– HOW HOME DELIVERY WAS DONE BEFORE THE INTERNET
The Sedan Delivery was a light-duty commercial vehicle built on a passenger car platform. It combined the ride and handling characteristics, gas mileage and appearance of a passenger sedan or station wagon with the carrying capability of a panel truck or van. Typically this van-on-a-car-platform vehicle was used for local delivery of services and light products that could be carried in an enclosed rear compartment.
The heyday of the sedan delivery was from the 1930s through the 1950s, as home delivery of retail goods grew toward a peak in the immediate postwar years. Purchasers of these vehicles included pharmacies, bakeries, dairies, florists, cleaners, department stores, and vendors of home cleaning products – small businesses of all sorts serving their immediate communities. Most major car manufacturers produced a sedan delivery at one time or another during these decades.
The first of these vehicles may have been the Ford Model A Special Delivery of 1930 and 1931 (some sources also mention a 1929 model), a commercial conversion of Ford’s wood-bodied Station Wagon. Production totaled slightly more than 200 over two years. In the 1930-31 model years Ford also built a limited number of upscale Town Car Delivery models, a commercial version of the Town Car with an aluminum body. For 1932 Ford offered a limited production conversion of a Tudor Sedan for commercial use, using the “Sedan Delivery” name for the first time.
In 1936 Ford (as well as Chevrolet and Plymouth) gave their Sedan Delivery a unique new body, one that became traditional for this type of vehicle. The body was no longer a sedan or station wagon with blank rear quarter panels in place of windows. It was now a smooth but boxy sheet metal shell with neither indentations nor windows behind the two passenger doors, retaining the passenger car front-end sheet metal and trim. This model remained in Ford’s commercial car lineup until after World War II.
Ford’s 1947 model lineup was the last to include a sedan delivery until the 1952 Courier came along. The Courier followed the traditional sedan delivery design until the 1959 model year, when it became a stripped-down commercial version of the 2-door Ranch Wagon with just a driver’s seat, very little interior or exterior trim, and fixed side windows in place of blank rear quarter panels. The all-new 1960 Ford line included what became the last of Ford’s full-size sedan deliveries, another Ranch Wagon-based Courier. The Courier name was not used again until 1972 when it was applied to a small pickup built by Mazda and imported from Japan by Ford.
The introduction of the Falcon model for 1960 led to a compact Sedan Delivery for the 1961 model year built on this new smaller chassis. This configuration was continued through the 1965 model year when sales decreased to 649 vehicles and the model was dropped. Ford’s Econoline Van was a cab forward design delivery truck, introduced for 1961, and ultimately replaced the Sedan Delivery. Ford offered a Cruising Wagon package for the compact Pinto Station Wagon from 1977 to 1980 was sometimes used as a sedan delivery. A porthole appeared in place of each rear side window, leaving plenty of space for the advertising that was frequently applied to the side panels.
The history of the Chevrolet Sedan Delivery began in 1930 and ended in 1960, when it was replaced in the lineup by the more spacious 1961-63 cab forward, rear-engined Corvan. For those who wanted a more conventional front-engine layout the Chevy-Van was offered from 1964. Though capable of serving a similar purpose, the Chevy-Van and the Corvan did not meet the definition of a traditional sedan delivery, i.e. they were trucks not cars. Potential sedan delivery buyers would not see one in Chevy showrooms again until the introduction of the sub-compact Vega Panel Express (1971-75), and later the Cobalt-platform HHR Panel (2007-11).
Plymouth’s Commercial Sedan of 1935 looked like a 2-door sedan, but with a removable rear seat, a side-hinged door at the rear of the body and advertising panels covering the rear side windows. The interior was spartan, stripped to allow for maximum carrying capacity. By 1937 this model had become more of a purpose-built delivery vehicle rather than an adaptation of a sedan, but it retained the basic passenger car front-end appearance and sales reached 3,256 for the year. This model continued in the lineup but the name was changed to Panel Delivery for the 1939 to 1941 model years. A small number of DeLuxe Panel Deliveries were reportedly produced for the 1942 model year, but this was no longer a cataloged model and did not reappear after World War II.
The Oakland brand was a member of the General Motors family when it spawned Pontiac in 1926. The new Pontiac line added a DeLuxe Delivery for 1927 only, but some references call it a truck rather than a sedan delivery. Pontiac sedan delivery models sold from 1949 to 1953 in the United States were built on the Pontiac chassis (120” wheelbase with a 90 HP Six or a 104 HP Eight in 1949). The high point of U.S. production was 1,362 with the 1950 model year.
Sedan deliveries were generally more popular in Canada than the United States. Pontiac produced them in Canada from 1938 to 1958 using the Chevrolet chassis (115” wheelbase in 1949) with Chevrolet 6-cylinder engines (1938-1940 and 1955-1958) and Pontiac 6-cylinder engines (1941-1954) (90 HP in 1949). Canadian production exceeded the number built in the U.S. each year from 1951 through 1953. The figures for the 1953 model year were 2038 Canadian and 468 U.S. vehicles.. In the late fifties sedan deliveries were marketed and sold by GMC truck dealers in Canada. In 1958, the final year for this body style, production dropped to 449 vehicles. A Pontiac Astre Panel, based on the subcompact Chevy Vega, was offered only in Canada from 1973 to 1975. Total Pontiac Sedan Delivery production in both countries from 1938 to 1958 was more than 17,000.
Studebaker made several attempts at producing a sedan delivery. The first, in 1932, was a Rockne Model 65 Panel Delivery. A few years later they built the Champion Sedan Delivery (1939 – 1940), a 2-door sedan with blanked-out rear side windows. Later efforts were the Commander (V-8) and Champion (6) DeLuxe Conestoga Sedan Delivery models, commercial variations of Studebaker’s new-for-1954 Station Wagon, followed by the similarly configured 1958 Panel-wagon and the 1959 Lark Panel Delivery.
The Sedan Delivery gradually gave way to the cab forward type vans and commercial minivans, as did the full-size Panel Truck, which last appeared on the market in 1966 (Dodge Town Panel). Ford & Chevrolet’s last panel trucks were built for the 1960 model year. As previously mentioned the Chevy HHR Panel was sold in 2007-2011, but it never sold well.
Today home delivery carries a far wider range of products to residential customers than ever imagined back when the Sedan Delivery served our cities and towns. One example of today’s need for low-cost, light weight and highly maneuverable delivery vehicles is the Ford Transit Connect. Since they were first imported to North America in 2010, these agile vans have become popular with small businesses and urban delivery carriers. But the Transit Connect is only one of the modern vehicles carrying on the legacy of the Sedan Delivery. Long live the Sedan Delivery!
• American Austin – 1930 to 1934 Special Delivery
• Bantam – 1937-38 Panel Truck, 1938 Panel Express,
1939 Panel Delivery & Boulevard Delivery
• Chrysler – 2000 Panel Cruiser (PT Cruiser concept)
• Crosley – 1940-42 Parkway Delivery,
1940-52 Panel Delivery
• Hudson – 1939 112 Custom Panel Delivery,
1940 Six Panel Delivery
• Meteor (Canada) – 1952-61 Sedan Delivery
• Essex Terraplane – 1933-34 Sedan Delivery
• Nash Rambler – 1952 Deliveryman
• Rambler – 1959 Sedan Delivery (prototype)
• Reo – 1930-35 Panel Delivery
• Terraplane – 1935 Sedan Panel Delivery,
1936-38 Custom Panel Delivery
• Willys – 1933-36 Panel Delivery