This 1951 Chevrolet 3800 Is the Perfect Desert Bus

A NAPCO conversion, it's also a piece of 4x4 history.

Today, nearly every soft crossover and even the occasional compact car is available with four driven wheels, but the availability of all-wheel drive wasn’t always something that could be taken for granted—even for off-roaders and trucks. The Willys CJ and Dodge Power Wagon led the charge in the late 1940s, but factory 4WD surprisingly wasn’t available for Ford trucks until 1959, or Chevrolet trucks until 1960.

However, if you needed something with more space and refinement than the brutal Power Wagon or the impish Willys, aftermarket four-wheel-drive outfitters filled the space while manufacturers played catch-up. Northwestern Auto Parts Company (NAPCO) was one of the biggest, offering 4WD conversions for Ford, GMC, Chevrolet, and Studebaker models beginning in the early 1940s.

These NAPCO drivetrain systems were called “Power-Paks” and added a hefty chunk of change to the truck’s price, sometimes nearly doubling the sticker in the 1950s. Once Ford and GM developed their factory 4WD options, NAPCO was unable to recover and was eventually absorbed by Dana.

Nowadays, NAPCO-converted trucks are quite the collectibles. This 1951 Chevrolet 3800 truck crossing the block later this month at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale sale is one of the coolest we’ve seen so far. According to the catalog, this van was restored a decade ago by a NAPCO specialist who took it down to the frame.

During that time, a 4.2-liter (261-cubic-inch) Jobmaster six-cylinder was installed, the same kind of thumper you’d find in the contemporary heavy-duty trucks. Other than an upgraded header and bigger carburetor, the powertrain is mostly stock, sending power to the genuine NAPCO front-end and transfer case through a four-speed manual transmission.

While this would be neat to cruise main street, we think it’d be best used to chug along desert paths and down forest two-tracks. Make sure you register to bid before it crosses the block during the Scottsdale event, which begins on January 12.

Barrett-Jackson ushers in a new year of high-octane auction action during its 48th Annual Scottsdale Auction, featuring some of the world’s most coveted collector vehicles and authentic automobilia collectibles, January 12–20, 2019, at WestWorld of Scottsdale. As in decades past, The World’s Greatest Collector Car Auctions will be the epicenter of Collector Car Auction Week and entertain thousands of automotive enthusiasts with interactive exhibits, entertainment, and activities. Check your local TV listings to see it live on MotorTrend Network and download the app for exclusive, live coverage.

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