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Old Cars Q&A: 2021 no. 12

Kit Foster answers your old car questions. This time he covers Gm truck beds, hood insulation and the decoding of LeBarons.
Answer Man

Q. I have owned a 1956 Chevy pickup, 3200 Series, for 50 years. It is a half-ton, long bed. The bed is 7½ feet, not the usual 8 feet. Did GM install the 7½-foot bed only in 1955-’56? How many 3200 series were made in 1956? — Jim A. Lamb, Cloverdale, Calif.

A. The short answer to your question is that Chevy’s first “usual” 8-foot bed came with the introduction of the full-width Fleetside pickup bed in the 1958 model year. The 3200, as you note, was a half-ton version of the 125-1/4-inch wheelbase chassis previously restricted to the 3/4-ton 3600 Series. The bed measured 90 inches (7-1/2 feet), which had been the intermediate “long-bed” dimension from the launch of the “Advance-Design” models in 1947 (1-ton trucks had a 9-foot bed). The 3200 line commenced with the “Second Series” 1955 trucks, called “Task Force,” in March of that year. The 1955 “First Series,” as is well known, was a continuation of the Advance-Design line with 1954’s modest updates, including a one-piece windshield and a bolder grille. I have been unable to find series production figures for any Chevy trucks in that period.

Not surprisingly, GMC pickups mirrored Chevy practice from 1955 on. However, there was a half-ton, long-bed GMC pickup, Series 102 (short beds were 101), as far back as 1947.

Interestingly, Ford did offer an 8-foot bed during that time, but only on the 3/4-ton F250 models. Dodge, on the other hand, offered a long-bed half-ton model from at least 1954 to 1958, but in Chevy’s 7-1/2-foot size. Throughout the period, all three makers offered 6-1/2-foot “short bed” half-tonners, and full 9-foot, 1-ton pickups. My primary source for the above data is the “Standard Catalog of Light Duty Trucks,” augmented by manufacturer’s literature where I’ve been able to find it.
A neighbor of mine had a 1960 1-ton Chevy pickup. The stepside bed was badly rusted, so he removed it and mounted an 8-foot Fleetside bed instead. To do so he had to cut a foot off the chassis, but it worked well enough. It looked really odd, though, since the rear tires did not line up with the Fleetside wheel arches.

Q. Why do some car hoods have insulation? Noise reduction seems minimal. Wouldn’t that keep heat in the engine bay, something you would NOT want? — Mark Axen, Stony Creek, N.Y.

A. I think air flow in a modern engine compartment is through the grille, around the engine and downward ahead of the firewall, then out the bottom. That’s why we see insulated firewalls as well as hoods. The hot air does not stay in the compartment when the car is moving.

Q. I inherited a 1982 Chrysler LeBaron convertible, Medallion Edition, with 97,000 miles, one owner. I spent $800 getting the carb rebuilt to pass smog and $850 for a steering rack replacement. Now the car doesn’t leak any oil. I have a few questions: What signifies a regular K-Car and a Medallion Edition one; what makes it special?

The car seems to run lean. I run the engine and spray brake cleaner under the intake below the carb and the idle goes up. However, I did a smoke test and couldn’t find a leak. Is this common? 

Is there a supplier that I can get the plastic plugs that connect to the driver’s window and door lock switches? Years ago I saw a company at SEMA.

I’m trying to make this car more comfortable to drive. On my list are a heater fan motor resistor and radio or speaker replacement, when I find out why the volume is so low. Cruise control needs to be fixed. It’s a nice car, although the suspension rubber parts squeak like an old lady. — Mike Ramos, via email

A. The name LeBaron, originally a prestige American coachbuilder, was acquired by Chrysler Corp. in 1952 with the purchase of Briggs Manufacturing Co., which had acquired the LeBaron brand in the late 1920s. From 1957 to ’77, it was used on an upscale series of Imperial models. Beginning in 1977, it was applied to an M-Body midsize Chrysler sedan. In 1982 it was transplanted to Chrysler’s front-drive K-car line, in coupe, convertible and station wagon forms. K-car LeBarons came in base or Medallion trim, the latter an array of bright moldings and accent stripes, topped off with a vinyl roof covering on coupes and sedans. For 1983, Medallion trim was replaced by a Mark Cross package with leather interior and a larger, Mitsubishi-sourced 2.6-liter engine. There was a Town and Country exterior simulated wood option for wagons and convertibles as well.

K-body LeBarons continued through 1988, but Chrysler wasn’t through with the name yet. From 1985 to 1989 it also graced a midsize H-body hatchback, then a J-body personal luxury coupe and convertible until 1995. Overlapping the luxury coupe was an AA-body midsize sedan built from 1990-1994.
Your car was one of 9,780 Medallion convertibles in 1982. Base convertibles were rarer: just 3,045. Perhaps we have some readers who can give some advice on tuning and parts sources.

To submit questions to this column: E-mail or mail to: Q&A, Old Cars,
5225 Joerns Drive, Suite 2, Stevens Point, WI 54481

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