Judy Garland once said, “Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else.” If you go to enough car shows, you can spot the difference between customs built with a catalog and an AmEx card and those built by hand with a great deal of thought and patience. Robert Kongelka’s ’56 is no checkbook custom. It took 10 years because Robert enjoys the build more than the finished product. He was in no hurry to get this thing out to shows to win a bed-full of trophies that he could gloat to his friends about. Although he’s already racked up Goodguys Truck of the Year Late Finalist in Charlotte, PPG Dream Car Paint Award, and Outstanding Engine at Detroit Autorama, he’s a modest builder out to get things done right, done uniquely, and done a breed apart from a typical aftermarket project.
Robert’s inspiration for this truck was to give it a luxury sports car feel—a big feat to take on since these ’50s trucks were angular, boxy, and built with extravagance about as far down the priority list as one could imagine. Robert took the wheels off the truck to determine the angle he wanted. With the truck sitting on its front brake drums and the rear jacked up in the air, Robert took the angle and gave the measurements to Fatman to build the custom frame with the desired rake. The frontend is a Mustang II unit with Wilwood brakes and polished stainless control arms. The rearend is a Ford 9-inch with QA1 coilovers. It rolls on Billet Specialties (18x8 front; 20x10 rear) with the spoked area painted the same gray color found on other parts of the truck.
Body mods on this truck are subtle, almost hidden in plain sight, but there was a lot of work that went into making them deceptively stock looking. Tons of mocking up with Styrofoam blocks was done by Community Chevrolet and Eldred Hotrod to accomplish the curved rear you see. Many areas including the doors and front fenders had the 90-degree stock corners radiused for a rounder, cleaner look. The top was chopped 2 inches with glass cut to fit by Hoffman Glass Co., and a custom third brake light molded into the roof. Robert helped devise the custom panel under the bed that encases the exhaust.
The rear fenders were reduced 5 inches to close up the wheel opening and material was added to the front of the bed to compensate for the reduction and disguise the appearance. The rear edges and tailgate were also rounded off with ’37 Ford taillights molded in. The front edge of the bed was raised and modified so it closed the gap into the recess of the cab. Robert also added metal flares to the bedsides to meet up with the cab’s original impression for the bed. The bed steps were also flared out and modified to blend into the extra material added. The birdseye maple bed wood was sourced from an Amish carpenter and laminated to bed boards underneath to fill out the whistle-clean rear.
The front end is basically one piece held on with six bolts and a system of guide pins to make all the panels line up laser straight. Turn signals were removed and a ’55 Chevy passenger-car bumper was flipper over to cap off the front. Above that resides a ’57 Corvette grille that was modified with eight teeth removed. The 1½-inch pancaked hood and reinforced using sheetmetal and rolled ribs for stiffening. Prototype hinges from Ring Brothers were used to carry the hood’s extra weight and keep it lined up with the surrounding panels. Inside the engine bay you’ll be hard pressed to find any hoses or wires and that’s the way Robert planned it. The A/C and heater hoses run forward to an aluminum block, which takes them down low into the inner fender where they run into the cabin.
Powering this beast is a mid-’90s LT4 with Speed Pro pistons, ported LT4 heads, a hydraulic roller cam, 1,000-cfm BBK throttle body, and Sanderson headers, built by Darrel Lasher. A 4L60E trans with a Derale cooler churns out an estimated 525 hp from the block to the 3.73-cogged rear. If you woke up inside the wheelhouse, you might think you were in a Corvette at first. The ’55 dash was given an additional eyebrow that was extended downward and houses Classic Instruments analog gauges. Wood from the bed was also integrated into the instrument cluster, pedals, and leather-wrapped Billet Specialties steering wheel. An overhead unit splits the roof area into two pieces and a custom center console splits the modified leather Hummer seats done by Sew It Seams in Erie, Pennsylvania. The PPG Vibrance Cabernet and gray is separated by a pinstripe that matches the gauges. Controls for the Vintage Air unit and ignition switch are hidden under the driver side visor. A Kenwood head unit and Rockford Fosgate amp and speakers pump out tunes with a Painless wiring unit stringing all the electronics together.
This truck hasn’t been on the road very long, but has already caught the eye of discerning critics. Robert’s knack for the build certainly paid off. Although he’s bummed this particular project has come to an end, he now has an excuse to start another project. Oh wait…he already has!