Monster V12! 1939 Seagrave Canopy Cab

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Seagrave fire trucks exemplify the difference between a public service vehicle like a dump truck or garbage truck and a public safety vehicle. Lives depend on fire trucks arriving rapidly and flawlessly executing their purpose, such as pumping water or even simply transporting fire fighters. This 1939 (or thereabouts) Seagrave Canopy Cab fire truck is missing some parts, but the elegant and mechanically redundant V12 remains (status unknown) and this Manchester, Connecticut classic seeks a new owner on Facebook Marketplace where $4000 makes it yours. Thanks to reader Peter R. for spotting this modestly-sized flame-quencher.

This looks like the smaller 7.4L Seagrave V12, the design of which began in the lap of luxury, powering automobiles of Pierce-Arrow, the pride of Buffalo, New York. Seagrave acquired the rights and tooling when the Great Depression sunk Pierce-Arrow, and fitted dual-plug heads and dual ignition systems for the ultimate in reliability. Some Seagrave V12 engines displace more than 900 cubic inches (14+ L). This unit’s twin distributors have apparently gone missing, unless the new owner is fortunate enough to discover them lying around somewhere in the vehicle or the current owner’s garage. More than one Seagrave V12 has found itself powering the odd giant roadster or rat rod, and that’s certainly better than going off to be made into refrigerators. Heavy-duty cooling and redundancy helped the Seagrave keep its cool for hours of stationary PTO pumping.

Form follows function in the cab of this pre-war life-saver. Aside from the roached-out upholstery you could probably hose out the residue of dirty firefighters and the like. The spear-shaped steering column might not pass muster in today’s world of copious air bags, but luckily the brakes likely fall short of modern trucks as well. Right then; moving on!

The utility bed offers plenty of room for your hoses, axes, and the odd Dairy Princess or cub scout troop during parade season. Shiny bars and a wide step bumper keep firefighters and prom queens alike on board whether rushing to a four-alarm fire or beaning toddlers with Tootsie Rolls. Would you harvest this Seagrave’s monster V12 for your hot rod or restore this Canopy Cab to its former glory?

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  1. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972Member

    Restoring this old Seagraves won’t be cheap, even if you do a lot of the work yourself. The big question will be what do you do with it once you’re finished. It has limited appeal except for firetruck collectors which is probably a small group. Might work as some sort of a tow vehicle maybe? The vintage V12 might be of interest to somebody, though. It’s located in the town I live in but I’ve never seen it, not that that really means anything as it’s likely been kept out of sight. It’s cheap enough and who knows? You could maybe get the seller to accept less.

    Like 5
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    This is a good find, in that, it’s not 40 feet long, for crying out loud. Fact is, this is one of the smallest Seagraves I’ve ever seen. Many may remember the story of my old mans business partner bought a vintage Seagrave, looked like this, only a ladder truck and was 40 feet long( it seemed) It did run, and me and my brother drove it around the parking lot. To say it was a beast, would be an understatement. When a vintage fire engine comes up, I have to repeat my story, the restored 1911 Kissel fire engine in our town, was not at the local car show. Yesterday, I questioned a young fire fighter about it, he had no idea why it wasn’t included. It’s sad, because, that fire engine was the 1st mechanized fire engine the town bought, 110 yeas ago, restored 20 years ago by a group of aging fire fighters and today nobody cares. I say, nobody knows how to start or drive it ( crank start, chain drive, etc)
    I don’t know what to do with this, as is, this V12 isn’t a “Hot Rod Lincoln”, it goes about 35 mph with straight gears, and brakes and steering that require Jethro Bodine. Sadly, I don’t see any interest in this.
    BTW, I wondered why some fire engines had no roof, and I read, it was so the fire fighters approaching a fire, could better decide where to go. A closed top restricted that. Cool find.

    Like 19
    • Bill Hall

      It is getting harder to get interest in old trucks from lots of fire service people now. They are on the run so much of the time and busy training when not. Then it is getting harder to find people with some mechanical ability. Then with a new fire trucks you just have to push two buttons to go down the road and pump.

      Like 1
  3. Claudio

    Yes it is an historic vehicle
    But nobody wants/needs it
    So , its scrap or hot rod
    The body dropped on a new truck/pick up frame and a resto mod is born/reborn
    Its done with milk trucks
    Ice cream trucks , grummans and all
    Not my kind of fun
    But some guys have a lot of free time …

    Like 5
  4. pzak

    I see what looks like the top of the twin distributors at the rear of the engine behind the air filter. How do we know they are missing?

    Like 1
    • Todd FitchAuthor

      Hello pazk. Good eye – I was picturing them more centered from memory, but they are visible in the back left. Maybe all it needs is the block submersed in a 55 gal drum of Marvel Mystery Oil. :) Thanks!

      Like 4
      • Dickie F.

        I imagine it will take more than a Saturday morning to change that set of 24 spark plugs.
        Could be quicker to drop in a SBC.

        Like 1
  5. Chris

    I t just need the right person to redo it there way .OR a rat rod fire engine. All about the right match

    Like 1
    • midwestjeff

      A ratrod fire engine would be glorious.

      Like 4
  6. BlondeUXBMember

    I see it as a red 5-window coupe/UTE with heavy duty running gear…
    ‘any questions ?

    Like 5
  7. Ward William

    Ok, hear me out y’all. Lift the body off the chassis, clean and clear coat it, remove all fire fittings to give it a leaner cleaner look, re-chrome all the brightwork, install a wooden bed and two custom side opening tailgate doors and clean up the general look of the rear end to give it a cleaner rounder visual and remove the standing platform at the rear.
    Then drop said modified cleaned and clearcoated body back onto a modern chassis, (big V8, four wheel disks, power steering, A/C etc, install a modern interior while retaining retro dashboard and daily drive that puppy. If I lived in the states I’d be all over this like white on rice. Room for the entire family.

    Like 5
    • chrlsful

      said above by claud

      Like 0
    • Terrry

      and who’s going to pay for all that work?

      Like 1
      • moosie moosie

        @ Terrry, DIY That’s how this “HOBBY” started.

        Like 1
  8. Karl

    Good comments! Trucks like and especially with the engine it has would be extremely cool to restore and drive, I have seen these engines my whole life and would love to learn more about them! The 800 pound gorilla in the room is what are you going to do with it after you have spent 50k in the restoration and the truck is beautiful and runs great, now what? You can only drive in so many parades, you can’t drive it in traffic because it’s to slow and the number of people who can see it for the beautiful, historical vehicle that it is keeps going down! I think it’s beautiful but I already have a warehouse full of old military trucks for parades!

    Like 1
  9. DualJetfire

    Yank the engine and put it into a wooden speedboat with dual cockpits.

    Like 3
  10. jerry z

    Definitely save the truck but would get rid of the chassis and upgrade to at least a modern 1 ton chassis.

    Like 2
  11. chrlsful

    Y not same as in write-up?
    Bunch-a retirees (frm FF?) get the donation (this vehicle), owner gets a write off (tax money).
    Restored to museum quality (1/2 a$$ed but of oem quality) and pulled out 2 x yr or whatever, used as fun raiser (I know, spelling), celebration, etc…

    We need more “Adopt-a-Rigs”, less trash. Every town should havea few for the history’n wow factor. Use it for ‘events’…

    Like 0
  12. Don

    Restore the body, I can’t even imagine what the bill for chrome would be. Drop it on an F350 chassis. King Ranch or custom interior. except for the dash & steering wheel. And you have daily driver with everything modern under the hood. Probably for only 3 times the cost of a new F350.

    Like 1
  13. mickey tee

    Man I wish I was 10 years younger .I would buy this so quick and sit the body on a late model gm or ford chassis and make one heck of a 5th wheel hauler .Make the rear sides where they drop down and have a very usable pickup wjhen not towing .

    Like 4
    • Todd FitchAuthor

      Hey mickey tee – I like several of these ideas – anything that would put this (in one way or another) back on the road, but your concept may be my favorite so far. It would suit the body style well, and I can picture it as a rolling working advertisement for a company specializing in moving classic cars – a Hot-Shot style build with a three-car hauler. Thanks for all the great comments!

      Like 3
  14. Terrry

    That 24-plug motor ought to be worth something if you get it running again. I can see it dropped into what was a V12 Jag XJS.

    Like 0
  15. Howie Mueler

    Yes very cool, but too much work needed.

    Like 0
  16. dogwater

    Why, it not worth restoring, pop cans

    Like 0
  17. Mike

    Hmmm, what to do? Probably won’t be worth it to restore back to original. The shortness and the body style is killer and kinda looks like an oversized Chevy Avalanche. If people are reimagining old Power Wagons, then this could be next level.

    Like 3
  18. Charles

    Mike’s Power Wagon gets my vote

    Like 3
  19. That Guy

    I think this may have a somewhat bigger pool of potential buyers than the usual fire truck. It’s much smaller than most, and it’s pretty cool looking just as it is. It would make a really cool and unusual hot rod, or at least a hot rod-looking thing as it’s gonna be slow unless you hoik out the V12, which would be a shame.

    Like 0
  20. Brett Peabody

    I have preserved and restored several Seagraves of this vintage and this one is not a good candidate for preservation since it has clearly been neglected and left outdoors for several decades. Too bad. It appears to be fairly complete and otherwise solid enough for restoration. However, any decent restoration would consume crazy money and a lot of somebody’s precious time. The market for vintage fire trucks, even nicely restored ones, is not very strong. Consequently, fire truck collectors like me can spend small fortunes restoring our rigs and then never get any value back except for personal gratification. Parades, car shows, funerals, and weddings are rewarding past times for firetruck owners, but not in terms of money or sex. Sadly, chicks (adult chicks anyway) don’t get very excited about fire trucks. Consequently, I often wonder if my money would have been better spent on a classic Corvette or Cobra. Sometimes these old rigs get restored by the fire departments where they served or by hobbyists who don’t mind throwing a lot of money away on a parade toy. But, without the value added by nostalgia these restorations make no economic sense at all. Surprisingly, it is not very hard to find comparable trucks in similar condition, so this truck is nothing very special or rare. From the photos I can tell this rig was spec’d with the smaller V12 that Seagrave offered and it appears from the small intake on the officer’s side that it has a smaller pump as well. There are no pictures of the pump panel on the driver’s side, so I can’t tell anything about the pump setup or whether it is still intact. I would guess that it is because these pumps were actually built integrally into the drive train of the trucks (not PTO driven) and were extremely hard to remove. The motor appears to be complete and, whatever its running condition, it should have some value to Pierce Arrow enthusiasts. It appears that a supplemental water tank was added under the hose compartment. Maybe this was done by the factory but most of these canopy cab trucks came with only a small booster tank behind the cab that crew members sat on top of facing rearward. The hose bed tank shown in the photos raises the floor of the walkway down the middle of the truck and encroaches on the crew’s leg space. I suspect that was an improvised change made sometime after delivery. I suppose this truck could be a rat rod but that’s not my thing so I dunno. Heck, anything can be made into a rat rod, right? Certainly this seller has figured out the high scrap value of this rig because his asking price seems to be just above what a scrap dealer might offer. In the 1900’s through the 1930’s, Seagrave had its own foundry and custom made many of the parts (brackets, fittings, front grill shell, etc) out of high grade prewar quality metals like copper, brass, and aluminum. That pump housing alone may contain nearly 1000lb of brass! When WWII began, all those rare metals were diverted for the war effort and so Seagrave made all those parts out of steel post 1941. That 1939 truck is made out of the good stuff and so may be more “restorable” than newer models made many years later.

    Like 5
    • Steve O'Brien

      Engine Model 66 not the model J /99. If it has single rear wheels watch some of the drivers on turns.

      Like 0
  21. wcshook

    I recently read about an old fire truck, I think it been with Chicago, that was totally enclosed, a gentleman had it refurbished, and had made a hearse, basically out of it. When a fireman dies in the line of duty, it can be and has been used to carry the firefighter to their final resting place, if requested within the state or part of another one. It has the markings of Chicago F.D. This looks, to me, low enough that this could be made to be used like that.

    Like 2
    • Brett Peabody

      Detroit Fire Department made a funeral rig by grafting the body of a 1937 Seagrave onto a modern Freightline chasis. This truck might make a good funeral car if the supplemental water tank is removed. But hooboy there is a lot of rust through. Somebody would have to spend a thousand hours just filling the holes!

      Like 4
      • Fireman DK

        The Detroit rig is beautiful…. and a worthy use of it .

        Like 0
  22. Robert J Stevens

    Sell the V12 to an antique boat owner and built a really big rat rod!

    Like 3
  23. Bill Hall

    Here is another thought on power. I know of a fire dept in SW Idaho with a truck like this with a seventies CADDY motor and automatic trans.

    Like 0
    • Fireman DK

      I think a lot of these were repowered , some with Hall Scott engines I imagine, later on , with diesel engines. My 37 Seagrave, ex-San Diego,#85805 (Lord , I think that’s the serial number…I used to know it by heart ) was the second to the last with the 1914? design Seagrave T-head 6 cylinder. There are times I wish I still had it .

      Like 1
  24. Byron Miller

    I am new here . Has this truck been Sold? Location?

    Like 0

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