"When I first got the truck in 2006, Robert Atkinson started out telling us, it was bone stock and missing just about everything. It ran, but not good enough to get home."
Now, in addition to serving as his daily transportation, Robert’s ’51 Chevy 1/2-ton is a regular participant at hot rod and custom shows up and down the state of California. But you’ve got to start somewhere and Robert decided to start by getting the truck running well enough to get home on a regular basis. After that, as he got the time and money to spend, he was able to work on building the pickup the way he envisioned it. "I realized I needed to get many things done before I could drive it the way I wanted." It wasn’t a quick process, but by the time those things were done, the truck would display a lot of the design elements of a traditional custom: chop, drop, rolling stock, and more. It would also become a group effort, with Robert getting help from friends and club members.
The chop-top came early in the buildup. Robert met a pair of brothers, Nacho and Ralf, who are talented sheetmetal workers and got things off to a good start with a 4-inch haircut for the ’51, along with some initial bodywork.
After sending out the truck for suspension work, the project hit an obstacle when the welds came apart. Robert’s luck came back when Phil Jenneman, from Green Valley, California, stepped in to redo the welds and make sure the chassis was in good order. The truck rides on the stock framerails, which have been C-notched to help provide the proper custom posture. A pair of dropped spindles on the Total Cost Involved independent front end drop the truck an additional two inches. The rear suspension features a four-link and a ’58 Chevy pickup rearend loaded with 3.89:1 gears. The brakes are drums in the rear with disc at the front.
As the bodywork progressed, the chopped pickup began to take on more and more of the appearance of an early custom. These Advanced Design Chevys have a lot of the same fat, round lines as Mercs and Shoebox Fords and, as you can see, wear sled styling really well. Adding to the effect are the wide white tires from Coker. All five (counting the spare) are mounted on 15-inch ’51 Chevy car steelies, capped with Caddy deep-dish sombreros.
Robert’s friend, Bobby Mahoney, pitched in with bodywork, including the nosed hood. The headlights were frenched by Nacho, and the sheetmetal was shaved of hardware and emblems. The bed and tailgate were transplanted from a ’54 Chevy, and topped with a white tonneau cover built by Phil Jenneman. Phil also installed the glass and tucked in the rear bumper six inches. A set of ’48 Chevy car taillights were added to a rear valance provided by builder Brad Masterson. Like Robert, Brad is a member of the well-known Beatniks of Koolsville car club. Brad runs Masterson Kustom Automobiles in Lynwood, California, where the truck was painted. Masterson Kustoms, we’ve heard, occupies the same building where legendary builder Dean Jeffries built cars in his glory days--talk about classic custom inspiration. The paint color is "Brad’s Blue" according to Robert.
A 235 originally powered the Chevy, until Phil Jenneman swapped in a 292 I-6. On a cross-country trip to Salina, Kansas, last summer, the engine blew up, but John Villegas from Castaic rebuilt the 292, which runs Akerly and Childs rings, and a one-barrel carb on a split manifold on top. "Now it’s all new," said Robert. His friend, Ron, assembled the T-5 transmission backing the engine.
A look inside the cab reveals some period-appropriate white tuck ’n’ roll vinyl, used by Hector at Valencia Upholstery to cover the doors and a modified bench seat that came out of a Chevy Astro van. Stock gauges remain in a silver metalflake custom dash, built by Bobby Mahoney. Other amenities are the power windows, stereo, and the tiny Buddha figurine mounted on the dash.
Without the help of friends, fellow Beatniks, and everybody mentioned above, Robert might still be wrenching on the ’51 instead of driving it every day. As far as building it the way he envisioned it, he succeeded, although he’s still making minor modifications to suit his vision. The next time you see the Chevy on the street or at a show, it may be wearing different rims and may or may not have the spare and the skirts. Like every custom we know of, the ’51 of a kind is a never-ending work in progress. CCT