Image copyright General Motors, courtesy GM Archives
When the 1955 model year began in the fall of 1954, Chevrolet was not quite ready to unveil an all-new line of commercial vehicles. For the first several months of that season, 1954 truck styling was recycled. Today these are known as the 1955 "first" series, and while collectible in their own right, it was the second series that has become a real star collector truck circles.
Borrowing heavily from the all-new looks of the passenger cars, the new 1955 Chevrolet truck lines were marketed as the new "Task Force" design. Most popular in the new line of Chevrolet trucks were the half-ton models that were officially designated the 3100 series. Base was the tried and true in-line six that Chevrolet had used since the early 1930s. In its 1955 dress it weighed in at 235.5 cubic inches and 123 horsepower at 3800 rpm. (This was the gross "hp" figure, the net figure was listed as 109hp.) Optionally available was an all-new V8 engine displacing 265 cubic inches and generating 154 hp at 4000 rpm. A standard three-speed transmission was used on all models; hydramatic automatic units could be ordered for either the six or the V8.
Featuring some of the most distinguished design in trucks up to that time, 1955 Chevrolet pickups used sculpted door and fender panels, a lower flatter hood design with an egg-crate styled grille. The look made it quite clear that they were related to Chevy's passenger cars. In the cab, more glass area and a wrap-around windshield gave the driver a better view of the road, and added to the stylish appearance. They were an instant success.
Without a doubt, the model generating the most interest was (and is) the model 3124 Cameo Suburban. As a compliment to the beautiful cab design, the Cameo featured a pair of slab sided fiberglass panels that enveloped the pickup bed. This gave the truck a modern and sleek look. Featuring unique chrome plated taillights, and a rear bumper that seemed to come from a customizer's dream-shop, many feel that the Cameo is the best looking pickup truck ever. For a number of reasons, though, it was very limited in production, with just 5,220 produced for 1955.
For those who simply wanted a little something extra in their truck, they could opt for the "Custom Cab" (standard on Cameo) option. This included upgraded seating surfaces, a few pieces of exterior chrome trim as well as interior chrome knobs, arm rests, dual-sun visors, a cigarette lighter, and best of all, the "Panoramic" wrap-around rear glass. Options were big in the 1950s and items such as clocks, radios, and heaters that could be ordered for passenger comfort, while chrome front and rear bumpers, whitewalls, and full wheel covers were available to further enhance the truck's good looks.
Other model or series designations included a long-wheel base version of the 1/2-ton models which were the 3200 series, while a heavy or "Dubl-Duti" series was the 3400 model. The 3/4-ton models were given either a 3500 or 3700 designation depending on the wheelbase and suspension specifications.
Despite low production numbers, the Cameo was a great image machine and carried over to 1956. With the exception of a few minor trim items, all 1956 Chevrolet trucks looked much like the 1955 edition. Cameo's base price of nearly $2,150 was a bit more than most truck buyers were willing to pay, especially when you consider that a base 3100 Series 1/2-ton pickup was listed at just $1,670. A total of 1,452 units made the 1956 Cameo production run the rarest of its four years or production. For 1956 two new designations were released in the medium-duty range, a 3/4-ton 3600 line with several models, and a 1-ton 3800 series.
1957 brought a distinctive new grille nestled in an up-turned open mouth, while the rest of the truck remained basically unchanged save for a few pieces of bright trim. Cameo production rose to 2,244 units for 1957, which is still quite low when compared to the standard issue trucks of the day. While the Chevrolet passenger cars in 1957 received a larger optional V8 with 283 cubic inches, factory literature does not indicate that engine was available in the pickup and other light duty trucks that year.
For 1958 a total redesign of the front end sheet metal gave the Task Force trucks a new look. Topping the design was the employment of the industry-wide adoption of quad headlights, along with a massive front grille. Also new on for Chevrolet trucks was a model name: Apache. Base Apaches featured a light beige or off-white grille, front bumper and hubcaps, which could be substituted with bright metal trim for a price. While the Cameo had not been a big seller, it did spawn new design ideas for pickup beds. Another new term was introduced: Fleetside. The Fleetside replaced the Cameo early in the model year, and saw strong sales. Devoid of individual fenders, these new trucks had all-steel contoured side panels and a larger bed capacity than the Cameo or other units with independent fenders, now known as "stepsides".
Prior to 1958 Chevrolet trucks with four-wheel drive had to depend on outside suppliers, most notably NAPCO, to perform 4WD driveline conversions. In 1958, a GM-designed unit became available for all basic Chevrolet light and medium duty trucks. Another option new that year was Cool-Pak air conditioning. This was a dealer installed factory-authorized system.
1959, the last year of the Task Force design, saw truck sales rebound from a recession-plagued previous year. A few trim changes, most notably a front hood piece, and new options such as posi-traction were added. Starting in 1958, the largest engine available in a truck was the 283 V8 with a rating of 185hp. The 348 V8 available in passenger cars was never available in the trucks.
STOCK OR MODIFIED
Many collectors want nothing on their Chevys that GM didn't produce. There are a few exceptions, such as the vintage NAPCO 4WD conversions, period after-market exterior sun shields, or possibly a camper or other vintage accessory. These trucks seem to perform about the same across the auction block whether they are bone-stock or decked out with a custom paint job, tricked out wheels, a late-model 350 cid V8, and a fifty-megawatt boom-box.
One area to look at closely is the rare option of power steering. Original complete units installed on a Task Force truck from 1955 to 1959 can add up to $1,500 to the base value of the truck. (There are several conversion kits that can adapt other power steering units to the Task Force Chevy trucks). As with the passenger cars, an original V8 under the hood will bring a premium of up to twenty percent. However, don't underestimate the sixes as they were tough as nails, specially prepared for commercial use, and nearly indestructible.
Authentic accessories add value. Heavy duty bumpers, grille guards, and spot lights, are all. The rear bumper on all of these models, with the exception of the Cameo, was an extra cost option. These back bumpers came finished either painted, chrome plated, or as heavy diamond plate. Original painted or chrome plated units can bring $300 if they are restorable. Another often sought after pickup accessory is a left or right side-mounted spare.
Recently we've seen a couple of bogus Cameos at flea markets and car auctions. These are not the easiest, or cheapest pickups to replicate, even if their main body feature is constructed of fiberglass, and we have to wonder why anyone would go to such trouble. Sure, Cameos are more valuable, but a nice regular bed custom cab isn't too far off. When inspecting a 1955 to 1958 Cameo, one item to check on is the build tag to see if the proper model number, "3124", is there.
THE "TASK FORCE" MARKET
For the past decade, pickup truck have become increasingly popular as collectable vehicles. Largely due to the Cameo, the "Task Force" Chevys were among the first to be recognized. Current values for perfectly restored examples of the 1955 to 1957 Cameos have been approaching the high $20,000 range, while the very rare 1958s bring a similar amount. Standard 3100 half-ton pickups have seen dramatic increases in values over the past few years, with decked out and fully loaded versions now approaching the $20,000 mark for authentic restorations. Not too surprisingly, the long-wheel based pickups do not command the same price levels. For the later model Fleetside trucks, some of the Custom Cab editions can also command prices approaching the $20,000 mark when equipped with V8, Hydramatic and power steering. - end. For latest values, click here
(C) Copyright 1999-2001 VMR International, Inc. This article originally appeared in the March 2000 issue of Collector Car & Truck Market Guide.