My vintage Chevy hauler's bed was in sad shape and needed replacing. Bashed and battered for the better part of 50 years, every panel showed evidence of use and abuse. Rather than try to repair the damage, we decided to replace the entire bed, including the wood floor. Luckily, everything necessary to do the job was available from Classic Industries in Huntington Beach, California. We simply had to tell them the year, model, bed length, and whether it was for a Stepside or Fleetside design. We also upgraded to oak bed wood and polished stainless skid strips. Aside from that, everything is stock in appearance.

To order everything, we needed to make a short phone call -- my credit card took care of the preliminaries. While waiting for the new pieces to arrive, we removed the old bed. The components just unbolted, and the entire disassembly took about an hour. Afterwards, the chassis was cleaned and painted, and a few items were fixed that were hard to reach with the bed in place. By the time this freshen-up and repair process was completed, the new bed kit had arrived. Soon we were assembling the new pieces. If you're planning to purchase a new bed for your Chevy/GMC pickup, here's how easy replacing it can be.

To begin, we prepared the bed wood with three good coats of urethane varnish to prevent any damage or deterioration. We applied the finish to the tops, bottoms, and ends of the wood planks to prevent warping and cupping. We started by giving each board a coat of quality urethane and letting them dry. Then, we sanded them with 320-grit open-coat sandpaper. After applying a second coat and sanding again with 320-grit, a third coat was laid down and sanded with 400-grit. We gave the wood a couple of days to cure, then polished it with a good paste wax.

Next, we gave the metal bed components a few coats of primer and block-sanded them. We then shot three wet coats of topcoat in our preferred color over all the surfaces. This was allowed to dry and harden for several days. The original crossbraces were salvaged and sandblasted. We then shot all the braces (original as well as new replacements from Classic Industries) with primer and chassis black.

Bracing and Brackets

Each bed-reinforcing brace is unique -- examine your vehicle's assembly manual or take a close look at the photo nearby to see which one goes where. The front brace was drilled for the sheetmetal front piece of the bed box. Therefore, the holes to accommodate it had to face the front.

We leaned the front sheetmetal panel for the bed against the cab so we could bolt it into place with the bed wood. This piece could slide in later, but it was easier and neater to attach while building the platform. The lower portion of the front bed flange fit under the planks, but on top of the front crossbrace.

The crossbraces were held in place by long bolts that passed through the key planks of the bed. We made sure these were the ones with eccentric holes in them, then we placed them on the braces so the attaching bolts went in closer to the rear of the truck bed. Also, we made sure the bolt holes were oriented toward the center of the truck and the wider sides of the planks were toward the outside.

We put the long bed bolts and eccentric washers into the bed planks, down through the braces, and into the chassis. We located these bolts in place, then laid out the other oak planks on the crossbraces. Note that the outside boards had no groove for the bed strips where the sides of the bed attached, making them easy to spot. The two narrowest planks went towards the center from the attaching bed strips, then the two wider planks followed.

The metal bed strips were put in place and we arranged the planks so they were even at the ends. We made sure the ends of the bed strips with two holes close together were at the front. We then placed a carriage bolt in each hole while lining up the planks on the crossbraces. We had a friend press down on the bolts while we climbed under the truck and installed the nuts and lock washers. Everything was left a little loose so we could inspect the completed bed assembly to ensure everything was right.

We positioned the side panels on the outer planks and marked a spot through each fastener hole. It's important to have the side panels exactly located before marking these holes before drilling. We removed the side panel and drilled the 5/16-inch holes for the carriage bolts that would hold the side panels in place.

We attached the side panels to the front panel, making sure the lower three bolts went in with their heads facing to the rear. The top bolts holding the front panel in place went in the opposite direction, from front to rear. No nuts were needed on these bolts because there were nuts welded in for them on the bed front panel. The side panels were attached to the bed with the bolts provided. We had to do a little filing on the upper parts of the bolts to get them to fit properly.

If you plan on color-sanding and buffing the paint on your truck, now would be the time to buff the side panels before bolting the fenders on. We went over the side panels, stake pockets, and top rolled flange of the bed with some 1,000-grit micro-fine sandpaper and water, followed by 2,000-grit paper. We then buffed the results with System One polish from Eastwood.

A couple of long bolts with nuts attached loosely were used on either side to locate the fenders on the side panels. The fenders were attached to the side panels, but the nuts were not run tight. With the fenders located, we color-sanded and rubbed them out.

When we had the fenders looking how we wanted, we took them off the side panels and removed the locating bolts. Then, we attached a bead of strip caulk around the fender flanges. You can find strip caulk at automotive paint stores. It helps seal grooves and avoid rattles.

The next step required two people. The fenders on '50s-era Chevy/GMC pickups were originally attached with clutch head bolts. We ordered a new set of 10 and located one of the original wrenches at a swap meet. At first glance, clutch head bolts look like Allen head bolts, but the actual grooves in the heads of the bolts have a kind of dog-bone shape. The original bolts are available from Classic Industries, but good luck finding a wrench for them.

Fender bolts are also available with Phillips or Allen slot heads if you can't find a wrench for the original and correct clutch head bolts. It's much easier to install the fenders with the back axle on jack stands and the wheels removed. But this can be done with the wheel in place. A helper can push a couple of upper fender bolts through the side panels to locate and attach the fender. Your helper needs to hold the bolts stationary while the nuts are run up under the fenders.

It was necessary to press on the ends of the fenders to get all of the bolts to align. A large Phillips screwdriver was used to align holes that didn't exactly line up. When all of the bolts were attached and in place, we tightened them securely. The next step was to attach the reinforcing brackets and steps to the bed in front of the fenders. Again, we left them loose until they were aligned correctly, then tightened them in place.

Tailgate chains couldn't be simpler to install. We slipped the square rod attached to the chain holder loop into the square hole in the stake pocket and pushed it through to the other side. The chain holder ring was placed vertical rather than horizontal. The nuts and lock washers were then tightened in place.

Our tailgate pivots on special rollers. These were originally made of steel, but we chose to install urethane replacements to avoid squeaks and noise. One roller was installed by pushing its attaching screw through the tailgate flange on the rear of the side panel. We put the other roller in the opposite end of the tailgate, then slipped the tailgate on to the roller already installed on the bed and pushed the tailgate into place. The screw for the other roller was then installed.

Everything was then looked over carefully. All the alignments were correct and there were no extra parts. We did our final tightening on all the fasteners. Important note: Do not over-tighten the nuts that hold the bed wood in place because you may deform the fender washers that support them. Finally, we hooked up our bed chains, and we were ready for some heavy hauling. CCT

Classic Industries