When we think of trucks, “guts” is the more likely word to come to mind than “glamour.” And the Gilmore Car Museum acknowledges this fact in the title of its newest special exhibit, “Designed for Delivery: The Early American Truck,” and in the illustration that shows a truck hauling a heavy load at a shipyard.
As you enter the gallery, one of the first trucks encountered is a 1919 Duplex, a huge and gutsy workhorse weighing in at 7,000 pounds and believed to be the first truck produced with four-wheel drive, and accompanied by a photograph if the Michigan-produced truck — Duplex Power Car Company was founded in Charlotte, Michigan in 1909 and later moved to nearby Lansing — climbing the steep steps of the Eaton City Court House.
And yet there is an aesthetic gracefulness to many of the trucks in the gallery, from the 1907 Cadillac Light Delivery that greets visitors to the display through the 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express, the 1940 Hudson Utility Business Coupe, the 1949 Chevrolet Series 3100 half-ton pickup, the downright gorgeous 1958 Chevrolet Apache Cameo and 1958 Dodge D100 Sweptside, all the way through the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino.
Even the museum notes the truck’s delightful design details in the subtext for the exhibit illustration:
“The light duty truck, in its style, grace, and utility, is distinctively American. It has played an important role in our social and industrial history and it has been generously imitated by foreign manufacturers. This exhibit traces the history of the American-built truck through six design themes from 1899 to 1969.”
This juxtaposition between work and style is immediately apparent. The first vehicle in the room is the 1907 Cadillac Light Delivery. Cadillac built trucks? Yep. And the one in the exhibit wears the colors of Sharpe & Daughters Emporium of Highland, Michigan, and lists what the company offered to deliver to its clients:
“Home Fineries. Books. Yarns. Tires, Plantings. Child Tutoring.”
The Gilmore’s truck showcase runs through the spring of 2018, an important year-long statement by the nation’s largest car museum.
Vintage trucks are becoming very popular in the collector car community, in part because they remain affordable, but also because they not only offer fascinating design details, but provide the practicality of use that has made the modern pickup truck an essential part of American family life, a vehicle for work and play.
Photos by Larry Edsall