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Car of the Week: 1955 Chevrolet 3100 pickup

Car of the Week: 1955 Chevrolet 3100 pickup

August 14, 2019


Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Vietta and Jim Kampen made a little deal when they decided to go truck shopping a couple years back. Jim already had a dandy 1965 Chevrolet 1/2-ton pickup that the Portage, Wis., couple was having fun with, but they decided they needed two.

“We were enjoying going to car shows and we decided that we needed his and hers,” Vietta said.

And the deal they made?

“He gets to pick the year and body style, and I get to pick the truck,” she chuckles.

“I’m a farm kid,” Jim adds. “That’s all I’ve ever driven is trucks.”

And Vietta didn’t have to think too hard about her decision when she came across a 1955 Chevrolet 3100 Second Series pickup that she found online. The truck had been restored in Arizona and had the stock originality and wonderful “wow” factor that Vietta had been hoping to find.

“This one is a frame-off restoration. It came from Arizona — the Tucson area,” she recalled. “My sister lives about 45 minutes away and she took a buddy to go look at it. They both decided it was worthy enough…So we had it shipped back to Wisconsin. The guy that worked on the truck is a recovering alcoholic and he works on vehicles as a way to stay sober. This was his 18th or 19th vehicle he had restored, so there was a really good background story and we’ve got some pictures of what the truck looked like originally. He had a lot of work to do to make it look like I it does today. It was in pretty tough shape.”

The restorer had done a complete frame-off makeover of the old work truck. Before that the Chevy had apparently bounced through a series of owners out West before its fortunate landing in a restoration shop. The Kampens didn’t know the pickup’s complete history, but they could tell the truck had done exactly what it was intended to do during its long life — work.

“We know that we are probably the fifth owners of it. It looked to me from the pictures that maybe somebody had done some work on it before,” Vietta said. “There were two different colors on it. I don’t know if a different bed was added onto it at some point, or if it was just a paint issue.”

The truck had its original engine, however, and was in the hands of an experienced restorer, which were two big check marks on the plus side for the Kampens. The previous owner rebuilt the truck inside and out using all original or correct replacement parts. The beautiful baby blue paint is not an exact match for the original Chrystal Blue — with a white cab — that was offered on the trucks in 1955, but it’s close and it’s a beautiful choice for the venerable hauler. “It does really well at car shows because people like how it looks,” Vietta admitted. “It’s a cool color combination.”


The Task Force arrives

Chevrolet had lost its spot to Ford as the country’s top-selling car builder in 1954, and General Motors brass were determined to reclaim that title in ’55 with the biggest revision of products GM had ever attempted. At Chevrolet, all-new 1955 cars were dubbed “The Hot Ones” and were introduced in the fall of 1954. The redesigned trucks were supposed to be introduced along with the new passenger car line, but due to the size of GM’s massive plan, Korean war contracts and sales pressure from Ford, truck line development was delayed. That meant that all that was available early in the year was the “First Series” trucks, which were basically holdovers from 1954.

The completely new “Second Series’ 1955s were introduced on March 25 and had what the company billed as “Task Force” styling with lower, flatter hoods, fender lines and rooflines. There was a panoramic wraparound windshield and an eggcrate grille. The cabs and bodies were slab-sided. The standard pickup still had short running boards and protruding rear fenders. A larger, winged Chevrolet emblem decorated the hood. The front fender sides had spear-shaped nameplates with Chevrolet lettering and the series designation mounted behind and above the wheel openings. On trucks with the engine option, V-8 emblems were found on the fender sides, just below the nameplates. Inside was a new dash with a fan-shaped instrument panel. Interiors were trimmed with oakbark woven plastic and breathable rayon fabric in black or beige (all models), or brown and beige (cab models only). Floor mats were black rubber. Trucks with optional Custom Cab equipment had upgraded trim with foam padding; chrome dash knobs; cigar lighter; dual armrests and sunshades; and extra chrome trim. Technical changes included a new Thriftmaster inline six engine, shorter wheelbases; longer leaf springs; 12-volt electrics and tubeless tires on half-ton 3100 models. There were 13 solid and 13 two-tone color combinations with wheels pained lower body color on all 3000 Series trucks.

The three V-8 engine options were big news for Chevy truck buyers. Customers who wanted more grunt than the 109-hp inline six provided could opt for 265-cid V-8s with 126, 162 or 180 hp.

Equipped with the six, the 3100 pickups weighed in at 3,210 lbs. and carried a base price of $1,519, which was only $89 more than the base price of the holdover First Series trucks.

The 3100 trucks rode on a 114-inch wheelbase chassis and measured 185.7 inches in length. They came with 6.70 x 15 tires four-ply tubeless tires, a three-speed manual on the tree, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes and steel disc wheels. Popular options included and heavy-duty three-speed manual; overdrive; and a four-speed manual. A Hydra-Matic transmission was also available. Other choices on the options list included: a heavy-duty clutch; heavy-duty radiator; oil bath air cleaner; heater/defroster; double-actions shocks; rearview mirrors; painted or chrome rear bumper; dual tail and stop lamps; heavy-duty rear springs; foam rubber seat cushion; auxiliary seat; power steering; electric wipers; high-output generator; side-mounted spare tire carrier; and a heavy-duty battery.

Dealers also had a list of accessories that they could add on before you drove off the lot. Among them were: sun shades; a radio antenna; heater; seat covers, portable spotlight; door edge guards; chrome door handle shields; chrome hood ornament, dual fog lamps, AC/DC shaver; tool kit, compass, underhood light, second horn, directional signals; and front bumper guards.

To further up the ante in the truck market, Chevrolet also unveiled its dazzling new Cameo Carrier half-ton picked up for ’55. It had a bold new slab-sided box with fiberglass fenders and tailgate panel, exclusive upholstery and the now calling-card curved rear corner windows. Only 5,220 of the new trucks were made, but they certainly helped Chevrolet stir things up and make a splash in the increasingly competitive truck market.


Ready for showtime (almost)

Vietta says she was willing to sacrifice some modern comforts and drivability in exchange for authenticity, and that’s what she got with her wonderful 3100 pickup. “for us it’s gotta be stock. Original is the only direction we’ll go with a vehicle,” she says. “This one’s got a 235 engine in it, it’s four-on-the-floor with a granny low. It’s a step-side, of course, and it’s not made for the extra spare tire [sidemount]. It’s got an add-on heater on it. No air conditioning. No power steering. No power brakes [laughs]. It’s quite a fun thing to have to turn. It takes so many revolutions of that big wheel to get it to go 90 degrees. The tires are skinny, so you can get stuck in mud pretty easy.”

The couple was looking for a truck that was mostly finished, but they were willing to do some work if necessary and tie up some loose ends. They did find some loose ends on the ’55, but nothing that was close to being a deal-breaker. They did have one moment of alarm when the truck first arrived and they couldn’t get it started, however. “We went to take if off the truck and take it into the shed, it didn’t want to start,” Vietta recalled. “And then we noticed there is a little starter pedal on the floor next to the gas pedal. It was a thing where you turn the key and the key doesn’t start the truck. You have to use the starter pedal to start the truck, and there were no instructions with the truck! He had told us to pull out the choke three-quarters of the way, but didn’t tell us to use the starter pedal.”

“We’ve done some work to it. It has a whole new electrical system because he had actually used wire nuts to splice things together. Then when we had that work done we found out there were a lot of loose bolts that were only hand-tightened down, so we had to go through everything and tighten it all up. It’s a lot quieter now. We tightened up some screws in one door, and put some tape in between and it doesn’t squeak as much… It came with a vacuum window washer, but it’s really not a very good choice … so we had the guys who worked on it, at The Shop in Endeavor [Wis.], they put a regular window washer equipment in it … two-speed, slow and fast.

“But for the most part, it was all done. It has the original engine … and we could see in the pictures of him working through the process and see the pieces before they were painted and then after they were painted. He was a professional carpenter by trade and we could see he had made the rails, but his idea of rails that were in good shape and our idea were a little different, so Jim actually took the rails off and re-did the rails and then we used a marine oil so we didn’t have to deal with drippage and having to fix them up.”

“It’s maple on the bed and oak on the rails,” Jim added.

The Kampens now have a third hobby vehicle at home that they are working on — a 1962 GMC Suburban. Eventually they might have to hire a third driver to be able to take all three vehicles to shows together, but they’ll worry about that dilemma when the time comes. For now they are having a blast arriving together with their ’55 and ’65 Chevy trucks and visiting with all the other truck lovers who stop by to admire their “his and hers” haulers.

“I’m careful, but I drive it,” Vietta says. “It’s insured. It can be painted. You can find parts for it, for the most part. We don’t drive too far. Our radius is maybe 50 miles.

“I think the enjoyment in a car show is all the old guys looking at it and reminiscing about the old farm trucks that they’ve had or the guys who have worked at the plants and coming back and saying, ‘That looks better than when we put them out … That  looks better than what we would have had on a showroom floor.’ You talk to the older guys and they know about the vehicles. To me that’s the fun part of being at a car show.”


Show us your wheels!

If you’ve got an old car you love, we want to hear about it. Email us at oldcars@aimmedia.com

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