I found my truck in Hemmings Motor News in July of 2000. The seller lived on the western end of Long Island, New York. It is a 1/2 ton Longbed with the original 228 engine and a Hydramatic Transmission. Added options include the deluxe 5 window cab and an original AM radio. Fenton Headers and dual exhaust were also added at some point.
When I took the truck for a ride at the seller's home, it was the first time I had driven a Hydra-Matic. At the time, I had no idea whether the transmission was working properly. The rest of the truck looked pretty solid so I made him an offer. My offer was accepted and I arranged to have the truck trailered to my home.
During that first summer, I drove the truck to a few shows. One truck that caught my eye was a beautful Chevy that was the same year as mine. The engine compartment was perfectly restored, and certainly much nicer that what was lurking under my hood.
A previous owner had done a careless job and sprayed undercoating material everywhere. Nothing escaped his nozzle. The wiring harness, parts of the block, the inner fenders, and the radiator were all in the line of fire.
Having been inspired by that top notch engine compartment, I thought would pull the motor and clean things up. At the time, I had no idea that I would soon be in the firm grip of the "Might As Wells."
With the engine removed, I found the inner fenders and firewall covered in undercoater. To clean and refinish them properly, I thought I "Might As Well" strip the nose from the truck. Off came the bumper, the grill, the fenders, and the inner fenders.
I put the nose sheet metal aside and first painted the engine with Bill Hirsch Engine Enamel. I know nothing about auto spray painting. Fortunately I had a great neighbor who sprayed the block for me, giving me a few spray painting lessons in the process. I bead blasted the Fenton Headers and painted them with some Hi Temp Manifold Paint.
After completing the engine, I decided to pull the Hydra-Matic Transmission to get at the peeling paint on the underside of the cab. I also looked at the gasket where the torque tube mounted against the rear end housing. The gasket was leaking and to fix it the housing was going to have to come apart. I had been on the fence about changing the original 4:11 gears to Patrick's 3:55 gear set. There would not be a better time to do the work as long as I was removing the torque tube.
I was fortunate to have a friend who had done the Patrick's swap on his own car. It was a fairly straightforward job. Patrick's instructions made removing the pinion bearing from the shaft sound like a simple task. We had a lot of trouble and ended up using a puller and an impact wrench to remove the bearing. Setting the lash between the ring and pinion was tricky but also a pretty interesting process. It certainly helped to have an expert assistant.
After sanding, priming and painting the rear end assembly, I started to grind and sand away on the frame and underside of the cab. This was probably the low point of the job for me. The work is dusty and dirty but all part of the process. Stripping the firewall was slow time consuming work.
When I was ready for paint, I once again enlisted the help of my neighbor to spray paint the firewall. We primed then painted it gloss black to match the outer sheet metal. I was not planning on doing any work to the paint on the outside of the truck so I had to be careful to carefully mask everything from overspray. After the firewall was done, I masked that off then started priming and painting the frame.
I also blasted and primed the front axle, new front springs, tie rod, brake backing plates, shock absorbers, and other small front end parts.
Now that the important painting was finished, I thought I would try my hand at painting the frame. I primed it then gun sprayed it with Eastwood's Chassis Black. While re-assembling the front end, I thought I "Might As Well" replace the wheel cylinders, brake hoses, and brake shoes. Kanter Auto Parts was a great resource for those parts.
I re-installed the newly painted and rebuilt 3.55 torque tube assembly and Hydramatic Transmission. Next up was installing the engine. In the back of the flywheel for a Hydra-Matic is a large O ring about 18 inches in diameter. This seals the auto trans fluid between the torus cover and the flywheel. When I installed the O ring it kept working its way out of the groove. After experimenting a bit, I used some Permatex # 2 in hopes that the O ring would stay in place while I installed the flywheel against the torus cover and bolted it up. I hoisted the engine in place and the cover bolted up nicely. I worried about that O ring for a few weeks until I got the truck running. After all that worrying there were not any leaks after all.
The shift linkage for the Hydramatic was a bit tricky to get back in properly. Thankfully I had taken a bunch of pictures when I pulled it apart. Remember, you can never be too rich, too thin, or take too many pictures during a restoration !
With the engine in the frame, I began installing the new wiring harness and bending the fuel and vacuum lines in the engine compartment. I tried to do as much engine work as I could while I had easy access.
I rebuilt the starter and generator and painted them. Not many parts escaped the inside of my new bead blasting cabinet.
Blasting the undercoating from the inner fenders was a time consuming process. The glass beads in my cabinet were not doing the trick. I placed a call to TP Tools, the manufacturer of my cabinet. They recommended I change to a media they call "First Choice." Once I put that material into the cabinet, the old undercoater began to come off. It was still slow going, but when I put the final finish on the inner fenders, they looked like brand new.
I had my friend Rob English help me install the outer fenders, hood and radiator supports. As anybody who has tried to line up an AD hood is aware, it can be a tricky job. Having someone who has been through it once before is a great help.
Ray Stanley, the Metal Man, did a great job repairing and straightening a used splash apron found on E Bay. The truck it came from had been in an accident and the apron was badly bent.
The engine started easily. I had the usual trials of adjusting the timing and the carburetor, but it runs nicely now. I had my original AM radio converted to FM by Gary Tayman in Florida. He did a great job while preserving the original look. The Patrick's 3.55 gears completely changed the personality of the truck. The lower rear gear ratio reduces engine rpm and lessens the howl on the highway. I am glad I made the swap.
It turns a lot of heads and inspires some great stories from people about their cars of the old days.