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April 1998 Rare Rigs

Posted in Features on April 1, 1998
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In the heyday of 4x4 conversions, Chevy and GMC trucks were among the most popular candidates because of their straightforward and durable designs. Northwestern Auto Parts Company (better known as NAPCO) was most famous for Chevy conversions, but the American Coleman Company of Littleton, Colorado, did a number of GM trucks starting in about 1947, predating Napco's first efforts by three years.

The American Coleman Company, founded in 1922, specialized in big (mostly 2-ton-and-larger) all-wheel drives. The pivot point of these designs was a beefy steerable front axle designed by Coleman engineer Harley Holmes. This axle became the Coleman trademark, and the design was manufactured in three sizes into the 1960s.

The axle is unique because, instead of using a U-joint or CV-joint, the hub was designed to pivot around a solid axle. In essence, the hub was a giant CV-joint. This axle was a marvel in its early days, but by the late 1930s, its complicated design had been overshadowed by simpler, more mechanic-friendly setups. Still, Coleman remained committed to the "old standard,'' and it continued to sell.

After World War II, Coleman entered the light-duty 4x4 conversion market, adapting a number of Chevy, GMC, Ford and Dodge trucks to 4x4 configuration using its "lightest-capacity'' axle-rated for a1 1/2-ton truck. Coleman continued converting small numbers of trucks through the mid-'50s. By that time, truck manufacturers were beginning to build 4x4s in their own factories, and no Coleman conversions past 1956 are known to exist.

Coleman continued building big trucks into the '70s, and finally shut its doors in 1986. A former partner in the conversion business, Howe Brothers of Troy, New York, continued to manufacture a modified version of the Coleman axle, called the Howe-Coleman axle, until quite recently. Howe remains in business and still carries parts suitable to repair Colemans.

The truck featured here belongs to Glenn Victor of Moab, Utah. He acquired the 1953 Chevrolet 3600 in the 1960s as surplus from the Atomic Energy Commission. Used as a survey vehicle, it saw service in the "Uranium Rush'' of the 1950s. Victor used it as a "hack'' for many years in the Moab area, but had it restored a few years ago in honor of its long service.

Coleman trucks are extremely rare, and while some Coleman parts can be difficult to obtain, in the case of this Chevy, a wide variety of GM parts are available for restoration.

Vehicle 1953 Chevy 3600
Coleman 4x4 Conversion
Owner Glen Victor, Moab, Utah
Engine 216cid "Thiftmaster'' OHV 6-cyl.
Hp @ rpm 92 @ 3,300
Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm 176 @ 2,000
Aspiration 1-bbl. Rochester Model B
Transmission SM 420 4-spd.
Transfer case Coleman 2-spd.
Axles/differentials Coleman in front;
GM Corporate full-floater in rear; open
Ring and pinion 4.57:1 (5.14:1 optional)
Wheelbase (in.) 125.25
Length (in.) 200.19
GVWR (lb.) 7,000
Curb weight (lb.) 4,200
Tires 7.50-17


Jim Carter Classic Truck Parts
Independence, MO 64055
Howe Brothers Inc.
Troy, NY

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