Most classic trucks when they were purchased new or second hand years ago were purchased for utility, after all they were trucks—they served a use—and in their owners minds would likely serve no other purpose.

So, it was with Robert Melton of Pfafftown, North Carolina, when he purchased this now striking ’61 Chevrolet Apache 10 pick-up from a co-worker in 1981 for $650. Robert purchased the truck for utility—it’s duties ranged from hauling straw and wood, to moving friends and serving as a daily driver when need be.

And then something happened.

The previous owner had wisely replaced the venerable old six-cylinder in 1970 with a more powerful 327 V-8 from a ’68 Camaro, but it was now 2000 and the old truck was showing its age. The paint was well-worn and the bed had holes in it, but the truck still had lots of life left in it.

Since the engine had already been upgraded, it made sense to Robert to bring some life back into the Apache, but this time around as a mild custom.

The bed was removed and after careful preparation, the two tone black and white paint scheme was applied by Tommy Swain. Carolina Plating brought the bumpers back to life, and Moe’s Specialty Polishing of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, put the shine back in the stainless trim. Robert and friends constructed a new oak bed floor.

In keeping with the mild custom look, 2-inch lowering blocks were used to lower the rear of the vehicle. An air wrench did the trick of lowering the torsion bar front suspension 3 inches. Other than the addition of new Delco shocks, the suspension and 3.90 geared rear end remain factory stock.

Stock steel wheels are concealed behind ’59 Dodge Lancer wheel covers sporting a custom-painted checkerboard design. Rolling stock consists of Coker Classic 235/75-15 front and 235/75-15 rears. Fiberglass fender skirts are easily installed and removed to suit your mood.

The 327 is totally stock and has never been gone into since it was made in 1968. Robert did take the liberty of painting the engine the proper shade of Chevrolet engine gray and added accurate Work Master graphics to the valve covers for an authentic 1961 appearance. As time went on the transmission was updated to an ’87 Chevy 700R4 unit.

By 2003 Robert was enjoying the Apache and had a unique idea to add another mild custom touch to the vehicle—he decided to add flames to the hood of the truck to match the flames on his customized Harley Sportster. As he started to tape them out he decided to stick with the subtle design as it appears now. And what of the Sportster? It got a matching trailer that sports a twin set of matching Lancer wheel covers so it can accompany the Apache to car shows and cruises and fit right in.

North Carolina summers get hot, but somehow a contemporary A/C unit didn’t seem to fit the bill to cool off the passengers. Looking through eBay, Robert came across a rare vintage Bon Aire air cooler in perfect condition, it was still in the original box, unused.

Accessory units like these were commonly sold at Pep Boys, Sears, and Western Autos, and were called air coolers instead of air conditioners for a very good reason—they utilized ice to cool the air. Just add ice through the back of the unit, plug it into the cigarette lighter and a small fan blew air into the cabin. Adjustable legs kept the unit stable as it rode on the transmission tunnel and when the ice melted it was a simple process to remove the unit from the vehicle, drain the water from a built in petcock and replenish the ice—then you’re back on the road.

The Bon Aire air cooler also provided a place to put your soda, cigarettes, and sun glasses. The cooler is a conversation starter and certainly adds a wow factor at car shows, but how well they worked in real life is an on-going topic of conversation and debate.

The Chevrolet Apache 10 was a stylish and rare truck to begin with—the body style was used for only two years—1960 and 1961. Robert’s truck just goes to show that it’s not always necessary to go radical with some vehicles, sometimes subtlety is the way to go. CCT