how much that hot, dry, dusty Nebraska air "preserves" old iron. (The motor that I am putting in the Panel is half rebuilt. I am using the original motor.)
That was number two!
The third 1936 GMC Panel truck was found in California. Ron Loos and his wife Miley had a 1938 GMC Canopy Express project in the works. I saw his pictures in the ruff on a web site and I called to ask about the '38 and to see if he had any extra parts for a '36 Panel. He said he knew of a '36 laying in the woods, wrapped in poison ivy and poison oak.
"No, you don't" I responded, figuring he was ribbing me.
"Oh, yes I do!" he replied. He added that the lady wouldn't sell it. I asked Ron if he would do me a favor and tell the lady that a new friend in Ohio wants the truck to make one good Panel truck out of it. He said she won't even sell to locals but he'd ask anyway.
The truck was originally a coffee and tea delivery truck (Corona). I kept some of the hand-lettering on the truck when it was sandblasted, as a historical reference. There's an image similar to Juan Valdez (wearing his pancho and sombrero, standing alongside his faithful mule, Conchita, with Colombia’s rugged mountains in the background.) It's very faint, but it was there. We documented it all before we had it bead blasted.
I sent Ron and Miley the money right away. The owner of the Panel didn't even know me but she accepted my offer!
Ron and Miley cut the truck out of the poison stuff and hauled it to their home. Miley got hit in the face with a 2 x 4 board when loading the truck. Ouch! But she said it was no big deal! What a couple! What a great husband-wife team!
Ron and Miley kept my truck in their back yard until my Dad and I were able to pick it up. After two months, we drove out to get it [ pix ] . It was a great Father / Son field trip [ pix ] . We had the best time with Ron and Miley. They get a HUGE attaboy pat on the back -- such great people.
That makes three 1936 Panel trucks brought back to Ohio!
So, we had all three of the "known-about" 1936 GMC panel trucks here in Ohio. Our hope was to make one good one out of them. All three panels are in different states of preservation. Right now, our main goal is to take inventory, bead blast, primer and get everything out of the weather. It has been a major task. We started to assemble two of the three panels. We are still gathering motor parts and stuff to assemble a flat head GMC motor. It'll be a "work in progress" for some time. I have seven vehicles and they are not all done.
That's all ... ya think?
Well, just recently I got a call from a fellow in Iowa. "I heard from Jim Carter that you found parts for the '36 GMC." He said he heard about the 1936 GMC Panel, and wanted to let me know that there is another. It has been in "restoration" for about 25 years. The owner is retired and the truck is still an "active restoration."
So, it's good to know there is yet another original one out there!
All this has been amazing to me. It's an amazing hobby actually! I love working with nice vintage design and preserving a piece of history that people didn't even know existed. My wife likes them, too.
It's not about having a finished cool trailer queen. It's like saving a lost puppy. If these old trucks had gone to the crusher, that would have been it.
Since Chevy, Ford and Dodge made a lot of their light weight trucks, many of those old trucks are still around. There were very few of these GMC's made to begin with. Obviously, very few survived.
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