1939 Chevy Half Ton

Owner: Steve Jones


If you ever consider restoring a Pre-WWII GM truck, this data should quickly get you in the mood. Just look at what was done to a tired 1939 Chevy 1/2 ton that was bought from a newspaper advertisement. Its many pieces were brought home after years of abuse. It was no longer a usable vehicle.

Even more incredible is that it all happened in the country of New Zealand where most restoration parts must be imported. The owner and rebuilder is Steve Jones on the North Island of New Zealand. In past years he had owned a 1939 Chevy coupe but having an old Chevrolet pickup had been a developing dream and this very rare 1939 was just what he had in mind. Thanks to the internet and his computer, Steve realized the potential of this little pickup. The goal would be to make it very close to what you could buy from a New Zealand Chevrolet dealer in 1939.

Yes, of course it was a frame off project. Several years work and many orders from the US allowed it to finally come together. The only noticeable differences from its 1939 beginning are the addition of a non-New Zealand GM bed with sides and its whitewalls. Steve even painted it an optional US factory color, Armour Yellow.

The photos will give some readers another surprise. New Zealand, like many other countries in the world, is a right hand drive nation! The dash is totally reversed. The starter and accelerator pedal linkage has been re-engineered to reach their different place in the cab. The taillight is moved to the right side. A connection on the steering connection to the front suspension requires a very unique “third arm” beside the right king pin assembly.

Steve is a total GM truck enthusiast, so he has since completed the same treatment on a 1949 Chevy ½ ton and it is used as a more daily driver. His “biggest of all” project is his current challenge. This is rebuilding a 1957 GMC cab over engine (COE) Model 370 truck. This will be a frame off project that will surely require 2 or 3 years to complete. We can only imagine the cost and personal work this will require. We assume this will be the “only” example of this unusual truck in the country of New Zealand.

His enthusiasm continues! Steve is now forming the “All American Truck Club”. It will be open to all New Zealand truck enthusiasts and at least for now no membership charge. He would love to get the many New Zealand truck owners together and help improve knowledge, have truck gatherings and drives, plus help develop a better parts exchange.

You can contact Steve Jones at: chevytrucks49@e3.net.nz.

More data on Pre-WWII GM New Zealand trucks:

General Motors right hand drive trucks, though unusual in the United States, have always been very popular in specific countries such as Britain, New Zealand, South Africa, and Australia. These vehicles were not produced in the U.S. but came from GM’s large assembly plant in Oshawa, Ontario. Due to reversed dash boards, the change in steering components, differences in starter linkages, and tail light locations, etc., the lower numbers of right hand drive production was kept at this one Canadian assembly plant.

In New Zealand, special marketing laws required at least 25% of each new truck had to be assembled or produced in that country. This was mostly to help provide more local jobs. Thus for many years the GM Canadian facility exported truck parts only to the New Zealand assembly plant in Petone near the capital city of Wellington. Hundreds of freight containers supplying GM truck parts regularly arrived at this New Zealand assembly plant. The specialized parts from Canada were engines, frames, suspension components, disassembled cabs and front sheet metal. The New Zealand plant then assembled the truck and furnished parts they could provide locally. This included (at least in the 1940′s) the wiring harnesses, window glass, a wood cab floor, rubber parts, gas tank, an optional flat wood deck, etc.

To keep within the 25% government parts and labor requirement, a truck bed with sides as supplied on U.S. vehicles was not included. A locally made wood deck could be added during assembly. Either with or without this deck, the two rear pickup metal rear fenders from the Canadian plant were wired or otherwise secured at the rear of the cab. The finished vehicle was delivered this way to local New Zealand GM dealers. The lack of a bed would also allow the budget minded buyer to construct his own deck or hauling platform and better afford the new truck.

A New Zealand trailer manufacturer during these early years used these pickup rear fenders on their finished product. Their small general purpose trailers were usually equipped with these new metal pickup fenders. A retired 88 year old manager of this company remembers having standing orders with all New Zealand pickup dealers (not just GM) to purchase their extras. This saved additional expense on their completed trailers.

Their right hand drive feature is unique to American readers; however, these Chevrolets have another very unusual characteristic. As with most 1939 New Zealand Chevrolet trucks, their cab was assembled in the Petone, New Zealand plant from pre-stamped pieces from the Canadian location, and are a mixture of two types of trucks. The rear of the cabs and door outer sheet metal are of the U.S. 1936-1938 design. The cowl, windshield frame, hood and grill are the 1939-40 style. Yes, they do weld together nicely into a single unit but the outside horizontal door and hood trim lines do not match. Reasons for the GM ‘cab mixture’ are not known at this writing, however, it is assumed keeping New Zealand’s costs low was the main factor. Quantities of older 1936-38 style rear cabs, roofs, and door stampings were either already available or the prior tooling still had much remaining life. The lower cost could then be passed on to the retail truck buyer. Just another way of producing the New Zealand 1939 GM truck at the lowest possible price!

Another theory for this unusual combination cab is due to the beginning of World War II. Because of New Zealand’s connection with Great Britain, they entered the war September 2, 1939 over two years before the United States became formally involved. No doubt being in the war created an immediate demand for all trucks in New Zealand. Rather than lose sales while the cab tooling changeover occurred at the Canadian supply plant (1938 to the new design 1939 body) GM continued with the prior sheet metal for their in demand export truck. Exact new styling was not necessary to overseas buyers when the war demand was so high!

One of Steve’s pictures, with this article, features the inside of the cab top without the headliner. Note: the factory welds where the early and late style sheet metal have been joined.


Factory cab welds show 2 cab designs joined.

Non-US inside door panels

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