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Tom Carver's

1954 Chevy 3100


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17 February 2005
#1025

From Tom: 

      Hi. This is my '54 Chevy 3100 truck. I've had it for almost 20 years. I bought it from my brother. He sold it to me because he was too busy working on his old Impala. Before he had it, it was used as a work-truck by house-painters for a bunch of years. Before that it was used on a ranch.

      The best thing about the truck was that it didn't have any rust anywhere except the bed. The bed had a big plate of 1/8" steel welded to the floor. The bed was beat to heck and everything was splattered with different colors of house paint. Someone had dribbled hot tar all over the roof and hood.

      For a while I was driving it to work with the stock 6 cylinder with one door missing, no bed, and in brown primer. The steering was totally shot -- and you could turn the steering wheel a half turn in either direction without changing the direction it would go.

      It was a blast to drive in that beat up condition though. I especially liked when I pulled up next to somebody and they'd look in through my missing passenger door and they'd hear the clutch and brake pedals make big banging noises into the firewall because the rubber rebound pads had fallen out years ago. It was loud because the old muffler was full of holes.

      I took the bed off to get access to the back of the cab. I stripped off the paint and did a bunch of bodywork on it and got it all smoothed out and in dark brown primer. I drove it around a while with no bed and no grille while I worked on the cab. The hood was held down by a wad of ropes and bungee cords.

      I thought it looked pretty cool when it was in fresh dark brown primer. Eventually, I painted the cab with eight coats of "Porsche Guard's Red" acrylic lacquer. I painted the insides, the door jambs, and the insides of the doors first. Then I painted the outside. Everything in the garage was covered with red powder from the overspray. I spent a couple of weekends wet-sanding the paint using 1500 and 2000 grit paper, and then buffed it out.

      It was the first paint job I ever did and it came out pretty well. Of course, they outlawed acrylic lacquer in California right after I painted the cab. It stayed like that for a while with a shiny red cab and the rest of the truck being old and original.

      Then I started going to a lot of car shows and reading Rod & Custom magazine and I started thinking about customizing it a little. I got a welder and learned how to weld. I welded up a roll-around cart for the welder and the gas cylinder as my first project. Eventually, I was confident enough to start thinking about updating the suspension. My main goal was to lower it a lot. I also had to have V-8 power.

      I pulled out the old engine and transmission. I made boxing plates out of 3/16" steel and boxed the frame from the front back to behind the firewall. Then I installed a Fatman Fabrications Mustang II type independent front suspension with rack and pinion a-arms and new spindles and Camaro disc brakes. I got a steering column out of a '75 Pontiac Firebird and fixed it up. I didn't like the Pontiac steering wheel, so I replaced that with a black '72 Chevelle steering wheel which looked better.

      I got a 10-bolt rear axle out of a low-miles junkyard early '70s El Camino, and modified it to work with the stock leaf springs by grinding off the old pads and welding on spring pads. I took out a bunch of leaves from the rear springs and used lowering blocks to get it even lower in back. I put in air shocks to give it a little adjustability. I found a good 4-bolt mains 350 block and had it hot-tanked and bored .030 over and built up a good solid short block with forged pistons and a rumpity rumpity Crane cam. I found some good old Camaro Z/28 heads and had a valve job done on them. I got a Weiand intake and I rebuilt a Holley 4bbl myself to top it off. Since there's so much room under the hood, I used a speedboat style velocity stack air cleaner. I made my own motor mounts and had to make my own removable transmission crossmember. For a driveshaft, I had a shop shorten one I got out of a '75 Impala wagon.

      I spent a lot of time rewiring everything for 12 volts. I liked the old gauges, so I used voltage reducers so that the old gauges would still work. For a shifter, I used a Lokar floor mounted shifter. The transmission is a TH-350 with a shift kit and a slightly higher stall Corvette torque convertor. I had to modify the firewall a little for transmission and distributor clearance, and weld in patch panels in the firewall for all the unused holes. I made a polished stainless steel firewall cover that looks like a big mirror behind the engine.

      I spent a lot of time carefully restoring the dashboard and I repainted that with gloss black enamel. I installed padding and some dark grey carpets. I took the stock seat to an upholstery place to have it reupholstered with dark grey cloth. I made custom cloth covered door panels and made custom arm rests. I machined a lot of little parts of out aluminum. I didn't like the stock moustache trim piece that went over the grille, so I filled the holes with chrome bullets. I fixed up the grill and painted it with a creamy white enamel.

      I still had no bed but I drove it like that for a while. The old bed was a real mess, so I decided to make a new one from scratch. I welded up a steel framework for a bed and covered it with wood panels. I spent a lot of time on the woodwork. I painted the wood with a bunch of coats of Marine Spar Varnish, sanding in between coats, to give it a nice deep gloss and make it waterproof. I polished up the heads of about 160 stainless steel buttonhead bolts myself to attach the wood pieces to the steel framework. They look like a bunch of jewels in the sun against the wood.

      I made the back bumper out of welded up rectangular steel tubing and made red acrylic plastic lenses that cover up four trailer lights. The lenses look like pure red strips until you hit the brakes.

      I haven't been driving the truck much lately because I'm spending most of my free time working on other car projects, but it's still pretty fun to cruise it around once in a while. It's got a good rumble with headers and a pair of old turbo style mufflers. Believe it or not, it runs fine with the old stock radiator.

      I keep thinking I'll upgrade that someday, but it doesn't overheat, so I might just leave it.

Tom Carver
Newark, CA
USA


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