Advance Design: A Chevy Truck For The Ages

Advance Design: A Chevy Truck For The Ages

The slightly redesigned 1954 Chevrolet truck marked the final chapter for the Advance Design series. Authors collection.

Unless special permission was granted by the federal government, the sale of new trucks was prohibited for three years commencing in early 1942. And so when the dam broke in mid 1945, it was literally a sellers market.

Many customers put down a sizable deposit for a new car or truck, and often even traded in their current vehicle, and then waited months for delivery. Few had a choice of options or colors, they accepted what they could get. The demand for new vehicles was so strong manufacturers simply resumed production of what were essentially 1942 models.

The “new” 1946 Chevrolet and GMC trucks were identical to the prewar models. They featured the same six cylinder engines, a crank open windshield for ventilation, a side opening “buterfly hood” and had the headlights, with parking lots on top, perched on the fender.

The all new Advance Design series truck was introduced for the 1947 model year. For the first time on a Chevrolet truck the headlights were integrated into the fender, and the hood was a modern front opening type. There was a stylish new grille.

The cab had been completely redesigned. Doors were four inches wider than previous models to ease access. The seat was made more comfortable with the addition of 35 extra coil springs. And that seat slid on an incline rather than a flat track. Eight inches of aded hip room, and a full twelve inches of extra footroom made the trucks seem spacious compared to the predecessor model.

Optional rear quarter windows, and a larger windshield dramatically improved visibility. The side windows and rear cab glass were also larger. Chevrolet promotion proudly proclaimed 40% more glass on the Advance Design series.

For the first time in Chevrolet truck history, there was an extensive options list. This included a radio designed specifically for trucks.

The entire series from light duty Thriftmaster pickup to the large Loadmaster series sold like hotcakes. For the 1947 model year, 259,533 trucks were sold. Sales climbed through the closing years of the 1940s, and in 1950 production surpassed more than 440,000 units. For the entire run of Advance Desing trucks, Chevrolet and GMC dominated the market.

The series would run through 1953 with very few obvious changes. The 1947 to 1950 trucks had pull down door handles and no wind wings. The 1951 models had wind wings. From 1952 on the trucks had modern push button door handles.

For 1954 the dash and instrument panel received a face lift. A modern one piece windshield replaced the antiquated two piece unit. And the grille was full redesinged. The last of the Advance Design trucks were produced in the beginning of the 1955 model year.

A 1951 Chevy Advance Design panel truck under a full moon in Arizona.

An entire generation of young men, and their families, would have fond memories of these rugged work horses. As there were durable and easy to repair, and as parts were plentiful and reasonably priced, they remained a popular option for people buying their first truck well into the late 1970s. The Kingman Unified School Distric in Kingman, Arizona kept a few of these trucks operating in the fleet until 1990!

As you might imagine, in recent years the nostalgia factor has pushed the price of Advance Design trucks into the stratosphere. And the growing popularity of the trucks has fueled a growth in cottage industry businesses that sell, rebuild, and reproduce parts from instrument clusters to grilles, fenders, and wiring harnesses.

On Car Talk From The Main Street of America, an audio podcast about cars,trucks, road trips, the automobile industry and the inspirational people that work behind the scenes from Jim HInckley’s America, we will be sharing stories provided by listeners. And so we are asking fans to share their stories about the first car, or truck, the worst car, or truck, the barn find, and fond memories of cars and road trips. The series kicks off in a few weeks.

With that as a bit of an introduction, let me tell you about my long association with the rugged Advance Design trucks. It is an association that is ongoing as durng the COVID apocalypse I purchased a 1951 Chevy 3800 panel truck. The vision for the truck dubbed THE Beast is to create a rolling Route 66 information center to inspire road trips and foster awareness about the fast approaching Route 66 centennial, a book store and a studio for Jim Hinckley’s America programs.

In the summer of 1966, my pa bought a highly optioned 1953 pickup from the original owner. I learned to drive in this truck on the pre 1952 alignment of Route 66 in the shadow of the Black Mountains in western Arizona. That truck was used for the move to Silver City, New Mexico. And that is where it was pressed into service when pa launched a scrap business. I can’t count the number of loads that we hauled from the mountains of New Mexico to Phoenix or Tucson, Arizona.

When we moved to Jackson, Michigan it was loaded higher than the cab. In Michigan, summer and winter, it was used as a delivery truck for pa’s apppliance store. And when the family returned to Arizona, that Chevy made another cross country trip, and once again it was loaded higher than the cab.

The first truck bought with my own money was a battered 1942 Chevy pickup. That was followed by a 1942 stakebed, and then a 1946 GMC. Over the years there were a few Dodge trucks, a few Fords, and even a Studebaker. But in 1990, I returned to the truck I respected most, the Advance Design models built after WWII.

There was a 1949 panel truck, a half dozen pickups, and now, The Beast. For me the Advance Design series are trucks for the ages. Judgng by their popularity, I am not alone.




Blame It On COVID

The 1952 Chevy parts truck that will be used to create the rolling Route 66 information enter. ©Jim Hinckley’s America

If it had happened before the before the apocalypse of 2020 there is a very good chance that I could have blamed the decision on temporary insanity or being kicked in the head by a mule or a little to much imbibing with friends. But instead I will lay the blame on my experience with COVID in 2020, the resultant high fever, a possibly long delayed mid life crisis and the sense of doom that was fueled by a near complete collapse of our business in 2020, the rising cost of travel, the insanity of watching politicians scramble to justify the assault on the capitol in January 2021, and assorted dark storm clouds on the international front.

The truth of the matter is that there is really no excuse. I was sober and of reasonably sound mind when the purchase was made. And as is often the case with such decisions, it seemd like a good idea at the time. On occasion it still does.

For just about as long as I can remember, ownership of a Model A Ford has been a dream of mine. Over the years the dream has had various manifestations such as a Route 66 adventure in a Model A.

There is an adage about birds of a feather flocking together. And so over the years friendships and conversations developed around my fascination, and occasional obsession with owning a Model A.

Kevin Mueller, former owner of the iconic Blue Swallow Motel, figures prominently in the most recent Model A fantasies. The conversations started with a drive through Tucumcari in his Model A truck. Over a cold beer or two we would discuss a trip along Route 66 in the truck. And once we let the imagination run rampant and looked into the costs associated with shipping the truck to Europe, and then driving it to the Route 66 festival in Germany.

Model A truck in Texas

My life long focus on practicality when buying vehicles, jeans or boots, and responsibilities associated with life have always kept me from buying a Model A. Fast forward to 2021, the swirl of aforementioned crisis, real and perceived, and another milestone birthday.

In quick succession two opportunities for Model A ownership presented themselves. One was a Model A truck in Texas that was ideally suited for what had become a obsession, a Route 66 cruise. The second was a series of coincidences that led to Kevin Mueller, and his role in liquidating a collection of Model A Fords. And of course, my dearest friend was there with her gentle encouragement.

In the end I again placed the dream on hold and succumbed to practicality. At least that was one component in my decision to purchase The Beast.

With a bit of work and a few minor modications a 1951 truck would be a more practical highway cruiser than a Model A. A panel truck could be used as a rolling Route 66 information center, and a mobile studio for Jim Hinckley’s Ameerica programs. And it could be a source of revenue if advertising space was leased for the sides. And there was the fact that I had some knowledge about the Advance Design series trucks as I learned to drive behind the wheel, and have owned a few of them over the years.

In retrospect the deadlines that I set were quite impractial. Contrary to what my head keeps telling me, I am not 20 years old. That was one issue. Deadlines and a work schedule were another. And I surely never planned for anouther round of COVID that put me down for nearly a month.

Wiring in a 1951 Chevy

But I haven’t given up. I just don’t seem to have enough sense for that. And so the project continues with its frustrations, opportunity to dust off the cuss words, defective parts, fluid deadlines, and delays. I am confident that if I dedicate a few hundred hours and invest $5,000 or $10,000, it should be damn good $3,500 truck.





Lessons Learned

Wiring in a 1951 Chevy

A three or four day project is now in month six and I am about three or four days away from completion. The latest set back is the ignition switch.

It is brand new. I purchased it on Friday. Yesterday morning I installed it. It worked – twice. And now I can’t turn off the ignition or remove the key. Defective parts. And as it is an electrical item there is no refund. Symbolically this sums up the on going effort to get The Beast on the road.

But I have learned quite a few lessons along the way. As an added bonus, over the course of the past six months work on this project, a bout with COVID, minor home disasters that required immediate attention, and the pressure of assorted deadlines have nearly eliminated the need to find excuses for drinking.

The intent had been to have The Beast on the road, at least locally, in time for the National Road Trip Day proclamation festivities on May 27. I am starting to wonde if the Route 66 centennial might be a more realistic deadline.

Meanwhile work continues on array of projects that will enahnce our ability to tell people where to go, to inspire road trips, and to share adventures. Counted among these is discussions with a professional podcast developer that should dramtically enhance Wake Up With Jim and Coffee With Jim. 

Social media issues are another source of frustration. As we learned with the locking of the Jim Hinckley’s America Facebook page in February, and our inability to resolve the problem, social media is a necessary evil. We have also learned that we have little overall control.

Still, as with The Beast, we will work to resolve what we do have control over, and to find suitable partners. We now have over 1,000 followers on Instagram. Twitter is still anemic as is the YouTube channel. But with some new partnerships that will enhance overall quality and free up time for development, we are confident that these platforms will greatly enhance our ability to tell people where to go.

Meanwhile, as time allows, work will progress on The Beast. As is usually the case with such endeavors, if I invest $10,000 or so, and several hundred hours of work, I should have a rock solid, dependable old truck that is worth at least $5,000. And if can make the endeavor a priority, a Route 66 road trip from end to end should be feasible in time for the centennial, or at the very least, the sesquicentennial.



Well, That Didn’t Work

Well, That Didn’t Work

The orignal headlight socket and wiring illustrates the importance of checking, or replacing original cloth insulated wiring in a ’51 Chevy.

As late as March of this year it still seemed feasible. The Beast would not be finished but it would be drivable (safely and with dependability) by the first of May in time for the Route 66 Fun Run. It just needed a wiring harness, new gauges, and installation of a clutch, an H.E.I. distributor, and higher gear ratio rear differential. Easy, peasey.

Shortly after acquiring the truck in December, and driving it down Route 66 to Kingman from the desert near Hackberry, Arizona, I reached out to Jim Carter, a company that specializes in vintage Chevy truck parts, for a catalog. More than a decade ago when bringing a ’50 Chevy truck to life this company provided everything I needed.

I can still recommend them to anyone working on a vintage Chevy, but with a caveat. At this point in my attempt to bring The Beast back to life, I have to give Classic Parts in Kansas City, Missouri a bit better review.

The wiring harness for this ’51 Chevy panel truck was order from Jim Carter. The instructions provided for installation were little more than a succinct list of numbered wires included. Even worse, the “instructions” provided were incorrect. As example, I was holding wire numbered nineteen but there was no wire number nineteen on the list!

The company was quick to respond. They emailed the correct instructions. But as noted it wasn’t much help. The wires were numbered and there were notations such as “high beam.” But the headlight switch is a key junction point and there were no instructions as to which terminal the high beam wire should be connected to. Frustrating to say the very least.

Fortunately these trucks are very popular. So, with a relatively Google search I found a more detailed instruction sheet that included illustrations of the headlight switch and other key junctions. Without this illustration I don’t see how a proper installation could be completed. So, I am rather amazed that something like this wasn’t included with the wiring harness.

Using both instruction sheets seems to be working, even though to date the work schedule has only allowed time for removal of the old wiring and gauges, and installation of new fender terminals wired to the headlights and parking lights. But the plan is to dedicate Saturday to making progress on this stage of the project.

There are a couple of other issues to address. The orignal ignition system included a off/on key switch, and floor starter. And the original wiper motor was vacuum. At some point an electric wiper motor was installed and the foot starter was replaced with a button. But I will cross those bridges when I get to them.

So, a more realistic deadline is being set. Now the plan is to have The Beast roadworthy for the fall tour in October that includes the Miles of Possibility Conference in Pontiac, Illinois. That will still be tight as there is a need to find tour and project sponsors, and a trip of that length will require a great deal of additional work. In addition to the clutch and differential, the entire front end will need to be evaluated and rebuilt, wheel bearings replaced, fuel tank cleaned, weather stripping replaced, radiator checked, manifold and carburetor fixed, and oil leaks addressed.