As soon as I laid eyes on Mitch Titus' '56 pickup I knew I needed to do a closer inspection. I looked it over with a fine-tooth comb, but couldn't find anything I didn't like. There was only one problem: I was at Goodguys' Kansas Speedway show, and Mitch was nowhere to be seen. I left my card on his seat on Friday and didn't get a call from him until Saturday evening. Mitch had been cleaning out his car and found the card-it had blown onto the other side of the seat near the doorsill. I'm glad he found the card. Later that day we photographed it in what I would consider the perfect light: sunset.
When Mitch set out to build a rat rod truck he found a '56 that had already been lowered in the front with a '78 Camaro front clip, two sets of doors, two dashes, two tailgates, and 350 motor and transmission combo. Mitch thought, why not; it's just going to be a ratty old pickup with some horsepower behind it. So he purchased the '56 and began the three-and-a-half-year build. Of course, while he set out to build the rat rod he could not help himself but make it a lot nicer than the average rat.
He began with the frame and ordered RideTech's front ShockWaves and rear four-link kit. Mitch installed the new suspension components in his garage with the help of a Miller MIG welder. The welder worked fine until he tried to weld some smaller-gauge sheetmetal on his dash. He soon purchased a Miller TIG welder and gave it a try on the same dash pieces, and presto he was in business. With two dashes Mitch thought it would be cool to cut and add the extra dash hump on the passenger side. He removed the glovebox to make the hump fit and stuffed a Pioneer radio behind it with a handmade cover that opens by pressing on it. Mitch also fitted a '56 Corvette steering wheel and a rearview mirror in the center of the dash.
The bodywork was next. Mitch though it would be cool to add slight touches of a Corvette on the body, so he filled the stock trim and added some Vette emblems.
Next, he smoothed out the firewall and made a hidden compartment to conceal the wiring coming from the interior. The door gaps were among the worst things on the truck, but Mitch managed to fix the 3/8-inch door gap that you could almost stick your thumb through. He used the set of doors that were the cleanest and cut the rust out of the bottom where all the debris likes to hang out and collect water. Lucky for him he was pretty good at using the TIG welder and was more than confident to make his own lower door patch panels. Once the major rust was taken care of the rest of the body, fenders, and bed were all bolted back on.
At this point Mitch had spent two years straightening and smoothing the body panels. During the same time he realized that the truck was not going to have the unfinished look, so he started thinking about a compromise of both worlds: rat rod and finished.
Mitch remembered a Harley-Davidson color that he really liked and had painted on one of his custom motorcycle projects. Instead of painting the truck with a high-gloss finish he decided to play around with the idea of a flattener in the clear. He practiced on the inner fenders until the paint was just right and then moved on to painting the rest of the truck in his garage.
The motor was next and with the paint coming out more than he expected he knew that the stock-looking 350 would just not suffice. Mitch went back to the drawing boards and looked at a few engines from that era until one caught his eye. A '64 Corvette's engine bay was just what the doctor ordered, so the fuel filter, valve covers, ignition shield, and air cleaner copying the '64 would do the trick. Dan Kennedy and Tommy Meiners came over several times to assist Mitch with the build and talk him out of the unfinished look. I almost forgot to mention the handmade radiator shroud and sill plate that Mitch also made with the TIG welder.