One of the biggest advantages to choosing an early ’60s theme for his custom ’58 Chevy Apache is that it gave Pete Wittenberg a lot of freedom and flexibility. By that era, custom styles had become wild and diverse. Build a vehicle with a ’40s or ’50s theme, and you’re inviting criticism from people eager to insist that “they didn’t do that back then.” When you move up into the ’60s, comments like that lose their clout because the whole point of ’60s styling was to do something different.
When Pete got it, the ’58 was a non-running, all-stock Stepside. He’d already been given a ’74 Chevy C10 and was getting ready to rebuild the motor and use it as a shop truck. A friend owned the Apache and wanted to trade it for something he could drive right away. So Pete fixed the ’74, traded it for the ’58, and decided to build the older truck quickly as a “rolling business card” for Pete’s Rod & Custom, his shop in Anaheim, California. With that initial investment of $0, the project began. Pete doesn’t consider it a “project” as much as seven years of constant variations and changes that eventually ended up like this.
When work began, the exterior was pretty rough, with rust on the cab corners and elsewhere. Once the sheetmetal work began, it was hard to stop. The truck underwent most of the custom mods the ’60s are remembered for: nosed hood, moulded seams, sectioned crown, one-piece door glass, and shaved door handles and trim. Pete performed a taper chop on the top, carving 2½ inches at the A-pillars and 2 inches at the B-pillars. The rear window was kept stock, but lowered; other glass was chopped by Paul Rick. Justin Bergsto and Jason Pyne contributed to the bodywork as well.
As you can see, a Fleetside shortbed takes the place of the original Stepside. A custom rear pan replaces the rear bumper. The bed floor is 16-gauge steel. Clamshell doors in the wheel tubs allow access to the airbag suspension. A white furry fabric cover takes things straight back to the show rods and customs of 50 years ago. The DuPont paint color is a custom gold pearl/green mixed and applied by Pete and Justin Bergsto. West Coast ’striper Dennis Ricklefs added the gold scallops and pinstripes.
The look is completed with period-style wheels and tires. Wheelsmith 15-inch steelies have been powdercoated glossy black and dressed up with Starburst wheel covers from Mooneyes. The nostalgic wide whitewalls are American Classic low-profile radials.
With those looks, this truck had to be a pavement scraper. Step-notched rear framerails, reversed and de-arched rear leafs, Doetsch shocks, and front and rear Firestone airbags put Pete’s ’58 in the weeds. Air suspension compressors and tanks were located in front of the bed. A ’78 Olds front clip was added to the ’58 frame, and the stock rearend was replaced with a mid-’70s Camaro 3.20:1 rear. For braking, an ABS master cylinder, booster, proportioning valve, and pedal assembly are plumbed to Olds discs and Camaro drums.
The engine compartment is packed with a Chevy 350 small-block built by Pete in period style. The center of attention is the Cadillac-style air cleaner, finished in gold paint and white pinstriping. Below that, an Edelbrock four-barrel carburetor is mounted on a vintage-looking GM polished aluminum dual-plane intake with a breather tube. An HEI ignition provides fire. Stock exhaust manifolds and 30-inch Blue Streak glasspacks take care of the exhaust. Ron Walzak in Anaheim built the Turbo 350 transmission, modified with a mild shift kit.
Inside the cab, things are finished with period simplicity. At L’s Upholstery in Anaheim, the stock bench was reupholstered with a diamond tuck pattern, like you would have seen in the customs cruising Bellflower Boulevard at one time. The black Naugahyde is contrasted with green stitching and piping that matches the body color. The door panels were kept simple with black semi-gloss. Pete smoothed the entire steel dash, ’striped by Ian Hartley, and installed Auto Meter gauges underneath. Kick panel speakers are part of the Alpine stereo system. A tall Gennie floor shifter replaces the old column shifter, and a ’70-something Chevy van tilt column is topped with a Mooneyes metalflake steering wheel.
Since we took these photos, the Chevy taillight lenses have been replaced by ’50 Pontiac lenses in the Chevy bezels, and fender spears have been highlighted with silver ’flake paint and chrome tape. That’s why we couldn’t get Pete to call his truck “finished.” Typical of early ’60s customs, the ’58 is still undergoing constant variations and changes—and always will be as long as Pete’s having fun. “I got carried away,” he told us, “and now I don’t use it for anything but showboating!”