When I got a text message with a photo of the truck you see below from Jon Sandahl at Tube Chassis Designz yesterday, I dropped everything I was doing and headed straight for his shop like my hair was on fire. He has this truck to do some work on it for the owner. It is not being chopped up into a race car. Just some hidden modifications that can be put back when the owner is done with it and make the truck a little better to drive (installing an NV4500 transmission). Jon’s a drag car guy, I am a 100% bonafide truck dork so when I saw what looked to be one of the rarest Chevy trucks on the planet, I had to get there and climb all over it to see if it was the rare beast I thought it was.
What you see below and what you can see a ton more of in the gallery (click here to skip to the gallery) is a 1957 one ton Chevy truck that was factory ordered as a crew cab. A company in Ohio called the Orrville Metal Specialty did the crew cab conversion on the truck by using various parts of Suburban bodies and then grafting the back section of the truck cab onto the end for proper fitment of the bed. Like old Suburbans, this crew cab has three doors. Two of the doors are on the passenger side and one is on the driver’s side. The big external hinges on the rear door allow it to be opened a full 90-degrees. There’s plenty of room in the rear seat for passengers, too. I sat back there because I had to. When else would I have the chance to do it?!
All of my research says that little more than 100 of these trucks were built for Chevrolet with this cab. As if there weren’t enough, this truck was equipped with the NAPCO four wheel drive setup under it as well as power steering. This could really be, without exaggeration, one of the rarest Chevy trucks on the planet. Of a vehicle series that has seen tens of millions of copies, I bet less than half of the original 100-150 still exist, let alone in this condition.
It may seem crazy now, but the majority of trucks sold in the 1950s were not four wheel drive units. At the time 4WD was seen as something for ranchers, farmers, and trucks being used in remote, rugged places. We think that this truck was owned by the US government potentially in a military capacity, so who knows where it has “lived” its life. Anyway, NAPCO Industries had been providing 4WD conversions for GM trucks since the early 1950s and had gotten enough traction and popularity that by 1957 GM decided to get in on the action and put a box on the order sheet for a customer to buy a truck with 4WD from the factory. The good news for NAPCO is that GM was buying all the parts from them and essentially doing the work the small upfitter shops had been doing to that point. Things went quickly south for NAPCO in 1960 when Chevy unveiled a new chassis and their own 4WD. Game over. That being said, in 1957, NAPCO was doing really well and anyone ordering this truck had to be doing really well (or be the government) because it would have been astronomically expensive, especially for a lowly pickup. The 4WD system added about 50% to the cost of the truck and then the cab conversion may well have added another 50-75% on top of that. Sure, an extended cab or crew cab pickup is the order of the day today but back in the 1950s, it was literally coach built stuff!
This truck has a 235ci straight six with an SM420 transmission. It is in immaculate shape and we know because there wasn’t an inch of this thing, top of bottom that escaped our prying eyes. The cab is in wonderful shape, there is nary a spot of rust anywhere, the engine runs well and the interior looks like it was installed yesterday. As you’ll see in the photo gallery the oddly shaped lever for the transfer case snakes up through the floor and encroaches big time on the passenger side of the cab.
The truck sits as high as it does because of the conversion and also because it is a 3800 series or 1-ton truck with a 96oolb GVW. The straight six and super steep gearing of the thing made it a mountain goat and we think the truck is cooler with the straight six than it would be with a 283 in it. The overwhelming majority of trucks in this era came with straight sixes. They were tough engines that ran forever and served yeoman’s duty under the hood. The V8 was probably more than most people wanted or needed in a pickup at that time. Of course as needs changed, so have people’s taste in engines, but in 1957 a truck wasn’t something you bought as a daily driver or commuter. You bought it to work and specified it as such.
Hit the link below to look at this absolutely fantastic 1957 Chevy Orrville crew cab conversion with NAPCO 4WD and power steering. It is big, tough, spartan, and very, very rare!
Thanks to Jon and the truck’s owner for allowing us down to blast these photos!
GALLERY: 1957 ORRVILLE CHEVY NAPCO TRUCK