Since the invention of the automobile, light-duty service vehicles such as flat-deck trucks, pickups, sedan deliveries and even hybrid car/truck models such as the Ford Ranchero and Chevrolet El Camino have been important tools for small businesses.
One vehicle that proved to be especially useful is the sedan delivery. Basically a station wagon without windows and rear seating, these handy rigs afforded a large open interior space with room for larger items and allowed the driver easy access through a liftgate. Under cover of the steel roof, contents were also kept out of the elements, and with softer spring rates than a truck, these vehicles offered a smoother ride for both cargo and driver.
Jim and John Tennant of Piston Ring Service grew up in the auto parts and service business. Their father James Tennant Sr. founded the company in 1953. Suffice it to say, the Tennant brothers have seen many delivery vehicles come and go over the years. Today, as leaders of their family business, Jim and John look back on a time where these simple delivery vehicles helped build the company.
James A. Tennant Sr. was a machinist by trade and started out with a small 240 squarefoot machine shop at 127 Garry St. Now, 63 years later, Piston Ring Service meets the needs of the professional automotive installer with a 200,000 sq. ft. warehouse carrying an inventory exceeding five million parts. With more than 45 corporate and franchise automotive outlets, Piston Ring ensures those parts meet intended destinations with fast delivery — helping service facilities get customers’ vehicles safely back on the road.
Piston Ring also offers auto enthusiasts, private restorers and backyard mechanics maintaining their own vehicles the same parts availability and expertise at all of its locations throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Northwest Ontario.
As a testament to the days gone by, Piston Ring has amassed a collection of service vehicles displayed at car shows and throughout its locations. The display the company presented at Piston Ring’s 42nd annual World of Wheels car show held last month at the RBC Convention Centre featured, among other beauties, a 1959 Chevrolet Biscayne Sedan Delivery.
These vehicles traditionally had low production numbers and tended to be used, abused and cast aside as less desirable models for a restoration. In fact, most languished rusting in fields and gave many of their useable parts to other vehicles. Of the 5,266 Biscayne Sedan Delivery models produced in 1959, they are a rarity today and finding one in driveable condition, or even a restoration candidate, is like looking for a needle in a haystack.
In 2009, Piston Ring staffer Adrien Poirier was in Devils Lake, N.D. at a weekend car show that included a classic vehicle auction. He spotted the Biscayne delivery and thought it would be a good fit for the Piston Ring fleet. He attempted to contact Jim Tennant and let him know about the vehicle.
A restored, driveable vehicle, it had a new 350 cubic-inch V-8 engine, a Turbo-350 automatic transmission, air conditioning, disc brakes and newer wheels and tires. The only drawback was it had a deep metallic purple paint job. On some vehicles this colour works very well, but on the large slab sided delivery, it looked more like the dinosaur Barney. It also had some ill fitting bucket seats that looked totally out of place, but overall it would be a great car for cruising.
After several more failed attempts to contact Tennant — Poirier took the plunge and bid on the car himself. Six minutes later he was the winning bidder. Minutes following the auction, Tennant called back, and after hearing of the purchase, he simply commented, “we’ll see when it gets here.”
Once the car was back in Winnipeg, Tennant’s initial reaction to the purple monstrosity was less than positive. It turned out the vehicle had already been spotted online for sale weeks earlier and was actually passed over because of its awful colour. “At the time we were really looking for a ’59 El Camino and not a Sedan Delivery,” said Tennant.
The ugly purple duckling sat collecting dust in the corner of the shop for a few months and there was even talk of selling it off, until Rob Reimer from Piston Ring’s Car Care shop decided to take it for a ride home to Stonewall. The following day Reimer shared with Tennant that even though the car was less than attractive, it ran great.
Tennant determined the car was a keeper and decided to properly finish the interior with a correct bench seat and new upholstery. He also had the car repainted in red and white and adorned with Piston Ring graphics. What rolled out of the paint shop was a clean and bright vehicle. The new paint scheme complimented the body lines, something the drab purple hid in shadows.
Today, the 1959 Chevy Biscayne Sedan Delivery has become one of the workhorses of the Piston Ring fleet of classics. No trailer queen here — it’s driven everywhere and used regularly at corporate barbeques and trade shows.
Fairy tales aside, this is one ugly duckling that did turn into a swan. One every car enthusiast can truly appreciate.