Passing a classic truck down from father to son is an American tradition. However, for Steve Johnson and his son Sam, that tradition actually worked backward.
“My truck first belonged to my son Sam. He bought the ’69 Chevy truck while a senior in high school. I remember the day he brought it home. I was standing in the garage when I saw him pull up in a primer and rust bucket. I couldn’t believe he had bought such a piece of junk. Then I opened the hood and saw the 396 and an air conditioned cab and my impression changed.
“Sam street raced the truck through high school. Being a police motor officer, that caused me to pull my hair out, but having the truck around and watching him pull engines and transmissions brought me back to my own teen years. A year after graduating from high school, Sam took off to Phoenix to attend Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. At the time, Phoenix was the car theft capital of the nation. There was no way he was taking that truck to Arizona and there was no way I was going to let that big block go to someone else. I bought the truck from my son for $5,000. Yeah, dad got took, Sam went to Phoenix and the truck sat in our driveway for the next two years. That’s when I found out that the rear end was blown.
“I began planning on what I wanted to build. I started with a complete rebuild of the rearend with an Eaton posi, 3.73 gears and Strange Axles. Over the next several years I started buying and storing the major components, including a Vintage Air direct fit system, Billet Specialties V-Trac, and an ididit steering column. I tried to buy every part I could think of to update this truck.
“I contacted a good friend, Big Ed Johnson of Big Ed’s Body Shop in Petaluma, California. Ed was talking about retiring and I knew I wanted him to do the paint and body work because I had seen the amazing work that came out of his shop. Ed was pushing 73 and I knew he had been eyeing a ’50 Merc I had in my garage for quite awhile. I was able to make a trade with Ed: paint and body work for the “project” Merc. Over the next two years, Ed would give me a completed fender here and door there, which ended up hanging in various areas around my garage. Ed did some amazing things, such as the hand fab’d gas door and the french’d antenna. At this point, no real work had been done on the truck other than being completely disassembled with the rusty frame sitting in my garage.
“I had been working as a police motor officer with little room in my 20x20 garage and had both my police and my personal Harley-Davidson, and up until the trade with Ed, my ’50 Merc. In 2008, I was offered an early retirement by the City of Petaluma and I jumped at it. I retired December 31, 2008 and two days later, began working full time building my truck.
“I started cleaning and painting the frame, and spending hours and hours on the computer researching everything I could on Chevy trucks. I would buy every truck magazine and go to every car show around to look at what was being done. I wasn’t looking so much to get ideas but more to see what I didn’t like. The theme my son and I wanted was a stock look, a little flare of custom, but still keeping it old-school.
“The most important components to me were the suspension and brakes. The truck was converted to four-wheel disc brakes. The front suspension was converted to tubular A-arm suspension, a quick ratio steering box, and the heaviest sway bar I could find. The center crossmember was replaced with a Classic Performance Products crossmember kit, which allowed the exhaust to run through the crossmember and not under it. It also changed the angle of the pinion to work with the 6-inch lowered rear. The rear feame was also C-notched to accept the 6-inch lowered springs and shock relocate kit from Earyl Classic to allow for correct shock geometry.
“During this time, UPS was coming to my house almost on a daily basis. I had to have a talk with the driver and ask him not to deliver after 5pm when my wife would be home from work, just keep it on the truck and deliver it the next day. Packages were coming almost daily and my wife was beginning to think I had a problem.
“Sam found a 454hp big-block and rebuilt the engine. He had it bored 0.60-over with a set of rectangle port heads. We came across a GM aluminum high-rise manifold and sent it out to get gloss black powdercoated, something we had not seen.
“The interior was done by another friend, Dirk Tuenstra of Route 66 Upholstery in Petaluma. Dirk used tan leather to do the seat, door panels, head liner, and dash pad. In an attempt to save money, my original plan was to complete the interior with cloth seats, but this was one area where my wife weighed in. She said you’ve got to put in leather. You can’t spend so much money for things you can’t see and then skimp on the interior, so leather it was!
“The electrical system was an area in which I had little experience. Thanks to Painless Wiring, the installation was a snap. Taking my time and double and triple checking things as I went, it came off without a hitch.
“In the end, we ended up with a truck that drove and handled like a dream. The floating and sloppy steering was gone. The truck stays flat in the turns and rides and drives like a sports car.
“My son Sam and I completed the build in July 2010 and two days later my wife Jacque and I drove it to South Lake Tahoe to Hot August Nights. The 200-mile drive had my wife and I on edge. My wife, nervous as ever, recalled all the hot rods I had as a teenager and all the break downs.”
Luckily, the trip went smoothly and the two made the 400-plus-mile round trip unscathed.
When asked if he kept track of the damage to his pocket book, “I’m not sure what the total cost of the build was. As a police officer, I learned that evidence can incriminate you, so I tossed many of the receipts as soon as I got them. My estimated cost is around $30k, including what I paid for the truck.”
Not bad for a father and son build in a two-car garage! CCT