Divco Milk Truck History
Article by Mark Trotta
Although Divco made numerous commercial vehicles during their 64 years in business, the snub-nosed Model U milk truck 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.
The name Divco is an acronym for Detroit Industrial Vehicles Company, an American firm based in Detroit, Michigan. Models prior to the Model U included the Model A (1926), Model B (first production Divco), Model C, and Model G (1928-1937).
Divco Model U (1938-1986)
Headed by company president John Nicol, the design team completely revamped their milk truck series for 1938. Dubbed the 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 un-insulated 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 II
All Divco truck production was suspended in 1942 to help the U.S. war effort. For the next three years, factory output was comprised of strictly war materials, including airplane sub-assemblies for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation.
Read: American Automotive Industry During World War Two
Post World War II
After WW-II ended, production of civilian Divco trucks commenced, with 1946 models basically the same as pre-war models. The milk trucks continued in two wheelbases; the 100-3/4" Model UM, and 127" model ULM. Gross vehicle weight was 9,000 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 sales figures. 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. Their continued success spawned several look-alike competitors.
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.
From 1938 to 1986, the Model U was manufactured with almost no changes up to the end of production. It's 48-year production run is only surpassed the Volkswagen Beetle.
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 Divco's produced survive today.
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.
Restorer's Note: The mid-1960's and later models with Ford engines are much easier to find and repair than the older models with Continental or Hercules engines.
Read: Classic American Trucks