04 December 2015 Update
1963 4x4 K1000 GMC Suburban
From Jim :
Since writing to Stovebolt about this '63 GMC K1000 Suburban back in December of 2003, I sat on this project and pondered what I was going to do with it. The olb 'burb sat in the same place off my driveway for about two years before I made up my mind on what I wanted at the outcome. First, remain true to original. Second, give her a different skin color -- that Palomino Tan (that fades to a pinkish tint) just has to go! And so, we begin the restoration story.
First, I must admit to my typo error in the original Stovebolt article: the transfer case is not a 205, but a P-221 Rockwell Timpken as it was delivered with.
Driving it home from North San Diego County to Tempe, Arizona on the day of purchase, she drove like a battle tank on worn out square mud-n-snow tires. I was shocked when I checked the oil being a full quart down after traveling just a couple hundred miles. There was a large puddle of oil coming from the rear main seal area when I stopped to get some gas in Quartzsite, AZ. This was bad news for me -- rebuilding one of these V-6's can be very costly and many parts just are not readily available.
It is my belief that the one thing that saved this truck from certain weather demise was the undercoating that was put on at the original selling dealer in Washington state. As it was, the front floorpans both needed to be replaced, only to find out that a Suburban floorpan is just not the same as a pickup floorpan for the passenger side due to the jumpseat that folds up toward the dash to allow access to the rear bench seats. This part of the floorpan had to be fabricated. The support rails under the front floorpans that shoot out from the frame to support the body also needed to be replaced -- they were just about completely gone from rusting.
Finally, when I pulled up the original and cracked vinyl floormats with mohair backing, I found the floor sheetmetal behind the front seats and in front of the raised bed area was rusted through in ribbons front-to-back. Turns out that this rust occurred from the inside due to the cowhands that would be picked up from various places on this big Montana ranch with wet or snow-covered boots. The water got under the vinyl mat and into the mohair and just stayed there wet for long periods of time.
The ONLY way you can get this piece of sheetmetal is from a donor Suburban because nobody reproduces these Suburban floorpans. I found a donor Sub in a recycling yard in Springerville AZ, and the owners agreed to sell me this hunk of floor metal for $150, but I would need to cut it out myself. So that's what happened.
I finally got around to taking this truck in to the paint / body shop located in Mesa AZ that has been there for a long, long time. I was going in often enough where they let me be part of the "work crew" and spent quite a bit of time back in the bowels of their shop while they worked on my rig.
One of the most interesting things I saw one day was the right-rear quarter panel that they were making straight (it was pretty darn straight to begin with, but now it is laser-straight). There were about 200 "quills" sticking out all over the quarter -- a method of welding a stick to the body and pulling the metal out using the quill to hang onto and a slide hammer. Wish I had taken my camera with me that day to take a shot of this. Definitely old-school, and really a lost art to pull a panel to make it straight rather than just filling in the low spots with bondo. On today's vehicles, the outer sheet metal would just burn through if you tried this. I guess that is why they replace entire panels rather than trying to fix the one on the vehicle.
I spent a lot of time in their shop doing my own thing in restoration of piece parts -- window regulators, seat frames and slide supports, sliding rear quarter windows, dash gauges, heater core, switches, etc. I also spent quite a bit of time lining up the doors to the body. This was very time-consuming but well worth it as both doors open and close better than brand new.
The exhaust manifolds were looking pretty sad from surface rust and being 45+ years old. I got a quote from an outside shop to have them media blasted and then ceramic coated. They wanted around $400 to do it. So, I did it myself using some high temp ceramic paint for less than $20, and I must say I was very pleased with the results.
I replaced all of the rubber parts: windlaces, door seals, rear clam hatch and sliders purchased from Steele Rubber. The rubber was more expensive than other places I could have bought from, but the difference is all in the quality of the rubber. I had done the sliders on a different Suburban years before, and when I went to wash the 'Burb in my driveway just a short time after the work was done, the rag I was using turned all black from just washing the side window area. The rubber was slowly but surely coming apart and was not going to hold up to the UV light that was destroying it.
I learned my lesson: you pretty much get what you pay for. The Steele rubber products I purchased and used on this truck in its restoration do NOT have this (or any other) problem and holds up really well in the brutal Arizona sun.
The original wheels I had powder-coated in Olympic White, but did not use them. In a big heavy truck with no power steering, tall and skinny tires do not help one maneuver around in a parking lot. The wider, aftermarket wheels and Michelin LT tires spread the load out onto more square inches. This makes it a lot easier to steer, and it looks a lot better with big meats on the ground. It is still a beast to steer without the power assist, though.
I restored all of the glass using "00" steel wool to make it all like new again. This old glass will take a good polish from fine steel wool without scratching it all up. Try this on automotive glass after about the mid-1970s and you would just ruin it with scratches.
A couple of pieces of flat glass on one side I had to replace since it was fairly well pock-marked from welding slag while doing fence repair when it was on this large Montana ranch. A couple of pieces of the side glass still shows a bit of this slag burn, but I left it alone as it does add provenance and helps tell more of the whole story behind this particular truck.
The windshield was replaced with aftermarket glass, a Steele boot, and restored windshield stainless surround as Custom trim models dictated. It is surprising how many "custom" trim pickups I see at shows (and a very few Suburbans) are without the stainless surround in the windshield boot. It is most likely that the glass shop that replaced the original windshield and boot did not use the trim as they wound up bending it all up when removing the old glass and boot. Once it is bent, it is quite difficult to make it fit or look right again. Or the glass shop did not want to bother with the stainless trim; or they did not know how to include the stainless trim into the boot and mount the windshield. I caught one shop on a different '63 Sub I had many years ago trying to beat the moulding into the rubber boot after the windshield and boot were installed! YIKES!
When starting the truck up for the first time while it was in the shop for paint and body restoration, the hood was up about half-way and I noticed it shaking up and down on both corners noticeably. I put it up on one of their shop lifts and proceeded to take out the components that could cause this "hood shake" while just sitting still and not moving. I pulled the driveline, dropped the SM-420 top loader and had the same problem. I removed the aftermarket clutch and pressure plate from the flywheel that the previous owner had a shop install before he put it up for sale, leaving just the flywheel on the engine. This time, almost all of the hood shaking disappeared. With just a bit of hood shaking that remained, I pulled the flywheel off as well, and took it and the clutch / pressure plate to King Balancing in Phoenix.
King found a huge problem with out-of-balance issues. The flywheel was out by just 4 grams, but the aftermarket clutch and pressure plate assembly was out by 87 grams!
As these V-6's are all internally balanced, the problem is a big deal. These engines do not have any harmonic balancer up front -- just an aluminum plate with timing marks for tuning. With no harmonic balancer, out-of-balance issues are amplified throughout the entire mass of crankshaft and all that is attached to it.
When I put it all back together and fired her up, the hood shake was completely gone, and since taking care of the rotating balance issues, I no longer have any more oil leaks coming from the engine at all. The only thing I did to the 305E was pull the pan, clean it up and paint it, and put it back on the block with a new pan gasket. I did not mess with anything else. Runs like a well-oiled top now!
Had I driven this truck much more than I did without addressing the out-of-balance issues, it most certainly would have done some serious long-term damage.
Well, the truck was finished in 2010, and I've taken it to some local shows and won Best-in-Class, Best Truck, and runner-up to Best in Show. I know I don't get this truck out as much as I ought to. I passed on entering it in a show here recently as the truck has its own third bay of the garage at the "retirement home" up in Show Low.
I have not towed anything lately either. I did pull out a couple of dead maple trees on the property -- that was an easy job with a chain and the torque from the 305 V6.
It has mostly been out on just joy rides, and no teenage drivers to worry about. The driving is definitely limited, and she is well preserved this way. Don't know if that really buys me much, though. With the price of gas being as low as it is, I should get the truck out more often.
These '60-'66 4-wheel drive Suburbans are about as rare as hens teeth, since most were simply just used for work trucks and then just thrown away. There were not that many 4-wheel drive Suburbans made in the first place as compared to the 2-wheel drive models, and the Suburban production numbers are dwarfed by the huge number of pickups made for the same years. Personally, I like having something that almost nobody else has, including plaid valve covers ('63 is the only year in GMC-land that these are correct for).
Each time I get into doing some restoration work on any vehicle that I have had, there are always surprises to be had. Most of the restoration work I have done has been with the 60-66 Suburbans, all of them GMC. I do have a GMC pickup, a 72 Custom 1500 SWB with 350/350.
An interesting note to what the seller had to say when I asked him, "Why are you selling this truck?" He told me that he let his high school age son drive it to school one day. His son called him up and told his Dad that the truck would not move forwards or backwards with the transmission in gear. It was towed to a shop and put up on a lift only to find that the driveline was spinning when in gear and engine running, but the rear wheels were not. Apparently, his son was trying to impress the girls and attempting burnouts in the HS parking lot and he wound up stripping all the teeth off of the ring and pinion gears of the Powr-Lok rear end! This is a testament to the monster torque that these V-6 engines have to be able to strip teeth from a Dana-44 differential.
The Dad spent the money (about $1,600) to have it fixed and put back together the way it was -- a Powr-Lok Dana 44 unit. People see my truck with the class-II receiver hitch and sometimes will ask me, "What do you tow with your truck?" and my answer is always "Anything I want to."Jim
19 December 2003
Cruising around the web, I found your "Stovebolt" site, and after looking at many of the '60-'66 trucks, I thought I would offer up my own.
I found a 1963 GMC Custom 4x4 Suburban (check Jim's Photobucket page ... the first entries. ~ Editor) recently, and drove it home from California to Arizona on Sept. 27, 2003. It had 87,600 original miles, original paint, original cloth interior on all 3 seats, never hit, all steel, all there. Everything works except the horn! This is an unrestored and truly original, rare beast!
I bought Dad's truck from him in February of '73 after high school, and it took me reliably all over the Southwest for about 25 years and well over 300,000 miles. I still have that truck, although it has not been driven for a while. I yanked the original V-6 and 4-speed out of it and replaced it with a 327/TH400 and (factory) column shift back in the late 80's. It remains a project to be done.
This new old 4-wheel drive I just picked up is in amazing unrestored condition. Although not totally rust free underneath, the body (save for the front Chevy replaced fenders, due to rust-out, no doubt) is all steel and straight as an arrow. The motor is 305E V-6 with Saginaw SM420 toploader, 205 transfer case, Dana 44 running gear with Power-Lok rear diff. It came loaded with the original rims and hubcaps also, as well as a spare 205 transfer case!
This 4x4 was originally sold new to a rancher in Montana, and the word is that the truck never left his ranch in almost 30 years.
It was sold to the second owner from Colorado in April of '92.
In September 1999, it was sold to third owner, who was also from Colorado. He relocated to Southern California since then, and he let it go due to "too many projects."
I will have great fun in restoring this one. It is such a great piece of American history having been taken care of and not abused for over 40 years now. Most of these 4x's got thrashed off-road or crashed on the asphalt (crummy brakes for such a big rig).
That is a rare beast indeed. Great find and great write up! ~ Curator Jim
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