In addition to civilian businesses, some sedan deliveries also
found employment in civic callings. This 1949 Chevrolet sedan
delivery is decked out in police attire.
Sedan deliveries might be the first crossover vehicles, as they were a hybrid between trucks and cars. Like a panel truck, the sedan delivery could carry tools or merchandise in a secure, enclosed area, while such items remained unprotected in a pickup. However, since the sedan delivery was based on an automobile body, it drove like a car and could maneuver in tight spots, unlike some pickups and panel trucks. The sedan delivery could also go on certain streets in the suburbs or even the city where big panel trucks were not zoned to do so.
Historically, cars have always looked more aesthetically appealing than trucks. As such, the car-like styling of the sedan delivery made a positive impression on customers. Owners also often used the panel area as a rolling billboard to advertise their business.
Many readers relate a sedan delivery to a station wagon with blanked-out rear side windows. Young generations may think of the current Chevrolet HHR Panel as a sedan delivery, and they would be correct, too.
The sedan delivery earned its name after the first such models were based on square-shaped two-door sedans that did not have trunk extensions. (Think of Model A Ford Tudors and other cars with two-door “coach” bodies.)
Chevrolet is credited with making the first sedan delivery. It was introduced midyear in 1928. Essentially, the Chevy sedan delivery was converted from a two-door sedan. A rear door was cut out of the flat back of the tail end. (If your imagination is weak, think of the flat back rear end of the PT Cruiser.) The door was hinged on the left for sidewalk loading, and cargo area increased by placing the spare tire on the left front fender and removing the backseat altogether. Metal sheets replaced the rear side windows. This Chevrolet became the blueprint for other manufacturers’ sedan deliveries, such as those offered by Ford, Dodge and Plymouth.
A unique variation of the sedan delivery was the town car delivery that was distinguished by having no roof over the front seat. It looked like a chauffeur-driven car. The workaday sedan delivery was turned into an elegant and dignified fashion statement. Bantam and Crosley offered such town car-style sedan deliveries, as did Ford with a Briggs-bodied model.
In the 1920s and through the mid ’30s, sedan deliveries tended to look short and stubby, but by the 1940s, such models received longer cargo bodies. These steel bodies were unique to sedan deliveries. One has to wonder why the auto industry did not use sedan delivery metal bodies for station wagons during this decade. Instead, manufacturers continued with wood body wagons. Not one sedan delivery manufacturer that also built station wagons used a sedan delivery shell for its wagon.
Some of my favorite sedan deliveries were those produced by Chevrolet from 1949 to 1952. This is because they have a “cool quotient.” I love the rear pontoon fenders that roll forward and then slant down towards the bumper. Interestingly, although there are some superficial similarities in the roof lines, Chevy sedan deliveries of this period were not based on the station wagon. In fact, the windshield of the sedan delivery and wagon are not the same, and even the sedan delivery’s front door window glass came from the four-door sedan and not the wagon.
The first sedan delivery derived from a station wagon was the 1948 Crosley. This was followed by Ford in 1952, Studebaker in 1954, Chevrolet in 1955 and the Rambler American in 1959. All of them were based on a two-door wagon.
Sedan deliveries peaked in popularity during the 1950s. Chevrolet’s best year was 1950 with 23,045 produced, while Ford’s banner year was 1953 with 10,575 assembled. Ford was the only manufacturer still producing a sedan delivery during the 1960s. This was based on the Falcon two-door wagon, but it was dropped by 1966 after only 6,392 were made in five years.
The sedan delivery experienced a revival of sorts in the 1970s. The subcompact Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto offered sedan deliveries for several years based on the respective models’ two-door wagons. The Vega version was made early in the decade, while the Pinto version was made at the end of the disco era.