One of the sad things about buying an old truck to hot-rod or customize is that oftentimes the truck's history has been lost to the ages, and the new owner has no idea where the truck originated or how it spent its previous years. On the other hand, we've featured customized classic trucks that have been in the family since they were new, but those few are the lucky ones. For Dwight Taylor of Fort Smith, Arkansas, the saga of his '48 Chevrolet began in 1948 when the Chevy was bought brand new to serve as a shop truck for a local Fort Smith freight company founded in 1923. By 1957 the freight hauling outfit had absorbed numerous other carriers and had come to be known as Arkansas Best Freight (ABF). In 1961, ABF sold the '48 Chevy to a guy named Rainwater who worked for the Fort Smith school system and used the truck to haul refrigerators and freezers. Dwight told us, "Mr. Rainwater had welded steel plates in the bed. I got to purchase the truck from Mr. Rainwater only after his wife passed away, because she did not want him to sell it as long as she was alive. The day I bought the truck, Mr. Rainwater told me it would make a good ole farm truck. Little did he know what I had in mind. I had planned on taking Mr. Rainwater for a ride when it was done, but he passed away before I finished the truck."
After paying Mr. Rainwater $900 for the '48, Dwight headed straight over to Steve Rogers, a friend with a home shop. Steve came to play an important role during the '48's seven-year buildup. The two yanked the original "dipper rod" 216-inch motor and three-speed tranny from the truck, and the build was on.
Starting with the bare frame, Dwight based his front suspension around a Mustang II-type unit built by a local craftsman. For steering, Dwight opted for an '83-87 T-bird rack-and-pinion unit connected to heidt's spindles. The disc brakes on the front are Mustang II, and the rears are disc as well, but they're sourced from a '76 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. The '76 Caddy was also the source for the differential with a 2.56:1 gear ratio. At the opposite end of a shortened driveshaft, Dwight installed a GM Turbo 350 automatic transmission marked with a '79 build date. For innards, the tranny relies on a B&M torque converter to assist launching the '48 with its now tall-geared rearend. With the 216 long gone, there was plenty of room under the hood for a tried-and-true 350-inch Chevy crate motor. Induction for the 350 is handled by an edelbrock intake manifold matched to a 600-cfm edelbrock carburetor. On the ignition side of things, a PerTronix distributor supplants the stock GM heI setup. For a gas tank, Dwight plucked a 19-gallon tub from a Pontiac and placed it in the rear between the framerails.
Not that it's always a guarantee, but being the '48's third owner, Dwight got pretty lucky when it came to taking care of his Chevy's bodywork. he was able to retain all the original sheetmetal on the truck with the exception of the right-side running board and the front panel in the bed. Before Dwight could start work on the bed, he had to cut out all the steel plates Mr. Rainwater welded in. Once Dwight and Steve had the bed's sheetmetal under control, Sam Scharbor, a fine carpenter by trade, filled up the hole in the bed floor with a set of mahogany slats. Instead of relying on a stain to color the mahogany, Sam soaked the wood in PPG clear urethane and colorsanded and rubbed it to get a beautiful glasslike finish.