When Jim Kelley, of Waco, Texas, found a rusty, retired '58 Chevy farm truck he could look past the battered sheetmetal to see its potential. Fortunately, Bill Hart and the crew at Smoky Hill Restorations shared Jim's vision-and they had the means to make it a reality.
Working out of a 25,000 sq. ft. shop in Granbury (just west of Ft. Worth), Hart's four-man team of craftsmen spent two years building the Apache from the ground up. The original chassis was given the heave-ho and a Total Cost Involved roller took its place. The 2x4-inch rectangular tube frame came equipped with an independent front suspension featuring Heidt's dropped spindles on tubular control arms with QA1 coilovers. A power rack-and-pinion provides directional control and more than adequate stopping power is provided by generous 121/2-inch Wilwood disc brakes. Bringing up the rear is a Ford 9-inch rearend with 3.70:1 gears, posi centersection, custom anti-roll bar, and another pair of Wilwood calipers with 111/2-rotors. Both ends are equipped with American Racing wheels and Goodyear rubber-a combination of 17x8 five spokes with 245/45ZR-17s are found up front with 17x9 and 275/40ZR-17s in the rear.
In 1958 the biggest engine Chevrolet offered in pickups was a 283 with 185 horsepower. While the performance was respectable for its day, now the half-ton really hauls thanks to 100 more cubes and 245 more ponies. Under the hood is a GM Performance 383-inch/430-horse small-block, topped by an Edelbrock intake mounting a pair of the same-make 500-cfm four-barrel carbs-fuel is supplied from a Rock Valley stainless tank under the bed floor. Ignition is provided by an MSD Pro-billet distributor and exhaust exits through custom-made headers connected to Spin-Tech mufflers. Backing up the small-block is a TH400 from Phoenix Transmission and a programmable Gear Vendors overdrive-a combination that supplies six forward speeds.
As might be expected, the engine compartment is detailed to the max with polished Billet Specialties valve covers, air cleaner, and serpentine drive system along with Lokar stainless braided throttle and t.v. cables. An interesting old-school touch is the installation of what used to be called "tune-up gauges"-a complement of Auto Meter gauges in the smoothed firewall.
Chevrolet redesigned the front of its line of Task Force trucks in 1958 introducing quad headlights, which in this case are tri-bars from AutoLoc. Given the clean, classic styling of these trucks the decision was made to make only minimum modifications to the body-the vent windows were eliminated, the tailgate was smoothed, the bumpers were tucked in, and custom housings were made for the taillights. While the exterior changes weren't dramatic, it takes a Herculean effort to make sheetmetal as smooth as what's seen here. Hosts of replacement panels were required along with a new bed with a red oak floor and stainless rub strips from Pros Picks, then hours and hours of bodywork, priming and block sanding were done before the Spies-Hecker three-stage Mercedes silver paint was applied.
Looking inside, it's hard to believe the Chevy spent most of its life as a work truck. The inviting interior features Tea's bucket seats, custom door panels, and headliner all covered in tan and black glove leather by Headliner Custom Upholstery. A custom center console houses a flip-up DVD/CD satellite sound system, Lokar shifter, and a variety of toggle switches with safety covers that have to be opened to turn on and are shut off by simply closing the covers. While 1958 was the first year for dealer installed air conditioning in Chevy trucks, the nod for climate control was given to a Vintage Air Gen IV system.
One of the features of the interior that prompts the classic double take is the smoothed dash. Although subtle, there was an incredible amount of work involved eliminating the glovebox door, ashtray, ignition switch, and openings for the radio and heater controls. The original gauge cluster is now filled with Auto Meter instruments; the tilt column is topped by a Billet Specialties steering column and hidden from view is an American Auto Wire fuse block and wiring harness.
Since its completion the Apache has collected a variety of awards in ISCA competition including Outstanding in Class and Top Truck in 2009. Nevertheless, along with collecting trophies Jim's vision also includes the ultimate reality check, hitting the open road and racking up some miles.