THE HOT ROD PICK-UP
This pick-up is by far the project that most defined my course as a car guy. It was the summer of 1991, and I had been dreaming about owning a Chevy Pick-up to customize for a couple of years. Dad and I were making a trip to Great Falls and I was planning to trade off my freestyle bike for a mountain bike. Well, used car lots were part of the trip as well. I had been drawing up paint schemes for a while, most inspired by Truckin’ Magazine, which was my portal to the world outside of Montana. Most of my designs were based on a long box, because I never thought I would find a short box step-side that I could afford.
At one of the lots we stopped at, next to the office trailer was a 1975 Chevy short box stepside. It was crudely lowered, cheaply painted, and most if not all of the tires were flat. It had just come in, and hadn’t been prepped yet, (which for this lot meant putting air in the tires I guess!) and I knew it was to be mine. About a month later, after delivery from Jim (seems like he had delivered all my good projects) and a loan from Jill (!) it was finally home. I remember taking it for a drive down the road, and how excited I was to be driving this bomb of my very own. I even thought it was cool that it spun the tires… on gravel. Wow, how naïve I was. Well, before I could even take good before pictures, I had the thing torn down to a bare frame.
In the next year, I sandblasted everything, painted it all pretty colors, (and we had just come out of the ‘80’s, so I mean pretty colors), and assembled again. I had painted one vehicle before this pick-up, so I learned a lot. Learning about fish-eye is a memory I could live without, but I managed. Soon after, we moved from Havre to Spokane. The box was not finished yet, and Dad was hanging back in Havre to finish harvest. I was 15 and had my Montana driver’s license, but the age most everywhere else in the country is 16, so for about half a year, all I could do is come home from school, pull it out of the garage, and tinker. Well, in not too long, I got my license back, had the box painted in town, and spent the next couple years messing with pretty insignificant modifications.
By my senior year, I was ready for renovation #2. I took auto-body class simply to use their paint booth at the end of the year, and I worked on the bodywork at home after work every night. This renovation included the upgrade to the 1991 Suburban Blazer front end, frenched antennae, custom corvette tailgate, and rally stripes. At some point during the year, a lady pulled out in front of me, and in states other than Michigan, insurance works well for young people who can’t afford full coverage. I soon received a settlement for $1000, and could finally afford real GM doors and NEW WHEELS! I also bought handles from a 90’s Chevy pick-up, shaved the old handles, and mounted the new ones lower in the door. Dad just rolled his eyes when I pulled the new GM doors out of the box and began to cut holes in them! (It took him several years to come around, now he doesn’t flinch when I tell him I want to cut a pick-up in half and take a foot out!) I finished painting the pick-up one of the last weeks of high school, and drove it around Spokane for about a year like this.
Next stop, GMI, in Flint Michigan… with a matching lowered step side trailer with matching 12” wide tires, of course. But I soon learned that the roads in MI weren’t conducive to Hot Rods, and the people here couldn’t understand the difference between Hot Rod and low rider. It got no respect. Well, some, but people here weren’t used to vehicles sitting 2” off the ground. Well, things were soon to change.
It was my first work term in Detroit, two weekends before Thanksgiving, and I was at work in Bloomfield Hills on a Saturday. I hadn’t called Rhonda’s house that often since we had been at school together so much, so I couldn’t remember her number. Little did I know she was trying to get a hold of me to tell me not to come to Grand Rapids. I left Detroit and it was raining. Before I hit Flint it was snowing, but I was in charge, “get out of my way people, I going to see Rhonda, and I know what snow is!” Somewhere around Lansing, I was seriously thinking that I should have had my snow tires on, as the 12” meats weren’t too good in this slush. I was sideways every time I changed lanes, and the frozen slush in the Lund visor was catching the tips of my wiper blades, but I was still passing every car I came up on. “Why are these people driving so slow?” White knuckled, I got off the freeway at Rhonda’s exit, and started down a snowy road to her house. I was still 10 minutes away, so I was still cruising at the speed limit, wishing someone had plowed this road. Then I hit the big drift. It was clear that it was more than my ground clearance could handle, and the back end suddenly felt like it was moving just a hair faster than the front. I started veering off the road, but the underside of the pick-up was essentially just a sled now, and the wheels where not acting as very good skis! I saw a big gap in some trees lining the road, but couldn’t manage to get between them. I clipped the right front, and the pick-up spun 90 degrees, the tailgate facing the road. Long story short…er, I knew at that time what a lake-effect snow storm was.
I was well on my way to my first federally funded car project, as I was living on student loans now. A guy at work had been wanting me to do the body work on his race car, but I wasn’t interested. Well, now he had a carrot, if I did his car, then I could use his garage to finish my pick-up. So I signed on, first primering his buddy’s 1971 ‘Cuda which was on a rotisserie. This guy happened to have a Corvette rear suspension in his garage, and he offered me a killer price that I couldn’t refuse. After I finished the race car, (one of my best blocking jobs, giving me tendonitis in my shoulders to this day) I began on renovation #3.
This one was one of my best. Corvette suspension, molded shut tailgate, molded front rollpan, cowl induction hood, and a 90 degree sunroof that gave me a convertible without losing my door frames. It was going to be good. But no one was real impressed around here with vehicles in the weeds, I decided to lift it a little bit. Of course, the tire setup was almost perfect for the ride height before, but now I needed to fill the wheel wells a little more. Tire technology wasn’t where it should have been at the time, (says I) and I had to settle for 285/65/15s on back, and 275/60/15s on the front. Well, needless to say, the pick-up just never looked right again.
Michiganders liked it, but I wasn’t happy with it. Roll pans just aren’t at home a foot off the ground. (They belong about 2 inches off.) This combined with the fact that I couldn’t stop customizing it, and I kept running into the constraints of the original bodywork, (oh, and my tuition dilemma). It was at this point that I realized that I really wanted to start from scratch and design and build my own vehicle. Years later, this dream has taken the name of....The Race Car.