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Year, Make and Model – 1936 Terraplane Cab Pick-up

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Editor’s note: This piece includes excerpts from a story that appeared in the January 2014 issue of Hemmings Motor News.

Today’s unit-body passenger cars are manufactured out of sheetmetal folded and creased in almost origami-like fashion. It’s efficient, smart and remarkably strong.

But taking a reciprocating saw to the upper two thirds of your old mininvan to make something resembling an open-bed pickup (while entertaining) is not a great idea. Without all of its pillars and roof a unit-body car has the crush resistance and payload capacity of a cheese puff.

At the dawn of the automotive age, however, almost every vehicle had a full frame, so a little trucking potential lurked in even the most formal of coaches.

After WWI, a cottage industry sprang up building commercial bodies on top of passenger-car chassis. In the 1920s, Hudson-Essex dealers offered open wood bodies built by a couple of different vendors on Essex underpinnings.

In 1929, Hudson offered its own Dover-branded line of light-duty commercial vehicles sold as either a bare cab and chassis or outfitted as a panel delivery, a screenside express, an open express, a canopy express or a sedan delivery.

Dovers used Essex fenders, headlamps, running boards, hood, cowl and front-opening doors. In 1930, the company’s commercial vehicles were called Essex, which was changed to Terraplane for the 1933 model year.

In 1934, Hudson sold 1,901 commercial Terraplanes which was a pretty good haul for a light truck maker in those days. But Terraplane would be short-lived and it was phased out altogether after 1938. During its short run, Terraplane offered a full line of Commercial Cars for hauling, alongside its line of standard passenger cars. The Commercial Cars were gracefully styled both inside and out as their sheetmetal, trim and furniture were lifted directly from the passenger car line.

The heaviest of the lot carried a 3/4-ton rating like this 1936 Terraplane Cab Pick-up, which meant it could haul 1,500 pounds of cargo. Out back a set of towering 14-leaf springs were more than capable of living up to the vehicle’s rating. The 10-leaf packs up front looked were more prewar car-like, as was the front axle, but still, plenty durable. The Terraplane’s chassis also used “Monobilt” construction: A couple of boxed frame rails made steel were slid underneath the body, which was then bolted down at 38 points. All of this was then reinforced by a massive X-member in the center of the frame, sturdy enough to serve as a highway overpass.

Power was from the 96-hp Terraplane six, with the 102-hp Super Power Dome available. Terraplanes used a three-speed synchromesh transmission with a single-plate, cork-insert, oil-cushioned clutch. Selective Automatic Shift was optional, which provided pre-selective, power-controlled gear shifting.
Terraplanes were also fitted with Hudson’s “Duo-Automatic Hydraulic Brakes,” which mated a primary hydraulic braking system with an auxiliary mechanical system, so that in the event of a brake failure, the secondary system would stop the car. An optional hill-hold unit was available as well, to aid the driver during uphill takeoffs.

The Cab Pick-up had an additional unique feature in that it was built with removable “lockers” covering the wheel houses for storing tools and equipment or for use as seats for workers when taxiing around the job site.

While there are no records telling how many Terraplane Cab Pick-up Expresses were built, few remain today and it’s doubtful that anything this gracefully purposeful, combining the beauty of a fine passenger car with the work ethic of a truck, will ever be produced again.

1936 Terraplane Cab Pick-up 1936 Terraplane Cab Pick-up