Letting One Go
This is the story of a long-term truck project that patiently waited for a time that never came.
BUYING OUR FIRST HOME
Lynn and I bought our home in 1991. As a young couple, we didn’t make much money at the time. We tried to find the best house we could afford in the safest neighborhood. With the help of a retired real estate agent, we found an affordable fixer-upper with pink walls and chocolate brown carpet. I was sold as soon as I saw the cool ’66 El Camino in the garage across the street. We picked a great neighborhood, and still live in that same house to this day.
MEETING THE NEIGHBORS
Every gear head always hopes that he’ll eventually have a neighbor that’s a fellow hot rodder. My hopes were answered when I met my neighbor Dave. Dave was a fabricator who built quality hot rods for customers out of his well-equipped home shop. Once Dave saw some of my own work, he offered me a part-time job. I was on Swing shift, so I was free from 7am to 12pm every morning before work. The job worked out perfectly, and we did some really cool projects together.
NOT THE ONE I WANTED
Things were tight for Lynn and I at first. Within a few months, we had to sell our custom late-model Chevy truck. We couldn’t afford the truck payment and the house payment together. I was itching for another project. Every morning, I would walk past a 1958 Chevy truck that Dave had behind the fence. At the time, that wasn’t my favorite Chevy truck style. I wanted a 1960 to 1966 Chevy truck. But after Dave offered me the truck in exchange for shop hours, I made the deal. I had a project truck, and the price was cheap!
Author’s note: I apologize for the quality of the following pictures. They were taken with a pretty crappy camera back in the day. I tried to clean them up the best I could.
THE TRUCK HAD A HISTORY
The truck was allegedly a Pasadena School District truck at some point in it’s life. It then became street-racer, complete with a big block Chevy and an Oldsmobile rear axle. It then passed through a couple of hands and wound up at Dave’s house. Some of the work was pretty sketchy, but the truck was super solid. Someone had switched out the front sheetmetal to the better-looking 1955 version. The dash was full of vintage Stewart Warner gauges. I could not have asked for a better truck to start with.
Working in a hot rod shop, I had access to a lot of discarded old parts that were removed from customer cars. We quickly sourced a 1970 Camaro front clip because they are very cost-effective and work great. We put the truck on the jig and established the wheelbase and started cutting. The front clip was set in place and welded in. At the same time, the frame was boxed with steel plate for strength.
BRINGING DOWN THE REAR
I found a disc brake Ford 9-inch out of a Lincoln Versailles for $150. It was too wide, so it was sent to Currie Enterprises in Anaheim to be narrowed. I couldn’t afford to buy new axles, so the stock ones were dropped off at Cook Machine to be re-splined. I made a housing back brace and Dave welded it in. We used the discarded leaf springs off of a 1955 Chevy car that was in the shop getting tubbed.
REGULAR WHEELS JUST WON’T DO
Right around this time, the Torq Thrust craze had yet to explode, and I had a pretty decent collection of them. This was during the “Billet Years”, and nobody seemed to want anything that was vintage. I went through my wheel stash and grabbed a pair of magnesium 15x10s and a pair of aluminum 15x6s. These wheels were taken to Sihillig’s in Orange County to have them do their signature polishing magic. They turned out amazing.
THE FIRST ENGINE
The first engine was a 327 that had been rebuilt in the mid-80s and then sat wrapped up in Dick Burley’s garage. Dick was a great guy, Keith Black’s best friend, and the clutch guy on the legendary Greer Black and Prudhomme Top Fuel car back in the day. Like an idiot, I painted it and wrapped it up and it sat on my back patio because I had no room in the garage. Rain water got in the #1 cylinder and ruined the block. That was completely my fault, but not to worry. That block eventually got resleeved and now powers a really nice 1962 Impala.
STARTING A FAMILY
In 1994, Lynn got pregnant, and 9 months later, Kyle was born. Lynn and I both worked, but we gave every bit of our spare time to raising our child. So, the truck sat in the garage. I even tried to sell it in 1999, but the buyer turned it down because the doors were not installed. I found out 20 years later that he was a pretty smart guy when I finally aligned and gapped them. That was a very difficult job to get right! Many long hours were logged getting those doors to open and close properly.
THE GHOST IN THE GARAGE
There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t spend a few minutes looking at the truck. Every time I went into the garage to do anything, I stared at it. I used to sit in it and imagine what it would be like to drive it. The years just kept going by. During that time, we completely remodeled the house. I would have small periods where I would work on it, but it would all end when I either ran out of money or Kyle was playing a sport that would consume our evenings and weekends.
GETTING A SECOND WIND?
In 2009, I was back on it. This time, I was content to finish it, or at least get it running. I took it to my buddy Mike Jones (Exile Fabrication) to have him do a trick cantilever air ride rear suspension. He did an amazing job. I changed out the 15×10 magnesium Torq Thrusts for custom 16×12 ET Fuelers. I swapped out the rear bias ply tires for Hoosier radials. This thing was going to be a ground pounder, so I started putting together an aluminum-headed tunnel-rammed big block. I was making great progress. Then, work got crazy again and Kyle started high school. So, the truck sat.
MAKING THE DIFFICULT DECISION
I don’t know why, but I made the mistake that a lot of hot rodders make. I started a new project. The old truck was moved out of the garage and put on jackstands and cocooned on the slab next to the garage. It sat out there for nearly 3 years. Every time I looked at the shape living under that tarp, it broke my heart. It needed to go to someone who would love it like I used to. The decision was made to sell it, and the goal was to have it at the L.A. Roadster Show swap meet in June. I had a lot of work to do in a short time.
BACK IN THE SYSTEM
The truck was long out of the DMV system because I never put it on a non-op status when I bought it. We use a great local business, Karen’s Kar Klearing, for all of our DMV work. Karen was able to get the truck back into the system, and within a few weeks, I had a current title in my name. I didn’t want to sell a vehicle on a Bill Of Sale with the burden of getting it legal on the shoulders of the buyer. I wouldn’t buy a vehicle like that, and I wanted this to go as smoothly as possible.
THE ASSEMBLY BEGINS
The first order of business was to determine how I wanted the truck to look to the buyer. I quickly came to the conclusion that it needed to compliment the quality work that had been done to the truck so far. I disassembled the truck down to the bare cab and started to clean and paint the chassis. The rear axle was pulled and the center section was installed, along with the axles and the brakes.
Moving to the front, the inner fenders, core support, and all the associated under hood sheet metal were sent to the sandblaster. After they returned, they got a fresh coat of chassis black. Once the parts were all reinstalled with new stainless hardware, the under hood area looked great.
THE FRONT END
One of the design elements I was most proud of was the look of the front end. I wanted the truck to look unique, but have a “factory” look. That meant shaving the factory marker lights and removing the stock grille. The truck grill was replaced with a grille bar from a 1957 Bel Air. I even tried to retrofit factory ’57 Bel Air headlight rings, but the shapes did not line up. The truck fenders are much more round than the car fender, and there was no way to blend the two. So, I decided to take the factory truck headlight rings and cut them with the same design shapes that the Bel Air has. It was a ton of work, but the final look was dramatic. Once the entire front was installed, it had the factory look I was aiming for.
BARE METAL OR PRIMER?
I had a decision to make about the body of the truck. Through the years, I had done work on the exterior and so many of those areas had been stripped down to bare metal. What wasn’t bare was covered by an old lacquer primer job that had probably been applied in the 1970s. I figured that it would be best to leave the truck as is, but to cover the bare areas with a protectant. This series of Chevy truck is notorious for rusting in certain areas, so I stripped those areas to bare metal to show the buyer that this was truly a California desert rust-free truck. I had read about Gibbs Oil in magazines and decided to give it a try. That stuff is fantastic! Just a little on a rag goes a long way, and it did an amazing job of keeping the bare metal from flash rusting. I highly recommend Gibbs Oil.
After an absolute ton of work to get it ready for the show, it was ready to go. I borrowed a friend’s car trailer and we hauled it down to the L.A. County Fairgrounds and put it in my assigned space. The show wasn’t set to open until 7am the next morning, but I had a crowd around it from the time I unloaded it. It was at that point that I finally decided on my price to ask for it. I had stewed about that for weeks because pricing a non-running project vehicle is extremely difficult. Rarely do you get back what you have invested, but judging from the interest so far, I was going to swing for the fence and see what happens.
From the time the gates opened, we had a crowd around the truck. Everyone was blown away at the cantilever rear suspension, so I spent most of the day answering questions about it. Throughout the day, we had a group of Australians that kept coming back to look at it. Finally, they formally introduced themselves and after a about 30 minutes, wanted to talk numbers. We settled on a price that was $1500 under my asking price, but there was a catch. They needed to submit pictures to their “Engineer” in Australia because their laws are extremely restrictive about modified vehicles. The trick cantilever rear suspension was going to be difficult to get through their regulations, and they wanted to be sure before they pulled they plunked down any money.
I made an agreement that they were first in line for the truck at their price. We also agreed that if I got a higher offer in the next 24 hours, I would give them the first opportunity to counter. These guys were gearheads with successful businesses in their home country and they weren’t scammers. The end of the day rolled around, and I had two offers, and the Aussies were still top bidders. We loaded the truck on the trailer and went home.
THE WAITING GAME
The Aussies were great about staying in contact for the next few days after the show. Their Engineer was reviewing the pictures and I was providing answers. Then, I didn’t hear from them for about four days. I was getting the feeling that the truck wasn’t going to pass the strict Australian regulations and the deal was off. Then, the phone rang. It was a local number, and the voice on the other end came on and asked if the truck was still for sale. I explained the situation, and the caller pleaded with me not to sell it. He kept making me cash offers over the phone, and I told him that I would contact the Aussies and have them give me a Yes or No to the deal. They were first, and they had first right of refusal.
THE AUSSIES BACK OUT
I texted them and told them the current situation. They told me that getting it passed in Australia was not likely and they politely backed out. They were good guys and they really tried, so there were no hard feelings. I contacted the local guy and told him that the deal was his and the price was going to be the same as the agreed price I had with the Aussies. He grumbled, but agreed. We scheduled a day to meet and sign over the paperwork and exchange cash.
The money was counted and the title was signed. The truck was loaded onto the buyer’s trailer and within 30 minutes, it was gone. People asked me if I was sad about seeing it go away. I had owned that truck for 28 years. Although part of me was sad, I was also happy at the same time. The new owner was like a kid at Christmas, and I’m glad that I was able to help him get that new toy he had been dreaming about. It’s an exciting time that we’ve all been through, and I’m glad the truck went to a good home.
There’s no time to dwell on the past. It’s now time to get moving on the ’64 C10 and get it back on the road!