NAPCO 4×4 Pickup Trucks: The Forgotten 4×4

1959 GMC NAPCO 4x4 Photo: hemmings

1959 GMC NAPCO 4×4
Photo: hemmings

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.

1959 Studebaker NAPCO promo truck Photo: bangshift

1959 Studebaker NAPCO promo truck
Photo: bangshift

Exact dates on when NAPCO started furnishing 4×4 systems to Chevrolet, GMC, Studebaker, and Ford 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”.

Notice the front differenia on this 1955 GMC NAPCO 4x4 Photo: Pinterest

Notice the front differenia on this 1955 GMC NAPCO 4×4
Photo: Pinterest

To have a full size truck that could climb such steep inclines with ease was completely unheard of.This was something that you would only see in a Will’s Jeep or Land Rover. Starting in 1956 GMC and Chevrolet started installing the NAPCO kits in the factory as an option so it didn’t require the do-it-yourself aspect the previous versions did. When it was shipped to your home as an option it cost anywhere from $1200-$1500 which was on top of the $1,500 price tag of the truck. However the 1957 GMC 3100 with the NAPCO 4×4 kit that was built in house had a $2,500 price tag, so it was $500 less an you didn’t have to do the work yourself.

1958 NAPCO GMC Suburban Photo: Autoweek

1958 NAPCO GMC Suburban
Photo: Autoweek

Things took a drastic change for NAPCO in 1960 when GM started using a new 4×4 system that was completely designed in house. The front end of the GMC trucks was changed to where it was no longer going to be a simple three hour installation. This was a major blow to the 4×4 aspect of NAPCO, loosing that much business was devastating. They continued making kits but more suited for the heavy duty dump trucks and that sort, 1-1/2 tons and larger for a few more years. Not long after that, the rights to the Powr-Pak kit were sold to the company we know now as DANA (as in DANA axles). Before long the NAPCO name just disappeared all together, all the archives, documentation and parts were all absorbed by DANA. What was once a household name in the 4×4 world no longer existed. SO if you ever come across a NAPCO 4×4 you now know that Powr-Pak kit paved the way for modern day four wheel drive vehicles like we have now.

Its a little long, but here is a 1957 NAPCO promotional film