Divco Milk Truck History
Though Divco made numerous commercial vehicles during their 64 years in business, the snub-nosed Model U and it's variants are certainly the most recognized. Spanning over four decades, tens of thousands of these trucks delivered fresh milk daily to a sprawling American suburbia.
Divco Model U (1938-1986)
The name Divco is an acronym for Detroit Industrial Vehicles Company, an American firm based in Detroit, Michigan. Headed by company president John Nicol, the design team completely revamped their milk truck for 1938. Previous models included the Model A (1926), Model B (first production Divco), Model C, and Model G (1928-1937).
Renamed Model U, the new snub-hood truck featured an all-steel body and "drop" frame, making it easier for delivery men to step in and out of. The short 100-3/4" wheelbase truck was powered by a four-cylinder Continental engine, a carry-over from the Model G. Producing 38-horsepower, the 140 cubic-inch motor was governed for a top speed of 32 mph.
In November of 1937, the new Divco milk truck was announced through the "Automotive Industries" trade magazine. Shortly after the Model U was offered, sales began exceeding expectations.
The Divco Model U could be driven from either sitting or standing position. On most models, the throttle was a rotary knob on the end of the manual transmission shift lever. This set-up was eventually replaced with a right-foot button as the throttle control.
The two-pedal control system was first developed by Warner Gear for Divco. The left pedal served both clutch and brake. When the driver pushed it half-way down, it disengaged the clutch. Releasing the pedal would engage it. Pushing the left pedal all the way down would apply the brakes.
Divco Models UM and UB
In late 1938, the Model U line was split into two distinct models. The original insulated milk truck became the Model UM, now joined by the uninsulated Model UB. The latter was designed for department stores, bakeries, and other delivery services.
A 127-1/2" wheelbase Model UL was offered in 1939. The new longer model was also available as the mildly insulated Model ULM.
World War Two
To help the U.S. war effort, all Divco truck production was suspended in 1942. For the next three years, factory output was comprised of strictly war materials, including airplane sub-assemblies for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Production of civilian Divco trucks commenced in 1945.
Post World War Two
After the World War Two ended, 1946 Divco trucks were basically the same as pre-war models. The snub-nose milk trucks continued in two wheelbases; the 100-3/4" Model UM, and 127" model ULM. Gross vehicle weight was 9000 and 12,000 lbs, respectively. Engine selection was either a four- or six-cylinder Continental.
In the early post-war years, Divco Milk Truck production doubled the best pre-war figures. Their success spawned several look-alike competitors.
Demand reached an all-time high in 1948, with 6,385 trucks produced. A new 229 cubic-inch Hercules six-cylinder engine debuted this year.
The Hercules engine and the Continental four- and six-cylinder engines were used throughout the 1950s. Starting in 1964, 240ci and 300ci Ford inline-six motors became available, which eventually became standard.
Being a purpose-built vehicle, only several hundred Model U trucks were built a year. Because of their low production numbers, and the fact they were commercial vehicles, a fraction of Divcos produced survive today.
Restorer's Note: The mid-1960s and later models with Ford engines are much easier to find and repair than the older Continental or Hercules engines.
From 1938 to 1986, it was manufactured with almost no changes up to the end of production. It's 48-year production run is only surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle.
The longevity of the Divco Model U can be credited to its original design team from 1937. The truck's exterior design is still pleasing, some have even called it "cute". Today, there is an enthusiastic market for vintage Divco milk trucks.
read: Classic American Trucks History