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Spotted in the wild: A 1953 Chevrolet 6400 wrecker living its second life at Disney World

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Its hard-working days are over, but this ’53 Chevy has a new job. Photos by the author.

Walt Disney World, as we discovered on a recent trip, is filled with Chevrolets. It’s not just the Chevrolet Test Track at Epcot, either. We spotted an Advance Design truck serving as a food stand in Animal Kingdom, a ’20s model in the Outpost section of Epcot, and of course this whimsical, nostalgic wrecker on Hollywood Boulevard just inside the gate at Hollywood Studios. It makes sense, though, as the GM nameplate long strove to place itself alongside baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie in the pantheon of Americana, and that’s exactly what much of Disney is peddling as well.

Naturally, the Automobilia and Petroliana located throughout the park—often in unexpected places, such as a faux service station gift shop in the DinoLand U.S.A. area of Animal Kingdom (dinosaurs = petroleum, get it?)—attracted our attention wherever we went, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to photograph the wrecker outside Oscar’s Super Service, a Streamline Moderne-style service station where guests can rent mobility devices. The Advance Design truck, with styling only slightly updated from its 1947 debut, looked right at home outside the ’40s-style gaseteria.

A bit of sleuthing told us that the only year Chevrolet combined the two-piece windshield, horizontal slat grille, and that numbers-only hood badge was 1953. The 6400 series were two-ton trucks riding on a heavy-duty frame with a 137-, 161-, or 179-inch wheelbase (this appears to be the former) with dual rear wheels. The 6400s were available from the factory as a bare chassis, a cab-and-chassis, a platform, or a stake body; and Hydrovac power brakes were standard on all. We would guess Oscar’s truck started life as a cab-and-chassis and was fitted directly with the wrecker parts, which appear to be commercially made rather than some kind of homebuilt contrivance, but given the talents of Walt Disney Imagineering in producing convincing facsimiles of all things vintage, we wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn it’s a rehabilitated grain truck.

From the factory, a 235-cu.in. “Loadmaster” straight-six engine should reside underhood, backed up by a floor-shift four-speed Synchro-Mesh manual transmission. The 261-cu.in. engine and Hydra-Matic wouldn’t appear until the 1954 model year. Those looking for more power would have needed to turn to the similar but heavier-duty GMC trucks, which boasted an available 302-cu.in. straight-six or even diesel power. A two-speed rear axle assembly was available, however, to make the most of the 235 (standard gearing was 6.17:1, with two-speeds geared at 6.13:1 high/8.10:1 low). We’ve even come across a number of vintage tow trucks from this era retrofitted with Cadillac and Oldsmobile V-8s—shades of the cut-down luxury cars that comprised much of the nation’s tow fleet before World War II.

The paint scheme on this one, while likely imaginary, looks to us a lot like Horizon Blue and India Ivory—not technically truck colors for 1953, but if “Oscar” was friendly with his local Chevrolet dealer, he could probably have gotten that paint via the Central Office Production Order system. That’s right, before COPO meant big-blocks in everything, it had other, more pedestrian uses. The graphics, external visor, and welding bottles were all nice touches, as were the Jerry cans that looked like they were straight off the shelf at the local Army/Navy store, circa 1948—but we were particularly impressed with the black-and-white striped push bumper up front. We’ve seen a lot of vintage photos of dirt-track racers being push started by trucks like this one marked for local service stations and dealerships. Perhaps Disney World will see fit to stash a midget in Oscar’s garage bay at some point.

Our efforts to photograph the interior were frustrated by the rolled-up windows of the standard (three-window) cab, but Oscar’s truck appeared to be unrestored inside, showing a lot of sun fading on the dashboard and a green vinyl seat cover that resembled the upholstery you might recall from riding the school bus. It was solid, complete, and in decent condition—about what you would expect from a working truck that was more about function than comfort or style.

All in all, we were very pleased to see that Disney is cheerleading vintage vehicles in its own small way. We heard more than one tot exclaim “Mater!” as they passed by, showing that the Disney/Pixar Cars franchise has kept the old-car spark alive in yet another generation. If only they knew that a really nice truck like this can be had for not much money, they might be pestering mom and dad for a very different kind of Disney souvenir.