567 Club of Manitoba


1955 GMC

Never too old

Upgrade turns '50s GMC pickup into an award-winner

Published: April 9, 2010 | Email: larry.dargis@freepress.mb.ca

The popularity of 1950s vehicles isn't limited to cars, as the pickup trucks that were produced have also garnered a loyal following. Case in point, the mid-'50s General Motors pickup has a multitude of parts suppliers and powertrain options are endless, making it an excellent choice for a restoration project.

garyfrtMaking a mid-year entrance in 1955 was the newly restyled GMC pickup. This was the first restyle since 1947 and a significant change from any angle, making it a hit with buyers who had been waiting for something new.

A raised fender with visored headlamps flanked a new squared-off hood and a two-bar grill, along with a bumper ensemble that closely resembled a tie with the Oldsmobile. A new squared cab carried the belt-line styling curve from the front fenders through the doors and into the rear fenders for a flowing look not seen on previous models. New available V8 power was also a first for both the GMC and the Chevrolet truck division.

garybkGary  of Oak Bluff was more than happy with his Z28 Camaro. But when the opportunity arose in 1985 to purchase a mid-'50s half-ton, he was the first in line.

"It was a truck that my father-in-law had purchased years ago as a farm truck and he was selling the farm and the truck," Gary said. "The six-cylinder engine was done but I liked the styling of the sheet metal and moved it to storage at another farm in Haywood."

Come 1995, that farm was also for sale so it was time for the truck to move again. "After removing the tree that had grown up into the engine compartment, I brought the truck home and at first I was just going to rebuild it into a regular truck," Gary said.

garyintIt was a trip to the local World of Wheels car show at the Winnipeg Convention Centre that changed his mind.

"I saw a similar truck that had been fitted with a Camaro front frame clip, with power steering and front disc brakes, and that got me thinking about doing mine up with more modern components," he said.

Gary found a 1978 Nova with a good front frame clip and an '84 Trans Am that yielded a 10-bolt posi-traction rear axle and 700-R4 overdrive transmission, along with a low-kilometre 305 V8 from a van. So he had most of the components he needed to make the truck into a reliable driver. The only problem was that, while he was comfortable spinning wrenches, he had no real experience welding frame components or body panels.

garymtrAfter a friend put him in touch with an experienced hand, the frame graft was completed. Rear suspension is from the Trans Am with reworked leaf springs and airbags to attain optimum ride height. The truck rolls on a set of 17-inch Billet Specialties aluminum wheels wrapped in Toyo radial tires.

Gary later enrolled in a Saturday machining course at the South Winnipeg Technical Centre to pick up some new skills and gave himself a crash course on how to use a mig welder and do body work.

For the body restoration, Gary welded in new cab corners, fender eyebrows and lower fender corners to replace the rusted areas. He also relocated a custom fuel tank under the truck bed and fashioned a Mazda 626 fuel filler door into the driver's rear fender.

garybxIt took a long time before he had the body in shape and rust-free, with frenched-in box-rail taillight bezels and a custom rear roll pan. But he finally had Mickey Delisle apply the brilliant Mercedes Iridium Silver and Mistubishi Sunburst Orange paint scheme.

Under the hood, Gary also fabricated a stainless-steel firewall and used stainless-steel bolts and hardware throughout, including the box with its chrome hidden-bolt rails and finished oak wood. The 305 V8 is relatively stock, with a four-barrel carburetor and exhaust headers leading to a 2.5-inch diameter custom dual exhaust system with Flowmaster mufflers.

Inside, there's a tilt steering column with '92 GMC steering wheel, custom gage panel and surrounds for the new Dolphin gauges, and a modified Ford Aerostar centre console. The Mazda 626 also gave up its front bucket seats to the project, which Gary reupholstered in a silver and grey miro-fiber fabric. Road tunes are supplied by a Pioneer AM/FM stereo compact disc player, with speakers built into the console and kick panels. A new tinted windshield from Crystal Auto Glass allows for a great view of the road.

Walker Auto, LMC Truck and Chevy Duty supplied the majority of the restoration parts, but eBay provided a new set of park lights still in the factory boxes. Lucky for Gary, as there are currently no companies reproducing the light assemblies.

garylkptSince the pickup's completion, it's been a winning vehicle at both World of Wheels in 2009 (best GM product), and the Manitoba Street Rod Association's 2008 and 2009 Rodarama car shows where it won Best Truck. Members of the 567 Club since 2006, Gary and his wife Lynn have enjoyed several local rod runs and cruises since the GMC was completed, and they look forward to more as the 2010 season opens.

As you're reading this, the pickup is in the middle of an engine swap. The 305 V8 is making way for a brand-new, dyno-tested Chevy 383-cubic-inch stroker small-block from Smeding Performance in California. It's just proof positive that the '50s pickups are never too old for a performance upgrade.

With its farm days long past, this is one truck that will be picking up nothing but trophies and good vibrations as it rolls on down the road.

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