There are different levels of participation when it comes to owning a customized classic truck. Some guys have a new truck to drive during the week and only roll out their old one on the weekend to enjoy as a hobby. For Jim Rodriguez of Union City, California, customized classic trucks are a lifestyle, so much so that he refuses to own anything newer than 1965. By anything, we mean cars as well. Jim's automobile is a red and white '64 Chevy Impala with white interior he bought in '74. As this story is being written, Jim is out in his two-car garage pulling the '64's original 409-inch single quad motor with an aluminum Powerglide and getting them ready to rebuild. It's practically the same process Jim employed when he rebuilt and customized his '65 Chevy Suburban.
Jim's Chevy Suburban project began with a two-year search to locate an example that wasn't a rust bucket. He didn't originally intend to build the all-out custom you see gracing our pages. He just wanted something he could load his family into to take them camping on the weekends.
Step one was to climb under the hood and start with the engine and trans. Jim backed the Chevy into his two-car garage, hooked up a chain to his original powerplant, and yanked the '65 vintage stuff out. He replaced it with a 350-inch Chevy small-block crate motor with a Turbo 350 automatic transmission.
For induction, he chose an Edelbrock Performer carburetor and intake manifold. The Edelbrock carburetor is a highly improved version of the old Carter AFBs found on many a factory-equipped mid-'60s automobile. The original cast-iron exhaust manifolds were discarded in favor of Hedman headers dumping into dual Flowmaster mufflers. For engine dress-up and a nostalgic touch, Jim capped the carb with a '56 Chevy Bel Air air cleaner and Billet Specialties valve covers. Jim is a millwright by trade, so he turned his truck's engine compartment into a metal shop project-advanced metal shop, to be exact. The Turbo 350 three-speed automatic transmission received a B&M shift kit with a Lokar shifter.
Firestone bags with Early...
Firestone bags with Early Classics 2-inch drop spindles set the stance. Airbrushed side moldings by Wild Woman Graphics just fake you out.
An Impala-style steering wheel...
An Impala-style steering wheel from Billet Specialties caps a '65 Caddy tilt and telescopic steering column. The gauges are from Auto Meter.
The engine is dressed with...
The engine is dressed with Billet Specialties polished aluminum valve covers flanking a '56 Bel Air chromed air cleaner.
Insuring there were no weak links in the drivetrain, Jim tossed the old driveshaft and installed a newly balanced unit fitted with heavy-duty U-joints featuring Allemite zerk fittings. From its Flint, Michigan, birthplace, Jim's 'Burb left the factory with 3.08:1 freeway gears. The only work needed here was a fresh change of hypoid gear oil and a couple of cans of Krylon semi-gloss black spray paint.
The last link in the chain of essential mechanized ingredients was the '65's cooling system. One of the considerations Jim faced was selecting a radiator heavy duty enough to cool a relatively weighty old truck pulling a load of passengers with camping gear up steep mountain grades. Jim subcontracted B&M Radiator of Fremont, California, to swap in a four-row core between his '65's original radiator tanks.
Ensuring the 'Burb's cooling system was in top shape paid off down the road when Jim decided it was time to install air conditioning. While Jim and his family were at the Goodguys show in Pleasanton, California, he asked the guys at Vintage Air's booth which one of their units would work best for his '65 Suburban. When Jim returned home, he called Vintage Air in San Antonio, Texas, and ordered an A/C unit direct.
In '78, with the help of Arlen Ness, Jim and his wife, Rita, built a custom chopper. Jim told us he would swing by Arlen's shop on numerous occasions to buy parts and pick Arlen's brain on how to build things right. One of the details that really stood out on Jim and Rita's bike was the Arlen Ness paint job. When the chopper was completed they took it to the Oakland Roadster Show, where it took second place in its class. Without Arlen's guidance, Jim realized he wouldn't have been able to build such a nice Suburban in his garage.
You did read the last paragraph right: Jim, with the help of his family, performed all the work on his Suburban in their two-car garage. His brother-in-law, John Huber, did the exterior bodywork, featuring a shaved tailgate, hatch, and door handles, and then climbed under the hood and smoothed the firewall. Everything from stripping the Suburban down to the bare metal on up to finishing it off in DuPont two-stage aqua and white paint was accomplished without leaving the garage.
The taillight shape is unique...
The taillight shape is unique to Suburbans and panels-don't you love it?
The Suburban's exterior shaving...
The Suburban's exterior shaving includes the door handles, tailgate with hatch, and bumper bolts. Roadrunner Glass in Fremont, California, cut the one-piece glass-fixed side windows, which Jim and Rita installed.
The door panels are from Rod...
The door panels are from Rod Doors.
Even the '65's interior was done at home in the garage. Jim and Rita did all the upholstery work, featuring gray ultraleather. The door panels are from Rod Doors, and the front and rear seats are from a '94 Suburban.
Jim and Rita's '65 Suburban is a classic example of one thing leading to another. Once they had the truck functioning as a dependable daily driver/camper, they rewarded its faithfulness with a complete cosmetic overhaul. The restoration process took a total of five years spending late nights in their two-car garage. Jim never lost sight of his original plans for the Suburban.
When we met Jim and Rita in Santa Maria last March, one of the other exhibitors told us in an astonished tone that "he takes that Suburban camping everywhere. It's amazing how cherry he's able to keep it."
In the back, there's lots...
In the back, there's lots of camping gear room. Note the overhead console housing a Kenwood head unit with Pioneer speakers.
The Tri-bar knockoffs cap...
The Tri-bar knockoffs cap Chevy Rally Sport wheels shod with BF Goodrich T/As.
A Vintage Air control fits...
A Vintage Air control fits just like the original beneath Jim's homemade vent.