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New book!

Book Review

Tom Brownell's Updated

How to Restore Your Chevrolet Pickup

By John Milliman

Motorbooks International updates the classic!  

Our favorite book better!    Probably the most dog-eared, grease-stained, battle-scarred book in my library is the same as yours.

    Since 1993, when I grabbed it from a rack at my favorite bookstore like a strung-out junkie fiercely clutching his next hit, it has been my constant companion through one and a half frame-off restorations of battered, old Stovebolts. Through its pages of inspiration, I met Barry Weeks and a few other Stovebolt notables. Not the least of whom (if, indeed, any rank should be ascribed to this merry band of Stovebolt Brothers!) is the author of our treasured tome himself.

    Heck, you could say it was even the cataclysmic genesis of the epic story of the creation of this web site -- an epiphany worthy of Homer, Joyce or Hemingway. And lest ye think I exaggerate, Peggy can verify that I may not always know where my Scofield Study Bible or my birth certificate is, but I can always go straight to my copy of Tom Brownell's How to Restore Your Chevrolet Pickup. At this very moment, it (both of them, as a matter of fact) is sitting about 12 inches from my left hand as I write this. Which is appropriate, given that I'm writing a book report about it...

    So imagine my excitement when a year or so ago, Tom told me that his publisher, Motorbooks International, had asked him to update his classic.

Tom's excellent new edition makes a welcome addition to the Stovebolt Archives and Library    Naturally, the first thought of a second edition elicits panicked thoughts of "What was wrong -- and why did they feel they needed to correct it??" Not so! As Tom explained it, the second edition moved the classic publication into Motorbooks International's new series of "Workshop" titles and allowed for updates to the text, as well as color photos.

Can you say Color Photos?

    Color? You bet there's color! With the original edition, published in 1991 (has it been that long?), the only color we got was the stunning cover shot of Mike Cavey's world-class '51 1/2-ton. And even though it was lavishly illustrated throughout with clear, crisp offset black and white imagery that fired my imagination and motivation through many a long winter's evening, it was still black and white. Not much of a technological leap from Matthew Brady's Civil War shots.

    And speaking of Mike Cavey, who I've never met but feel, like anyone who's poured over this book so many times we can almost quote it from memory, as if I know both him AND his truck, the first edition seemed to be built around the photos of his truck's frame-off restoration. Not that it's a bad thing, but the first edition did have a slightly Advance Design ('47-'54 GM trucks) flavor to it. Not surprising, since the truck most likely to be restored using the book (given Probability Theory and the sheer number of AD trucks produced) was an Advance Design Stovebolt.

    While it was entertaining to see Mike's truck go through the entire restoration process, I have to admit that it did leave me wondering what to do sometimes during my own frame-off restoration of a '39 Chevrolet -- when what I was looking at didn't match the photos in the book. Naturally, no book of this sort will have illustrations to fit every conceivable situation and application, but the first edition did leave me wondering, at times, whether or not it should have been titled "How to Restore Your '47-'54 Chevrolet Pickup."

    The new book expands the coverage to get away from the AD-centricity of the original to cover aspects of all eras of GM trucks.

    Your truck may not be represented by some of the illustrations, but the book has expanded its focus quite effectively. In fact, one of the critical deficiencies of the first edition corrected in the new edition is an expanded treatment of pre-War Stovebolts -- those built prior to the 1942 model year. For example, in the first edition, Tom talks about a '26 Stovebolt restored by Winross Restorations in Palmyra, New York. Although Tom's vivid description and clear word pictures paint a clear and compelling picture of the effort, there's nothing to compare to the brilliant color photos of the truck we finally get to see in the new edition.

    And speaking of Tom's writing style, his comfortable and vivid style keeps the text engaging when it very easily could turn into a dry and lifeless technical manual with all the vitality and depth of a wiring diagram. As with the original (much of the text carries over into the update), the read is enjoyable even for those who know the material. I read it as much for enjoyment as for technical assistance with my own restorations. There are probably a lot of us who find our copies of the first edition migrate back and forth between the shop and night stand. This one will, too.

The addition of color pictures refreshes and updates all chapters of the book, especially the Bed Restoration chapter    Getting down to specific metrics, the update to our hobby's "bible" lives up to expectation -- it expands and improves on an already proven formula. The 18 chapters of the original are expanded to 20 in the update, and most are updated and expanded.

New Chapters

    The two new chapters, "Powder Coating" and "Big Trucks," provide info on significant changes in technology and trends in the hobby. And as I said, most chapters are expanded and updated with new material and color photos.

    One in particular caught my attention.

    Near and dear to all of us who own antique pickups is the issue of what to do with our beds. The original edition gave us some pretty useful info, as well as some crisp black and white photos (courtesy of Bruce Horkey) to guide us through a process that changed very little over the history of GM trucks. How could could you improve on that? Indeed. Thanks to Bruce Horkey again, this critical chapter, like the 19 others in the new edition, has been liberally illustrated with great color shots of the bed restoration process. The 20 photos in the first edition have been mostly discarded and updated with 30 detailed shots of the entire process of pickup bed restoration. Well done, Tom and Bruce!

Tom scrapes the bottom of the literary barrel for help, but nonetheless adds a whole new chapter on bigger trucks    Another change that reflects the maturity of the hobby is the updated brake chapter. Instead of merely walking us through the legalistic ritual of restoring our brake system as original, Tom has included information on updating our brake systems to more modern and safe setups. While this isn't applicable to those going for Carlisle Gold, those wishing the comfort, safety and convenience of updated brakes for a daily driver will find this section eminently useful.

    Also getting a facelift and refresh is the "Storage and Care" chapter. Gone, thankfully (Sorry Tom!) are the "advertisements" for certain rubber care products not all of us are fans of. But similarly, and not-so-thankfully, shots of the author and his iconic '69 Longhorn have likewise disappeared.

    Perhaps the most notable update to the treasured classic is the addition, at the end, of a section concerning the collection and restoration of larger antique trucks. Do not let the fact that Tom graciously (if, albeit, unwisely) asked for my input disavow you of reading it. Tom is among the first, if not THE first, authority in our hobby to recognize that the big trucks (bigger than pickups) have come into their own right as collectable antiques. His professional and credible improvement upon the rantings I sent him do great justice to the growing force the bigger trucks, and their owners, represent in our hobby and very well convey the issues pertinent to their restoration, feeding and care.

Buy it. Read it. Live it!

    A lot of hyperbole gets generated over stuff like this, but truly, if ever there was a must read/must have book in this hobby, this is it.  All in all, the new edition not only lives up to the high standards created by the original, but even raises the bar. Old truck hobby graybeards will derive as much enjoyment and knowledge from this outstanding reference as will the old truck novice. It should be out soon and when it is, do yourself a favor and add it to your library -- even if you already own the 1st edition!

    Shop and save at Motorbooks.com!


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