1951 Chevrolet COE Tow Truck

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This month’s feature truck may be the only COE (cab over engine) short wheel base Advance Design Tow truck in existence! Most trucks that are tow vehicles are doomed to extinction once they begin their job of car and truck moving duties. They are worked everyday sun, rain, or snow to justify their expense of huge insurance, a driver, maintenance of the tow equipment, some jobs at night in dark places (more body damage), city and county license fees, etc.

Sheet metal rust and thus bad appearance develops as well as occasional body damage. By their 10th year most are retired. The later use of an older tow truck is limited! Their extra weight usually makes them a high candidate for the crusher.

The wrecker body on this month’s special truck was manufactured by W.T. Stringfellow Co. in Nashville, TN and installed new on the cab and chassis as received from the GM factory. We checked our computer on Google under W.T. Stringfellow and what a surprise! They show it based in Nashville, Tennessee at 125 North 12th Ave. as a corporation beginning in 1946. The company became inactive in 1987.

This 65 year old 1951 Chevrolet COE series 5100 (short 110” wheel base) is a rare tow truck survivor for one reason; It was owned from the beginning by a small Chevrolet dealership in Lyndon, Kansas. It was always stored inside and kept very clean to make a good impression to their Chevrolet customers. Plus it was only used for towing duties for this dealership, not a full time hauler.

It has been owned by Jim Carter of Jim Carter Truck Parts in Independence, Missouri for almost 25 years. (He found it beside a vendor booth at the annual Lawrence, Kansas Swap Meet and drove it home 60 miles) It has since been kept out of bad weather. Jim said, “We saved this big rig from eventually going to see God”. It is now a little part of our country’s history!

The first 6 months of owning it, Jim, plus the help of nearby Jerry’s Chevy Restoration Shop, stripped out the interior and put back to the new exact factory appearance. They even added the factory radio and fresh air heater. Paint was polished to a high shine and a few appropriate metal repairs were made. The towing rig on the back (yes, it operates like new) was sanded, primed and painted in white as the Chevrolet dealer had it so many years ago. The long decorative stainless rails on each side of the wrecker body were polished to a mirror finish.

Jim used this fancy tow vehicle every few weeks during the first years of owning it. Believe it or not, it was a fun pleasure vehicle but occasionally did a few actual tow duties. Jim says one of the most remembered moments occurred during my “single years” while driving this restored tow truck. On a casual date with ladies for the first time, it created quite
a surprise when this truck drove up to their home. “What is that?” was just the beginning of their comments, especially as they climbed up the steps to reach the cab. They loved it!

Another special memory was the attempt to find a parking space during a major local event. Thousands of cars were there and the closest parking lot to the event was full. “When I drove the tow truck by that full lot, attendants immediately dropped the ropes at the entrance and allowed my truck to enter! Yes, they actually thought I was there to tow a stranded car. What a hoot!”

Driving a COE like this is a real fun experience. Not only is it a great eye catcher but you look down on all the cars that are now smaller in today’s world! We refer to our special wrecker as “The Blue Hooker!”

Get ready for real memories if you drive on a rough gravel or dirt road. Even if you ride over a section of damaged concrete or asphalt on an otherwise smooth surface, the stiff suspension springs give very little movement when not hauling weight so a big bounce can be a part of the action. Wear a pad under your cap if you want to protect your head from the top of the cab!

Before Jim purchased the COE, almost 30 years ago the original low pressure 235 six cylinder engine had been replaced with the next series, a 235 high oil pressure engine. This gives it the additional horse power that makes it better in driving this 6,500 pound short wheelbase COE on the highway. Oh yes, it has a wheel base close to a VW Beetle so you can put it beside other cars in a shopping center parking lot.

One other feature! All the towing controls are in the cab. If you are ask to tow a car by yourself, you must personally climb up into the cab several times to safely and correctly lift the vehicle on its two wheels. Yes, drivers did this many times every day in the 1950’s and earlier. We doubt if there were any complaints. 15 years earlier, drivers would have used a “hand crank” on the side of the wrecker body. Yes, both ways rolled the cable onto the spool behind the cab and lifted a car or truck on its two wheels for towing.

The new “modern” way of lifting a vehicle (using the “Power Take-off on the side of the 4 speed transmission) allowed middle age drivers extra years of work before being forced to retire because of the difficult hand cranking!

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The license say it all!

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Hood up!

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It made the cover of “Pickup ‘n Panels” magazine in August 1996

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Split Rims with white painted edges. Looks like whitewalls!

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Lay on the ground to get this photo

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A close-up of the wrecker body. Even has the “tool box” attached to the floor.

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These photos are from the “Salesman’s Data Book” that was issued to all salesman at the Chevrolet dealerships. This page features the 110” wheelbase COE as it would have been received by the Chevrolet dealer in Lyndon, Kansas. A short time later they installed the wrecker body ordered from the W.T. Stringfellow Company. All has remained as a package for 65 years.

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