Custom Cruise Friday
In many sectors of the collectable antiques world, having a little patina on an item gives credence to its age. This week’s Custom Cruise Friday vehicle takes that idea well outside of the comfort zone for most collectors that have been featured in this series. The 1936 GMC T16 tow truck owned by Ryan Woolley and his father Tom, began life as a panel truck before being heavily modified into the tow truck that can be commonly seen cruising up and down Whyte Avenue. For a significant period of time the modified tow truck was used by an auto repair shop in nearby Bruderheim, Alberta.
Woolley’s father, Tom, actually saved the truck from a salvage yard’s crusher in 1994 by trading another vehicle for it straight up. Not only is the 1936 GMC an interesting part of Edmonton’s living automotive history, but the truck was a bit player on television. The tow truck served as a prominent background prop on the short-lived Canadian television series “Jake and The Kid” which aired for a few seasons in 1995 and 1996.
Woolley said that the truck has been recently called back into the entertainment industry as could be used as a main character’s main mode of transportation in a TV pilot that was filmed in Edmonton.
“My dad and I built it for ourselves to enjoy,” Woolley said. “But it seems like a lot of people really like it.”
Making the transition
In the late 1930s or early 1940s, someone got the idea of turning the 1936 GMC panel truck into a tow truck. After cutting away the rear half and likely doing to some modifications to the frame, a mail order towing deck was added. The Weaver Auto Crane that is currently handling the heavy lifting on Woolley’s truck was a popular item for small shops that wanted an affordable entry point into the towing business. According to Woolley, the auto crane kit would come all welded together and someone would just need to install it on a vehicle, like a moving erector set.
Here in lies the challenge of this particular tow truck, all of the lifting power is supplied by Woolley himself. There are a couple of different gear ratios and a block and tackle system to give him some mechanical advantage, but there are no hydraulics or electric motors to be found. The Weaver Auto Crane is rated for about three tons.
“Basically, it will lift whatever you can crank,” Woolley said.
What’s under the hood
If this 1936 GMC tow truck were a hot rod, it would likely fall under a “rat-rod” classification. The engine currently powering the truck is a 350 cubic-inch Chevy engine, the seats are from a Toyota van and the steering column is from some kind of Plymouth vehicle. However, the conglomeration of parts and rough exterior just works for the truck. Even the peeling and fading paint is an important part of its history. Woolley said that in the right light conditions, years – if not – decades of lettering and signs can be seen on the doors and along the side rails.
Many of the exterior elements, like the lights, have a vintage outer housing but very modern insides. For instance, the taillights are from another Chevy or General Motors vehicle, but have been installed with LEDs to make the truck much easier to see at night from behind. Even the headlights are bright modern bulbs. Woolley and his father built this truck to be driven, which means having a fair amount of modern components for the sake of convenience.
What the truck may lack in pristine paint and period correct parts, it more than makes up in outright reliability. In the 160,000 miles that Woolley has put on the truck, he’s only had a handful of breakdowns. Where some collectors would possibly be looking for a tow to get them home to find a vintage replacement part, Woolley can pop into the nearest auto parts store and quickly find what he needs.
Rough, but loveable
Another advantage of letting nature take its course with the exterior finish of the 1936 GMC tow truck, is a fearlessness about people getting closer look or taking pictures. Woolley has taken the truck to a number of car shows and always draws a crowd. Unlike anyone else at those show and shines, he doesn’t worry about fingerprints on the paint or the occasional scrap of a belt buckle.
“I pull into a car show and get a crowd around me right away,” Woolley said. “It’s hilarious. But I enjoy that.”
In addition to a burgeoning career in the entertainment industry, Woolley uses the truck to tow cars for friends or to pick up his own project vehicles. Stardom aside, he has no intention of changing the way he drives classic truck or softening the way he drives it.
“It’s had a rough life and it’s not going to get any easier,” Woolley said. “It’s a work truck and should be used like a work truck.”
Do you have a special vehicle, project car or something just very rare and cool in your garage? We want to see it, take photos of it and tell your story. If you would like to see your vehicle profiled in a Custom Cruise Friday post, send a few photos and pertinent information to Don Wheaton Brand Manager Melina Kawecki by email, email@example.com.