Oldest known complete Peterbilt ever built restored, on display

| June 18, 2014
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This 1939 Peterbilt 260 was the first-ever complete Peterbilt built for a trucking company. It was just one of 15 made that year by the truck maker. In recent years, it’s been restored, and it is now on display at Peterbilt’s Texas headquarters.

The oldest known complete and operable Peterbilt, a 1939 Model 260 — just one of 15 built by the truck maker that year — is currently on display at Peterbilt’s facility in Denton, Texas.

But the rig hasn’t always had such top-notch treatment: Nearly 20 years ago, it sat in an Arizona desert, neglected and inoperable.

That changed, however, when Bob Dean, who runs a restoration shop in Baton Rouge, La., happened upon the old Pete in 1996. “I wanted to do this one because it was special,” he says.

After researching and finding out 1939 was Peterbilt’s transition year and realizing how unique the truck’s egg crate grille was, Dean decided to make the trip to Arizona.

39_Scan_C pre restoration

Restroer Bob Dean found the ’39 Pete in a desert in Arizona in the condition pictured here.

“When we got it, it was a pile of rust,” Dean says of the truck, which was originally built in 1939 for Kentner Truck Lines in San Francisco. “Everything you touch — you can’t buy. You have to figure out how they made it 75 years ago,” he adds. His team rebuilt the truck’s door jambs, hood and grille, for example.

He says that Peterbilt’s records helped the restoration process: “Peterbilt kept excellent records. They had the bill sheet [for the truck]. It gave me some kind of idea.”

Some of the biggest challenges in the restoration were the engine (a first-series Cummins) and the grille, Dean says. One of his restoration team members traveled to the Hays Antique Truck Museum in California to examine similar grilles.

A jeweler made a rubber mold of the grille, allowing the team to restore it. All told, the grille cost about $25,000.

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And the grille is what caught Peterbilt’s eye: The truck maker’s engineering lab manager John Myers contacted Dean about buying the grille, but the two ended up making a deal on the truck.

After Dean’s team put “hundreds of hours” of work into the 260, he says, the truck was about 90 percent restored by his team. Peterbilt purchased the truck in late 2013 and has since put over 200 hours of work into the truck, Myers says. “We were very excited when we found it. Nobody’s going to take better care of it than us.” 

Though the Peterbilt team had to make most parts and materials from scratch, they had a guide to help. “Luckily, we have a 1940 Pete. It was restored 25 years ago when information was much more available. The guys who restored it were the ‘old timers’ then.” Myers says that the rig is “incredible” and “true to its time,” making the restoration process easier.

One of the challenges Peterbilt encountered during restoration was replacing the truck’s missing emergency brake. After searching, they eventually found one in Courtland, Calif., on a 1951 Peterbilt.

The only known Peterbilt that is older than this truck is owned by the Fremont (Calif.) Fire Department, but it was not manufactured as a complete truck, according to Peterbilt.

Since its restoration, the truck was showcased at the Mid-America Trucking Show, where guests could take pictures with the vehicle and have the photos uploaded to Peterbilt’s Facebook page. Myers says he’s sure the truck will make more trucking show visits in the future.

“It’s where it’s supposed to be,” Dean says.

  • James

    What a beautiful truck!! VERY well done,gentlemen!

  • RedNekTex

    Sweet!!

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    If that Pete had been anywhere but the desert, it would have crumbled into a pile of rusty powder years ago.

    Nice job on the restro.

  • Michelle

    Awesome! Peterbilts keep their class, regardless of age.

  • Pingback: The Oldest Peterbilt Ever Known Was Restored And The Results Are Amazing.

  • Fageol

    You might know that one or another part for that old 260 came from Courtland Truck Works. It’s a neat place that specializes in restoring and fixing old Petes.

    I used to run from school to the old Fageol/Peterbilt plant in Oakland to prepare myself for the basketball team.

    Once in a while used a 1950 vintage 3 axle Pete owned by George Pritz, a grain dealer between the Southern Pacific tracks and Ohio Ave. in Richmond, CA. I think that it had those highly-prized, in those days, Mack rear ends.

    Props to the guys in Louisiana and to the folks in Denton.

  • Robert

    That’s awesome. I’ve been trucking 30 yes and never saw one until now.

  • Daniel Perry

    Sweet resore job to all involved. Even back then Pete had the good taste to put a good Cummins engine in.

  • Big R Phillips

    Nice…real nice!

  • Thomas Webster

    Sweet

  • Brian Pruitt

    u are jelous of folks that drive any truck except a swift Volvo just as I said in the cowtruck debate hell dude I still got old low window cabs in my bone yard that are in good shape but u jost got a hard on for guys and gals that drive class you must not have any class card carrring magot

  • Mike64

    Come on Overdrive let’s see a few more photos of this tractor. You seem to have an over abundance of ugly hot rod truck photos on here, how about a few of the restoration process, engine and interior of this awesome restoration! Bob Dean has to be a genius of his work!!

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    Sorry about your brain damage.

  • Brian Pruitt

    at least i got one to damage

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  • Myworkisdonehere

    It would appear not.

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