Cold Start: Just Hear Me Out About GMC Cabover Truck Hatchback

Cs Gmchatch

I don’t really know what it is about these old flat-faced GMC big rig tractors that I find so appealing when relieved of their trailers, but it’s something. Maybe it’s the odd proportion of large height to short length, forming an almost square shape? Maybe it’s the peculiar, bemused-looking face on these things? I’m not sure exactly, but whenever I see one driving sans-trailer, I think about what it would be like to turn one into a little everyday-use car, a hatchback, like what you see I’ve sketched above there.

It would be kind of like those Freightliner truck-based SUVs; remember those stupid things?


Like that, but going for something smaller and more humble, less opulent and, while still huge, it can fit into a smallish footprint, kind of like a full-grown dog trying to cram itself into a puppy bed.

Also, look how incredible the dash area is in these GMC Astros, like the 1972 one I drew over up top there:


Sure, if you want to get handsy with your passenger, this design makes it tough, but you can get these with a bunk in back, so I suppose there’s an opportunity to make up for that in there.

If anyone has one of these and is looking for a suitable project, I hereby authorize you to use my sketch there to create a fiberglass hatchback rear for one of these, and come up with the world’s tallest compact hatchback.

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37 Responses

  1. Interesting idea. How do you handle the hinged front to stop all the crap in the back coming forward?

    I am thinking a divider than can be closed off to allow the cab to move, open for max hauling.

    1. If you want one and you intend to park it at your home which is in a typical suburb you might want to check to see if that’s allowed.
      I knew a guy who bought a GMC 5500 with a flat/stake bed on the back that he used as his daily. Got into a dick measuring contest with the woman from Code Enforcement. Turns out if you push them far enough they can put you in jail over it.

            1. As someone who has been to the Middle East, I can tell you that yes, they do. The country I visited, however, had a %100 tax on all cars, new and used, when bought by a foreigner – even foreigners who moved to the country. So expect to pay twice what any vehicle is worth to buy it.

              But, that said, there was a great variety of vehicles from pretty much the entire world. Plenty of the usual American and Japanese cars, but also a ton of Korean cars, including brands like Daewoo which barely sold anything stateside and Ssangyong which never sold vehicles in America. I even saw the occasional Indian trucks, and got to drive a Lada Samara. Mercedes of all ages were the most interesting though, there were a TON of classic Mercedes everywhere with many being in surprisingly good shape. BMWs were also all over the place, and lots of them were modified. There were also a handful of Chinese cars here and there.

    2. 110% stupid.
      The bed sides and floor are so high it renders the bed difficult to use and its massive size makes it wildly less maneuverable than a normal pick-up without any real additional cargo space. The super tall bed size also prevents you from using a gooseneck trailer and making good use of the greater towing capacity over a normal truck.

      It is the absolute perfect picture of a truck made to bolster poor self image.

  2. What I always liked about these guys is how surprisingly spry and quick they seem, sans trailer.

    We’re used to seeing that locomotive style propulsion when they’re trailered, so I always enjoy watching one just take off (combined with the rapid shifting), as if the driver is enjoying the lightness too. Like when your dog tear-asses around the yard after taking a big one.

  3. Drove a few of these over the years- It was an inspired design for it’s time with the excellent visibility but fell apart on the details. The worst riding were the UPS version because the rubber cab mounts failed and were replaced by solid steel, even with the rubber mounts they were pretty rough. Only good one I drove was a tandem with air ride, was a Ryder rental and with a 350 Cummins it moved along pretty well too. The tall windshield is a mixed blessing as the defrosters are poorly designed so it’s hard to defrost that tall windshield.

    I’ll agree with a previous commenter and recommend an Isuzu crew cab instead- Seating for 7 or swap the back seat for a bunk with all the mod cons and still plenty of cargo space behind the cab.

      1. Not quite, but not far off. Depends on the state if it can be driven on a car license based on weight and how it’s been titles. No state requires a cdl specifically to use air brakes BUT if you have a CDL you have to test with an air brake truck or you get an air brake restriction on your license.

        Sauce: had to get my air brake equipped school bus titled and did the research to be safe. I’ll dig it up if you’re interested.

  4. You know, Torch, that’s actually not a bad idea. I mean deleting the fifth wheel hitch is stupid, obviously. then you just have a 4MPG (no, seriously) hatchback. But that’s a very solvable problem – just extend the frame. These trucks were literally designed to have sections of frame bolted together to offer a variety of configurations from 4×2 all the way out to 10×8 with dual-speed differentials, so it’s not like you’re getting a plasma torch and a welder here. Just really big nuts and bolts.

    So you take your Astro 95, stretch it out to a LWB 6×4 with full air ride, and add a removable aero cover to the fifth wheel receiver that integrates with the body lines of the hatchback. Do your monthly groceries while bobtailing with the cavernous hatch, then hook up 60,000lbs of cargo to go somewhere. And of course, it’s gotta have the 8V92TTA. (Triplecharged – twin turbos AND a blower!)

  5. What we all need is more cabover vehicles.

    The new Ford Maverick Pickup should of been a cabover pickup. Hell, it hardly turns tighter than some current production F-150s FFS.

    Cab Over and Cab Forward are both the best automobile layouts.

    1. Isuzu’s N-series trucks have been & are offered in a 7(!)-seater crew cab, and they maintain the cab-lifting feature. There’s obviously a size and weight difference between that old GMC’s and the Isuzu’s cabs, but I imagine it can’t be that much of a delta. Especially considering those old trucks were one solid, low-hanging branch away from opening up like a box made of aluminum foil.

  6. I’ve actually SEEN a rig a bit like this back in the day on the free festival scene in the UK. Artic tractor with half a caravan bodged on the back. It was one of the less alarming vehicles around, weirdly.

    1. If you want to be horrified, look at pretty much any Skoolie build. Amateurs plus large commercial vehicles plus cabinetmaking plus architecting plus structural engineering equals fail every time. They are the embodiment of “a grinder and paint make me the welder I ain’t.”

      But to completely destroy your faith in humanity, just look up self-built toterhomes. This truck frame bolts together, so I’ll just cut inch thick steel behind the bolts and weld in another section in my backyard. Speaker wire’s good for 12V, so I’ll just hook it up direct to the batteries. And hey, plywood’s structural, right? I mean they use it for the floors so it’s good for walls too obviously!

      1. There are most definitely some hokey Skoolies out there, but there are some incredibly well thought out ones that take far more into account than just sticking cabinets in. Far higher quality and superior construction to any Rv you could buy.

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