Photography by Dave Cruikshank
Detroit Industrial Vehicles Company–Divco–produced a lineup of trucks from 1926 until 1986, that saw extensive use in various commercial roles. Perhaps the most recognizable among these was the Divco Model U delivery truck, a small gas-powered hauler than was introduced by the company in 1937. Designed and patented by Divco’s John Nicol, the Model U debuted with an all-steel body, an Chrysler Airflow-esque nose, integrated headlights, and a surprisingly stylish, flowing aesthetic from front to back.
Riding on a 100.75-inch wheelbase and motivated by a 38 horsepower Continental gas engine, the Model U was produced by Divco for nearly five decades with almost no significant changes to the design. With its extensive use in milk delivery services, it became a common sight for many families in neighborhoods all over America throughout the 20th century.
Looking to bring something a little bit unusual to last year’s SEMA show, the crew from House of Kolor selected a Divco Model 13 (a variant of the Model U) for the job and enlisted the help of Las Vegas restoration shop Count’s Kustoms to help bring their concept to life.
The 2017 SEMA Show wasn’t the Divco truck’s first reintroduction into the world since its days as a service truck. As it turns out, this particular Model 13 had been sitting in a boneyard for decades before the team at Jus Cuz Customs out of Edmonton, Alberta rescued it in 2012 for their next project.
Not The Divco’s First Rodeo
“I told him I was looking for something a little bit different and he said, “Buddy, have I got the car for you!” I come across this truck and the first thing I think of is that bad blind date you go on – you’ve got to be kidding me. I wandered around the yard checking to see if there was anything else, and finally I came back to this thing, pushed some junk out of the way, sat in it and just started laughing.”
I wandered around the yard checking to see if there was anything else, and finally I came back to this thing, pushed some junk out of the way, sat in it and just started laughing. – Mitch Peacock, Jus Cuz Customs
Peacock had a revelation. “The idea was to find something we could use as a billboard on wheels,” he continued. “Then the dreams just sort of started stretching – why don’t we try and get this thing to the SEMA show?”
And with that, the Divco Model 13’s fate was sealed. Peacock and the rest of the Jus Cuz Customs team embarked on a ground up restoration of the truck, pulling it down to the bare frame to get the body sorted out while the chassis got its own special attention.
“We helped Mitch wrangle up a crew of talent – Nub from Nub Graphix, airbrush artist Mike Learn and Steve DeMan of Kolor Kings,” says Craig Robatzek of House of Kolor. “We got this team of misfits together, and we were able to get it done and put into the 2013 SEMA show. At that time the truck was done in green, mostly metal flake and pearl base coat with kind of a lowrider theme.”
There was no shortage of fabrication work to be done to the truck, and not just to make the new hardware fit. “The body was pretty rusted out,” Craig explains. “They used to haul ice in the back of those trucks, so they’d rust from the inside out. It was basically a shell.”
Along with dealing with the rust issues, Mitch’s team smoothed out the signal lights, sectioned the quarter panels to accommodate the big wheels, fabricated engine mounts, body mounts, and bumper brackets, and gave the truck a new floor, roll pan, and added body lines to the bi-folding doors on the side add some flow to the overall aesthetic.
“Because they wanted to put horsepower in it, they also had to beef up the platform,” Craig notes. “So they boxed in the frame and then hand-made cross members. They welded in heavy-duty suspension, along with a cross member from a C-10 truck to accommodate a GM LS engine and put rack and pinion steering in it. The frame was notched an additional five inches to allow for greater suspension travel, too.”
The truck’s low stance was provided by an Air Lift suspension system, while motivation comes from a 6.2-liter E-Rod LS2 hooked to a 700R4 four-speed automatic transmission. Power gets to the rear wheels by a 9-inch rear end, while stopping power is provided by Wilwood disc brakes up front and a pair of drums in the rear. The big hoops were custom made by Intro Wheels.
And that’s essentially how the Divo appeared at SEMA in 2013. But the build story didn’t end there.
House Of Kolor and Count’s Kustoms
“Fast forward to 2016,” Craig recalls. “I was in [House of Kolor founder] Jon Kosmoski’s shop and he had a picture on his wall of a panel truck that was done by hot rod artist Dave Bell. It was a cartoon rendering. I asked Jon what the story was behind it. He told me that in 1968 Dave Bell had done the rendering up and gave it to him. Jon thought it was really cool, and they had talked, sort of jokingly, about one day doing a real vehicle up based on that cartoon.”
Craig says that years went by and life got in the way of that idea ever coming to fruition. “But Jon became interested again when I asked about the picture – I agreed that it was really cool. I said that, while the rendering was a done-up Anglia panel truck, I knew a guy that had a Divco that was actually pretty similar to this idea. So I called Robert Kwiatkoski, who owns the Divco truck and I said, “Would you be agreeable to the idea of us bringing this Dave Bell cartoon to life with your Divco?” And Robert thought it was the coolest thing.”
I was in Jon Kosmoski’s shop and he had a picture on his wall of a panel truck that was done by hot rod artist Dave Bell. I asked Jon about the story behind it, and he told me that in 1968 Dave Bell had done the rendering up and had given it to him. Jon thought it was really cool, and they had talked, sort of jokingly, about one day doing a real vehicle up based on that cartoon. – Craig Robatzek, House of Kolor
Robatzek started thinking about who would be best suited to take a rendering like the Bell cartoon and make it real. “I immediately though of Ryan from Count’s Kustoms,” he says. “Ryan likes to do kind of whimsical, almost-kitschy-but-cool paint schemes. So I got a hold of Ryan and Danny at Count’s Kustoms – they loved the idea and the history involved with the story.”
With Count’s Kustoms on board, Craig also brought in House of Kolor artists Mike Taylor and Ron Fleenor to assist with the project. “But Ryan and his team at Count’s did 90% of it,” he noted.
Along with the new paintwork, the Count’s Kustom team built LED-backlit interior panels, and added pinstriping along with additional artwork to give the interior theme more continuity with the exterior of the truck.
“Robert put a whole list of things together – he wanted it to be over the top,” Craig says. “We unveiled it at SEMA 2017, and it’s been nothing but a hit ever since. We’ve taken it to the Grand National Roadster Show, and we also took it to Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale and had it on display for the duration of the event, and we’ve already had offers from collectors.”
Craig says it’s the truck’s universal appeal that’s made it such a sensation wherever it goes. “Whether you’re four years old or 90, you have a connection with that vehicle. Kids think it’s fun, while an older person might have seen them as milk trucks back in the day. I’ve heard every milk truck story you can imagine.”
This Divco’s tale isn’t over yet, though. “It’s back at Count’s Kustoms now,” Craig explains. “There’s a few more things we wanted to add to the truck. Behind the rear seats there’s two air tanks for the suspension with a box in-between, and they’re making a piece of art that’s a copy the original rendering, which will be signed by Jon Kosmoski, Ryan Evans, and Danny Koker and installed on top of that box. There’s also some things that I wanted done that I talked to Robert about, a few aesthetic tweaks.”
But don’t worry – hot rod fanatics will get a chance to see the Divco again before too long. “Back to the 50s is supposed to get 13,000 cars this year,” Craig says. “Dave Bell was from Minneapolis, where that show is held, and we’re going to do kind of an ode to Dave at our booth there. We may also bring it to the Divco Club of America convention in New York as well.”
As far as long term plans, that’s still up in the air. “After those shows we’re not sure whether it will go back to Canada or somewhere else,” Craig tells us. “Robert wants to make sure people are able to see the truck. There’s such a cool story behind it, and that’s more important than having it stashed away in a collection.”