Don’t Speak Ill: 1938 GMC Panel Hearse

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Is this a cool truck or what? For some reason I have always liked panel trucks and sedan deliveries, and I have no idea why. This 1938 GMC panel truck for sale here on craigslist in Columbus, New Jersey is a real stand out for me, maybe just because there are so few of them around. And late thirties Jimmies just have great styling. GMC, as the dedicated truck division of General Motors, did seem to take particular pride in building trucks that were just a little bit tougher and more special than their sister division Chevies. And unlike today, the two GM truck lines shared far fewer parts.

The seller claims this truck was originally a military hearse that was later used by a funeral home in Trenton. The ad is not clearly written so it’s hard to figure out the sequence of the history of this truck, but it sounds like at one point in its life, the truck was stored for more than thirty years and at some other time ended up being left somewhere in the woods as well.

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Apparently at this point “a guy” rescued the truck, first installed a big block Chevy engine and then switched it out for a small block mill, which is in it today.

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The current owner says he has been driving it regularly for the past two years as he continues to work on it. The 350 engine is a two barrel in “stock” form, and looks like a pretty clean installation. It has a hydraulic clutch, which probably makes it a lot easier to shift, but no word on whether the transmission is original. If so, it’s probably a 4-speed with a stump pulling first gear, that when you drive will be more like a 3-speed anyway.

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Other new parts include a radiator, brake slave cylinder, three inch exhaust pipe, and also new glass. The seller says there is no serious rust, though clearly lots of clean up body work to be done, trim parts to be reinstalled, etc. and of course it could use a paint job unless you like the current “in progress” look.

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The interior looks extremely decent, considering its age and the back bed appears to have had a paint job at some recent time.

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I am no expert in GMC trucks, but from what I have been able to tell, the 1938 grille should have the GMC logo at the top and it’s hard to tell from the photos in this ad, but the grille on this truck does not look right, and it’s also missing the General Motors Truck chrome on the sides of the hood.

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Here is another 1938 GMC panel truck front end for comparison. Maybe one of our more knowledgeable readers will know what is going on with this truck. Maybe it’s got a later year grille?

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The $8,500 selling price might be reasonable, given the rarity and overall condition of this truck. I doubt this is a candidate for full restoration, but with some cosmetic work (windshield wipers, door handles, etc.), paint job, and new wheels and tires, and maybe a more modern tranny and differential to make it into a restomod type of truck you could drive regularly. Or just do the work this truck needs to improve and preserve it, and have a ball with it. With all that room in the back, I can imagine using it for all sorts of activities, including tailgating, wilderness camping, fishing trips and the like. Just so long as driving a former hearse does not bother you…

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Charles

    Street Rod…

  2. JW

    I like the tailgating idea. I prefer the late 50’s Ford panel trucks but this is a decent starting point for someone.

  3. Howard A Member

    I’m a little confused. What are we looking at here? Is the truck in the garage the same truck in the later pic’s? It appears the front clip is a ’39 Chevy truck, and if you look at the running boards and cowl in the 3rd pic, it looks to have been added. Otherwise, I don’t see anything that says GMC. And I think it was just a panel truck that may have been used as a hearse, as I thought hearses have windows. Regardless, it is neat. Perfect engine for this, although I’d have gone with an automatic. And for the record, hydraulic clutches are a little easier, but the main advantage is no clutch linkage to hang. Cool find.
    Question for BF’s staff, why does it take so long for my typings to get printed, and when I hit “post comment”, it takes a long time. Is it because so many people are overwhelming the server? Does anybody else have that problem? It doesn’t happen at 2am. Thx.

    • Jesse Staff

      We will look into the slow comment posting. Are you sure it’s not the 5 minute editing feature mentioned below?

      • Howard A Member

        Hi Jesse, no, I’m familiar with the 5 minute deal.( I wish all sites had that) I thought maybe it’s my ( to quote Scotty G.) my squirrel cage, backwoods innernet service, but doesn’t do it on any other site. That’s ok, it’s well worth it, no matter how long it takes.
        So,,, is this truck a Chevy, or a GMC???

    • JW

      Howard I’ve had a few issues but I found it mainly happening with IE so I switch over to google chrome browser and it works a lot better. I’ve had the same issue on Yahoo posting a comment to a article.

    • Mike Russell

      The truck might be titled as a ’38, but everything about it is ’39. There is a significant body change between the two years and this one is clearly the ’39-’46 body style. The instrument panel is 1939 ONE YEAR ONLY. GMC offered 1/2 ton trucks in a long and short wheelbase while Chevy only made the short version. This is a long truck so might be a 3/4 ton. It would still have 6 bolt wheels either way. COOL truck.

      Mike

      • Howard A Member

        Thanks Mike.

      • jaygryph

        For what it’s worth, it’s not unheard of for hearses to be titled a year off due to whenever the coach builder got the parts from the manufacturer, and when they actually finished and sold the car and sold/titled it. Have seen it a few times, though most professional cars are titled correctly.

        Also possible the DMV screwed it at some point and it was never changed. It’s rather hard to get them to change it and they don’t know old cars enough to figure it out on their own.

  4. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    Hi Howard, when I post a comment I have a window with a five minute timer clicking down before it gets posted. It claims the five minutes is for editing. I cannot load photos either. I have seen that happen to others as well. I did have a computer issue a while back that did post some stuff that was not meant to be. Naturally, that could not be edited. Maybe I am on double secret probation. Glad Spring is here, but snowed last night, take care, Mike.

  5. Barzini

    One of the best looking pre-war cars I’ve ever seen. But I wonder how you’d safely change lanes on a busy road with no passenger side mirror or window. I have a hard enough time doing that with a newer Highlander.

  6. Gerry

    Sure would like to do business with this guy, so easy going, and low key seller??

  7. Van

    I like these a lot but I would keep the hearse thing to myself. How little could you do to make this a great driver.

  8. RoughDiamond

    Neat panel truck. Sold already.

  9. Jay

    Mike is correct, that is indeed a 1939.
    Although one picture shows a 1938 GMC front clip.
    Very suspect when you see conflicting years represented, but I have seen 37’s registered as 39’s and vice versa.

  10. Chris in WNC

    love it.
    I’d find an original engine to replace the V8,
    then throw our camping gear in the back and drive it all over……

  11. leiniedude leiniedude Member

    I really do not know if the body parts that have been changed would make a difference on value. She does have a small block in it. It is cool in my opinion and if I had the room it is something that I would love to be the new caretaker of. A very attractive vehicle. I would drive it as is for the most part. Maybe paint it before I check out. Or not. Depending on what comes first.

  12. rangeroger

    I used to have a ’39 Chevy 1/2 ton panel truck. The front end was exactly the same as a ’39 Chevy car. This panel appears to be the 3/4 ton, as the length from door to rear fender is longer than the 1/2 ton. That was a fun truck to drive. The tranny went out and until I could find another, I pulled the top cover and shifter off and shifted with a long screwdriver in the shift forks. Didn’t splatter too much gear lube.
    Then there was the time the brakes went out and I had to drive from San Bernardino to Beaumont Ca. to work a second job. My buddy who worked with me had a friend who owned a garage in Beaumont, and told me we could get it fixed there. I managed to drive it all the way with no problems. Left it in gear and shut off the engine to stop. Got to the garage in one piece and didn’t run any lights or stop signs.
    We talked to the mechanic and my buddy jumped in to put it in the garage. Of course, he forgot there were no brakes and plowed it into the steel work bench in the back, creasing that huge grill and taking out both headlight nacelles.
    Then there was my ’48 1 ton Chevy panel. Huge truck with 6 replaced with a 265 SB Chevy and 4:85 rear end. Still got almost 20 mpg if I could keep my foot out of it. She’d do 90 at close to 7000 rpm in 4th( trusty SM 456). In ’74, couldn’t afford the gas anymore, so I sold it for $200 more than I paid for it, and bought a ’67 1275 Sprite for $100 less than I got for the truck.
    Also, I’ve been having the same problem posting. Type in a word and wait for it to magically appear. Seems ok this time, though.

  13. geomechs geomechs Member

    Most definitely a ’39 or ’40 Chevy grill. I’m betting on the ’39 part because of the lack of park lights on top of the fenders. Of course someone could’ve shaved them off and went with something else. Nice unit. A little long for what I’d want to have but guaranteed, you’d never have trouble hauling plywood. I’m not fussy about the SBC motor but on the same token, I don’t really blame the guy for switching it out if he wanted to get some serious cruising done. If it’s a Chevy it would have the old Stovebolt 216 babbit-pounder. If it’s a GMC it would’ve had the 228 GMC six, which wasn’t much better performance wise but at least it had full pressure lubrication. It’s a lot more reassuring to see 30 psi on the gauge when cruising down the road than 12 psi. Mind you I’ve still seen those old 216s take one helluva pounding and still come back for more…

  14. geomechs geomechs Member

    Bummer! I see the posting is gone…

  15. Mike Russell

    As I mentioned in my earlier post, GMC made a long 1/2 ton at this time so it could a 1/2 ton. The grille is ’39-’40 GMC with a wider (top to bottom) top moulding than the ’40 Chevy which was wider (top to bottom) than the ’39 Chevy.
    No sheet metal or grille is the same between Chevy trucks and cars for 1939. You can Google some images and verify this. A 1939 sedan delivery would have been considered a commercial vehicle and would have used passenger car sheet metal. Sedan deliveries had a large single rear door as opposed to the double or “barn doors” found on a panel truck.

    Mike

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