It’s the classic truck that never went out of style. Born to the public on June 28, 1947, Chevrolet christened it the Advance Design series and advanced it was—released years before the Big Three invested their design dollars in fresh passenger styles and signaling a new era in truck technology. Nowadays, in many areas of the country, you don’t have to wait for Cruise Night to catch a glimpse of the iconic 1947 Chevy truck, as thousands are memorialized on the lots and farms of proud owners, many of whom still fill up the original half, ¾, and 1 ton beds with goods to haul across town.
Chevrolet’s Victory Truck
So, why did the light-duty truck get first dibs on Chevrolet’s design dollars? After all, when World War II ended, buyers were more than ready to trade in their dated rides for updated post-war models and the majority were not in the market for pickup trucks, no matter how cutting edge they may have been. The answer is simple. Automakers were forced to halt passenger production while American boys were overseas but, because those boys needed reliable transportation to bring the Allied forces to victory, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler continued making trucks that went to war as military transport vehicles. According to Taylor Vinson of the Society of Automotive Historians, when the war finally came to an end in 1945, Chevrolet’s body dies had seen one too many battles. Vinson suggests that it was more cost-effective for manufacturers to roll out new models on fresh dies than reproduce their familiar war-time trucks.
How Advanced Was Chevy’s Advance Design? Very!
Thus, the Advance Design series took front seat in Chevrolet’s early post-war production—a smart investment on General Motors’ part, as the popular pickup remained virtually unchanged until 1954, topping all other trucks in domestic sales. The Advance Design was offered in three cargo sizes, also known as Thriftmasters—the half ton at 78 inches long, the ¾ ton at 87 inches long, and the 1 ton at 108 inches long, all available with short and long wheelbases. Chevrolet would later offer larger capacity cargo boxes in trucks that took on the Loadmaster title.
Under the hood, every ’47 Chevy truck was equipped with a six-cylinder 216.5 cubic inch OHV Thriftmaster engine, hitting 90 horsepower at 174 ft lbs of torque. Buyers opting for the half or ¾ ton trucks could stay with the standard 3 speed transmission or upgrade to a 4 speed, which came standard with the 1 ton models. And the Advance Design’s 3 point suspension made for a smoother ride than ever.
But the most important feature of the the Advance Design truck, at least for buyers, wasn’t the cargo box or the engine bay. Before putting the finishing touches on the ’47 model, Chevrolet’s engineers surveyed their best customers to find out what truck drivers wanted most in their next vehicle. Turns out, an impressive powertrain didn’t make the short list. It was the cab that concerned Chevy’s customers most. Truck owners wanted a larger cab with seats wide enough to fit three people and better visibility from the driver’s seat.
Chevy listened, widening the “round and juicy” ’47′s cab size by extending the bodysides over the siderails. The maroon leatherette seats now comfortably seated three, either on a long bench or a two-seater with a separate passenger seat to match. Shorter drivers who struggled to see over their dashboards were pleased with the bench’s adjustability. When you slid the bench forward, it tipped up, giving every driver the height he or she needed to drive defensively. The ’47 also boasted easy entry and improved windshield visibility, upping the truck’s overall safety and user-friendliness.
In addition to size and safety, Chevrolet’s ads boasted that its bigger, comfier truck had “the cab that breathe[d].” Flip-open vents, louvered cowl vents, and window slots made it easier for fresh air to move through the cab, feeding into the optional heater/defroster system.
#1 in sales, Chevy knew it had a good thing going with the ’47 Advance Design models, which explains why engineers did little to tweak the car in the years following its debut. In 1949, they moved the gas tank inside the cab—nothing to write home about. But Chevrolet had other priorities that year, namely the unveiling of its first studio devoted solely to trucks and coaches, a ribbon-cutting no doubt influenced by the Advance Design’s unmatched popularity. In 1950, Chevy’s infamous Stovebolt engine gained 2 horsepower and 2 ft lbs of torque, a jump that was nothing in comparison to what engineers would reveal in 1954—the new 235.5 cubic inch OHV 6 cylinder engine that leapt from 92 horsepower to 112 at 200 ft lbs of gross torque. 1954 also saw a windshield restyling—now a curved, undivided one-piece glass—as well as a new steering wheel, updated instrument panel, and round taillights.
The Advance Design’s changes were so well-received that Chevrolet decided it was time for a complete bumper-to-bumper redesign, making 1955 the truck’s last model year. But drivers didn’t forget the iconic ’47—a pickup truck that deserves hall of fame status for the lasting impression it left on drivers, young and old. In 2004, Chevy tipped its hat to the pickup that picked up its mid-century sales with a body style similar to the Advance Design’s “round and juicy” look. The ’47 Chevy truck left such an indelible mark on American car culture that you need look no further than your TV screen for a trip down memory lane. Truck lovers have spotted the Advance Design models in countless films and television shows, including modern hits like “CSI: Miami,” “Worst Week,” and “Pushing Daisies.” The Advance Design may have been gone from the production line for over 55 years, but its growing list of TV tributes and scores of fans of all ages prove that the ’47 Chevy will never be forgotten.