It all started with an email. Derek had sent us a bunch of photos and some info in hopes of getting his ’70 GMC Stepside into the Classic Cruisers section of CLASSIC TRUCKS. As soon as I checked out the images, I knew this pickup deserved a closer look. Since Derek and his pride and joy were over in the Phoenix area I decided to make arraignments to head over and see this baby in person.
Meanwhile, Derek had taken a bunch of time to scout out a good location for the photo shoot, so after more than a few hours on the road I met him at the site outside of Phoenix, ready to get down to business. Upon meeting Derek I found out a few things that impressed the heck out of me. First, his GMC is indeed a heck of a lot nicer in person than in pictures, Derek himself is a great guy with a real eye for design, and finally – he’s possibly a better photographer than me. That said, as both Derek and I shot the feature images in tandem, he filled me in on the story behind his awesome Stepside.
Derek always had a soft spot for early pickups and was a big fan of the late ’60s/early ’70s GM body styles with the GMC being his favorite. Back in ’97 he finally decided to quit just thinking about a pickup and start searching for a project in earnest. Not long after that he found an ad in the local Auto Trader
for a running ’70 GMC Stepside in his price range.
The truck was equipped with a 350 small-block, but Derek had noticed that the fan shroud was for a big-block. Upon questioning the previous owner, Derek found the he had the original engine out back in a shed and offered the “junk” engine to him along with the pickup. Derek checked it out and was soon the proud new owner of a less-than-pristine classic GMC and its easily rebuildable original 396-cube big-block. After getting it home, cleaning it up, and giving it a good tune-up, Derek found that the GMC actually ran pretty well with the small-block and ended up driving the truck as it was for quite a few years after that.
In 2006 Derek decided it was time to begin the rodstoration he’d planned for the pickup all along. It just so happened that Derek’s wife Daphne introduced him to a fellow named Lucky Luciano who turned out to be an accomplished painter and the owner of Lucky’s Custom Paint. The guys hit it off and soon Derek enlisted Lucky to handle the truck’s bodywork and paint. Initially Derek just wanted to freshen up the GMC and turn it into a presentable driver. Not long after he’d left the pickup in Lucky’s hands he got a call from him to come and check out the freshly mediablasted body.
The blasting exposed just how bad the body actually was and how much more work it’d take to get it back into shape. Since it was going to be a bigger job than expected Derek made the decision to let Lucky loose and step up the job to much more than an average resto. Derek found that Lucky has incredible talent and proved that fact by his craftsmanship and attention to detail.
Lucky massaged the sheetmetal back into pristine condition and followed that up by custom-mixing and coating the truck in a beautiful blue of his own creation. One day while at the shop Derek saw a piece of metal that had been painted in faux woodgrain and mentioned to Lucky how he thought that’d be a neat addition to the GMC’s tailgate. Lucky agreed and suggested they carry Matt Andrews’ (of Hypnotic Air) woodgraining handiwork over into the interior of the truck as well.
After getting the pickup back from Lucky, Derek began to drive it and started attending some local shows. The truck started winning awards right off the bat and helped motivate Derek to continue with his plans to upgrade the GMC even more. Derek wanted the truck to be a good bit lower than it was at the time and also liked the idea of being able to adjust the ride height for different driving and show conditions.
It was with this in mind that he met with Todd Burton of Lowboy Motorsports. Derek explained to Todd that he wanted to be able to lower the truck as much as possible without altering the frame so it could be brought back to stock configuration if he decided to. Todd understood what Derek wanted and proceeded to equip the vehicle with an air-ride setup that met Derek’s wishes. With the GMC’s stance and attitude addressed, Derek teamed up with Bryan Rookhuyzen and the guys at Discount Tire hooked him up with a quartet of 22-inch Asanti wheels wrapped in Toyo rubber.
In the meantime, Derek had George Tunnell of Desert Performance in Phoenix thrashing on the pickup’s original big-block. George began by completing the teardown and machining of the block. It was bored .030 over and equipped with a set of Keith Black 9.7:1 pistons. The original crank and rods were retained and a Comp Cams XE268H-10 cam and matching lifters were added.
The original oval-port heads were reconditioned and topped by an Edelbrock RPM Air-Gap intake and Holley 4160 780-cfm carb. A 14-inch K&N air filter, a pair of Hedman coated headers, a GM HEI ignition, a pair of vintage Ansen aluminum valve covers, and a March Performance serpentine accessory drive were added as well. Derek then backed the George Tunnell-built engine with an Arizona Precision Transmission-prepared 700-R4 trans, a custom driveshaft, a fresh 12-bolt rearend, and a complete custom exhaust system fabricated by Angel at B&M Muffler in Tolleson, Arizona, thus completing the driveline.
Derek’s GMC is without a doubt the nicest I’ve run across and I’m happy to not only share it with all of you, but for the chance to meet and become friends with Derek as well.
custom air ride component bracketry
Rearend / Ratio:
GM 12-bolt by AZ Differential, Phoenix / 3.73:1
Slam Specialties RE-6 air ride
Slam Specialties RE-7 air ride
Asanti AF150, 22x10
Asanti AF-150, 22x10.5
Toyo Proxes, 285/30ZR22
Toyo Proxes, 285/30ZR22
Engine: ’70 Chevy 396ci big-block
Valve covers: Ansen aluminum
Manifold / Induction: Edelbrock / 4160 Holley 780-cfm
Ignition: GM HEI
Headers: full-length Hedman, HTC coated
Exhaust / Mufflers: 2½-inch custom by B&M Muffler / flowmaster
Transmission: GM 700-R4
Modifications: Arizona Precision Transmission, Mesa, AZ
Fenders front / rear:
stock / stock
Bodywork and paint by:
Lucky Luciano Custom Paint, Phoenix
Paint type / Color:
PPG / custom-mix Arctic Blue
Headlights / Taillights:
stock / stock
Stereo: Panasonic / Boston Acoustics
Steering wheel: Grant
Steering column: stock
Seats: ’99 GMC Sierra
Upholstery by: Manny’s Auto Upholstery, Phoenix
Material / Color: leather / slate gray, cognac inserts
Carpet: gray, cut pile