Back before mega malls and online shopping, Americans did most of their shopping at small, local retailers. This was also before the days of five-car families. People were as likely to walk or take a bus as they were to drive when they went shopping. That meant it could be awkward to carry home bulky items or large quantities.
Since these small businesses were very customer-oriented, it was common for them to provide delivery services. Businesses like flower shops were built around delivering their goods, but many other businesses including grocery stores, cleaners, and auto parts stores also provided delivery services.
The sedan delivery was a perfect vehicle for many small businesses. It was considerably smaller than truck-based panel trucks, so it was ideal for in-city work because it was easier to drive and park. Sedan deliveries have always been based on passenger cars. They started out as two-door sedans with one-piece rear doors in the thirties, and gradually morphed into two-door station wagons without back seats or rear side windows.
The design of sedan deliveries provided the maximum cargo capacity in a sedan-sized vehicle. A flat cargo deck ran from just behind the driver’s seat to the rear door. Sedan deliveries were often equipped with a single seat for the driver. Front passenger seats were optional. Besides saving a little money the use of a single seat increased the cargo capacity.
Solid metal in place of the sedan’s rear side windows increased security, lowered production costs, and provided a great place to paint the company name and other pertinent information such as a phone number and/or address.
DELIVERY OR PANEL? ONE DOOR OR TWO?
People not familiar with sedan deliveries often confuse ½-ton panel trucks with sedan deliveries. The easiest ways to tell the two apart are the number of rear doors and whether the front clip looks like a passenger car or a pickup.
Almost all sedan deliveries have a single rear door (1940-41 Plymouth sedan deliveries have two side-hinged doors). One-piece doors on early Chevy sedan deliveries (pre-1955) are side-hinged. Doors on 1955-1960 Chevy sedan deliveries are top-hinged. Some other makes of sedan deliveries use bottom-hinged station wagon tailgates with roll-down windows. Panel truck doors are noticeably larger and consist of two side-hinged “barn doors.”
Everything about panel trucks is larger, because they are based on ½-ton pickup chassis. Panel trucks are longer, taller and wider. From the doors forward they are pickups. Half-ton Chevy panel trucks share their body shell with Chevy Suburbans. Panel trucks can be had in ¾-ton and 1-ton iterations.
Panel trucks were always classified as part of the Chevrolet truck product line. Sedan deliveries were generally grouped with Chevy passenger car offerings, but sometimes they were placed in a Light Commercial Vehicles category. Regardless of which sales brochure sedan deliveries appeared in, they were passenger car-based.
One odd exception to the delivery or panel nomenclature is the smallest of all Chevy sedan deliveries–the Chevy Vega version. It’s clearly a sedan delivery, but it was called the Vega Panel Express. The Vega Panel Express sedan deliveries used the same top-hinged one-piece rear door as the Vega station wagons.
STATION WAGON OR SEDAN DELIVERY?
Some Chevy sedan deliveries did have rear side windows. That fact blurs the line between Chevy station wagons and sedan deliveries. When it comes to classifying a sedan delivery with side windows, the defining feature is a total lack of a rear seat. The floor pan is the same as a station wagon because Chevy sedan deliveries are based on 2-door station wagons, but the rear cargo deck should be solid. If there is a fold-down seat the vehicle is a station wagon.
Chevy sedan deliveries that have side windows are usually odd-sized, unusually shaped aftermarket windows. The blanked-out rear quarters produce huge blind spots, so some owners added aftermarket windows for visibility. There are also sedan deliveries that once served as small ambulances or fire department aid cars. Side windows are common on these vehicles.
Coach building companies that made hearses sometimes did sedan delivery conversions. These coach-built examples are likely to have custom upper bodywork and/or windows instead of generic aftermarket windows.
Supposedly some 1955 and newer sedan deliveries were special ordered by the post office or other government agencies. These vehicles have the 150 Handyman factory side glass and a one-piece lift-up rear door.
The situation with 1955 and newer Chevy station wagons that are supposedly sedan deliveries is that sedan delivery rear doors are a simple swap for a station wagon and vise versa. It’s possible to find a legitimate sedan delivery that for the lack of a good rear door, used a station wagon tailgate/liftgate as a replacement.
The sedan delivery or station wagon issue isn’t a big deal, since we’ve only seen modified conversions. We’ve never seen anyone try to pass off a stock 150 Handyman wagon as a sedan delivery.
HOT RODDERS AND DRAG RACERS
The last full-size Chevy sedan delivery was produced in 1960 (the Vega Panel Express is considered a compact car). The end of sedan delivery production coincided with the lack of a 2-door station wagon in 1961. The 2-door base model station wagon did return in 1964 and 1965 as the Chevelle 300, but a minimal market didn’t warrant building sedan deliveries anymore.
After businesses quit using sedan deliveries many of the remaining ones found their way into the hands of hot rodders and drag racers. Their low production numbers, unique styling, and practicality made them sort of a cult car with 1970s hot rodders. This era was also the acme of the custom van craze, so maybe sedan deliveries were a way for hot rodders to be part of the van scene.
Tri-five sedan deliveries found favor with drag racers competing in the Stock Eliminator and Modified Production classes. The extra metal over the rear half of the vehicle aided traction. Creative interpretation of the rulebooks put some potent small-blocks into sedan deliveries that likely came from the factory with base horsepower six-cylinder engines. These cars often featured 4-speed Hydramatic transmissions.
Other drag racers liked sedan deliveries for push trucks. They could carry a few essential tools to the starting line and be painted to match the racecars.
Sedan delivery popularity seems to ebb and flow. There are always the hardcore enthusiasts and the businessmen that build deliveries as a company write-off, but for the most part sedan delivery popularity is presently a little soft. The softest segment seems to be the 1930s-1940s sedan deliveries. Pre-1946 Chevy sedan deliveries are quite rare, but prices don’t seem to reflect their rarity.
Easily the kings of the Chevy sedan delivery world are the ’55-’57 models. Just like the rest of the tri-five lineup it’s tough to go wrong with a ’55-’57 Chevy regardless of body style. Of the three years we’d rank their popularity order as ’57, ’55 and ’56.
Three other years of Chevy sedan deliveries that have gone up in popularity are the last three years–’58, ’59 and ’60. Their popularity increase seems to parallel the other ’58-’60 body styles. The three models have the most unique and most complex rear doors, which makes rear door condition a pivotal factor in determining prices.
Modified sedan deliveries far outnumber restored ones. All the custom touches that are in vogue with 1950s Chevys apply to the sedan deliveries. That means ground-scraping stances, big wheels and tires, modern fuel-injected engines, overdrive automatic transmissions, flawless bodywork and beautiful paint.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Chevy sedan delivery problems are the same as other body styles of the same vintage. The only major exception is the rear door. Rear door condition is the most problematic for ’58-’60 sedan deliveries. Other body series had good interchangeability among the years (e.g. 1946-1948, 1949-1952, 1955-1957). 1948 and older sedan deliveries have unique rear bumpers with recessed center sections for improved rear door access.
Pre-1949 Chevy sedan deliveries had more woodwork in the cargo area. New wood can be fashioned as long as the original pieces are intact enough to serve as a pattern. Floors were generally wood but that isn’t difficult to replace. More important is the condition of the various rear compartment trim items. True sedan delivery seats are different from passenger cars (like oversized bucket seats), but that isn’t much of a concern with modified cars.
It’s not uncommon (especially with ’57 Chevys) to find vehicles that have had their trim levels upgraded. Sedan deliveries were based on the least expensive sedans or station wagons in that year’s lineup. As such, chrome or stainless trim was minimal. Adding stainless windshield trim is very common and looks much better than the plain 150 series rubber gasket. Chevy never made Bel Air (or even 210) ’57 sedan deliveries, but that hasn’t stopped lots of builders from adding deluxe side trim.
We think the current best deals in Chevy sedan deliveries are the 1949-1954 models (good supplies and reasonable prices). These years trail the ’55 and later models in popularity, but they were among the years with the greatest production totals. 1950 was the all-time best year for Chevy sedan deliveries with 23,045 produced.
Buying or building a Chevy sedan delivery is a great way to a fun car that’s also practical and stands out from regular station wagons and sedans. Now that you know what to look for, get out and find one!
1959 Chevy sedan deliveries are the hottest ones going today thanks to their incredibly unique rear styling and long, low roofline. Don Farrelly uses his wild ’59 Biscayne sedan delivery to advertise his landscaping business. The engine is a supercharged big-block.
All Chevy sedan deliveries were based on the least expensive 2-door station wagon models. That accounts for the short Biscayne-style front side trim instead of the longer spears found on more deluxe ’59 Chevys.
The single-piece rear doors on ’59 sedan deliveries are quite complex and their condition is critical to any purchase.
This ’59 Chevy sedan delivery had seen better days, but it was solid and all the important rear door parts were good. Barely visible on the roof is one of the interior trim panels that cover the inside of the solid rear quarters.
Easily the all-time popularity leader for Chevy sedan deliveries is the 1957. Hot rodders and drag racers took to these versatile vehicles early on, so a great number of them survive.
Close behind in the overall popularity race is the 1955 Chevy sedan delivery. These cars were based on the 150 Series, which meant they had no side trim. This one has the correct rubber windshield gasket.
1956 Chevy sedan deliveries are very popular, too. A peek inside the rear cargo area shows that this one has been fully upholstered. The original interiors were very Spartan. The rear window trim definitely wasn’t chromed originally.
Even though 1955 and newer Chevy sedan deliveries have one-piece doors, the latching system is the same as similar-year station wagons. The exterior handle is also in the same position. This ’56 doesn’t have the rear door weather stripping installed yet.
Some sedan deliveries were outfitted with side windows, especially those converted for use as ambulances and fire department aid cars. This ’54 has a modified roof with molded-in emergency lights.
Pre-1955 Chevy sedan deliveries had one-piece rear doors that were hinged on the left side. This facilitated unloading cargo at the curb. The bumper curved in at the center on 1948 and earlier deliveries.
1946 to 1948 sedan deliveries are currently among the better deals. This ’47 was at a large swap meet. It already had Mustang II front suspension and a V-8 plus, more importantly, the rear door and inner woodwork were in excellent condition.
This ’57 sedan delivery project was set up for Bel Air side trim. This is a popular modification even though all sedan deliveries were 150 Series cars.
This show car ’57 has Bel Air side trim and a station wagon lift gate/tailgate even though the side panels are solid. The real tip-off that this is a converted station wagon is the barely visible rear seat.
A slick way to get the looks of a sedan delivery with the passenger-carrying capabilities of a station wagon is to do what the owner of this 1957 150 Handyman wagon did–paint the car black and apply a super dark tint to the side windows.
1960 was the last year of the full-size Chevy sedan delivery. The rear doors on ’60 models are almost as complex as those on ’59s. This red ’60 sedan delivery from British Columbia has the popular ground hugging, slightly raked stance.
1950 was the highest production year for all Chevy sedan deliveries. Total production reached 23,045 units. This ’50 is lettered as a company vehicle.
Any body parts or trim items associated with the rear door of a sedan delivery are important when considering a purchase. Items such as the rear window and door stainless can be difficult to find. This sharp ’52 Chevy has all the right parts.
1930s Chevy sedan deliveries like this sharp ’39 model have lost a little of their former star power. They still make great street rods and their prices are more reasonable.
1958 Chevrolets were a one-year body style, so the sedan delivery is a rare sight even though 4005 were built. This year the base model was called the Delray instead of the previous 150 Series.