The Real Tow Mater! 1956 Chevy 3800 Boom Truck

The seller makes the obvious cinematic reference to the Tow Mater character from the movie Cars when describing this 1956 Chevy 3800 Series tow truck, which is fair given its obvious resemblance. For its sake, however, I hope it doesn’t end up like yet another roadside attraction with some goofy eyes stuck in the windshield like too many of these trucks. Find it here on eBay with an opening bid of $3,800 and no bids yet.

The truck comes from New Mexico, which should yield a body and chassis in sound condition. The boom assembly looks downright simple compared to modern tow rigs, almost looking like it’s too feeble to tow anything more than an econobox. Of course, that’s not the case – this Chevy is a working rig that likely had no problem holding its own against any number of vehicles stuffed into a berm or broken down in the New Mexico desert.

The cabin is quite simple and also quite tired. This is where you see the impact of dry, desert climates most clearly, as the seat upholstery is baked right off and surface rust is evident inside the cabin. Remember, if you’re looking for any number of project trucks to use for your next build, be sure to check out this recent Barn Finds Exclusive for a whole batch of excellent project-grade pickups and working rigs.


The seller notes the truck has been parked since 2014, a good thing considering its new location in Illinois is a far cry from the snow-free roads of New Mexico. The paint is effectively burnt off, but I wouldn’t worry about it on a truck like this. The 3800 series tow truck is a classic example of an in-period workhorse, and with some of the cosmetics freshened up (not including Tow Mater eyes), it will likely earn even more eyeball appeal among collectors.


  1. Howard A Member

    Now every Task Force GM is going to have a “Tow Mater” reference, I don’t care for that. I never saw the movie, but it seems the character is kind of a stereotypical doofus. I’d maybe keep the winch, but get out the heat wrench and lose the rest of it.

    Like 3
  2. Jesse Mortensen Jesse Mortensen Staff

    Hey Howard, you should go rent Cars 1 and 3 for the weekend. They may have been animated but these movies aren’t just for kids. They touch on all genres of cars and Paul Newman even played as one of the characters. They were obviously created by car guys for car guys who happen to have kids.

    Like 16
    • geomechs geomechs Member

      My wife and I went to the theater to see CARS 1. We thought it was such a hoot we went out and bought a copy. We’ve got grandkids who love CARS, probably because we had it around when they got old enough to see it…

      Like 2

    Nice Find & Great Write-Up Jeff! & I agree Jesse It is one of the better animated movies I’ve seen in the last decade or so.

    Like 2
  4. Ken

    The Toe Mater is the oddest-looking Chevy truck I’ve ever seen. It looks a whole lot more like an S-Series International.

    Like 3
    • Andy

      Agree. I believe Mater was an IH.

      Like 1
      • ccrvtt

        Ken & Andy – I originally thought Mater was a Dodge, but I think you’re right about the IH lineage. At any rate, this is a cool truck.

        Like 1
  5. matthew B steele

    Tow mater was a 56 IH tow truck not a chevy..I’d take either Chevy or IH if I could..and it was a movie for car guys with kids I’m 55 and my kid a 5y/0 has a lightning, tow mater and flo car

    Like 2
  6. Stevie G Member

    Matt Steele, you are 55 & have a 5 year old? Good for you! I’m 48 & my 33 year old girlfriend wants “puppies”. I was telling her I’m too old, but maybe not! I would just have to explain to my granddaughter why her aunt or uncle is older than her lol.

    Like 1
    • Chris in Clover

      Parenting: there’s no doubt I’d have been a better parent in my 40s than I was in my 20s. But when my daughter was in college and several of my peers were raising pre-schoolers, I viewed the situation with great relief.

      Cars: 7 grandchildren so far but haven’t got a gearhead yet in the lot. Youngest is 3 and somewhat interested. He calls Grandma’s 2000 Ranger her “monster truck”.

  7. Ethan

    I believe he is a 56-57 IH although I also saw Dodge

  8. Stevieg Member

    I saw the movie at a drive in theater with a hearse owners club I used to belong to. Once a month we would “invade” a now defunct drive-in that was located in Kenosha. Picture a bunch of hearse lined up with the casket department facing the screen, and a bunch of fat Wisconsinite guys & their anorexic women watching movies out of the backs of the hearse, cooking out & drinking. Occasionally a hearse tailgate would close & the occupants would close the curtains for certain “night moves”. For the record, if the chick has long hair, it should be tied up so as to not get tangled in the rollers…just sayin!

    Like 3
    • Mountainwoodie

      It’s a good thing the “chicks” didn’t look like the guys…….jess saying. Not that there is anything wrong with that……the whole roller thing sounds like its hard on a back.

      Must have been quite a scene.

      I better watch the movie.

      Like 1
  9. Moit Member

    For the record-
    It’s “Mater”- like tomater, but without the tow.
    One of my favorite movies.
    What other movie could have such a great star line up?

  10. spoonleg

    Avoiding the distraction of the”Cars” movies, this is not a tow truck. It’s a boom truck. The boom is too long and would be at too high an angle to lift a car and drag it down the road. This truck probably saw duty servicing water wells.

    ps….we liked “Cars” but ya’ll went a long way just to get Howard’s goat….

    Like 1

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