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The 1937 Ambulance

By Lou MacMillan
A Stovebolt History Lesson:

The 1937 Chevrolet Ambulance

     With the Great Depression and impending War in Europe, There was an increasing need for specialty vehicles for National Guard and Conservation Corps. Body companies offered Ambulances on favored chassis, such as Henny-bodied Packards and Flxible-bodied Buicks. (Yes, that's the same Company as Flxible bus.) The Silver Book list manufactures that used a 2-door town sedan for cramped ambulance service. But to carry two patients, an attendant and driver, it took more than a Coach. (Arntzen Ambulance conversion shown below)

     Manufacturers tried to use as much of regular production as possible to fill the order. Hence, the Special Models Parts List. (This image is pretty big and in order to actually see it, we needed a whole page!)

     For this article I'd like to draw your attention to the 1937 Ambulance, specifically Job #271 (see drawing on left). At first glance, it might look like a 1 1/2-ton Panel (Job #871), with an extra side window (#254, 255, & 272 were available with tailgate and heater). In the photo on the right, you will see that mine has panel doors but no heater. A closer inspection revealed it was Job #271, an ambulance with panel doors and no heater. The stretcher tie-downs in back were a clue that is wasn't just a panel.

     When I first purchased the ambulance, there was a 500 lb roof rack overhead and skid plates underneath. It also had 7 wheels and 2 sidemounts. All of which I removed. I discovered old maps of Equador and Peru inside a door panel. Years later, I met the second owner who said it was a movie truck in South America and never used as an ambulance. This may explain some of the accessories they purchased with the truck to make their trek less hazardous. He stated it was manila and peach when he sold it. I couldn't stand the colors so I painted it the original colors: "Export blue" with "Armor yellow" fenders, similar to showroom brochure below. Here is a list of standard color combinations for the '37 and and interesting bit of history on "Paint Options."

     Some of the Accessories purchased with this truck are cause for concern with the novice purest. They have glanced thru The Passenger Car Accessory Book but have never heard of the Silver Book. They first assume the paint is incorrect, but that is explained above. The optional wheels are the next thing they question. The rear wheels are "Budd Duals" It has 9.00 X 20" which gives good ground clearance necessary for trips thru pre-war South America. To cover those wheels and tires, GM made oversize fenders and running board flairs.

     Twelve-volt electrical systems were available. You could buy about four six-volt batteries for the price of one $60 12-volt in 1937. This is an alternator so has 3 wires on the regulator.

     The Ambulance has been anything but a sit-in-the-garage show queen since I've owned it. When I first purchased it, I anticipated a top speed of 45 MPH and a grunt to drive. But it would be better to pull the cat trailer than the sedan delivery I had been using. I was quite pleasantly suprised to discover it has a higher top speed than the 1/2-ton and passenger cars and is easy to steer. This picture was taken at 7 AM in Rohnert Park loading a spare rear axle on cat trailer (with help from Dave Anderson of ATHS and his GMC.) At 8 AM, Ambulance and Trailer (with load) joined an old car tour in Santa Rosa thru the wine country.

     I went to a car show in Colorado and photo (left) is me on top of Pikes Peak. (I had more hair on my peak 20 years ago). A friend who flew in, saw my truck at the show and waited for my return. A naysayer commented to him that some fool must have hauled this piece of junk to the show from California cuz old trux don't go over 40 MPH.

     My friend let him stick his foot a little further in his mouth, then said, "Last time I drove this at 70 MPH, it was smooth and quiet." Using this vehicle, I hauled a Toyota and an apartment full of furniture to Chicago with the cat trailer and trailered back a 37 Carryall-Suburban with "minor rust" from Michigan. That trip is another story.

     Driving thru Ukiah recently, a guy yelled, "I didn't know they made Suburbans in 1937." When I caught up to his Camero, I said, "They only made half-ton burbs. This is an ambulance." He bought a '41 Burb from me.

The last photo below was taken in Berkeley where the 40 Chev/Wayne from Humbolt County has a new driveway to live in. I broke two towbars in this expedition. Tail wagging the dog might describe the adventure. The ambulance is perhaps a bit more than a "driver."


Lou MacMillan is a long-time friend of the Stovebolt Page and has a whole website for
The 1937 Chevrolet Trux Page

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