Photos by Larry D’Argis / Winnipeg Free Press
Bill Brewis rebuilt his father’s 1937 REO half-ton pickup into a stunning cruiser. There are only a few of these vehicles in existence and this one calls Winnipeg home.
By the 1930s, most vehicle manufacturers had a wide range of trucks available to buyers. Large trucks for hauling equipment and freight topped the list, but van and half-ton customers were also well served. For those looking for something exclusive and built to last, there was the REO truck line. Ransom E. Olds had been building not only heavy-duty trucks since 1905, but his pickup line also had a unique style, unmatched by other manufacturers.
For 1937, the REO half-ton had a lot going for it. It had the look of being overbuilt and high quality — that was definitely a plus — but it also wasn’t hard to look at, thanks to some real flowing curves and thoughtful styling. With a 113-inch wheelbase, the REO Speed-Delivery featured a Silver Crown Power, flat-head six-cylinder engine block, with a high nickel content to boost longevity. At 210 cubic inches, it produced a respectable 70 horsepower — ample enough to haul just about anything in its day.
For Bill Brewis of Winnipeg, his first recollection of a REO pickup came in 1952 when his father, Vic, brought home their 1937 REO half-ton pickup. The used truck was a favourite with his father and he used it for the next four decades as a parts hauler.
“My dad had owned and rebuilt many beautiful Cadillacs over the years, but the old REO was always something he loved to drive,” Brewis says. “I always asked if I could have the truck when he was finished with it, so I could build it into a hot rod and he’d just laugh at my idea.”
Good things do indeed come to he who waits, and his father gave him the REO in 1992.
With virtually no parts available in the early ’90s, to carry out an original restoration, the street rod approach was the only way to get the truck back on the road, but Brewis was careful to keep every original part removed from the truck. To start, the frame received a front clip from a mid-’70s Mustang II. With power rack and pinion steering and power front disc brakes from a 1976 mercury Monarch, it was light-years ahead of the original REO front suspension. In the back, Brewis installed a 3.73:1 geared eight-inch Ford rear axle. Wheels are 15-inch chrome smoothies turning Michelin radial tires.
For power, a 350-cubic-inch Chevrolet V-8 and turbo 350 three-speed automatic transmission was chosen from a 1976 Le Mans donor car. Rebuilt with a high-volume oil pump, mild-performance camshaft, aluminum intake manifold and Holley 600-cubic-feet-per-minute four-barrel carburetor and a 12-volt alternator — it’s a reliable power plant. Exhaust exits via Head Hunter tube headers leading to a custom dual exhaust system with Smithy’s glasspack mufflers. Cooling is handled by a custom-built four-core radiator, aluminum water pump and 16-inch electric fan.
The truck cab and box is finished in bright white and accented with a black and grey graphic. Bumpers are custom made nerf bar style fabricated by Chevrier Welding and chrome plated by Riverview Plating. A custom polished diamond-plate container was fabricated for the box, to hold the spare tire, jack, gas can and tool box. A new Ron Francis 12-volt wiring kit eliminated the old six-volt wire harness. Up front, Queen Bee headlights and turn signals from a Harley-Davidson motorcycle mount to the fenders. In the back, there’s dual brake lamps and backup lamps. Dual chrome side-view mirrors are mounted on the doors and the truck received new tinted glass.
“During the restoration, we found the truck had been equipped from the factory with regular plate glass,” Brewis says, “so we were glad to swap it out for real safety glass.”
Inside the cab, Brewis retained the dual push-out front windows. A very effective ventilation feature, used by several manufacturers, it allowed fresh air to enter the cab just above the dashboard. The steering column was sourced from a 1972 GMC van and the seat is from a Ford Ranger pickup. Reupholstered in black vinyl and charcoal velour by Otto Szalai, it features hidden speakers in the headliner for the AM/FM CD player. Other features include two-speed electric windshield wipers, Stewart-Warner gauges and a clock.
Friends Dave Dixon and Barry Stratachuk helped push the three-year restoration, completed in 1995, over the top. Vic Brewis may have had doubts his son would pull it off, but he was more than pleased with the results of the truck’s transformation. Since the truck’s rebuild, Bill, his wife Carol, daughter Sheena and son Will have enjoyed their time with the truck and had several great outings.
Production figures for the REO pickup are fleeting. At the Canadian plant in Oshawa, Ont., only seven half-ton pickups were produced in 1937.
A stone’s throw away at the main plant in Lansing, Mich., production was higher, but the actual numbers are unknown. Today, there are only a few of these trucks left in the world — and one still right here in Winnipeg.
Interior features include a GMC steering column, reupholstered bench seat from a Ford Ranger pickup and a nifty barefoot gas pedal.