Car of the Week: 1947 Chevrolet 3800 pickup

1947-Chevy-1-ton-8
Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Glenn Jandt never got to the point of complete despair during the 23-year restoration odyssey on his 1947 Chevrolet 3800 1-ton pickup.

But it was close.

“There were many times when I was working on it out in the greenhouse, and I’d think, ‘I’m never going to finish this. I’m never going to be done. Not in my lifetime,’” recalls Jandt, a resident of Peshtigo, Wis. “People would say, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get it done,’ and I’d think, ‘No, there’s no way. I don’t think I’ll ever get it finished.’”

But almost a quarter century after he started it, in 2011, Jandt did get his wonderful — and extra large — red Chevy truck finished.  The mountain had been climbed, and he could scarcely believe it. “My daughter Jenny was 9 when I bought the truck, and she was a PhD when I took it to its first show,” Jandt laughs. “I just kept going until I could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. It was not easy, but I did it and I take pride in that.”

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Jandt still isn’t sure what drew him to the tired pickup that he saw regularly on his journeys to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to deliver produce. He often passed by the truck and eventually decided to ask the owner if he was interested in selling it, even though Jandt had never restored a vehicle before and had no real use for a ratty old farm truck. “I bought in 1988 for $50, and that’s about what it was worth at the time,” he says. “I bought it from what ended up being a friend of mine in Gladstone, by Escanaba, Mich. It was parked out by the road for a number of years and finally I stopped and asked them about it and he said it wasn’t for sale, he wanted to keep it for his son to restore.

“I had a vegetable farm and I was delivering vegetables on a regular basis up there … and I’d stop by at least once a week and drop off sweet corn, tomatoes, cabbage, and pickles and stuff for him and his mother. Finally, it was later in the summer and he thought maybe we don’t want to mess with this, maybe we’ll sell it, and I came up and got it and took it home.”

That’s when reality really set in. The Chevy’s floors were mostly rotted out, the bed and cab were full of holes, and there was almost nothing on the pickup that didn’t need to be restored or replaced. It was more of a project than Jandt had bargained for.  The fact that he had never restored a vehicle made the road even more daunting.

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“I’m glad I didn’t know, what I didn’t know,” he chuckles. “I didn’t know how much work a restoration was, how long it took, how much money it took. … I didn’t know anything about restoring a car! I was totally green.”

Little by little, Jandt started to make headway on the truck. After disassembling everything — and finding out not much was left — he began working on the truck during the winter offseason in the greenhouses on his farm. “It was the only time I wasn’t busy and had time to work on it,” he says. His first order of business was piecing together a body. “There were a lot of holes that were rotted out. The floor was pretty well gone in the inner cab. The wheel wells were pretty much gone,” he added. “I personally was involved in a lot of the bending and welding the metal into the floor, but I had to have somebody else do the outside stuff. A lot of it is aftermarket pieces like quarter panels that you can buy nowadays because they make a lot of these parts out of fiberglass. A lot of stuff is available now that wasn’t available then. And it was hard to find original parts and it still is. A 9-foot bed size? I mean, c’mon. You just can’t find them.  But we were able to restore what I had. It was salvageable, I guess you could say.”

For all the things that didn’t go smoothly along the way, Jandt is quick to remind himself of one major issue that didn’t become a problem: fitting the doors. He admits hanging the doors could have been a disaster, given the order he did things. He insists now that he dodged a bullet. “I realize how lucky I am that the doors still wound up shutting and everything fit. It was just total, absolute luck that it was perfect. I should have bought a lottery ticket that day!”

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The original 216-cid six-cylinder was rebuilt, a friend helped reupholster the seats and Jandt eventually farmed out the painting. He went with red — a non-Chevy offering, but still a nice choice for the ’47 farm rig. “That’s why it took so long to do the project. I’m not really qualified for bodywork or paint so I had to have other friends do that,” he says. “The color is not an original Chevrolet red, but it’s the color I like and I went with it.”

The truck’s box turned out to be a restoration project unto itself. Jandt decided to use his own lumber — even cutting down his own trees — to make the deck boards. The metal in and around the box was dinged up to the point where Jandt wasn’t even sure to start and where to end. “It had little pick marks a over like somebody took one of those little pick hammers all over it … I was a work truck and they didn’t care back then. It was all full of dings and dents. The guy who was going to fix it up for me told me to circle all the dents that I wanted and let go all the ones I didn’t want fixed. Well, there were so many circles all over the place, he finally just said, ‘Let’s mud over all this and make it all smooth and we’ll start over,’ and that’s what he did.”

Using his own ash trees was Jandt’s own idea and shows the kind of dedication he had to the project. “I cut a lot of ash trees to get nine boards that were knot-free,” he says. “There was no real reason. It definitely wasn’t any cheaper than buying a kit. It was just a challenge thing, I guess.”

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The 1-ton pickup was probably never treated so nicely by the first owners after it debuted as part of Chevrolet’s all-new truck lineup following World War II. The Bow Tie company was the top truck builder in the U.S. when it launched its new Advance Design line as a successor to the AK series midway through 1947. Chevy trucks changed little between 1941 and mid-’47, but in June of ’47 the company began offering a slightly more stylish truck that, importantly, got on the market several months before Ford and Chysler began offering their first new postwar truck models.

The Advance Design trucks were advertised as sleeker, bigger and more capable than their predecessors, although mechanically not much had changed. The trucks were available as 3100 (half-ton), 3600 (3/4-ton) and 3800 (1-ton) models with 116, 125 ¼ and 137-inch wheelbases, respectively.  Cargo boxes were 78, 87 and 108 inches long. The top of the boxes were turned out at 45-degree angles.

Most of the trucks were painted green, with five body-colored grille bars (chrome bars were optional) running horizontally between the headlights. Inside, two large gauges were positioned in front of the driver with a large chrome speaker in the middle of the dash. The ignition, choke and wiper controls were stacked vertically to the right of the big circle gauges. The gear shift and emergency brake levers were were found on the floor. Other standard equipment included vacuum-powered wipers, rubber floor mats and dome lamps.

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An optional Deluxe package fancied up the cab with corner windows and bright window moldings, sun visor, driver armrest and the chrome grille bars.  Other options included mirrors, longer running boards, heater/defroster, air cleaner and hydraulic shocks.

A three-speed manual transmission was standard on the 3100 and 3600s, but a four-speed with a non-synchromesh “stump-puller” first gear was optional and made standard on the 1-tons. The 216.5-cid inline six was rated at 90 hp.

Chevrolet built more than 335,000 trucks for the 1947 calendar year, counting both its early and late production. Many of the 1-tons probably lived a life similar to Jandt’s truck – banging around on dirt roads and navigating farm fields. After he finally got the truck finished, Jandt had hoped to show it off to the previous owner and learn more about the truck’s history, but his efforts were unsuccessful.

“I just don’t know [the history] and I’ve tried to find out. I went looking for the guy I bought the truck from and show him that I actually did do this — I actually finished it — but I couldn’t find him. I wanted to find out some more history on the truck, but he’s not around. I couldn’t find him,” Jandt said. “His family had it since it was new. At the time I bought it I was just glad to have it and I didn’t ask too much about it.”

Jandt has since taken the beautiful pickup to many car shows and hobby gatherings, but none will likely top his first show. The truck was ready, but he says its owner was not.

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“I was so nervous. I was sweating!” he laughs. “I had never been to one and here I was with my truck there. I was a nervous wreck. The first time I won a trophy, I couldn’t even talk I was so nervous. Holy cow! It was great.

“But now I drive it quite a bit and I drive it to my local shows. The only time I’ve ever had it in low gear is putting it on a trailer. Low gear is slower than you can walk. I start it in second. It’s got four gears and if I can get it going 42, 43 [mph] on this speedometer, it’s howling pretty good. I’ve had my wife [Paula] following me, and she’s reading 55, 56, 57 and I’m reading 42. So I think the speedometer definitely reads a little low.”

Glenn and Paula were together this past July at the Iola Old Car Show in Iola, Wis., holding court in the Blue Ribbon area, where Glenn spent much of his time retelling the tale of his 23-year restoration. It was fun once, he says, but he’s not eager to do it again.

“I still have a ’53 Dodge at home, a half-ton,” he says, “and I haven’t even started on it because I know how much is involved!”

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