Well-equipped 4-wheel-drive trucks from major manufacturers have been among the best selling vehicles in the U.S. for decades, but this hasn’t always been the case. There was a time when if GM wanted to sell a go-anywhere utility, they had to turn to an outside supplier to make it a reality. In 1942, NAPCO, the Northwestern Auto Parts Company of Minneapolis, MN, began selling their “Powr-Pak” 4x4 Conversion to owners of GMC and Chevrolet pickups as well as other brands. With their rugged drive technology proven in World War II, by 1956 GM began to offer the NAPCO drive as a regular production option (RPO). However, 1959 was to be the final year of this arrangement, as a redesign of the suspension for 1960 meant that GM would market its own system and the NAPCO equipment was no longer compatible. This 1959 Chevy 3100 Fleetside Deluxe NAPCO truck has been restored to a level normally only seen on high-end passenger cars — but nevertheless attention was paid to ensure that the correct finishes and details were used, so it can’t be considered “over-restored.”   (Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Chevrolet 3100 Apache NAPCO pickup
Years Produced:1957–59
Number Produced:326,102 (all 1959 Chev trucks)
Original List Price:$2,728
SCM Valuation:$25,000–$52,000
Tune Up Cost:$200
Distributor Caps:$10
Chassis Number Location:Spot-welded plate on the driver’s side door frame
Engine Number Location:Passenger’s side of the block near the distributor (I6), passenger’s side of the block on the front edge of the cylinder head deck (V8)
Club Info:American Truck Historical Society, P.O. Box 901611, Kansas City, MO 64190-1611
Alternatives:1959–60 Ford 4x4 pickup, 1953–60 International 4x4 pickup, 1946–68 Dodge Power Wagon pickup
Investment Grade:B

This 1959 Chevrolet 3100 Apache NAPCO, Lot 363, was sold for $66,700, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Scottsdale auction in Scottsdale, AZ, on January 17, 2013.

Battle-proven for a post-war market

World War II proved the usefulness of four-wheel drive, not just to the government and industry, but to the GIs who used Jeeps and Dodge WCs on a daily basis.

Shortly after hostilities ended, four-wheel-drive trucks started becoming available in the civilian market. While Marmon-Herrington continued to offer conversions on Ford trucks (and even passenger cars until 1947) and Coleman would convert any truck the customer wanted, these conversions were typically expensive and done on an aftermarket basis. But all that changed in short order.

The ink was barely dry on the surrender documents when the first civilian Jeep became available from Willys — a mere 10 days after Germany’s formal surrender. Initially it was a mildly changed version of their wartime MB called the CJ-2A, but within a year they started building a four-wheel-drive half-ton rated steel-bodied wagon, and in July 1947, they introduced an honest-to-goodness four-wheel-drive pickup truck.

Dodge was next with off-the-shelf 4×4 in 1946 with their Power Wagon, which was a unique series until Dodge offered four-wheel drive in the regular pickups for 1957. Next was International, as part of their restyled R-series of trucks in 1953, with Studebaker cataloging their own 4×4 starting in 1958. Ford finally went in-house with its light-duty all-wheel-drive in 1959, although they still utilized M-H for decades afterwards for heavy-duty trucks. GM started building in-house 4x4s in 1960.

Cost, supply and demand

With four-wheel drive so prevalent today, it seems odd that Ford and GM held out as long as they did. However, at the time, this made perfect sense. Dodge, International and Jeep were able to generally meet the demand, with Ford’s arrangement with Marmon-Herrington and GM’s with NAPCO serving those customers who absolutely had to have a 4×4 Ford or Chevy.

In the case of Chevrolet, it was a listing in their “Silver Book” catalog of GM-authorized up-fitters for vocational equipment — along with van bodies, school-bus builders and ambulance conversions. Besides, Ford and Chevrolet by the mid-1950s were battling it out for market supremacy with heavy production volume. The extra production steps to build a four-wheel-drive pickup would just slow down the assembly lines.

Six years ago, I interviewed a dealer from southern Minnesota who sold both Chevrolets and Internationals from 1955 to 1970. He told me that while he could and did order both 2×4 and 4×4 Internationals and Chevys, he mostly sold Internationals as four-wheel-drives and Chevys as two-wheel-drives. Cost was the major factor. Not only was the International 4×4 setup less expensive, it didn’t have to be special ordered. If a contractor needed three 4×4 pickups, they would be sitting on his lot ready to go.

Also, after the termination of the NAPCO arrangement, in the dealer’s opinion, the GM-built units didn’t hold up as well as the factory-built Internationals. But around 1967, the roles started reversing, and by the time he sold off the International truck franchise in 1970, the only 4×4 Internationals he sold were Scouts.

Authentically restored

Our featured truck can truly be called restored rather than refurbished and gussied up like so many we see today. Granted, the two-stage paint is of superior quality to the factory finish, but that is the only nit I can pick.

The wood planks in the bed are painted, unlike the high-gloss, knot-free, furniture-grade oak with polished stainless-steel hardware that is prevalent today. Its most lavish appointments are the factory-optional two-tone paint, deluxe interior and AM radio. Nothing aftermarket here — no step plates, visors or extra chrome. Even the tires are authentic bias-ply snows, which are similar to what it would’ve been delivered with new. And, yes, the four-inch suspension lift is also correct, as spacer blocks were necessary between the axles and leaf springs to accommodate the divorced Spicer transfer case and provide clearance for the forward driveshaft.

Hitting the concours trail

This truck is just starting to show a hint of use, with rust starting to weep from between the leaves of the springs and minimal amounts of lubricant slung on the bottom of the cab from the transfer case and U-joints. Even at that, a bit of cleanup would make it ready to go back onto the concours lawn — a more likely location for it to be seen today than along a rural fence line with a load of hay bales.

While some may find it hard to justify spending almost $70k on a 4×4 pickup that’s a trailer queen, the same folks won’t blink an eye at a CCCA Classic-era limousine that will never carry a passenger in the rear compartment. To put it into another perspective, this same money would buy a fully loaded 2013 Chevy K3500 4×4 dualie with a Duramax Diesel and crew cab shod in a whole herd of dead cows as upholstery.

The selling price was actually towards the lower end of Bonhams’ pre-auction guesstimate. However, based on real-world sales I’ve seen on comparable trucks over the past year, this is about right. In the “coulda, woulda shoulda” world of speculation, perhaps if this had originally been a V8 truck it could reasonably bring more, but then again, by far and away most NAPCOs were done with Thriftmaster Sixes like this one.

The collectible-pickup market has taken a few stops and starts, but it hasn’t retreated. If anything, the unique, limited-production models like this — as with any facet of the collector car world — have been and will keep ratcheting up. It’s also interesting to note that this exact truck — shortly after it was restored — was declared sold at the 2010 Russo and Steele auction in Monterey for $48,200. Got an investment that increased by over 25% over two years anywhere else?

Call this one either well bought for the long term or market-correct for the moment, just don’t call it too expensive.

Comments are closed.