One result of the growing popularity of traditional styling in hot rods, customs, and classic trucks is that the auto manufacturers are catching on. Have you noticed the recent trend in Detroit of reintroducing old marques-or creating new ones-designed with modern versions of old-time styling?
The best example in the truck world was Chevrolet's "retro" styled SSR pickup.
Dan Roberts from Orange, Texas, says he remembers seeing a prototype of the SSR at a car show back before Chevy put them into production. The design impressed him so much that he decided to apply some of that same styling to a classic truck. He even went so far as talking to a GM engineer about the lines and dimensions of the SSR.
Dan already had a truck in the works. His friend George Glach had uncovered a rough, old '54 Chevy five-window in a backyard garage in the late '80s. Dan paid $700 for the body, frame, and fenders and started working on it little by very little. Inspired by the SSR concept, Dan got busy figuring out how to use some of the old-time styling of the brand-new Chevy truck to contemporize the look of his old-time Chevy truck.
Instead of trying to salvage the '54's frame, Dan decided to upgrade the entire chassis, and bought a '97 Chevy S-10 for the framerails, suspension components, rearend, steering box, and fuel tank. The motor mounts were adjusted and a new transmission crossmember was added to fit Dan's application. He also added 2-inch lowering spindles up front and modified the rear leafs and front coils to bring the whole thing down to the altitude he was looking for. A front Panhard bar and rear sway bar maintain the ride quality. A Corvette master cylinder and booster from Parr Automotive operate the front disc brakes and rear drums.
The smooth, curved lines of the '54 lend themselves to some of the influences of the SSR, but it took a whole lot of sheetmetal fabrication to bring the truck this far. Ray Richard from Port Arthur, Texas, stepped in to help. The top was not chopped but the bumpers and running boards were eliminated and the body was channeled over the framerails and the fenders were radically reshaped to fit the modified lines. The rear lower portions of the front and rear fenders were swapped with each other; the same thing was done with the front lower portions. The result is that the fenders are sized right, but the fronts are a little rounder than stock and the rears a little flatter. The front fenders were further customized with eyebrowed headlights from a '55 Chevy.
With the truck sitting so low, some of the other proportions required modifications too. The hood was sectioned 31/2 inches and the fenders were raised 31/2 inches on the cowl. When the grille bars were installed, the proportions didn't fit the modified hood and fenders, so each bar was sectioned 1/2 inch and rewelded in order to make the whole thing look right.
The top rail of the bed came from the S-10, but the rest is mostly handbuilt. The side panels were hand-rolled, and the rear fenders had to be cut and modified to fit the curve of the bed. That job took a lot of planning, a few cardboard templates and several tries, Dan told us, but the final result is pretty amazing. The floor of the bed is a combination of oak boards and handmade metal slats.
The taillights sunken into the custom roll pan were handbuilt using Brite Lites bulbs in "off-the-shelf truck stop" lenses-with bezels made from water-jetted stainless plating. Piping was used to create the rolled openings. When all the sheetmetal mods had been made, Gonzo at Gonzo's Paint & Body in Port Arthur covered the pickup in PPG Honda Blue paint.
The contemporary retro idea continues with the choice of wheels. These Foose Nitrous rims are an updated take on traditional five-spokes. Dan chose 17-inchers along with General Tire Grabber performance meats, measuring 245/45ZR17 and 275/55ZR17.
The engine compartment, as smooth at the exterior, has been filled with a brand-new high-performance aluminum head ZZ4 crate engine from Pace Performance, aspirated through a single Holley 700 carb and fired by an HEI ignition with Bosch wires. Dan made sure there was plenty of chrome, from the ball-milled air cleaner and valve covers to the intake manifold and one-wire alternator. The Jet-Hot coated headers run to 2-inch aluminized exhaust pipes with turbo mufflers providing the tone. Harvey's Transmission, right there in Orange, built the TH350 automatic and Randy's Driveshaft Service in Houston provided the driveshaft. At the other end, 3.73:1 gears fill the limited slip S-10 rear.
The cab was completely rebuilt to keep up with the rest of the pickup's complete custom theme. Of everything on the truck, Dan says that the dash, taken from a '60 Chevy passenger car, is one of his favorite parts. He installed Auto Meter gauges in the instrument panel and added vents for the Vintage Air A/C system. The wheel and tilt column came from Flaming River and the shifter is from Lokar. When it was ready to be upholstered, the truck went to Charles Powell in Houston, who covered the custom door panels and Glide Engineering split bench with two-tone gray simulated leather that Dan says feels like the real deal. The Sony stereo and speakers were installed by Performance Car Audio in Beaumont, and Steve Flores at Intensive Car Care, also in Beaumont, wired the truck using a Painless Performance wiring kit.
The final result is a real time bender-a custom classic truck inspired by the styling of a late-model truck that was itself inspired by the styling of classic trucks. Thinking about it makes our brain hurt, but looking at it makes our eyes very happy.
"It turned out exactly as I envisioned," said Dan, who also happens to own the last of the '06 SSR pickups, fully loaded and painted a similar blue to the '54. Putting the two trucks side by side makes the clock run backwards.