With the popularity of the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino as collector cars we can forgive those folks, and there are many, who believe that combining a pickup bed with a passenger car chassis was a postwar concept. Not true. In fact pickups based on passenger cars go back to the automobile's early days. Indeed, most commercial vehicles prior to 1935 were built with passenger car chassis and front end sheet metal. A classic and much loved example is the 1932 Ford Model A.
Later in that decade, art deco as a design motif had become popular in the car world and while the working pickup by then was migrating to truck chassis, two of the independents, Hudson and Studebaker, were producing handsome commercial vehicles that set a precedent for the Ranchero and El Camino. Studebaker called its offering for 1937 the Coupe-Express, a name that suited its character, derived from the 3-passenger coupe seating and express body, "express" being a term commonly used for pickups in those years.
The 1937 model was based on the Studebaker Dictator sedan (imagine using a name like that today; my, how things have changed!) and was driven by the Dictator's 217.8 c.i. six, detuned slightly to 86 bhp from the car's 90 bhp. A 3-speed manual transmission was standard but overdrive could be ordered as an option. What made the Coupe-Express so appealing, however, was the cabin, which had all the style, comfort, and options of its passenger car sisters.
Although only made from 1937 to 1939, it underwent a significant change in 1939 when the Raymond Loewy group was given responsibility for designing all Studebaker passenger cars. The first version with its vertical grille, shown above, was a beautiful example of art deco styling.
Hudson was building what it called a "commercial car" on its Essex car chassis several years ahead of Studebaker's Coupe-Express. Originally known as the Dover, it was renamed Essex in the early 1930s when the platform was switched over to the Essex Terraplane chassis. The delightfully named Terraplane was Hudson's low-priced offering, intended to help it through the depression era. Initially successful, it had been growing more like Hudsons since 1934 and in 1938 was reintroduced as the Hudson-Terraplane. When Hudson resumed production after WW2, the Terraplane name was dropped entirely. That's why you'll find car-based pickups badged as both Hudson-Terraplane and Hudson.
Whatever the name, these pickups, like Studebaker's, were much influenced by art deco until 1940, when the company performed a front end restyling. Unlike Studebaker, Hudson continued making its pickup after WW2 until, in 1947, it switched to semi-unit construction with the innovative step-down sedans.
Pre-war Hudson pickups differed from Studebaker by being available in a longer size with greater carrying capacity. Thus Hudson’s best known truck, the 3/4-ton Terraplane "Big Boy, was introduced in 1937 on a stretched wheelbase of 124 inches. Though the added length may have been practical it made the car/truck appear less elegant, even a bit awkward. 1946 and 1947 models were available only in the "Big Boy" configuration, although that name was never used on the post-war vehicles.
One of the first to feature the deluxe interior of a passenger car in a pickup body, Hudson, like Studebaker, provided the inspiration for Chevrolet's El Camino and Ford's Ranchero. The latter two deserve their popularity but they weren't the first. Much as I admire them I find the romanticism of those earlier designs more appealing. Especially that name: Coupe-Express.
[Photos: Ford - speedtv.com/ Studebaker - studebakerpictures.com/ Hudson - jalopyjournal.com]