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Snub-nosed Trucks Make Cool Hot Rods

Snub-nosed Trucks Make Cool Hot Rods


Today’s hot rodders seem to be in love with snub-nosed trucks. In trucker’s lingo they are called Cab Forward or Cab Over Engine (COE) models. The COE layout has been around for about as long as there have been trucks. The famous FWD trucks and Nash Quads that introduced four-wheel drive for use on World War I battlefields were technically COEs. So was the legendary Mack “Bulldog.” It’s doubtful that any of these will be hot rodded, but who knows?

Two other types of COEs are in-in-in with hot rodders. The first are the streamlined snub-noses made from about the mid-1930s through the mid-1950s. From a later era comes the cab-forward van/pickup such as the Ford Falcon Econoline, the Dodge D-100, the Corvan and Chevy Van, the Jeep FC (Forward-Control) models and the ever-popular Volkswagen transporter that came in bus, window bus, camper, ambulance, covered wagon and pickup versions.

The original thinking behind COEs was that eliminating a long hood over the engine allowed a shorter vehicle to carry the same size load as conventional model. The stubby cabs turned out to be cute, too. While some of the first COEs looked like old busses, talented industrial designers like Brooks Stevens and Count Alexis d'Saknoffsky were soon rounding the feature lines off and streamlining the cabs and fenders to look very sexy.

In the late 1950s hot rodders Norm Holskamp and Don Allen built a cab-forward “high-speed” race car transporter called the “Cheetah.” It was patterned after a Mercedes-Benz factory team transporter and combined the cab from a Gen 1 El Camino with a stretched chassis. Power came from a Chevy V-8 bored to 300 cu. in. that gave it a top speed of 100 mph. Later, hot rod legend Dean Moon purchased a Cheetah that vintage racer James Degnan later restored.

 Perhaps inspired by pictures of the Cheetah that appeared in magazines, about a dozen years ago vintage COE trucks with transporter bodies began to turn up at car events. What could be cooler than arriving at a hot rod show with your Deuce Coupe on the back of a custom-built snub-nosed truck?

Most of these builds start with a rusty cab that some hot rodder spotted in a field or a salvage yard. A few years ago, we visited a shop in Blaine, Minn., called Classic, Customs and Rods. They were building two COE trucks for one of their customers who had a medical condition that made it hard to drive stick. Their plan was to buy a brand new Peterbilt with an automatic transmission and swap the early 1950s Ford COE body onto the Peterbilt frame.

More recently, we have met hot rodders at several traditional hot rod shows who have revived vintage COE trucks. Of course, they left the rust and other signs of cosmetic aging intact. It seems like Chevrolet, GMC and Ford models are the ones most commonly seen. An unusual model is a 1936 Ace on exhibit in the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Ind. Hot rodders tell us that many COEs are fun to work with as the cab can be removed from the chassis relatively easily and transferred to a more modern frame.

If you don’t have a garage big enough for a snub-nosed “Jimmy” or Ford you might try using your hot rodding skills on a forward-control van. The pickup truck versions were especially popular with hot rodders like Bill “Maverick” Golden who used one to go drag racing in the ‘60s. However, with a bit of creative thinking, even a VW van can be customized.