In the late ’40s and early ’50’s the name NAPCO really stood for something in the automotive world. But there is a good chance you have never heard of them before. If you had a four wheel drive truck back in those days it was most likely designed by NAPCO (Northwest Auto Parts Company). Founded in 1918 as a specialized mechanical parts shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Which if you have spent a winter in that part of the country you immediately understand how a shop like that could end up specializing in four wheel drive systems.
Exact dates on when NAPCO started furnishing 4×4 systems to Chevrolet, GMC, Studebaker, and Ford are not known but many believe it was as early as 1942. NAPCO’s main business was Chevrolet and GMC by far. Interestingly up until 1956 if you wanted a 4×4 you would go to the dealer and buy the truck in two wheel drive form then NAPCO would ship you a crate that had the 4×4 kit in it weighing as much as 1,400lbs. Apparently it was fairly easy to install, only required drilling four holes and then you had fully converted off-road beast, or as they called it in those days a “mountain goat”.
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The MORA's NAPCO Fire Truck
One of the first vehicles acquired by the museum is also one of it’s most unique. A 1956 Open Cab Chevrolet Napco 4×4 Fire Truck.
Prior to being able to purchase a four wheel drive vehicle from the factory, the only way to get a civilian model 4×4 was to buy or perform a conversion on a two wheel drive vehicle. One of the earliest 4×4 conversion companies was called Napco, who started offering bolt in four wheel drive systems known as a “Power-Pack” around 1949. The majority of Napco conversions were done on one ton Chevrolet and GMC trucks right at your local dealer. Some conversions were also performed on Studebaker and Ford pickup trucks, and a far smaller amount of conversions were done on 1 1/2 ton and 2 ton trucks of various models.
In the 1950’s Chevrolet produced a very limited number of “Open Cab” trucks that came from the factory without a roof or doors. Most of these trucks were purchased and used by Good Humor Ice Cream. However two are known to have been completed as fire trucks.
The M.O.R.A. Napco is one of the two known firetrucks built on the Open Cab chassis, and the ONLY known 4×4 conversion to be performed on that platform, as the other known truck is two wheel drive. Of added interest, our Napco is a 1 1/2 ton model, making it a rarer sight yet.
After living a long life in Maryland, our Napco was retired, stripped of it’s firefighting equipment, and used for many years as a sand hauler. It was then given back to the fire department, and eventually sold to a private collector where it has been in storage for over 15 years until the museum took ownership. We are currently looking for period correct equipment to re-outfit the truck, and we are also looking for sponsors who would like to be involved in the restoration and preservation of this extremely unique vehicle.
For information on the Napco please follow our Facebook Page at facebook.com/themoramuseum and to contact us about equipment or sponsorship please contact Board President Andrew Wagner at email@example.com