A History of the Diamond T Truck
From the web site of Diamond T Classics: “The Cadillac of Trucks” (with minor typos corrected.)
Mack’s direct competitor in the light-duty big-truck field was Diamond T, builder of what many called the “Cadillac of trucks.” Diamond Ts, no matter the size, were never short on style or class. Flowing fender lines, aggressive grilles, rakish cabs-there was simply no way to mistake heavy hauler from the Chicago company founded by C.A. Tilt. “A truck doesn’t have to be homely,” he reportedly said more than once.
According to the same reports, the company name was created when Tilt’s shoe-making father fashioned a logo featuring a big “T” (for Tilt, of course) framed by a diamond, which signified high quality. The younger Tilt built his first motor vehicle, an automobile, in 1905. Regular production of three passenger-car models began two years later. In 1911 a customer requested a truck, an order that convinced Tilt that commercial vehicles represented the best way to make a buck. He immediately traded cars for trucks, and the rest is history. Diamond T’s best year was 1936, when new truck registrations reached 8,750. Roughly a quarter-million Diamond T trucks were built over the company’s storied 56-year history.
White Motor Company bought Diamond T in 1958. The Chicago firm remained an individual division until 1967, when it merged with another White division, Reo, to form Diamond Reo. The Diamond T legacy came to a close as the 1966 model year ended. In its heyday in the 1930s, Diamond T also demonstrated how diverse a big-truck maker could be. Midyear in 1936, the company joined International, Federal, Reo, and Mack as a heavy-duty player in the light-duty game with the three-quarter-ton Model 80. Two versions were offered: the Model 80S (standard) and 80D (deluxe). The deluxe model added an electric clock and jeweled cigar lighter. Model 80 production was brief; it ended midway through 1938. Common estimates claim “a few thousand” were built during that short run.
The Model 80 was then replaced in 1938 by the classic Model 201 Diamond T one-ton. According to 1941 Diamond T paperwork, the “Model 201 is a unique vehicle in the light-duty field. Its all-truck specifications and exceptionally rugged construction set it widely apart from most trucks in this classification because they are commonly passenger car adaptations, which include the use of many units originally designed for passenger car service.” Available as a pickup, panel delivery, or stake truck, the Model 201 shared nothing, save for a touch of style and grace here and there, with any automobile then rolling.
So much of the 201 Diamond T’s muscular makeup will sound familiar: a super tough heavy-duty frame, Lockheed hydraulic brakes, full-floating rear axles, extra-rigid front I-beam axle, and cast-iron spoke wheels. In the latter’s case, 16-inchers were standard (with dual wheels optional), or big 20-inch wheels were available at extra cost.
The 201 ‘s frame differed from its Mack counterpart in that it used a reinforced X-member design for added strength and durability. In the company’s own words, “The exceptional rigidity of the X-type frame promotes longer life for cowl, cab and bodies by its freedom from weaving and distortion. In particular, the common panel body is often racked and weakened at joints and door posts when the conventional type of frame is employed.”
That beefy frame meant more weight. In base chassis form, Diamond T’s one-ton pickup weighed in at 2, 750 pounds. “Model 201 is necessarily built heavier than the usual competition,” continued the Diamond T brochure, “but this additional chassis weight is required to provide its long life and low maintenance cost. It will do its job at a lower cost per mile and per day and for a longer useful life by far than any of the lighter and less rigorously designed vehicles commonly offered in this market.”
Of course, all this added mass, sprung accordingly, in turn meant heavier loads could be hauled. The maximum gross vehicle weight rating was 8,000 pounds. Helping achieve this rating were heavy-duty leaf springs in back that stacked up like a dump truck’s. Each rear spring contained 13 steel leaves.
Supplying the strength to move those heavy loads was a 73-horsepower, 205-ci Hercules L-head six-cylinder (Code QXB-3) with seven main bearings. Postwar Model 201 trucks were fitted with a stronger 91-horsepower, 236-ci Hercules L-head (Code QXLD). A three-speed Warner transmission was typically standard. A granny-low T-9 four-speed was typically optional. The latter was far more plentiful than the former. As much as all this heavy hardware would indicate, Diamond T pickups were by no means no-nonsense work trucks. By nature (or by C.A. Tilt’s mandate) they offered a touch of style right off the lot. In standard form, all Diamond T pickups wore red paint on their wheels and sheet metal. Accent striping was also added to the cab. Inside, prewar deluxe models featured an attractive engine-turned dash panel. This panel was discontinued for postwar models, although the 1946-1949 cab was upgraded from the prewar standard version, and large chrome hubcaps were offered as an option. Deluxe models were only available before the war, while varying paint schemes and options were offered for postwar Diamond Ts. Black, two-tone blue, and two-tone green were the choices. Prewar deluxe treatments included such nice baubles as chrome mirrors, chrome bumpers) and bright stainless-steel windshield frames for the split- V front glass that cranked open on both sides. Along with the clock, cigar lighter, and dash panel mentioned earlier, deluxe customers also got those large chrome full wheel covers for the 16-inch rims, fender-mounted parking lights, a dome light, armrests, chrome mirrors, and a “banjo” steering wheel. The tall 20-inch wheels featured small chrome hubcaps.
Diamond T’s Model 201 stayed on the scene until 1949 in almost identical fashion, save for grille variations and few mechanical modifications. After roughly 7,000 were built, it was finally replaced in 1950 by the Model 222, a big pickup that ended up being an even bigger disappointment.
Times, of course, had changed by then. A need to be so widely diversified in the truck market was no longer as great as it was in the 1930s. Add to that the fact that this country’s mainstream light truck makers, led by Ford and Chevrolet, had also put a headlock on the pickup market with their own brand of limited diversity. New, modem half-tons were joined by a whole host of equally new three-quarter ton and one-ton models, these coming at highly competitive prices and with long features lists.
In 1948, Diamond T put the model 201’s price at $1,275-for the chassis only. A cab cost $215 more, a body $165. Ford’s new F-1 half-ton that year wore a $1,232 price tag. And even Ford’s F-3 “one-ton” (it actually was more like a one-and-a-half-ton truck) still came in a couple hundred less than a fully dressed Diamond T one-ton. The numbers said it all.
Mack logically chose not to return to the civilian light truck market after World War II ended; that Diamond T did was a testament to the company’s willingness to keep a classic legacy alive for its own sake. Those who experienced and loved the model 201 pickup were thankful. The rest simply never knew what they missed.