1961 Chevy Fleetside Longbed
21 August 2006
From Dave :
Hello, and thank you for posting these pictures for me. These are from this spring when I pulled her out of the garage for professional assistance. Wish I had some more pictures here with me to help tell the story, but maybe I could send some more later when I get home (October).
The truckís name is Jessie and weíve had a passionate love / hate relationship for more than a decade now. She is a 1961 Fleetside longbed (hence the screen name of 61 Fleetside Lowboy).
I love talking about these old trucks. The new stock just donít have the same level of character. The graceful lines and proud stance really speak to the type of truck the big guys used to produce.
I originally found Jessie sitting on the side of the highway with a cardboard for sale sign on her. A closer inspection showed why the guy was asking $700 for an old rust bucket. He had put in a 283 and a close ratio 4-speed, and the interior had been mostly repaired recently. The body was pretty shot from hard work, but the frame, cab corners, windshield frame and other important spots were solid. The doors and fenders were more bondo than metal, and the bed definitely saw its own share of abuse over the years. I wouldnít risk standing in the bed. When the guy fired the 283 up, the water pump squealed like crazy.
I wasnít sure how I was going to get her home but I was already in love and bought the truck for $600 anyway. I knew it wouldnít make it all the way home without some major work, so I drove it the two miles to the nearest shop and had the water pump replaced. When we were taking off the old water pump, the pully fell off in my hand! With a new water pump in place, the battery replaced with something decent and the timing set, my new truck made it the 20 miles home just fine.
After a quick rebuild on the front end, a major engine tune-up, and lots of grease, fluids, and sweat, the truck was my daily driver for the next four years. Once the wife and I got into a house with a big enough garage to work in, the trouble started. The wife still doesnít understand how replacing a broken exhaust manifold bolt grew into the cab sitting in the front yard, bed in the back, and empty frame in the driveway, but she knew I was on a mission and she accepted the situation. Since then, Iíve media blasted the frame to bare metal, sprayed it with rust inhibitor and Eastwood chassis paint, rebuilt the front end with 4-inch drop spindles designed to keep the torsion bar suspension, installed front disc brakes and power steering, installed 5-inch drop springs in the back, modified the tranny mount to accept a T-400 tranny, and replaced most of the removable sheet metal from the cab forward. Thanks to a donor truck that I found on its way to the junk yard, I now have solid doors and fenders.
The bed is still in need of lots work / replacement. Anything rusty I couldnít unbolt and replace on the cab, I cut out and welded in replacement sheet metal. The gas tank inside the cab was discarded for a tank mounted behind the rear axle and all the body mounts were replaced with urethane bushings and stainless hardware. After working on the truck for almost a year, we had to move to a new place and the truck went into storage because I didnít have a garage any more. Over the course of the next three years (half of it spent in Iraq), I planned and dreamed -- but couldnít get back to work on my patient truck.
When we recently moved to 29 Palms, California and once again had a house with a garage. I pulled the truck out of storage and went back to work. Another deployment cut that effort short though and since I didnít want to put it back into storage, I contacted the GM Truck Center in Burbank, California for some professional assistance. Once I get home this time, the truck will have a motor again (300hp 350 crate motor), and the rest of the drive line in place. Theyíll also install the bumper to bumper wiring harness Iíve had in a box for several years now along with the Vintage Air air conditioning system, install new glass, put the interior back together again, finish plumbing the new fuel and brake lines and get it ready for me to drive home.
Then itíll be time to get back to work on the body and interior to make the outside look as beautiful as her underside. End result will hopefully be a graceful and capable low rider with a classy edge. The body will be strictly stock-looking, but very little else will be OEM. Iíve still got a long way to go before sheís ready for serious show and tell, but so far the restoration time has spanned five years and it's cost more money than I care to think about.
All in all though, I canít wait to be able to enjoy our daily drive to work again. Kind of funny to think all this started because of one lousy manifold bolt. I guess thatís what happens when you let the ďif Iím going to do this, I might as well do thatĒ philosophy work at you.
Thanks for letting me share and keep the old bolts going.
"61 Fleetside Lowboy"
Bolter # 11896
For now: 29 Palms, California
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