At first glance, sports cars and hot rod pickups seem to come from opposite ends of the automotive spectrum. Oh sure they share elements of speed and performance, but beyond that the two types of vehicles are as different as their wine-tasting and beer-drinking owners. Sports cars buzz; trucks rumble. Sports cars hug the track and accelerate out of corners; hot rods haul in a straight line and careen around corners only when necessary. Sports cars are refined, sometimes to the point of being dainty; hot rods-particularly old trucks-are raw, almost primitive by nature.
But Bob and Charlotte King don't see such a discrepancy. In fact, when the time came for them to shift gears from the road course to the boulevard, a hot rod truck seemed like a natural progression. "Charlotte and I spent over 20 years in SCCA Solo II and Pro Solo racing," Bob says. "I built all the cars that we used to win 17 national titles. In 1997 we sold the last race car and I decided to build a street rod."
Now, when most folks want to build a rod, they go out and find a project car. Not Bob. He began his quest by searching for an engine.
"I belong to Inliners International," Bob explains, "so I decided to build a 302 GMC inline six. Finding a motor was a chore, because the 302 was only made from 1953 to 1959, and only found in 2-ton trucks and buses. Jerry Turner of Turner Auto Wrecking found one for me in an old '59 GMC hippie bus in the back of his lot."
Following machine work by Wayne Schedler (who punched the block out .080-inches, generating 315ci of displacement), Bob did his best to make the six a screamer. "I built the engine like the race motors I had built," he says. That means the crank and rods were deburred and polished, and the entire rotating assembly (including 9:1 pistons from Patrick's Antique Cars and Trucks) was balanced by John's Balancing. Then an Iskenderian cam was installed to work the lightened valves in the seriously massaged cylinder head. Induction came in the form of a Clifford Performance intake with three 45mm DCOE side-draft Webers metering fuel. Finishing touches included a heavy-duty alternator, MSD ignition box, modified distributor, and a custom exhaust (built by Bob's brother at Cal State Exhaust) linked to an owner-built header.
With the engine built (and a Saginaw four-speed waiting in the wings), Bob went looking for the rest of his project. A GMC pickup seemed like a natural home for the Jimmy six, so Bob bought a '48 model that he found behind a local farmer's barn. That truck provided the frame that ushered in the next stage of the buildup.
"The chassis was a real chore to build," Bob says, "because I wanted the truck to handle like a race car. I bought the tires and wheels when I started the chassis, so the whole truck was built around them to get the correct frontend geometry and so nothing would rub when turning. Wheel Vintiques made the wheels to my specifications."
To make the truck handle to his liking, Bob designed his own front suspension utilizing Firestone air springs, Pinto control arms, Heidt's dropped spindles, and a 1-inch sway bar. For steering duties, a Mustang II rack-and-pinion assembly was linked to a Camaro tilt column. Out back Bob narrowed a nine-inch rearend and suspended it with air springs and a homemade four-link. He finished off with KYB shocks at all four corners.
Now that the truck had a foundation and a powerplant, it needed an identity. "When I started on the body, I realized that good sheetmetal was hard to find," Bob recalls. "So I would buy beat-up trucks and take off the good pieces needed for my truck. Then I would put old parts back on the donor truck, clean it up, maybe primer it, and resell that truck-usually for a profit! I used five different trucks for parts."
A '55 GMC provided the best cab, so Bob went to work on that. With guidance from neighbor Westin Nehring, Bob sliced 4 inches out of the top and cut another 4 inches out of the body and hood to create a low, sleek silhouette. All handles and emblems were removed, the drip rails shaved, and the cowl vents filled. A custom grille shell was built using 23 pieces of metal, starting with the top of a GMC grille flipped upside down and used on the bottom. Bob also built the custom aluminum grille insert. "The whole idea was to keep the GMC flavor," Bob says of the grille. "I had my '91 GMC sitting in the garage door and that's what I kept working toward."
The bed also saw its share of custom fabrication, starting with the raised floor built from 10-gauge sheetmetal. Wheel tubs were made from trailer fenders cut in half, and the tailgate was welded shut and fitted with a custom window. Custom taillights and a third brake light were built using LED lighting elements. When all of the bodywork was finally finished, Mark Mitchell of Fortney Auto Body sprayed the yellow paint, mixing a little gold pearl into the clearcoat.
Fabrication work continued on the interior, where Bob smoothed the dash, built a custom gauge panel and console, and even constructed his own seat frames. The seats were then upholstered in tan vinyl and fabric by Cal Fast Distributing Co., along with the rest of the custom interior. Unlike his old race cars, Bob's pickup has plenty of creature comforts, like Vintage Air and a Pioneer sound system.
Looking back at the truck's construction, Bob can compare it to a race - an endurance race. "t took three years to build," he says, "and that was working almost every night, all weekends, holidays and with no vacations (only to go to car shows to gather more parts). There are so many things on this truck that have been changed and modified that I cannot even remember them."
With the pickup finally finished, Bob and Charlotte are adjusting to their role as car show participants instead of race car drivers. But despite the change of pace and scenery, one thing remains the same: They're still taking home plenty of wins.
Facts & Figures
Bob & Charlotte King
1955 GMC First Series
|Frame / Manufacturer ||modified '48 GMC |
|Modifications ||boxed front and rear sections, engine and transmission mounts raised |
|Rearend / Ratio ||9-inch/3.00:1 |
|Rear suspension ||owner-built four-link w/ air springs |
|Rear brakes ||disc |
|Front suspension ||Pinto IFS, Heidt's spindles, air springs |
|Front brakes ||11-inch disc |
|Master cylinder ||dual chamber |
|Steering ||Mustang II rack-and-pinion |
|Steering column ||'85 Camaro |
|Front wheel make, size ||Wheel Vintiques, 15x8 |
|Rear wheel make, size ||Wheel Vintiques, 15x12 |
|Front tire make, size ||BFGoodrich, 205/50R15 |
|Rear tire make, size ||BFGoodrich, 305/50R15 |
|Gas tank ||17-gallon steel, owner-built |
|Year and make ||'59 GMC inline six |
|Displacement ||302ci (now 315ci) |
|Camshaft ||Iskenderian |
|Head ||modified by owner |
|Valve cover ||chrome stock |
|Manifold / Induction ||Clifford/DCOE Weber (three) |
|Ignition / Wires ||modified distributor, MSD box/Taylor |
|Header ||owner-built |
|Exhaust / Mufflers ||2-1/4-inch/Flowmaster |
|Year and make ||'70 Saginaw four-speed |
|Trans mods ||Centerforce clutch, Clifford flywheel |
|Shifter ||'40 Chevy truck |
|Body style / Material ||pickup/steel |
|Body manufacturer ||GMC |
|Body mods ||top chopped four-inches, bodysectioned 4-inches, shaved drip rails |
and trim, custom third-brake light,
one-piece door glass
|Hood ||filled and sectioned |
|Grille ||custom in molded, modified opening |
|Bed ||modified '54 Chevy w/ custom floor and tailgate |
|Bodywork ||by owner and Westin Nehring |
|Painter ||Marc Mitchell, Fortney Auto Body |
|Paint type / Color ||Glasurit/yellow w/ gold pearl in clear |
|Pinstriping ||Dick Debenidictus, Cycle Art |
|Headlights / Taillights ||frenched/handmade LED |
|Outside mirrors ||Snow White Ltd. |
|Dashboard ||modified stock |
|Gauges ||Stewart Warner in owner-built panel |
|Stereo / Speakers ||Pioneer/in kicks and behind seat |
|Air conditioning ||Vintage Air |
|Wiring ||Ron Francis kit |
|Steering wheel ||Grant |
|Seats ||hand-made frames |
|Upholsterer ||Cal Fast Distributing, Fresno, CA |
|Material / Color ||vinyl and fabric/tan |
|Carpet ||brown |