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Custom 383-cube 1954 Divco 200 van

By Dave Carey | Photos: Daniel Ward, 05 Aug 2018 Features

custom Divco van

Ignore the LOW FAT plates - this Divco delivery van is full of creamy goodness

This article on Joe's van was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Street Machine magazine

YOUR hobby is dominated by The Big Three. GM, Ford and Chrysler products make up the bulk of the street machines we own and love but sometimes there’s a guy who wants to stand up and be unique. Sometimes there’s a guy who wants to stand up and say: ‘I’m doing something different.’ Sometimes there’s a guy who wants to stand up behind the wheel of his milk delivery van and go for a Chev 383ci-powered blast.

custom divco van rearCustom airbrushing features from front to back, courtesy of Chris from Kipart Design. Although entirely reconstructed from fresh steel, Joe elected to retain the Divco’s unique rear wheelarch details

Okay, that’s not true; Joe Bauer’s 1954 Divco 200 has had a few modifications, not least of which is a driver’s seat, though there wasn’t one installed at the factory.

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Joe’s snub-nose van is very different from the day it rolled off the line, but being as rare as the proverbial rocking horse poop here in Australia, much of his work may go unnoticed.

custom Divco vanLet’s start with the body; being a refrigerated van, it was exposed to plenty of moisture over its 59 years and when it arrived from the USA, Joe found that rust had rendered much of the body irreparable. The sides, roof and entire rear had to be fabricated out of fresh steel, and while they were at it, the roof was re-profiled for a curvier look and brought closer to Earth by more than 40 centimetres. The lower part of the body was sectioned almost as severely, and then the whole lot was channelled over the chassis by four inches.

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Despite — or more likely because — of all that, the van looks remarkably well-proportioned.

custom divco van frontSteve from Oz Rods was the main man on the metal. The bi-fold side doors are totally new, as are the rear doors. Up front, the grille was handmade from stainless steel, the headlights are new and the bonnet had a bloody big hole cut in it. It really is easier to ask how much is original. The answer is the rear door handles, the lower A-pillars, the front guards and the bonnet.

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Oh, and the chassis. That survived thanks to a thorough coating of old engine oil protecting it.

custom Divco van interiorCustom leather trim adorns the walls and ceiling; both front seats are swivelling captain’s chairs

Inside, Steve fabricated new side, rear and roof frames, new floors and sub-floors, new wheel tubs and a custom firewall to make space for that blown 383 Chevrolet small-block. Surprisingly, the Divco took some convincing to swallow the Chev; entirely new K-arms had to be fabricated.

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Originally fitted with a four-cylinder Continental truck motor that powered it to a giddy top speed of 28mph, almost anything would’ve improved the performance but when you’re creating an elite streeter from a truck made of rust and stale lactose, why go the easy route?

custom Divco van interior rearThe floor features ostrich leather and stainless steel inserts. The rear seats tilt back at sleepy time

Joe imported the 383ci small-block from the States complete with an 8/71 blower and two 750cfm carbs, and it makes 720hp on pump 98. That’s roughly 16 times the power of the original donk and it’s backed up by a column-shifted Turbo 400 trans with a sensible 2500rpm stall and a fully floating nine-inch running 4:11 gears in a totally custom sheet-metal case.

That may seem like overkill but the Chev donk has some serious rolling resistance to overcome: up front, the Divco runs 18x12 custom alloy rims, while the rears are 20x20! Rubber wrapping those rears is Mickey Thompson 20x22. That’d be 575/55 R20 in tyre-speak — possibly the widest rubber outside of an open-cut mine.

custom Divco van engineDespite the van’s size, fitting the blown small-block into the engine bay was no mean feat — the Oz Rods boys had to sit it in place, then massage the rest of the van to fit around it

A big van with a big engine and big wheels demands big brakes so both ends feature drilled and slotted rotors squeezed by six-spot Vari Racing calipers up front and four-pots behind.

Speaking of big, the photos don’t do it justice; the Divco is no mini-truck. It weighs more than two tonnes, which meant engineering the supercharger and airbag suspension wasn’t held up by red tape. In this case, big is definitely beautiful!

custom Divco van engineSeating was another matter; Joe had to install some first. The Divco was designed to be driven standing up but with 720 horses on tap, and a young family to consider, that was never going to fly.

Joe and wife Jaimie each get a swivelling captain’s chair behind the fully fabricated 1960 Chevrolet Impala dashboard; rear passengers enjoy a wide bench with three integrated full-sized buckets, which can be folded flat. With ample room for five, the van is comfortable and versatile.

custom Divco van seatsAnd luxurious; Italy has 14 fewer cows thanks to this amazing interior by Image Trimming, and it includes under-floor storage drawers, a 12-volt Esky, Clarion head unit, two 10-inch Fusion subs, four six-inch subs, two amplifiers and a bunch of speakers, plus cameras front, left and right.

The floor, sides and roof feature custom silver leather graphics that mirror the exterior’s custom airbrushing. Bruce at Oz Rods reports that the Divco soaked up 54 litres of House Of Kolor custom Champagne and Tangerine paint, 110 litres of thinners and 12 coats of clear.

custom divco van dashWhile the build was handled by Oz Rods, Joe put in plenty of hours himself; having a hand in every aspect of the build meant plenty of nights in the shed, though mates Brendon and Dean often kept him company.

You’d think all the hard work means the van’s become a trailer queen, but you’d be wrong. Sure, it scored a silver medal for Body & Paint at MotorEx but Joe and his family have already hit up the local drive-in and even been camping in it!

Divco van beforeWithout Jaimie’s patience and support, Joe’s dream would never have materialised; not only did she have her hands full with their three-year-old daughter Khloe, but a son arrived during the build. Perhaps that’s the greatest thing about this van — it’s a family wagon and Joe has just picked up a pair of kiddie seats — re-trimmed to match, of course.

WHAT CO?

DIVCO emblemDIVCO — Detroit Industrial Vehicles COmpany — was established in 1926 specifically to design and build multi-stop delivery trucks. During its 60 years, Divco made several variants, including cab-over vans, forward-control buses and refrigerated trucks like Joe’s 200 model. While his Divco was built in 1954, the same basic model was in production from 1939 until 1986! Designed to deliver milk door-to-door, the driver stood behind the steering wheel with major controls close to hand. The throttle could be set just above idle so the van would continue down the road while the driver dashed off to deliver the milk. This meant that if you were run over by a Divco, you’d continue to be run over by it until the driver returned to the cab.

custom Divco van onroadJOE BAUER
1954 DIVCO 200

Paint: House of Kolor Champagne & Tangerine

ENGINE
Block: Chev 383ci
Intake: Quickfuel 750cfm carbs x2
Pistons: JE
Conrods: Eagle
Crankshaft: Eagle
Heads: Racing Head Services
Ignition: MSD 6AL
Exhaust: Hooker extractors with twin 31/5-inch stainless system
Radiator: PWR radiator with twin 10-inch thermo fans

DRIVELINE
Gearbox: Turbo 400
Converter: 2500rpm stall
Diff: Sheet-metal fully floating 9in, 4:11 gears

UNDERCARRIAGE
Brakes: Drilled and slotted discs all ’round; Vari racing six-piston calipers (f), four-piston calipers (r), remote master cylinder
Suspension: Pedders shocks, custom airbags, custom brass bushes (f&r)

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims:
Custom-made billets, 18x12 (f), 20x20 (r)
Rubber: Mickey Thompson, 18x14 (f), 20x22 (r)