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'49 Chevy 1/2-Ton

By John Henry
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    The Restoration Series is comprised of trucks undergoing restorations, rebuilds or efforts inbetween. Please note: these trucks may not be 100 percent accurate -- please contact the truck owners to verify items of interest.


The volcano-proof paint job!

    I've owned my '49 1/2 ton since 1976 and have always done everything thinking that SOMEday I'd actually have a shop and be able to take it down to the frame and do it up right. Well, as you can see, I finally have the shop done and have started on the tear down.

    As you can also see, I've collected a bunch of parts while I waited for the shop. I've had the '48 5-window cab almost as long as the '49. ( I've also moved it and a bunch of other 'good stuff' all over the Northwest for the last 25 years!) The '38 model TD 1-1/2 ton spent its life as a wheat truck on the Waterville plateau in North central Washington state until it followed me home a few years ago.

    The summer after I bought the '49, I swapped the 216 for a 235, rewired it for 12-volts, rebuilt the springs and shackles and put some tires on it. Over the next few years, I swapped the rear end for one from a '56 Chevy passenger car. I also swapped the front brakes for '54 Chevy passenger car to get matching 5-lug bolt patterns. I swapped the transmission for a '57 Chevy passenger 3-speed w/overdrive. The 235 with 3.70 rear end and overdrive worked pretty good and gave me 20+ mpg.

    Several years later, I pulled the 235 and rebuilt it with a Howard cam, Clifford headers and 4-bbl intake with a Carter 390cfm AFB. I also put a 2-1/2" exhaust system with 'turbo' mufflers on it. I think it made more noise than it did power. Not that it didn't make some power, its just that at a certain rpm, it produced a near-terminal case of the famous six-cylinder rap!

Mt. St. Helens, May 18, 1980

    About this time, I was transferred to Portland, OR where we rented a brand new house with a big 'no car repair' clause in the lease. I stripped and painted the truck in the driveway. I just made sure everything was in the garage and the door closed most of the time. I remember masking the truck inside the garage in the evening and then getting up at 4:30 the next morning to push it out, shoot it and push it back inside before the wind started blowing.

    On May 1, 1980, we moved from Portland to Longview, WA. Seventeen days later, Mt. St. Helens cut loose and there was my shiny new paint job setting out in the driveway. A week later, we woke up to a steady drizzle of volcanic ash mud. The '49 had little 'cones' of mud on the driveway where it oozed off the truck. It turned out that the stuff didn't hurt the paint if you just hosed it off.

    Eighteen months and another move later, the 235 ate its camshaft and I decided to try the V-8 route. The attached pictures illustrate how I solved the problems involved in putting a '69 350 into the '49. The hardest part was how to mount the rear of the motor with the least amount of changes.

    I found the answer in one of the local bone yards. I was looking over a pile of stuff and spotted a Chevy V-8 bellhousing that didn't look quite like the '55 up passenger car ones that I was familiar with, in that it had stiffening ribs above the top two transmission bolt holes. It also had angled flats with a single bolt hole for the frame mounts. I thought that it might be a truck bellhousing and it even had the tin pieces and the throwout arm with it.

    It was about then that I looked up from the pile and saw an AD cab and frame. It had the one piece windshield so I knew it was a '54 or early '55. I was looking it over for anything I could use and noticed that the rear motor crossmember had angle flats for the mounts instead of the horizontal ones like my '49.

    That's when the light went on. You don't suppose the V-8 bell housing with the angled pads would fit the angle pads on the '54 cross member? It did. Three of the four holes on the end of the crossmember lined up with the frame holes in the '49. It went in with all stock clutch linkage and no pounding on the firewall for clearance. It did move the transmission forward about an inch.

right rear
Front motor mount
Rear motor mount

Motor Mounts

    The picture on the right shows the rear motor mount.

    I used '55-'57 front mounts and built a crossmember from 2" square tubing as shown in the left photo above.

    In order to get the drivers side exhaust manifold on, the steering box was spaced out 1-3/4". I used a piece of 1/8 wall 2x4 tubing to cut the 'L' shaped piece to hold the vertical bolts. The horizontal bolts were spaced out using heavy wall tubing. I have the piece out now and can get a better picture of it if anyone is interested.

Relocated brake switch


Bent brake pedal
Steering box in place

Steering & Pedals

    The photo on the right shows the steering box in place. The pitman arm was heated and the bottom of it eased back toward the center of the truck the same 1-3/4 that the box was moved out.

    Taking a cue from the original engineers, I bent the brake pedal arm similar to the clutch pedal as shown in the center photo above.

    I also relocated the brake light switch. The photo at right above shows the steering column and pedal changes from inside the cab.


Of Manifolds and Throttle linkages...

    The photo to the right shows the exhaust manifold on the right side. The throttle linkage was solved with another stroke of boneyard luck. I spotted a late 50's GMC 1/2 ton that had the factory installed Pontiac V-8. The gas pedal looked exactly like the one in the '49 from the inside so I grabbed it and the linkage figuring it could be adapted for the 350.

    I was pleasantly suprised to discover that the linkage bolt holes matched up with pre-existing holes in the '49 cab and the linkage to the pedal fell in place. I did reshape the arm above the pivot but it was pretty minor.

    On the left, you can see the installed throttle linkage. A few spaces away from the GMC was an AD chassis with everything gone except the front axle and a front sway bar that sure looked stock. I took it and sure enough it bolted on and made a big difference in how the truck drove. I found out years later that it was from a panel truck.

    The picture below shows the lineup under the dash. From l. to .r: cowl vent, NAPA supplied starter button, overdrive control and gauges from the same car that donated the engine. The galvanized area is why I have the '48 cab ready to replace this one, there isn't much floor left under there.

    Shortly after the V-8 went in, I replaced the '56 rear end with a 12-bolt from a '69 Impala. The width is just right for the AD. I also installed disc brakes and a dual master cylinder system after an incident involving a hill, a busy cross street at the bottom, and a load of firewood. There are still wrinkles in the seat cover from that one.

    I've put about 30k miles on the truck in the last configuration and have enjoyed every one of them. When I moved the last time, I made a trip loaded with all my shop equipment across the Hanford area of central Washington in August. It was 106 when I got to Richland and the truck never even hinted at overheating even with the original radiator in front of the 350.

    Ya gotta love the way they made 'em back then.

    Whats next? Well the 350 is very tired, the rust in the cab is causing the doors to sag and I get tired a little easier than I used to, so. I'm installing a torsion bar front suspension using a Gibbon kit and Chrysler Cordoba suspension pieces. (I bought the kit in '92 and I'm not even sure it's available anymore) I'll rebuild the 350, update the rear suspension and then reassemble it all including the '48 deluxe cab with all the pretty chrome and stainless molding.

John Henry

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