Everyone from the average hot rodder to the most famous builder can get nervous when debuting a newly finished vehicle at its first show. For Steve Contris, from Hokes Bluff, Alabama, the vehicle was his head-turning red ’54 Chevy pickup. Its first show was the 1,500-participant Goodguys Nashville Nationals at Tennessee Titan Stadium one year ago.

Whatever premier jitters Steve might have had when he entered the event on Friday must have been erased by Sunday after his truck was selected for a Builder’s Choice award by none other than hot rod builder Bobby Alloway.

Building the ’54 was a one-year job, but finding the right truck took several. Steve says he always loved the body style of the ’54 and was searching for one to fix up when he heard about this one through a friend. The overall condition was nothing special, except for the interior. The interior was rough. But it had potential.

Early on in the project, Steve was having a tire rub problem, so he took the truck to Big Oak Garage in Hokes Bluff, for some help. After meeting Jimmy and Will Posey at Big Oak Garage and seeing some of their current projects, he figured they could probably help him with a little more than eliminating the tire rub. In this case, “a little more” meant a total buildup of the pickup.

Delivering the truck to Big Oak Garage was like flipping a switch. As soon as the ’54 got there, ideas started bouncing off the walls. “Keeping the Big Oak Garage crew under control was the biggest challenge of the build,” Steve laughs.

Steve told us that the entire shop got involved in the build. The sheetmetal was shaved and a one-piece hood was added by Joseph Smith. The rechromed grille, bumpers, headlight rings, and door handles remain, but trim and emblems disappeared.

The bed was customized with wheeltubs and a relocated fuel door. Jason Latham, at Big Oak Garage, did a lot of work to the bed, which was raised 2 inches and redone with zebrawood from Bed Wood and Parts. Some custom tint was added to the wood clear “to make it pop,” as Steve described it.

The once-rough interior received a lot of attention during the buildup, but nothing that takes away from the simplicity of the whole truck. The stock dash was modified with body-color paint and custom billet knobs, and Auto Meter gauges take the place of the factory instruments. The Budnik steering wheel is mounted on a Flaming River tilt shifter column, connected to a Flaming River rack at the opposite end. The shifter handle itself is a custom piece built at Big Oak Garage. The ’54 traveled to Holly Pond, Alabama, where Wayne and Pam McGriff at M&M Hot Rod Interiors upholstered the custom bench and door panel with two-tone leather. Aftermarket handles and pedals complete the interior transformation.

What you can’t see, you can hear. The truck is now equipped with an Alpine stereo with a Memphis amplifier and speakers installed at Sound Decision in Greenville, Tennessee. Air conditioning is provided by a Vintage Air unit with a Sanden compressor underhood. Will Posey, at Big Oak Garage, installed the wiring.