The main character in three of my novels, all of them about to be released — Shades of Blue, 459-Framed in Red, The Purple Hand — and the forthcoming He Blew Blue Jazz, LAPD cop Mike Montego, drives a sweet Chevy Cameo Carrier. Here’s some background on one of the blue bow-tie’s most interesting vehicles.
Boasting V-8 power, automatic transmission, two-tone paint, and deluxe interior, the 1955 Chevrolet Cameo shortened the distance between car and truck. Although not a big seller, it set the stage for other stylish trucks – Ford’s Styleside, Dodge’s Sweptside, and Chevy’s own Fleetside quickly followed suit.
Stylist Chuck Jordan, later to become GM Vice-President of Design, had originally envisioned a one-piece cab-bed bodied pickup, but engineers were concerned over the sheet metal distorting due to torsion-stress on the frame. It was decided that the clean look could still be achieved with a conventional cab/bed combination. Fiberglass panels were added to Chevy’s existing steel cargo-box, saving the expense of the tooling process required for steel panels. This also allowed the truck to be brought into production quicker. Besides, fiberglass was convenient; Chevrolet had recently given Molded Fiberglass Products Company a $4 million contract to manufacture Corvette bodies.
The tailgate of the Cameo also used a fiberglass outer panel, with latches mounted inside and supported by retractable cables. The middle of the rear bumper hinged downward, accessing the hidden spare tire compartment. Unique chrome-plated taillights capped off the clean, uncluttered bed.
1955 Chevy Cameo
The smooth-sided bed of the 3124 series Cameo seemed to perfectly complement Chevy’s new Task Force Series line of trucks. Its 114-inch wheelbase carried a 6.5-foot-long cargo bed, which shared the same 5,000 pound G.V.W. as the 3100 and 3200 series half-ton trucks. Base motor was the durable 235-cid six-cylinder, with Chevy’s new 265-cid V-8 optional. Five transmissions, including an automatic, were available. Chrome bumpers, chrome grille, and full wheel covers, optional on other models, were standard on the Cameo.
All first-year Cameos were painted two-tone white and red. Inside, the upholstery was also two-tone, and came with arm rests, dual sun-visors, a cigarette lighter, chrome interior door knobs, and a large wrap-around rear window. Priced 30% higher than their standard half-ton truck, Chevrolet sold 5,220 Cameos in 1955.
1956 Chevy Cameo
With the exception of a few minor trim items, 1956 Chevrolet trucks remained the same as 1955 models. Despite low production numbers, the Cameo was carried over, now offered in several two-tone paint schemes. Base price was $2,150, while a standard half-ton pickup listed at $1,670. Cameo truck production for 1956 was 1,452.
1957 Chevy Cameo
Along with Chevy’s other pickup models, the Cameo received a new grille in 1957. V-8 engine displacement increased to 283 cubic-inches, with power output at 185-bhp. Cameo production rose to 2,244 units.
1958 Cameo Carrier
Industry-wide adoption of quad headlights, along with a larger front grille, were highlights of the 1958 re-design for all Chevrolet trucks. Ford’s Styleside pickup, introduced in 1957, had smooth outer bed-walls and sold for much less than the Cameo. Chevrolet countered with their new Fleetside, with an all-steel cargo-box larger than the Cameo’s. With just 1,405 produced for the year, Cameo production stopped in early 1958.
NOTE: Mike Montego’s pickup truck is white with red trim. The interior is red-and-white, tuck-and-rolled Naugahyde, a customized look.