Car carriers of yesteryear

In this photo essay, Mac’s Motor City Garage features the special trucks and trailers used to bring new cars from factory to market. 


In days gone by, it was a special moment at the dealership when the carrier pulled up to deliver a fresh load of shiny new cars. Everything came to a stop. It wasn’t unusual for the dealer’s entire workforce—from the salesmen to the mechanics to the office staff—to walk out to the curb to look over and critique the latest models and colors. Even the civilians passing by might stop to take in the spectacle.

Here at Mac’s Motor City Garage, we never got over all that. For us, even the car carriers themselves have always held a powerful fascination. It’s time for another look at these special trucks and trailers—especially some of the more unusual examples.


For decades, one very popular rig was the four-place or quad trailer, capable of toting two cars on the floor and another pair of cars on the upper deck. Many featured steel bodywork to provide a bit of style as well as some protection from the elements. Here’s a load of ’55 Buick hardtops on their way to the store behind a short-nose GM tractor.


Automobile Shippers Inc. was a successful Detroit firm that did a very good business with the Motor City automakers, Chrysler brands in particular. Here’s a brood of Chryslers on one of its signature orange rigs—the same color used on the company’s Indy 500 racers. Auto Shippers boss Eugene Casarroll also founded Dual Motors, creator of the Dual-Ghia.


As this 1949 Chevrolet is loaded, we get a glimpse at the trailer interior. Note the riveted, semi-unit construction. The ad signage on the adjoining trailer reads, “Chevrolet—the most beautiful buy of all!”


This setup run by Commercial Carriers Inc. displays postwar high fashion with art deco and streamline moderne elements incorporated in the trailer body.  A Dodge cabover pulls the cargo—four ’46 Plymouths.


Naturally, if trucking companies could engineer a way to carry more vehicles than the customary four, their profit margins rose accordingly. However, varying local regulations and handling issues often made that difficult. Here’s one solution. Truck experts say this prototype was built by/for Commercial Carriers, Inc. The Dodge truck cab is relocated directly above the doghouse and engine, providing a few more feet of cargo floorplan.


CCI’s perfected version (if we can call it that) of the Dodge-based, custom-made rig was named the Skyscraper. Two cars rode on the truck chassis with another three on the tag-along trailer.


Here’s another CCI-Dodge Skyscraper. If nothing else, down-the-road visibility must have been excellent.


This unique job is the DeArco Auto Transport, a joint venture of Ford-controlled Dealers Transportation, Inc. and the GM-centric Arco Auto Transportation. Based on a Ford F8 chassis and cab, it carried three vehicles on the main chassis and two more in the articulated rear section.


The corrugated metal bodywork and radically elevated cab give the DeArco an unusual look, to say the least. However, articulated back half aside, the chassis was fairly conventional with a five-speed gearbox and two-speed rear axle.


The same can’t be said for this Convoy Transport rig—it’s a strange ranger in every way. Where one would expect to find the engine, under the cab floor between the front wheels, there’s a cuddy cabin arrangement with a sleeper. A horizontal 200 hp diesel is mounted amidships in bus fashion more or less, driving tandem rear axles.

Note the lack of any grille opening in the front of the modified cab. A pair of radiators are nestled behind the front wheels. In this photo, seven Nashes are stowed on the rig’s hinged racks. Cost to build the custom-made carrier was said to be $21,000; number built (beyond this single example) is unknown.


The 1956 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser show car got its own single-car carrier to roll around in, with clear sides to show off the concept’s flashy looks. The big Ford C-series cabover tractor has been treated to some custom features as well, including a chrome grille and front bumper and painted whitewalls.


Here’s another carrier operated by Convoy Transport, but far more conventional than the mid-engined setup above. Three 1960 Falcons ride on the truck chassis with five more on the trailer.


By the early ’60s the basic pattern for modern car carriers had emerged, as shown by this 1962 Chevrolet cabover tractor pulling a fifth-wheel trailer. Charlton Transport of Oshawa, Ontario, the home of a mammoth GM plant, operated this rig, which carries a load of new Chevies and curiously, one Oldsmobile.


22 thoughts on “Car carriers of yesteryear

  1. Special features like this keep bringing me back to Mac’s Motor City Garage. It was great to see all the special rigs even though I don’t remember ever seeing them in person. I did, however, spend countless hours as a kid watching new cars being unloaded at the dealerships that would tolerate me. Time well spent.

  2. I spent 30 years in automotive retail and from 1972 to current day car carriers haven’t change much at all. I wonder what happened to that custom Mercury Turnpike Cruiser carrier?

  3. My Dad drove a car carrier for E&L Transport in Dearborn (Fords) starting in the late 1950’s. Initially, however, his job at E&L was driving partial school bus chassis from Dearborn down to Lima, Ohio where the bodies were added. Since there was no body sheet metal beyond the cowl area it wasn’t too bad sitting there behind the wheel on a big wooden box of parts during summer months. In winter, however, not so good.

  4. When I was a kid in Milwaukee Wis. In the 60’s I used to ride my bike to the Rambler body plant on E. Capitol Dr.( now a Wal-Mart)& I’d watch the car haulers haul 6 finished bodies to final the assembly plant in Kenosha. They hauled them on 2 tier open flatbeds, pulled by IH cabovers. One went by every 5 to 10 minutes, I believe the co. was Kenosha Auto Transit(KAT). Great stuff here, looked like quite a climb for the drivers. Thanks

      • Good observation. The 50 didn’t have the 3 middle bars in the lower portion and the outside bars got notches. I think whoever wrote the article missed the year being a 49 and not a 50.

    • My dad drove for KAT. He was in the Kenosha yard. I have so many wonderful memories of watching him load his trailer and eventually helping him. While it is a very difficult life I still remember it fondly.

      • my dad worked at the Kenosha yard expediting the cars getting ready for shipment , they were short handed in 1976 so I was able to work with him parking these cars for several weeks

  5. I remember that the truck towing the auto transport trailer needed to be the same make as the vehicles that they hauled. It was very disturbing to see a carrier pulled by a tractor made my another make….i.e. a GMC tractor pulling a load of Fords, Mercury, Lincolns. Of course we wanted to talk to the drivers as they worked, but they seemed to be too busy. A real question of why for a young boy of the time. New car introduction day was looked forward to all year.

    • Hey Bud, I agree, that was a little odd, you would think that a load of Fords would be pulled by a Ford, maybe that’s why the drivers didn’t talk, because they were upset they had to pull a load of cars that didn’t match their truck. People were VERY brand loyal in those days. New car day was a very important time back then, now, who cares.

      • All new redesigned cars do appear but model changes today last anywhere from 6 to 10 years. Most people aren’t even aware when an all new model comes out. Not much fanfare like the old days unless your a gear head like me and keep abreast of what’s going on in the automobile industry on a constant basis.

  6. Unloading and loading cars onto some of those trailers would have been an art form. There would have been nothing worse than putting dents and scratches on a new car even before it reached the dealership!

  7. I remember back in 1963 I came upon a carrier unloading a new batch of 1963 Galaxie 500 fastbacks and as he was driving a beautiful burgundy one down the ramp from the top rack the ramp collapsed on one side and the car and he tumbled onto it’s roof destroying that great looking brand new Galaxie 500. The driver wasn’t hurt but the car I think was a total loss.

    • Wow Jim, the car haulers worst nightmare, but I especially feel bad for whoevers car that was, thinking, my car should be here any day now. thanks for the story.

      • Howard I think that was a common happening in those days. Maybe not as severe as what I witnessed but carrier damage to new cars was not uncommon, even today.

  8. Wow, what a great collection. The car carriers today are quite different. Most of the drivers we work with are younger and we have never heard a story about the old times of auto transport. It is always heartwarming to see photos and stories about old car haulers. We would want to write a story about the old days, I hope it’s ok we use some of these picture?


  9. The Fall new car showings were always a big event in my small hometown. My Dads friend was the Ford dealer who borrowed our garage to ‘hide’ one of his models, so I got a preview.
    People would line up to see the new cars. One guy was always first in line for the refreshments. One year the dealer had the local baker put a rubber fruit jar ring inside a ‘special’ extra large donut – he thought it was extra chewy.

  10. I have a picture of my dad in Detroit with a new Transporter and S-10 or 15 series truck/ mini blazers, when they first came out. Can I submit my picture ?

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