Robert Komlofske said that when he retired from the grocery business his wife Nancy told him he needed to find a job to keep busy. So Robert converted his grocery warehouse in Prineville, Oregon, into a shop and hired some talented builders to help him work on project vehicles.
After seeing a black ’53 Chevy at a Central Oregon car show, Robert started looking for one of his own to build. The right one showed up on the corner of a service station in LaGrande, Oregon. Robert purchased the truck and hauled it back to the shop where he and his crew, Dusty Brock and Scott Hughes, began to disassemble it. When the sheetmetal came back from being sandblasted, they realized that they were looking at a big project.
The first thing he did was call Art Morrison to order a frame. The chassis is built on 2x6-inch ’rails. RideTech springs and QA1 shocks help drop the Chevy as low as it can go. The Strange 9-inch rearend is located by a four-link with a Panhard bar. Wilwood spindles were mounted up front. The entire brake system is Wilwood as well, including front and rear discs, master cylinder, and proportioning valve. The pedal assembly was fabricated at RK Performance Restoration. Robert says the undercarriage turned out as nice as any other portion of the truck, if not nicer.
With the chassis finished, Robert and his crew were able to turn their attention to the powerplant. Robert knew exactly what he wanted: “something that was loud and would turn people’s heads.”
The 540ci Dart engine fills both of those requirements with the additional advantage of providing a big chunk of eye candy for anyone peeking into the immaculately finished engine compartment. Gary Stevenson at Engine Research & Development in Crestwell, Oregon, handled the machining and assembly.
An Eagle 4340 crank and rods move the Diamond Racing pistons. RK Performance Restoration created the valve covers that dress up the Dart Pro 1 heads. The BDS fuel-injection system is matched with a Supercharger USA 8-71 blower. With that potent setup, the engine made 1,100 horses on the dynamometer. When the truck was ready for an exhaust system, it got a set of custom headers and a custom 4-inch dual exhaust built by RK. The 4L80E transmission was built by TCI and features a Northstar 2,600-rpm stall torque converter. The Dynatech driveshaft runs to the Strange 9-inch.
With the sheetmetal repaired and the cab sitting on the frame, Robert could start thinking about the body mods needed to make the truck look the way he knew it should. A 3-inch body drop and 2-inch top chop reduced the profile of the truck even more, and a conversion from a five-window to a three-window further changed the look.
The cowl was shaved and all emblems, badges, handles, mirrors, wipers, driprails, you name it, were eliminated to create a seamless, almost liquid appearance to the body. A one-piece frontend was added to advance a flowing appearance to the truck. The hood was sectioned an inch and the seam was raised to follow the beltline. Both bumpers were eliminated and the headlights were frenched. New runningboards were created to be consistent with the lines. Sherms Custom Plating in Sacramento, California, provided the brightwork.
The bed, handcrafted from steel at RK Performance Restoration, is a piece of art all by itself. A stocker was out of the question at this point, so a wooden bed frame was built and sheetmetal was hung and welded. In addition to sharing the same lines as the rest of the body, it was constructed wide and long to flow from the lines of the cab. The tailgate was angled to keep that flow going right through the rollpan. Lokar billet LED taillights, a frenched license plate, and the frenched screened panel for the exhaust (which matches the valve covers) complete the exterior package. The bed floor is a single smooth piece of steel, protected by an upholstered aluminum tonneau cover.
The rolling stock has to keep up with performance and appearance, so Robert selected billet five-spokes from Intro’s Route 66 series. The 20x15 rears are paired with 29x15x20 Mickey Thompson radials, with 18x8 wheels and 225x40x18 BFG tires in the front.
Once the bodywork was done, the one-of-a-kind ’53 went to Charley Hutton’s Color Studio in Nampa, Idaho, for a custom paintjob. Charley Hutton is an in-demand shooter for top-shelf vehicles, and has worked with builders from Boyd Coddington to Chip Foose. For Robert’s ’53, he shot Rainforest Green, using PPG Envirobase waterborne paint.
Charley Hutton is the one who first suggested to Robert that he should compete for the prestigious Ridler Award at the Detroit Autorama. Robert says he had to ask what the Ridler was. It was at that point, he said, “that I started to think maybe we have more here than we think we have!”
Inside the cab, the shape of the dash is about the only thing hinting at the ’53’s roots. RK Performance Restoration cut out the factory dash to build a smooth variation with a horizontal line of Classic Instruments gauges for a clean appearance. The Billet Specialties steering wheel continues that look. Gabe Lopez has built the interiors for many elite-level award winners, and designed the all-leather interior package for Robert. At Gabe’s Custom Interiors in San Bernardino, California, custom buckets were assembled and upholstered in two-tone leather. Enough leather was left over to cover the door panels, custom center console, and even the floor.
With the interior stitched, the re-imagined Chevy was ready for its first show, the 2012 Detroit Autorama. The long trip from Oregon (not to mention the years of work) paid off. When the ’53 got to Detroit, the judges selected it as one of the Great 8 finalists for the Ridler.
The accolades didn’t stop in Detroit. This summer, Robert’s Chevy was a finalist for the Goodguys LMC Truck of the Year prize, and was recently displayed in the PPG booth at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Robert says he’s now getting invitations from shows all over. He is quick to give Dusty and Scott at RK credit for the success of the ’53. Now they’ve started work on a ’55 Bel Air. For Robert, figuring out how to keep busy in retirement seems to have been accomplished!