When Robert Latuso opened the cab door of a farm truck he went to inspect for purchase, the sight and stench almost knocked him over. The ’49 Chevy 3100 had been dormant for over 30 years; an old work truck left to the elements in rural Connecticut that, over time, had become a playpen for several species of varmints roaming free on the property.
The faded green 3100 had dented up fenders, broken glass and four flat tires, but was pretty much as complete as the day it left the assembly line, still showing a measly 39k on the odometer. Out back, the bed was rotted to its skeleton, but luckily the cab was in reasonably good condition…minus the previously mentioned interior, which looked like the local critters chomped on, lived in, and died in most of the soft goods.
A deal was quickly struck and Robert transported his new Chevy back home. Once he arrived with his new possession, he immediately tore into the time capsule of an engine bay. Within two hours, the previously triple-decade dormant Chevy sprang to life, first spewing out some smoke, and then a steady rumble. From there Robert replaced the glass, fixed the soft brakes, and flushed the tank, thus making the truck drivable.
The only necessity now needed to get it out on the road was an insurance card. Unfortunately, the pictures of his new ride submitted to classic car insurance companies did not pass inspection with agents, so Robert quickly prepped the body and sprayed the truck with a coat of green enamel to hopefully make it more photogenic. With this new skin, the truck received its insurance card, giving the owner a green light to get it out on the street.
Robert had big plans for the Chevy from the start. Being a schooled body “artisan,” he was ready to tackle the old GM and make it into his dream ride. First off, the cab, hood and fenders were media blasted, taking them down to bare skin. Next purchase was an Art Morrison chassis with square tube rails. The rear leafs were kept out back though, because Robert wanted the Chevy to still have that “trucky” feel to it.
Up front, Robert installed a coil-spring front suspension for better handling. A Currie 9-inch Ford rear stuffed with 3.70 gears was placed out back to handle the kind of power that the owner was dreaming of. GM-issue disc brakes were placed up front, while a set of Ford Explorer discs handle the rear stopping power.
For “motor motivation” Robert wanted something dependable; an engine he was familiar with, and of course, something that would tear up the rear skins when needed. He chose a 2002 LS1 Corvette motor to power his ride, knowing the capabilities of this powerplant quite well. After going through the engine, he added chromed-out Street & Performance pulleys and accessories. To top off the look, our owner custom fabricated a set of aluminum injector plenum covers that he had chromed. These pieces add a nice touch to an already impressive engine. To get this truck through the gears, a 2000 4L60E four-speed overdrive automatic was hooked up to the LS1. This unit would give Robert the proper gearing for not only local cruising, but also give him performance on long highway hauls where an overdrive would come in handy.
The tight engine bay was the next thing to tackle. Our owner realized right away that space needed to be cleared to get the big V-8 to sit properly in the bay with its needed accessories. Robert used his body shop skills to custom fabricate new inner fender skirts for the Chevy, which took over 120 hours. Up top, the hood’s emblem was removed and the part was welded into one piece. A section of ’49 GMC hood molding was then added.
On the cab, Robert fixed one rotted corner of the cab, and the air vents were welded shut and leveled to smooth out the body. The windshield was next. Robert purchased a one-piece curved unit with tint for comfort.
The rear fenders were beyond repair, so they were replaced with new ones. The entire bed and tailgate are new steel units, purchased from Mar-K Company. The entire body was then straightened and primed in red Glasurit urethane primer and prepped for final paint.
The body was coated by Robert himself in Glasurit “Tahitian Sunset Red” urethane. It’s a color-shifting holographic paint. In direct light you can easily see four different colors popping, from near whites to gold, orange and red hues. It’s a sight to see. After the paint cured, it was wet sanded and buffed out to a miraculous shine. The bed wood was then prepped, stained Ipswich, and cleared with eight coats of urethane.
Final assembly was done in Robert’s garage behind his home in Long Island. The motor was laid softly between the newly fabricated inner fenders. Sanderson headers were added, hooked to 2½-inch pipes leading into Flowmasters. The tailpipe was redirected to come out of the center, under the license plate. Fuel is supplied by a new custom stainless tank by Valley.
In the cab, this truck has been implemented with some modern creature comforts. A/C and heat are supplied by Vintage Air, and the control panel is frenched into the dash. The interior soft goods were replenished by J&J Upholstery in Glen Cove, New York, a new shop that’s made a name for itself doing great work at reasonable prices. Sound is supplied by a 3,000-watt Alpine amp feeding a 10-inch sub under the seat. A Pioneer GPS 7-inch radio is the brain to all this mayhem. The interior is a Tea’s split-back bench seat covered in brown Ostrich California leather. Its hue nicely complements the orange shifting patterns on the truck’s skin.
First off, Robert would like to thank his dad, Ernie, who at a young 85 years of age, still helps out with all of Rob’s projects, and inspired him to go into the body and fender business. Without dad’s support, this build would never have come to fruition.
A special thanks goes out to Dennis Cataldo; you might remember his beautiful Studebaker truck that graced the pages of this here magazine a few months back. Dennis’ shop, Dentz Unlimited in Brooklyn, New York, was used to spray the bed body panels during the build. Marty Cohen and Gibraltar Collision in Floral Park, New York, were used for the exterior paint on the cab, doors and hood panels.
For now, Robert cruises consistently all over the Metro New York area showing off his prized ride. And he loves the way the build all came together and logs some pretty heavy miles cruising in the Tahitian Orange Chevy each summer. No plans for any changes, as he’s just happy as heck that the nasty chicken coop smell is out of the cab, and had it replaced with some sweet-smelling leather.