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.
It’d be tough to find an engine compartment more sanitary than the one under the hood of Steve’s ’54. The custom firewall and inner fenders surround a well-detailed ’74 Chevy small-block. T A’s Automotive Machine near Gadsden, Alabama, did the machining on the engine, assembled by Jimmy Posey at Big Oak Garage. A Street Demon 650 carburetor feeds an Edelbrock manifold and is topped by a Big Oak Garage custom air cleaner. The exhaust system—from headers to mufflers—is stainless. Valve covers came from Clayton Machine Works. The 350 is matched to a TH350 automatic assembled by Frost Transmission in Rainbow City, Alabama.
The Chevy rolls low over a complete custom chassis, provided by Street Rod Garage in Grant, Alabama. Modifications done there include stretching the wheelbase 11⁄2 inches and fabricating an independent suspension for the frontend. A new Ford 9-inch, loaded with a 3.73:1 gear and equipped with limited slip, hangs on a triangulated four-link suspension. Both ends of the chassis were beefed up with QA1 coilovers and heavy-duty antiroll bars to enhance handling.
Upgraded wheels and tires go a long way to improving the ride too—not to mention the appearance. The aluminum five-spokes are 20x10s and 18x8s, and are from Schott Wheels’ Americana Series. They straddle the line between classic and contemporary and fill the wheelwells just right. The tires are low-profile 295/40R20 and 245/40R18 Yokohamas. With Wilwood 13-inch disc brakes added front and rear, Steve never has a problem stopping.
The Chevy came out of the Big Oak Garage paint booth finished in PPG Toreador Red, shot by Barry Alford. It wasn’t long after that Steve’s ’54 Chevy made its impression on Bobby Alloway and many other enthusiasts in Nashville—and not long after that the photos for this feature story were taken. Maybe the next goal should be to wear out the odometer gears—and there’s only one way to do that. … CCT