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Pre-War GM Info

By Tom Brownell

  Here's some information to help you learn more about your truck. It only covers '39-'40 Chevys and GMCs. Future revisions to the Stovebolt Page may include info on other years, but in the meantime, why not go straight to the source?

  The following information is taken from the Illustrated Chevy Pickup Buyer's Guide by Tom Brownell. Permission granted by the author (Thanks, Tom!)

Chevrolet Trucks 1939

      The first step in setting cars and trucks on separate paths had occurred in 1936 when a V'd front windshield first appeared on Chevrolet's car line. Trucks stayed with the flat windshield through 1938. Now, in 1939, trucks too received the more modern, two-piece windshield, but without attempt to establish more than vague similarity between the car and truck lines. A prominent vertical grille, composed of 17 chrome bars that curved back toward the sides of the hood, marked the divergence of car and truck styling. This new grille's massive design conveyed a sense of power and ruggedness-exactly the impression a truck should give. The Chevrolet name appeared in modern script on a wider strip that wrapped around the top of the grille. Each bar contained a red stripe painted along a groove in each chrome bar for an added touch of color.

     The sharply V'd hood remained unchanged from the previous year, except that the sides now contained a single horizontal louver instead of three. Also, the front and rear fenders arched an inch higher, and the running boards were made longer and wider. These changes harmonized with the new wider, longer cab which Chevy trucks would use with no noticeable external changes through 1947. Along with the larger exterior dimensions, Chevrolet designers also increased the cab glass area for greater visibility and expanded the door openings for easier entry and exit. An integrating feature to the overall frontal design, the cab now featured a single belt molding (instead of the two-line design of the '38 models) which picked up the line of the top grille bar via moldings that ran along the sides of the hood.

     Items that are not unique to 1939 Chevy light trucks include bumpers and hubcaps (also used on Chevrolet's 1939 passenger cars), the box that was carried over from previous years and the flat dash with its three round gauges, continued from 1937 and 1938. As previously, the box carried the Chevrolet script stamped in the tailgate.

     Chevrolet continued to market light-duty trucks in half- and three-quarter-ton load ratings as well as three commercial models built on the passenger car chassis. These included the coupe pickup, sedan delivery and station wagon. The half-ton pickup remained the most popular light delivery model. It shared front-end appearance and the 113 in. wheelbase light-duty chassis with the panel models in this load range. By the addition of an extra-cost canopy top, the pickup could be converted to a canopy express. The canopy top mounted on steel stakes placed into the pickup box stake pockets and came complete with weatherproof side and rear curtains. Models offered in the three-quarter-ton series included a pickup, panel and stake, all of which were built on the heavier duty 123 3/4 in. wheelbase. At extra cost, buyers could specify 17 in. wheels with 7.00x17 in. six-ply tires on these three-quarter-ton models. Trucks so-equipped were called three-quarter-ton Specials.

     Mechanicals for Chevrolet's 1939 light-duty trucks included the familiar 216 ci stovebolt ohv six-cylinder engine which was a proven performer, I-beam front axles, three-speed synchromesh-type transmissions, with four-speed as an option, and hydraulic brakes. Chevrolet also offered what they called an Economy engine which looked identical to the regular 216 ci truck engine, but used different metering rods and jets in the carburetor plus a throttle stop, which prevented full opening to increase fuel mileage. Salesmen were told not to sell it for overloads, mountainous country or high altitudes. In addition, they were to caution the customer that performance would be curtailed. Perhaps the Economy engine's only saving grace was that it could be converted to a regular truck engine at a small cost.

      Sales for 1939 placed Chevrolet ahead of Ford by a scant 4,137 units. This placed Chevrolet in a leadership position the company would maintain for the next thirty years. During the 1939 model year, Chevrolet built its two millionth truck.

Chevrolet Trucks 1940

      Two exterior changes that mark Chevrolet's 1940 models are the larger nameplate at the top of the grille and sealed-beam headlights. The nameplate, while practically the same design and color as the previous year, is substantially deeper to the extent that it eliminates the uppermost grille bar. Sealed-beam headlights became an industry lighting standard in 1940. Since sealed-beams eliminated the parking light bulb in the headlight pod, the parking lights were placed in streamlined housings and mounted on the tops of the front fenders. Truck parking lights are the same as those used on Chevy passenger cars for 1940. Light delivery models and three-quarter-ton models also continued to share front bumpers and hubcaps with passenger cars. Actually, the same bumper is used on both the front and rear of cars and light trucks, except for sedan deliveries, panels and woody wagons which used special rear bumpers.

     Inside, the driver monitored engine performance from a new instrument panel with the gauges clustered around a semicircular speedometer borrowed from the car line. Another difference, a lock was now positioned on the dash directly above the glove-box. Headlights turned on and off from a knob to the left of the instrument cluster, and a crank in the center of the dash could be used to open the windshield slightly as the base for cooling ventilation in summer driving. Decorative touches consisted of a ribbing running from top to bottom in the center of the dash and a slim, ribbed stainless-steel strip running lengthwise below the instrument cluster and glovebox. Overall, the dash had a simple, functional appearance. This layout would remain the same until the introduction of the Advance Design Series in mid 1947. Other than cardboard kick panels and headliner, all interior surfaces were steel, painted a serviceable Thunder Grey enamel. For 1940, the steering wheel color was changed from Black to Goodwood Beige.

      The half-ton pickup box increased 3 in. in width and 1 in. in length, adding more than 2 cu-ft in capacity. Greater strength also resulted by increasing the diameter of the rolled section of the flare boards from 1 1/4 to 1 in., and making the stake pockets heavier. The change in box dimensions, notably width, means that fenders from a '39 Chevy pickup do not interchange with 1940. Canopy top equipment for pickup models, formerly an option, was dropped. Engineering refinements included a higher output generator to power the more powerful sealed-beam headlights and a larger capacity battery.

      Chevrolet enjoyed another great sales year in 1940 with 194,038 units sold, a 14.5 percent gain over 1939 and outselling arch rival Ford by 19.5 percent.

Chevrolet Panel, Suburban, and Canopy Express

      The light delivery panel truck featured wide-opening rear cargo doors, a bucket type driver's seat, dome light and a generous cargo space measuring 86 in. long by 57 in. wide by 51 in. high. Panel models were also offered in the three-quarter and one-ton series.

    The Suburban Carryall remained a unique Chevy creation. The front seat on this model was constructed so that the right third would fold forward for access to the rear seats. Both rear seats could be easily removed by unlatching quick-release hold-downs. Rear side window glass lowered by crank control and buyers could choose either panel-type rear doors or an endgate-tailgate combination.

    The Canopy Express also used the same basic body as the panel, but with modifications. In place of solid side panels, openings were cut from behind the doors to the rear body corners and from the body beltline to the roof's drip moldings. Flare boards with rolled edges stiffened the lower side panels. A slam-lock endgate, shared with the Suburban, and a waterproof rear curtain made of oiled duck, replaced the standard rear panel doors. Heavy wire protective closures for the side openings, an extra-cost item, could be purchased to convert the Canopy into a Screenside. Waterproof side curtains of oiled duck could be lowered to protect the load from the weather.

Car-Based Chevy Light Commercials:
Coupe Pickup, Sedan Delivery and Station Wagon

     The Coupe Pickup first appeared in 1936 and lasted until 1942. Based on the passenger car Master 85 Business Coupe, the Coupe Pickup featured a removable pickup box stuffed into what otherwise was the car's trunk. A trunk lid for converting the vehicle into a coupe when desired came with the package. Only 1,264 Coupe Pickup's found homes in 1939 and in 1940 sales fell to 358, making these unusual Chevrolet pickups very rare.

    Like the Coupe Pickup, the Sedan Delivery rode on the Master 85's 1121/4 in. passenger car chassis. With styling identical to a two-door sedan, the Sedan Delivery proved to be a popular seller among those wanting an easy-riding, economical and speedy delivery truck. Production for 1939 rose 41 percent to 8,090 units.

    A new model for 1939, Chevrolet now included a wooden-bodied Station Wagon in its car commercial offerings. Available on either the Master 85 or Master DeLuxe (with Knee Action front suspension) chassis, neither model was a big sales success. Only 430 Master 85s were built and but 989 of the DeLuxe versions. The Station Wagon featured seating for eight, had removable seats, ash framing with natural birch plywood paneling, a brown composition leather top, four doors and a heavy wood tailgate with snap-on rear curtains. An upper lift-gate could be optioned. In 1940, when the Station Wagon appeared in the Master 85 Series and the top-of-the-line Special DeLuxe Series, genuine leather seats became an extra-cost option.

GMC Trucks 1939-1940

      Light-duty GMC trucks now bore an even closer resemblance to their corporate cousins from Chevrolet Division. Distinguishing features between the two makes are more massive grille bars on the GMC, and the prominent General Motors Truck nameplates on the hood sides. The GMC script can also be found on the speedometer and tailgate.

      Beginning in 1939 GMC light-duty trucks used an ohv six-cylinder engine of 228 ci displacement While similar to Chevrolet's ohv six, the GMC engine was larger in both bore and stroke and had full-pressure oiling with insert bearings. For this reason, the oil-pressure gauge on the GMC dash has a maximum reading of 60 lb., versus 30 lb. on the Chevy oil-pressure gauge. This variance in gauges continued until the introduction of Chevy's high-pressure oiling 235 ci six in 1954.

     Since the GMC oil gauges will fit in the Chevy dash, it makes a good swap into a Chevrolet pickup that has had its splash oiler 216 replaced with a full-pressure 235 engine. Since the GMC engine was longer than the Chevrolet 216, GMC trucks used a different radiator, moved forward. The headlights are also moved ahead on the radiator core support.

      GMC did not offer passenger-car-based light-duty models; otherwise GMC's light-duty truck model line-up closely matched Chevrolet's. Wheelbase lengths and all other mechanical components were shared with Chevrolet. Improvements in 1940 GMC trucks paralleled those at Chevrolet, namely sealed-beam headlights, a new instrument panel and fender-mounted parking lights. Except for a larger output generator, mechanicals remained the same as for 1939.

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