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Lionel Train House Find: 1946 Chevy Panel Truck

French's 1946 Panel Truck

There is just something incredibly fascinating about old work vehicles. Perhaps it is the hard lives they lived or maybe it is how scarce they are becoming? We aren’t sure what it is, but we can’t help but be intrigued by them, especially ones that still wear their old signage. This 1946 Chevrolet Panel Truck was used by “French’s” Lionel Train House and has that aged look that can only be acquired after years of hard service. The fact that it was used by a toy train store just adds to the nostalgia factor for anyone who grew up playing with toy trains. Sadly, at some point in its past someone painted over the original paint and logo. The logo is still visible under the newer paint though. The seller claims this truck runs and drives great. Be sure to take a closer look at it here on eBay.

French's Lionel Train House

We can imagine the smiles that this truck brought to children’s faces when it drove down the street and we bet it will bring a smile to the inner child of just about anyone who sees it today. We have to admit though that we wish who ever painted it would have not done so. It would be amazing to see it in all of its original glory. While the new paint job may have added a small amount of protection, it didn’t do much to keep it from rusting. Overall it looks solid, but there is rust in the bottoms of the doors and quarter panels. The mismatched paint will actually make fixing it a bit easier, as matching the paint perfectly won’t be a critical issue.

French's Delivery Truck

The seller learned a valuable lesson from this truck and it sounds like they learned it the hard way. Always be sure to check fluids and belts before starting a barn or garage find, even if you think someone else already did it. When the seller took possession of the truck it had changed hands several times. They were under the impression that the oil had been changed, but it hadn’t been touched since at the 1980’s. When they started it for the first time everything seemed to be working correctly and it ran good. On the 30 mile drive home though it blew a fan belt and they also discovered the oil was bad after several pushrods were bent by stuck valves. Thankfully Chevy’s 216 cui inline six is a tank of a motor and the seller was able to fix it without replacing the entire engine. Let it be a reminder to all of us to always check the fluids and belts on any car that has been parked for any period of time. This seller got lucky this time, but it could have been much worse.

1946 Chevrolet Panel Truck

While this truck is running and driving it is going to need some work before we would consider it completely road worthy. It’s nothing serious, but we would recommend fixing the turn signals, tail light and headlight before driving it on any busy streets. We wouldn’t mind having it as a parts runner and with a little work we might even use it on a more regular basis. We can only imagine the conversation starter it would make and it would certainly be fun to take to just about any event. So would you leave this truck with its rough and patinaed look or would you do a complete restoration? There are believed to only be about 40 of these left on the road, so either way it would be a rare sight to behold!


  1. Eric

    Would make excellent rat rod

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    • Brad

      LOL – I think the 7 ‘thumbs down’ sums it up. I love rat rods too, but this one oughta be left alone: not chopped, slammed, frenched, decked, shaved, trimmed or otherwise “improved”. If that were the original paint it could roll right into a museum, but I’ll enjoy knowing it’ll likely be out on the road instead, reminding us of a simpler, happier time …when a Christmas tree and an O-gauge train set were plenty of entertainment for a kid.

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  2. Chris A.

    This is a great find as is. I hope a serious Lionel collector sees this ad and buys it. 1946 through the mid 60’s were Lionels’ peak years and this Chevy is a wonderful timepiece for the Lionel story. Lionel trains have ben making a modest comeback so the brand still has recognition. I’d clean it up, retain the patina, then restore everything else. Then drive it to the Strasburg, PA railroad museum and have a good time.

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    • geomechs geomechs Member

      Hi Chris. I certainly agree with you as far as this one is concerned. It is a wonderful nostalgic piece of history as it is. Preservation is the ONLY word.

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  3. Ed MacVaugh

    I don’t know who repainted it, looks professionally done.like by a sign company, so while in use it might have been painted over? The letter number comonbination telephone number suggests that.

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  4. Connor

    I love the look of these old work trucks.
    I would keep it the way it is, and just go through the mechanicals.
    Would love to have this on my driveway.

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  5. paul

    I wouldn’t touch a thing other then to make sure all the mechanics were up to snuff.

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  6. Dolphin Member

    Great truck, AND a great ad. Lots of terrific pics, detail and documentation, and where the history isn’t certain the seller says so.

    I’m betting there are enough model train enthusiasts and clubs out there to make sure this is sold for a good price and that it goes to a good home. This would look really good parked outside either of a couple of model train club buildings that I can think of.

    Good luck to the seller, who has an approach that I like to see when I consider buying a car. The only fault I can see is that the truck was driven some distance on the old fan belt, which broke, and oil of unknown age in the crackcase, with the possibility of some engine damage. But the rugged Stovebolt Six is easily fixed if needed, so that’s not likely to be a serious problem.

    And good luck akso to the buyer, who will get what looks like a pretty rare truck.

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  7. DRV

    I have seen too many of these built up finish old sign logo trucks that I get very suspicious every time I see one. There is an art to faking it and this could possibly be one. Seeing the light and dark red under an evenly and consistently “worn” writing points to a fake for me.
    I can see the raised surface of a covered letter under the paint on the side shot shown here.

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    • Brad

      I dunno, if the VIN on that original title (with French’s name on it) matches the truck, and if it’s true lots of people remember seeing this one around Seattle, I’m not sure how you could fake it. Good call though on the uniformity and even-ness of the wear – it’s almost like a movie prop. Feels almost too perfect.

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  8. Jim Capp

    This deserves to left as is!! I’m not a Chevy fan, but this is NICE!!

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  9. Long Gone

    If this thing gets the right exposure, it will go for a LOT of money! Very cool!!!

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  10. BrentF

    This has Neil Young written all over it! Neil Young is big into old cars and once was an owner of Lionel Trains and is still involved with the company.


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  11. KTV

    I agree with DRV, this truck has obviously been repainted into the truck it is if you look in the close up of the left side near the top gap you can see all the way down the side that there is some old raised lettering painted over. Still a nice truck and i’d buy it the way it is but don’t overpay for something that may not be original. Buyer beware.

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  12. Chris A.

    DRV and KTV may be right on with the repaint. What would really make it interesting is exactly what was painted over before relettering. Perhaps a change in ownership, business name or location but still with a Lionel connection. There appears to be something under the French’s and Lionel in the second photo. Still like it though.

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    • Jon G

      As the seller let me try and respond. I tried to take photos of the lettering underneath which is also “French’s” so it looks like it was painted over at some point long ago but I guarantee that the lettering is old and has not been altered, faked or in any way made to look old. The door bottoms were patched at some point years ago and were not the best. There are plenty of detail shots of the lettering for the skeptics but I would let anyone come check it out in person. We have records, receipts and first hand accounts of people who knew the truck and saw it sitting outside the closed down French’s Train shop in the Seattle area. It was sold in the late 80’s to a family in Utah where it has been ever since and sitting in a garage for more than 20 years. I have friends who tried to buy it in the 90’s with no luck.

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      • Josh Staff

        Hi Jon,
        Thanks for getting on and giving us more information! We always love to hear from the owner of a car, as there isn’t anyone better to clear up any confusion and answer any questions! If there is anything else you’d like to add, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll be sure to push it up to where everyone can see it!

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      • Brad

        Nice of you to stop in and fill in some details, Jon ~ no skepticism here, just amazed at the overall look it has achieved over the years. You’ve certainly done your part in its story… and now someone new will get a chance to cherish it. All the best!!

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  13. waynard

    I have a ’46 Chev that was converted from a panel to a windowed school bus (like a Suburban) in 1946 by the State of New Mexico. It’s a one-ton chassis. This truck is a half-ton. Unfortunately mine was battered like a piece of used up tinfoil and required extensive bodywork and didn’t have the charm of this truck. But it also had virtually no rust due to its Southwest lifestyle.

    The minor rust on this one should be left untouched in my opinion, and even if the lettering is repro it looks great as is. Clean it, get it safe and drive it.

    Half ton versions of this, whether panel or suburban are not as scarce as “40 left on the road” by any stretch of the imagination. I know of at least 5 running in my area alone. And they made thousands of these. Sought after, yes. Scarce, no. The one-ton versions are very hard to come by.

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  14. Darren

    My great uncle parked his flatbed with the exact same nose (blue paint though) outside my grandpa’s barn the day he retired and it didn’t move for 30 years. It had his logo on the doors. I’ll bet the family members who sold it for scrap (maybe $50) a couple of years back would have pushed it back into the barn a long time ago and just waited, if they’d thought it could bring 10K some day.

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  15. Alan (Michigan)

    I sent the link to a friend I grew up with so many moons ago. He and a group of train buffs are seriously into home model train layouts, and his nearly fills his entire basement. He just thinks the truck is cool as hell. His family was even in Seattle in the early 50’s when this was probably running around, working!

    For my part, I agree that it is pretty awesome. The only thing that gives me pause is that the “garage”, IOW a mechanic, would drive the truck anywhere without taking care of some basics, including an oil change. If someone wants to drive it much, I’d expect that a rebuild of the six is in order, or it may strand the new owner with something expensive, like a thrown rod.

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