Jim Weitzel will probably never know if Jackie Kennedy-Onassis ever took a ride in his 1951 Chevrolet pickup. But it’s fun to think about.
The late first lady probably took many more rides in limousines than she ever took in half-ton pickup trucks, but if she ever did ride in such a pickup, Weitzel’s Chevy would have been a pretty good choice. It’s about as nice as they come, even after 60 years of living. Weitzel just isn’t clear on whether the truck ever enjoyed any Camelot moments with Jackie on board.
“As far as I know, it was originally from Rhode Island and it was supposed to have come from the Hammersmith Farm — Jackie Kennedy’s home farm,” said Weitzel, a resident of Elmwood, Ill. “None of that is documented, but that’s the story I got about the truck.”
If the truck ever did real duty on the Hammersmith Farm — the sprawling estate near Newport, R.I., that was the site of Jackie and JFK’s wedding reception — then it doesn’t appear that it was treated like a typical farm truck. On the contrary, somebody seems to have taken extra-good car of the venerable Chevrolet, much to Weitzel’s delight and good fortune.
“It doesn’t have any evidence that it’s been abused by work. I think it was just kind of a runabout on the farm,” he said. “It’s an original truck. You can see, it still has the original spot welds on the bed and back of the cab. Those are usually smoothed out if somebody does body work. I don’t think so … those weld spots are the way they looked from the factory.”
Earlier this summer, Weitzel pushed the truck through a 400-mile round trip to a weekend car show and “I enjoyed every mile,” he said. “I drove it between 50 and 55 [mph]. I wouldn’t drive it any faster than that because it wasn’t made for speed, it was made for work.”
Weitzel’s 3100 Series Chevy might have been one of the few from that model year that largely avoided work. It has only 48,000 original miles, and had only 45,000 when he found it for sale a couple years back. “I was looking for one at the time,” he recalled. “I wanted a ’50 through ’53. I saw this one advertised [in a magazine] and I went and looked at it and two days later, I went back and bought it. It was in pretty good shape, but I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours cleaning and detailing it.
“Mostly, I’ve just been making it look nice. When I got it, I had the generator overhauled. I had it re-wired, but I’ve had so little done to it that I still consider it original.”
Weitzel admits he’s pretty picky when it comes to his trucks. He owned one 1950 Chevy pickup in the past, but it wasn’t quite right and he didn’t keep it. The biggest strike against it, he said, was it lacked the unique corner windows that could be ordered with the Chevy pickups at the time. “So I sold that one. I wanted one with the corner windows,” he said. “They had the standard cab and custom cab, and from ’47 to ’53, they all had the corner windows – the custom cabs did. The ’50 I had for several years, but it wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it.”
The 3100 was the half-ton, light-duty truck of the 1951 Chevrolet lineup. Chevy also offered the half-tons as sedan deliveries, Suburbans, canopy trucks or as a chassis with just cabs or cowls. Farther up the ladder were the 3/4-ton 3600-series vehicles, 3/4–ton Duble-Duti series trucks, 1-ton medium-duty 3800 series trucks, and 1-ton Duble-Duti 3900 vehicles. One step down on the ladder were the quarter-ton 1500 series trucks.
The 3100 series trucks rode on 116-inch wheelbases and were equipped with 6 x 16 tires. The trucks measured 196.6 inches from tip to tip and the pickups weighed in at 3,120 lbs. They carried a Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) rating of 4,200 lbs — or 4,800 lbs if you went with the beefier 6.5 x 16 tires.
The standard engine in the 3100 series — as well as the 1500, 3600 and 3800 lines — was the carryover 216.5-cid inline six-cylinder rated at 92 hp.
The 1951 Chevrolet trucks were the fifth model year in the evolution of GM’s “Advance-Design” trucks following World War II. They arrived mid-year in 1947 and were radically different from their prewar ancestors. The cabs were roomier, the styling was less upright and boxy, and the trucks received totally new horizontal grille arrangements that were much different from the prewar look. All in all, they were a completely new beast.
There were a few changes that were easy to spot for 1951 and distinguished the 3100 trucks from the previous model year. The side cowl vents were gone and new Ventipane door vent windows were added. The brakes were changed to the new duo-serve self-energizing Bendix type, which was a definite step up from the old Huck type.
The grille was unchanged and still used five horizontal bars with a broad horizontal hood ornament on the hose of the hood. The ornament had a blue bowtie emblem and vermilion Chevy lettering on a chrome background. The instrument panel had a speedometer, electric fuel gauge and ammeter, temperature gauge and oil pressure gauge. Chrome bumpers were standard on single-unit trucks such as the panel delivery, but optional on the cab models. Corner windows were optional and are loved by collectors today — including Weitzel.
Weitzel’s truck wears the signature Forester Green. The pickup was repainted at some point in its past and the wood in the bed was re-done, too. “What’s amazing about the color is that it was the standard color for this truck,” he noted. “They were all Forester Green, unless you wanted a different color. You could get another, but it was no extra cost.
“This was the only year where they had the vent windows and still had the hold-on door handles.”
The factory options list for Chevy trucks was pretty brief, but there were a bunch of goodies available as dealer add-ons. Things such as a Delco radio, turn signals, heater/defroster, cigarette lighters, foglights, spotlights, seat covers, bumper guards, matched horns and outside mirrors could all be thrown into the deal before you ever took the truck off the lot.
Weitzel’s stunning green pickup looks almost as good today is it probably did new — inside and out. He believes he is the fourth owner of the truck, and all three previous owners must have been gentle in the way they treated the ’51. “It’s all original inside, except I do believe it’s been painted and I don’t think it’s the original seat cover,” he said. “I think it has been [re-covered] with the same kind of material.
“One option it’s got is the radio, which was very rare back in those days. People didn’t want to pay for them… And it’s got the deluxe cab and, of course, the chrome grille, hubcaps and bumpers.”
Weitzel doesn’t believe the inline six under the hood has ever been apart, and he has no plans to mess around with it. Ditto for the three-speed manual transmission, which shifts on the column. The way the truck runs and sounds today, it’s unlikely he’ll have it in pieces anytime soon. “As long as it runs good, I’m going to leave it the way it is,” he said.
“I like it! That’s what I was looking for. I would have bought nothing else. I wanted one that was nice, but I didn’t want it to be a perfect show truck, because I wanted to be able to drive it. I didn’t want it so nice that I didn’t want to drive it.”
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