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Studebaker offered Caravan tops for pickup trucks from 1937 through the end of the truck production line on 1964 models.  The top for the M5 was introduced along with the truck itself in the fall of 1940.  The versions produced after World War II used frames made from 2024 Alclad aluminum sheet, formed into structural shapes and held together with bolts and nuts.  The cover was made from waterproofed #10 cotton duck in olive drab.  The aluminum frame mounted to the bed with screws and the cover dropped over the frame.  Slats were inserted into the canvas along the sides to provide a way to take the slack out of the canvas and prevent it from blowing off.  Zippers at each side allowed the rear flap to be rolled up and retained with two straps.  With the rear flap up, the driver could see out the cab rear window through a plastic pane in the front of the cover.

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This is a prototype M5 at the factory in 1940 with an early version of the Caravan Top.  Note the leather straps and buckles used to close the back flap.   These were not used on post-war tops

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2R5 from 1949-53 period.

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1960 Champ with narrow "P1" bed.

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1961 Champ with wide "Dodge"  bed.

The tops were made by the C. K. Turk Company of South Bend.    Most of the tops were supplied through the dealers as after-market accessories, though you could order your truck from the factory with one.  In addition, Caravan Tops were sold through auto parts distributors.  Some ads were placed in magazines by Turk to appeal directly to truck owners.  Turk offered a range of Caravan Top models for different brands and sizes of trucks.  While many of the pickup beds were similar - or identical, in the case of Studebaker, Dodge, Plymouth, and Willys since all were made by Budd - there were differences for 6-1/2 ft, 8 ft, and 9 ft beds in addition to width variations.  Tops were offered for Hudson, Ford, Chevy, GMC, and International trucks.  As an option, the height could be 5 ft or 6 ft instead of the standard 4 ft.   The 79 inch long version for the Studebaker 1/2 ton trucks weighed 45 lbs total and cost $89.50 in 1946.

ctop_flyer1.jpg (319470 bytes) <<< Click on this image to see the flyer for the Caravan tops.  Use your BACK button to return here.

Naturally, I wanted one of these covers.  In February, 2003, I drove to Joliet, IL to visit Bob Schmidt.  He has an M5 truck that has been in his family since new and it had a Caravan Top.  The cover had been replaced with one from an NOS kit in the 1960s. 

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Bob Schmidt and his M5 with the Caravan Top mounted.

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The frame of Bob Schmidt's top.

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The front end of the top showing the plastic window.

I took careful measurements of Bob's top, including the details of the frame and the way the canvas cover was sewn.  Later, I made detailed drawings of each part.  The original frame material was 2024-T3 Alclad aluminum sheet in 0.050 inch thickness.  This was common for aircraft skin material in WWII and there may have been a lot of it around after the war.  In order to reduce the cost of fabrication, I used some 6063-T52 soft architectural aluminum 1-1/2 x 1 U-channel for the front and rear curved bows in 1/8 inch thickness, though I was able to trim the length of the 1" legs to the same 5/8" dimension as the originals.  For the curved slats, I used 5052-T0 sheet, but the forming operations work hardened the sheets to about the same strength.  I was lucky to find a sheet metal shop within a mile of my house with equipment capable of duplicating the shapes since they needed special dies and used a 12 ft long press brake for forming.

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My reproduction frame test mounted on my M5 trailer bed.

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A corner of my frame showing the curved slat and bow reinforcing insert, as used on the original.  Turk had adopted the use of nylon-insert locknuts from WWII aircraft construction.


ctop_front.jpg (45596 bytes) Here is the finished frame on my trailer bed.  It needs to have the canvas made.  It will take about 10 yards of heavy military canvas along with some special webbing, zippers, and fittings.  The biggest problem will be to allow for shrinkage of the canvas after it gets wet the first time, as it may shrink about an inch in length.  The slats on the side can adjust for shrinkage in one dimension, but allowance has to be made for front-to-back shrinkage.  I have to find a special shop to sew it, someone with experience with military canvas and a big sewing machine.

The C. K. Turk company also made folding metal steps to go on the tailgate of the pickup trucks and another version for the side of the bed like the modern step-side trucks.

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