What’s it take to set a truck apart from the crowd anymore? In retrospect we had it easy a few years ago. Power anything with some modern running gear, bag it, shave it, and ribbon it with graphics and voilà — instant crowd. Ask any cutting-edge builder today and they’d confirm that the days of simple trucks with stock bodies, simple paint, and steel springs are over.
Apparently Jon Shaffer never got that memo. I don’t think it would’ve mattered anyway; he sees things a little differently. Shaffer works for the third largest heavy-truck manufacturer in the world. Specifically he works at the company’s technical center, the place where engineers send their designs to see what it takes to break ’em. And if one learns anything in testing it’s that simple is better. To paraphrase GM’s Charles Kettering, parts left off don’t cause problems.
Just as a sharp person doesn’t get good at breaking things without learning what makes them better, a restless one can’t just learn without applying that information in one way or another. Shaffer’s restless, but a big rig doesn’t exactly lend itself to experimentation. So he scaled down a bit. He built a mini-truck—a 1969 Chevy to be exact.
As most stories start today, he found it on Craigslist. “It was an old high school friend’s dad’s truck,” Jon begins. Will Vandermulen, he explains, is a local legend for having and knowing all about ’67-72 GM trucks. “I picked his brain and parts piles many times,” Jon says.
Actually what Shaffer really started with was a cab and chassis. He stripped and prepped the frame, but before building it he kicked it up 2 inches at the front crossmember. He retained the stock control arms, but swapped the springs for 3-inch Classic Performance Products drop coils. The modular CPP knuckles drop the truck farther and give it its later five-lug pickup discs. The truck also has power steering, 1969 being the first to get the integral-assist box.
If they were good enough for the NASCAR boys, the trailing arms were good enough for Shaffer. In anticipation of the truck’s proposed ride height, however, he swapped the stock stamped crossmember for a Porterbuilt tubular variant. He achieved the drop with QA1 coilovers and swapped the fixed Panhard rod for an adjustable one from Chassis Engineering. To maintain suspension travel at the truck’s new ride height Shaffer cut away the frame over the axle and bridged the gap with rectangular tubing.
Shark Racing in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, machined the vintage ’70s 350 block. Judging by the low compression, a consequence of flat-top pistons and large-chamber heads, it comes across as almost weak. But Shaffer did that to give a B&M 144-series blower the opportunity to make up the difference with displacement. This one sports a 700-cfm 4150-series Holley.
That engine feeds a 700-R4 transmission. Transmission Outlet of Burlington, Washington, endowed it with heavy-duty bands, a Corvette servo, and a Transgo shift kit. Blower engines don’t trade low-speed torque to build power, so the truck gets away with a remanufactured low-stall converter.
A Drivelines Northwest shaft transmits torque to a 12-bolt pickup axle. A 3.73:1 cog multiplies the torque and a GM Positraction limited-slip gear carrier feeds it to a pair of Dutchman 1541H shafts. The axle ends boast GM disc brakes. A pair of 15⁄8-inch-diameter Hedman headers feed the 2½-inch diameter exhaust system Shaffer built from stainless tubing sourced from Columbia River Mandrel Bending, Flowmaster Super 44-series mufflers, and MagnaFlow Camaro exhaust tips.
The frame bridge required a raised bed floor, or at least holes in the bed. But rather than do the work and end up with another wood floor he built a new one from a later-series longbed pickup. He installed it high enough to clear the bridge and trimmed it for widened ’90s C1500 wheelwells. He spanned the 3-inch gap between the new bed floor and the old bed’s threshold with sheetmetal and mounted the fuel tank filler there. With the bedsides in place, the finished structure looks as if Chevrolet built it as a test for the following series.
Shaffer back-dated his ’69 with a ’68 grille. He eliminated its integrated turn signals by replacing the lower opening with a spare upper opening. He nosed the hood above it and mounted it with Porterbuilt’s cowl hinges. More than just shave it, he completely re-skinned the flat part of the firewall. Shaffer also fabricated the inner fender panels to accommodate the wheels’ new location.
He used a Key Parts smoothie front bumper, but only after having Queen City Plating redo it for an acceptable finish. Queen City also did the rear bumper after Shaffer modified the mounts to raise it, notched its top to fit the body’s profile, and shaved its fastening holes.
The truck breaks with full-custom convention by wearing its door handles. He threw another curveball by using parts from the GM pile not usually seen on these pickups. The door mirrors, for example, came from a ’67 Impala; the side badges, a ’62 pickup. Finally he relocated the tailgate handle to the inside of the box.
Inside the cab, Shaffer smoothed the dash, filled the speaker hole and climate control panel, and redesigned the defrost vents. He grafted an early Chevrolet rocker cover script to the glovebox door and made the gauge panel from a spare glovebox door. A Vintage Air climate control system got tucked up under the dash and its control panel hidden in the glovebox. Auto Meter Pro Comp Ultra Lite gauges fill the modified dash insert and a Ron Francis kit was used to wire the truck. A Lokar shifter stalk sprouts from the floor.
Reshaped foam belies the ’94 Chevy pickup seat’s heritage. Frank Castilleja at Frank’s Custom Upholstery in Burlington trimmed it and the door and kick panels in red Ultraleather and the floors in bright red loop-pile carpet. He installed an ididit steering column that wears a Budnik Beveled Sport steering wheel.
Mount Vernon’s Manuel Padilla applied the finish, a Matrix System base/clear formula dubbed Bright Silver. Glazier Sammy Aguilar installed the glass and Mukilteo’s Queen City Plating finished the brightwork.
For most of us, a truck finished to the level Shaffer took his to is a keeper. To him, however, it’s a proof of concept—it validated his ideas, primarily that he could build a truck from pretty much scratch. So when someone offered more money than Shaffer could resist, he turned the truck loose.
Jon Shaffer assures us that this won’t be his last, though. When pressed for what the next one might look like, he shrugged. “I don’t know,” he says, “But I have some things I’d like to try out.”
For most of us, a truck finished to the level Shaffer took his to is a keeper. To him, however, it’s a proof of concept—it validated his ideas, primarily that he could build a truck from pretty much scratch.