Jan. 04–Although Chevrolet introduced the Cameo Carrier in 1955 as the first pickup truck marketed for everyday transport, the one currently on display at the Studebaker National Museum hasn’t been driven much.
“I think it was only 825 miles on it when I got it from him,” Ken Drouse says about acquiring his 1958 Cameo 20 years ago from his wife’s uncle, the vehicle’s original owner. “There might 1,250 miles on it now. … I take it to a lot of shows, but it’s a trailer queen.”
With its two-tone coloring, Cadillac taillights and fiberglass bed, Drouse’s Cameo gleams in the showroom window on the first floor of the museum as part of “Keep on Truckin’: The American Pickup Truck,” which continues through May 6.
“The Chevy Cameo foreshadowed what we see today,” Studebaker archivist Andrew Beckman says. “It was designed to be able to haul stuff, but what you see is style. It’s much flashier, marketed as a personal transportation vehicle. It really put the glitz and glamour onto a truck that you hadn’t seen before.”
Its fiberglass bed is one reason why neither Drouse and his wife, Marcia, nor her uncle put very many miles on it.
“If anybody ran into the (back) end of that thing, I’d be devastated,” he says by phone from their home in Pinconning, Mich. “You can’t open a book and order new parts.”
Everything’s original on the Cameo, Drouse says, although he did refinish its wood about 15 years ago.
“Otherwise, it’s more or less, wax on, wax off, all these years,” he says.
Chevrolet built only 1,405 Cameos during its four-year model run.
“They were about $1,100 more than the average truck,” Drouse says. “That’s was probably a little too much for farmers. They weren’t selling them, and in ’59, they came out with the El Camino.”
The other vehicles in the exhibit trace the development of the pickup truck from the 1920s to the 1970s, from a purely commercial vehicle to a family passenger vehicle that’s now the best-selling vehicle on the road.
“Its roots lay in the horse era,” Beckman says. “There were light delivery wagons, and Studebaker made them hand over fist.”
Although one 1900s-Brass Era vehicle was essentially a pickup truck, the museum’s archivist says, the genre came into its own in the 1920s, when Ford placed truck bodies on Model T and Model A chassis.
“If you look at the Ford Model A base truck, the panel delivery, that’s very much a rudimentary get-the-cargo-to-the-market truck,” Beckman says about the show’s 1929 Model A owned by Paul and Cathy White, of South Bend. “There are very few creature comforts. You get into the ’40s and ’50s, you get more comfort and (attention to) how they look.”
Although Studebaker built many pickup trucks in the 1940s and ’50s, Beckman says, its history with that type of vehicle was checkered before then.
The show includes a 1937 Studebaker Coupe Express and a 1941 Coupe-Delivery, both of which are based on existing passenger vehicles, the Dictator and the Champion Coupe, respectively.
With the introduction of its M series in 1941, followed by the 2R series in 1949, however, Studebaker entered the light truck market with gusto.
“With the M series, they designed a very solid truck, rugged,” Beckman says. “From the horse-drawn era, they still had a good reputation for designing strong commercial vehicles. The M series was just a good design and value for the money from top to bottom.”
His parents bought and restored the show’s 1947 M5 and later donated it to the museum.
“It’s not a boulevard ride by any means, but it does well,” Beckman says about driving it. “It’s bouncy, but it’s meant to carry a load. It rides a lot better with about a 100 pounds in the bed than when it’s empty.”
Studebaker’s 2R series is represented in the show by a 1949 2R-5 with Midland Engineering Company’s name painted on the doors and the slogan “Find us fast in the Yellow Pages” — with drawing of a telephone — on the truck’s body.
“The truck is lower, the cab is wider, there’s more room for passengers,” Beckman says about the 2R series. “It has a double-wall bed, which is standard now. … The 2R is basically a box within a box so the cargo can roll around in the inner bed and not dent the outer wall.”
Associates of famed Studebaker designer Raymond Loewy worked on the 2R series.
“If you look at its 1949 competitors, it’s much more modern looking,” Beckman says. “You have adjustable seats. The light in the cab came on when you opened the door. Not a lot of trucks had that. Again, they were very durable and rugged and sold in great numbers.”
For Beckman and the museum’s staff, two of the show’s highlights are a 1947 Dodge Power Wagon and a 1967 International Scout 800, both very rare in numbers produced and how many survive.
“Especially the heavier duty trucks, they were used up and discarded, so we were delighted to find one of those not too far away from here,” Beckman says about the Power Wagon, which is a fierce looking civilianized military vehicle.
“Everything about that truck is meant to be rugged, heavy duty, take any job thrown at it,” he says. “You can see its military roots. … Is there a better name for a truck than Power Wagon?”
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