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1953 Chevrolet Canopy Express

For the First Time – Two in a Row!

While the Feature Truck article for January 2016 was being developed, we noticed an additional very special vehicle in Greg Fanning’s collection. His photos showed another eye-catcher, one of the rarest of the 1947-55 Advanced Design truck series. This is the now almost extinct “Canopy Express”. We doubt if even 100 remain out of thousands that were once produced annually!
After being used several years by their first owner, they had limited value to later buyers. Few used car dealers even wanted them in their inventory. Now the tables are reversed. They have become about the most valuable body style of AD Truck Series!

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Check Greg’s Personal Story:

“Did you cut the sides out of your panel truck?”….You can’t imagine the number of times I’ve heard that question. Inevitably, it is usually followed by “I’ve never seen one of those before.”….. A rare, yet very historical fact that comprises this ‘Advanced Design’ Canopy Express from General Motors was, and although preceded by other canopy manufacturers, GM brought this AD line out to facilitate the delivery of consumables to the neighborhood buying public. In the late forties and early fifties the ‘big box’ grocery stores had not yet arrived so ‘hucksters’ as they were called, wanted a vehicle to take the product to the consumer. Hence the open sided panel was designed. However, I have had some very interesting discussions with trades people like plumbers and electricians that used this vehicle because of the ease of compartmentalizing their diverse parts inventory.

This particular vehicle came my way after attending a ‘Utilities’ conference in Denver. A power lineman from Pueblo put me on to a co-worker who had originally secured this Express for his retirement so he and his wife could sell oranges from his groves at various local farmers markets. Sadly, a personal setback caused him to park the truck in his garage as it ‘conjured up bad memories’ as he put it.

I hopped in my truck, hooked up the trailer and left Vernon, British Columbia, Canada and a 2700 mile, three day turnaround to Palisade Colorado and back, I was in my driveway with a new toy. Very quickly, those bad memories of the previous owner have become fond ones for me. Although very drivable, I felt that much work had to be done to bring this fifteen or so year old ‘restoration’ to my standards. If not the condition, at least the ‘Sea Crest’ (gag-me green) color had to go.

One of these plumbers had an interesting story about one of the major drawbacks of this body design. It appears that the front cab floor was particularly subject to extreme rust depending on how you parked at the end of a days’ work. Under each front ‘folding bucket seat’, if you chose both seats, was a tool compartment each with its own cover, not unlike the battery cover lid, only longer. The outer cab floor was contoured to a low point drain hole, but, if you failed to park slightly uphill during rainy periods, the water flowed forward after leaking through the back canvas tent and sides. You may notice the factory tool kit and tools in my picture, the canvas bag, usually wrapped in plastic, would vibrate down predominantly rough roads, slide over the drain hole causing a swimming pool and of course floor rot. This particular vehicles floor was covered in ‘stove pipe tar’ which trapped the moisture but it eventually rusted through as shown, so I did a complete front floor replacement. The rear floor was factory 7/8 in. single piece construction grade plywood, which made it difficult to slide in between the cross members. Single board installation was an option, but, you needed the two outer boards around the wheel wells to be a minimum of 11 ¾ in. wide and 7/8 in. thick. Tough to find or custom cut. As luck would have it, I came upon some African dark mahogany that fit the requirements, and I think spruced it up a bit.

I was especially happy to secure this model with the ‘end board and rear inside cab window’ separator. Although usually a northern (cooler) state option, it is removable if desired and many farmers chose to not have the rear cab divider and optional passenger bucket seat to facilitate hauling more product. You may notice in the pictures, instead of the usual fruit and produce in the bins, I have chosen to display an array of original GM parts that I have managed to acquire over the years. An eye catcher and well received by the old car buffs at the vintage car shows. In its inaugural vintage show, it captured ‘Best Restoration’ from a fleet of 600 plus entries….very satisfying reward for endless hours of enjoyment.

Not quite finished the ‘Resto’ yet, hence the purchase of the 2 ‘Sargent Fender Stripes’ from Jim Carter Truck Parts….as yet I have not been able to muster the courage to DRILL the 36 required holes in my factory flawless fenders…..probably this spring when the weather improves.

There is so much more that could be said about these vehicles, but I’ll leave you with one parting thought. Many theories exist as to the downfall of these unique members of the “carry-all” design. The one that intrigues me, although the saddest for mankind, was referred to me by that plumber I mentioned earlier. It was his recollection that the Canopy Express met its demise because of the ease of access. If left unattended, it was simply too easy to either undo the snaps or as he recalled, cut the tent with a knife to ‘steal’ the contents. A sad testament to humanity on such a beautiful design.

Thanks again Jim, it’s a pleasure participating in your ‘Feature Truck of the Month’ article…….Greg

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“Side Canvas Up” with display boxes

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Greg’s boxes filled with NOS Chevy Parts

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Chevy parts on display

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New floor wood

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Accessory sun visor

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A 235 Chevy six cylinder

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Under Construction

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Down to the Bare Bones

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Tailgate, etc. removed

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New Burgundy Maroon Paint

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New Floors

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Optional Passenger Seat Tipped Up. Note: Tool Box and Nearby Black Lid.

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