When Gary and Jill Castro of Carpinteria, California, picked up a rough '71 Chevy Stepside pickup from their son-in-law, they never envisioned that it would ever end up as nice as the truck you see before you. What started as a modest attempt to breathe new life into the old workhorse soon snowballed as many of these projects oftentimes do. Gary was kind enough to tell us the story firsthand, so we'll let him take it from here.
"On September 12, 2006 we drove our '71 down to Alan Palmer's Palmer Paint and Custom in Camarillo, California, and left it with Alan to start the long, and I do mean long, and detailed work of a full-blown, off-the-frame, completely disassembled, starting-from-scratch restoration.
"The first step was to disassemble every part of the body, fenders, doors, hood, bed, and cab from the frame; inspect for rust; and repair the areas as needed. Major rust was located in the driprails, which were completely cut out of the cab. This process was the major problem in preparing the body for paint. A new '68 Chevy hood, grille, and front fenders replaced the original ones, as did the left rear fender, giving the '71 body a much sleeker appearance.
"While Alan and his crew started the fabricating and reshaping of the body parts, the complete frame was loaded on a flatbed truck and transported about 10 miles away to Scott's Hot Rods in Oxnard for major reconstruction. They started by sandblasting 35 years of crud and dirt off the chassis and boxing the entire frame. A tubular x-member was then welded in for reinforcement and a Scott's Super Slam IFS replaced the stock frontend with Air Ride Technology airbags. Wilwood disc brakes were installed at all four corners and all brake lines, reservoir, and connections were installed out of sight, along the inside of the frame under the floorboards. A chrome rack-and-pinion steering assembly then replaced the big, bulky steering box. While the engine was hoisted off the frame and being disassembled, stainless steel motor mounts, brackets, and all nuts and bolts were replaced to prevent any future rust or corrosion, along with an aluminum gas tank, located under the bed.
"As the frame was being prepared for a black-satin powdercoating, a Positraction unit was installed in the rear along with a pair of Air Ride airbags. We also decided it would be a good time for a motor makeover. Knowing that I wanted an Edelbrock Performance EnduraShine intake manifold with a 600-cfm Performer EnduraShine carburetor, I wanted to find a set of valve covers that were not your everyday chrome covers. After lots of shopping I decided that a pair of custom-welded GM Performance valve covers in matte black with matching air cleaner would contrast perfectly with all the other chrome accessories. A new Comp cam and self-aligning roller rockers were installed as well as a Zoop's serpentine chrome pulley setup. A call was then made to Rewarder Headers who came down and fitted a custom set of headers to the Flowmaster 50 mufflers. The entire exhaust was then ceramic coated to prevent rust and contrast with the satin-black frame. Upon completion of the chassis and motor, about 12 weeks, everything was reassembled and transported back to Palmer Paint and Custom.
"The firewall had to be modified for the engine position, as did the floorboards to accommodate the transmission. The bed also had to be altered for a better fit of the ash boards and stainless steel runners. Doors, fenders, hood, bed, tailgate, front bumper, grille, and roll pan were all then reassembled, realigned, refitted, and readjusted. Once assembled and aligned, it was then carefully taken apart so that each piece could be block-sanded and prepared for paint.
"Once the cab was finished with the painting process, it was put in the "bubble room," a clear plastic tent-like structure that protects the painted cars from all the shop dust created by the sanding and grinding on other projects. At this point, the American Autowire wiring harness was unpacked. I have never seen anything more complex in my life. There were dozens of different colored wires, connectors, fuses, and panels that needed to be connected to gauges, headlights, taillights, electric doors, electric windows, electric cooling fans, Air Ride suspension control panel, speakers, stereo, brake lights, dome light, turnindicators, high beam/low beam, and everything else that needs a spark. It was also time to install the new stainless steel radiator with twin electric fans and custom-made stainless steel radiator hoses.
"While the cab and front end were in the "bubble," the bed was being prepared for the new ash wood, stainless steel strips, and bolts. The ash wood strips were sanded, marine lacquer applied, then resanded. This process was repeated several times until the finish was like glass. New crossmembers were welded into place and then the wood slats and metal runners were bolted in. Hidden spring-loaded latches were installed inside the tailgate and rear fenders, leaving the outside completely smooth.
"With the bed finished, the next project was the custom front bumper. A new 1968 Chevy pickup bumper was purchased and the chrome was sanded off and all the boltholes filled and ground smooth. The bolts were then welded to the inside of the bumper and the bumper was painted the color of the body. The result was a completely smooth, wraparound bumper.
"Once painted, it was time for some serious decisions to be made in regards to the upholstery and interior. Jill and I went to Custom Interiors in Camarillo and spoke with the owner, Jose Villacorta, and told him what we wanted. Jill picked out the colors and material from his samples and with some recommendations and suggestions from Jose, Jill decided on a full bone-and-cream German leather interior with dark beige Mercedes wool carpet. A Chevy Suburban seat frame was modified to fit the cab before being completely reshaped with foam by Jose. The dash, door panels, armrests, quarter-panels, and fold-down seat divider were all handmade and then covered. After about three weeks, the results were fantastic. The interior turned out just the way we wanted, with the style and stitching similar to our Yukon, as we were looking for both class and comfort.
"The truck was then returned to Alan who realized he had only two weeks to left until the Carpinteria Rods & Roses car show, which was the completion date. The next step was to align the frontend. It was during this process that it was discovered that the upper control arms were too short and new ones needed to be made, which were quickly ordered from Scott's Hot Rods. Upon arrival, it was discovered that the new arms were not the right size either, so a third set was then ordered and fitted. In the meantime it was determined that the lines and hoses for the power steering were also incorrect and needed attention. With one week until Rods & Roses, things were looking grim. The disc brakes were also giving Alan grief but until the truck's suspension was put back together, these problems could not be corrected. The deadline for the Rods & Roses show looming, the outcome looked even grimmer. Two days before the show, Alan called and said everything was put back together and ready just in time for the show.
"The truck was delivered late in the afternoon on the day before the show and it was beautiful! It looked great, sounded great, and everyone breathed a little easier now that it was here and in show condition. The next morning Alan transported his custom 1971 Blazer up and we drove both trucks over to the show and had a great day. Our truck won two awards and was the talk of the town for days."