Like the Robert Palmer song from the 1980s, Carl Ham from Sparland, Illinois, set out to build a "simply irresistible" late-'50s Chevy pickup. "I grew up in a small farming community in Illinois where pickups were workhorses on the farm, not full of flashy chrome or pretty interiors." He wanted the theme of this truck to be simple in appearance, yet irresistible in the right places, as well as comfortable and safe to cruise around in.
After a 16-month search, Carl located a '56 Chevy Stepside big back window pickup that had been partially restored by the previous owner, but several years in a garage and lack of attention had started to take its toll. A purchase price was struck and Carl hauled the project home to begin a four-year rebuild.
The prior caretaker had done a decent job on bodywork and paint, but mechanically this classic hauler needed some help. A Painless 18-circuit wiring harness with a unique, hinged drop-down fuse access panel was installed with the help of local friend John Ohman. Safety and stability came next with a complete revamp of the drivetrain. The stock suspension was removed, and following frame boxing, a Total Cost Involved IFS with 2-inch dropped spindles, sway bar, and 11-inch GM disc brakes was installed. A Ford 9-inch was fitted with a 3.70:1 ring-and-pinion, fresh drum brakes, and an Art Morrison four-link complete with QA1 coilover shocks to ensure a smooth ride. Power rack-and-pinion steering, a power brake booster, and a tilt column from an '88 Grand Prix rounded out the chassis updates thanks to help from friend Bruce Baker.
The mid-'60s 283 small-block was given new life with a polished aluminum intake, Edelbrock 500-cfm carb, and a Mallory UniLite ignition. OE cast-iron manifolds carry the spent gas through glasspack mufflers and the custom-made 2 1/2-inch exhaust to the back of the truck below a 21-gallon gas tank mounted under the bed. Backing up the dependable early mill is a 200-4R tranny built by Phoenix Transmissions that, combined with the rear ratio, allows the Stepside to cruise all day at a comfortable 1,800 rpm. Shifting duties are managed by a 21-inch Gennie shifter for the nostalgic yet simple look. Painted American Rally steelies with straightforward chrome center caps and 235/75R15 tires put the Chevy power to the pavement.
The inner beauty of the 3100 came next. The chopped-up dash was smoothed and many of the controls were relocated out of sight, but are still accessible to go along with the simple part of the plan. The OE seat was rebuilt and the door panels carpeted and upholstered by Carl and his wife. A N.O.S. rubber mat on the floor harkens back to the "work truck" era mentioned earlier.
While not in need of a total repaint, Ozone Auto Body of East Peoria, Illinois, matched and reshot portions of the body and the engine compartment after a bit of shaving. The dilapidated wood floor was removed and new white oak planks were fabricated by friends John and Bruce and the owner, and then laid down with polished stainless bedstrips. The bed was topped with a Gaylord's hard tonneau cover to keep the elements out.
Creature comforts come in the way of an Alpine 55-watt radio/CD changer mounted in front of the seat with four-way suspension speakers carrying out the tunes, while the Dakota Digital cruise control helps the drives to regional events as well as local shows. Still considered by Carl to be a work in progress, this driver (15,000 miles in the last two years) is seen regularly on the roads of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Regardless of what you wanna call it, Carl's truck just might be simply irresistible!