When you were 14 years old, would you have sold your most prized possession for a heap of scrap metal? Jeff Huntoon from Long Beach, California, did, and he has never looked back since. About five years ago, Rodger, a friend of Jeff's dad, mentioned there was an old pickup sitting in the parking lot at his cousin's bar in Signal Hill. It was a tough decision, but eventually Jeff agreed to sell his custom go-cart to raise the $700 for the truck, which turned out to be a '56 Chevy shortbed and a '55 Chevy longbed. Jeff performed the lion's share of the work himself and created this truck from the two trucks right in his driveway.
This project gave Jeff the opportunity to learn welding and fabrication, body repair and customization, and mechanical repair on a firsthand basis. In the first year alone, Jeff, with the help of his father Craig, spent each and every Saturday getting the chassis into shape and performing some of the body modifications. The next year saw one-piece windows, all of the custom work to the doorframes, and a plethora of patch panels. During the third year, the truck was finally ready for paint and upholstery. The last couple of years have seen wheel and tire changes, a complete detail of the engine compartment, along with a new suspension and rearend, new exhaust, and even a new stereo. The result is the truck in its current state: a clean '56 with all the creature comforts but with a good sense of nostalgia.
One of the first decisions to be made was which cab, bed, and other parts to use. The '56 cab was the obvious choice, but the longbed was the better one. Jeff and Craig took a unique approach to the problem and cut the longbed down 10 1/2 inches, leaving it just a bit longer than a standard shortbed. The shortbed frame was extended accordingly, and from there, the best fenders and hood were picked to come up with one complete truck. But no sooner was the truck complete that Jeff was tearing it back down to a chassis for a complete rebuild. Classic Performance Products was the manufacturer of choice, as the front half of the chassis is fit with a CPP engine and transmission crossmembers, a dropped straight-axle, mono leaves, front disc brake kit, and master cylinder. Jeff found a Ford 9-inch rearend and fit it with 3.00:1 gears, then hung it from de-arched leaves to complete the rear.
When it came time for the engine work, Jeff found an '86 350 and rebuilt it using a COMP camshaft and topped it with early 1.94 heads. From there, pretty much everything attached to the long-block is polished, right down to the Mooneyes finned air cleaner and valve covers. The engine is mated to a warmed-over TH350 trans.
There was a three-year learning curve in regards to the bodywork and paint. First, there was some basic fitment and bodywork, and then the custom mods and rust repair came into play, followed by a long run of finish work. The resulting Lady in Red PPG paint from Silva's is nearly flawless, including the engine bay, interior sheetmetal, and inner bed panels. Almost all of the original chrome was retained and refinished, and an oak bed floor from Brothers was cut down to fit the unique specs. A few of the nostalgic touches to the exterior include the '46 Ford taillights with blue dots and the original restored '56 license plate.
With the exception of the white-face gauge cluster and tuck 'n' roll upholstery, the interior components are bone-stock, right down to the functional tube radio in the dash and the restored deluxe steering wheel and column. The Naugahyde interior is finished in black and white two-tone, complements of Darryl "Whitey" Morgan. Of course, there are a few creature comforts to make the '56 fun to drive. One is the Vintage Air system hidden under the dash. The other is the well-hidden Kenwood/Pioneer system that provides the sounds. A Gennie shifter and Lokar pedals also aid in the driving experience.
At the time of our photo shoot, Jeff was running red steelies and wide whites, but the wheel and tire combo on this truck changes with the seasons. It's all part of the fun for Jeff. He also looks pretty young for his age, so many are surprised to find out the truck belongs to him and not his dad. They're even more surprised when they find out that Jeff has a side business, Jefferies Hot Rod Electrical Repair, where he can wire up your truck with his eyes closed.