We meet lots of interesting people on the road and we find that major automotive events around the country are a great source for feature articles. When we spotted this unusual watermelon truck at a show in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, it immediately got our attention. When we met the owners, it didn't take us long to realize that we had found a bona fide automotive power couple.
Flo and Gary Garman from Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania, channeled their fascination with '55 Chevys into three different show-winning rides – all homegrown, all built in the family garage, and all created in record time. Although they had no prior experience or been to a car show in many years, they set out to create something unique, and as you can see, they certainly got the job done.
Their first custom, named "Fun '55", was a '55 Chevy two-door hardtop done in just 35 weeks back in 2004. Their second, a '55 Chevy post car named "Juicy" took only 25 weeks in 2005. After touring the show circuit and accumulating more than 45,000 miles on the pair of cars, Gary decided he wanted to try his hand at a truck and naturally, it was a '55.
The Chevy pickup that he found on Craigslist in Hershey, Pennsylvania, had been started by the previous owner almost 10 years before. He had lost interest in the project and the frame was in one part of the garage, the cab in another, and lots of boxes held the rest. The collection of parts was relocated to the Garman's two-and-a-half car garage back in October 2010. The build process began following a familiar pattern with Gary almost always working by himself and Flo, the self-described "Garage Gofer" ordering parts, taping, cleaning, wet sanding, and accomplishing a dozen other tasks.
Ruling out ideas about Christmas and stoplights, the next choice was obvious – a watermelon!
All good trucks have a theme and this one is unusual, initially shaped by Gary's desire for an all-red interior. Since Flo's preference for the exterior color was green, they had to create a theme that somehow pulled both those independent shades together. Ruling out ideas about Christmas and stoplights, the next choice was obvious – a watermelon! Once the general direction was established, parts were collected at the Carlisle flea market and local salvage yards, then orders placed with a half dozen major manufacturers.
While waiting for parts to arrive, Gary sandblasted the frame, boxed it for strength, and filled all the holes. He added a Fatman independent front suspension and ididit steering along with a narrowed Ford Explorer 8.8 rear, held in place with Chassis Engineering leaf springs. Getting the new chassis rolling are chrome wheels from Wheel Smith in North Carolina, 15x7 up front and 15x8 in the rear, all four wrapped in Diamond Back Classic's wide whitewall tires.
While Gary was finishing the chassis, pro body man Butch Grossman came to the garage three evenings a week to sort out the half-century old sheetmetal. As each piece was completed, Gary sprayed the custom-mixed Watermelon Green in his temporary, plastic-shrouded garage paint booth. Their friend Chess Sprenkle from Sprenkle's Body Shop in York Haven, Pennsylvania, shot the cab in his shop. The rejuvenated bed was fitted with oak planks and vintage tailgate latches, and then the re-chromed stock bumpers bolted in, front and rear. One of the very few changes to the exterior, a sunvisor from the Truck Shop was modified to fit.
The rebuild of the 350 engine in the truck did not go quite as planned. When it came back from the original engine builder, it was configured more as a race motor than something suitable for the street. Scot at American Speed sorted it out, recommending Gary replace the high-compression heads, distributor, and carburetor with more streetable parts. It was just the right touch and the thoroughly reliable motor now pumps out a strong 375 hp.
Gary positioned the engine low in the chassis for a better center of gravity and also to minimize the height of the transmission hump. In addition to smoothing the firewall and inner fender panels, he welded a pair of Freon bottles together to create the one-of-a-kind, watermelon air cleaner. Airbrush artist and master welder, Dane Geesey created the "slice" in the bottles, and then added the two-tone paintjob. Gary painted the Griffin radiator and intake manifold to match, and then added the polished Tru Trac pulley system for a little sparkle in the engine room.
Interior upgrades began with the most unlikely of choices, but the 1995 GMC Safari Minivan third seat fit perfectly and became the Chevrolet's new bench seat, now re-covered in rich red leather. Gary and Flo ground all the visible welds smooth prior to painting, then began work on the cab, insulating the floor and doors, installing the basket-weave headliner, sunvisors, and side glass. With many of the basics in place, they progressed to the Haywire wiring harness, Classic Instrument package, ididit steering column, and repro '55 steering wheel. The Custom Autosound radio with vintage looks and modern internals along with the Vintage Air A/C unit pamper the driver and passenger on long trips.
Subtle enhancements to the interior included new kick panels up front and a gas tank cover behind the seat to modernize the cab. The door panels were left showing lots of painted metal, a nostalgic touch similar to the way they did it back in '55. Flo chose the exterior paint colors, thanks to paint chips from Home Depot and Martha Stewart. Custom mixed Artichoke and Bay Leaf are the two shades of green outside along with the deep red interior. Lots of watermelon details are obvious inside and out, and the truck is dotted with slight wear marks throughout that you might find on a ripe watermelon.
Dane Geesey returned to add the accents along with the "Home Grown" door logo. In a comparatively quick 45 weeks after starting the project and just hours after adding the finishing touches, the truck was headed to the Maryland East Coast Indoor Nationals where it took a class win, along with best paint. We don't know what's next from this dynamic duo, but if history can provide any guidance, it will be another unusual interpretation of Chevrolet's legendary '55. Special thanks to Dane Geesey (graphics), Scot at American Speed Center (engine rebuild), along with Chess Sprenkle and Butch Grossman (bodywork and paint at Gary's garage and Sprenkle's Body Shop).
1955 Chevrolet 3100
Gary and Flo Garman
Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania
Frame: modified stock
Modifications: boxed, smoothed, and painted
Rearend/Ratio: narrowed and rebuilt Ford Bronco 8.8 rear / 3.50 gears
Brakes: four-wheel discs
Rear Suspension: Chassis Engineering leaf springs
Front Suspension: Fatman 2-inch drop spindles
Steering: Fatman rack-and-pinion
Front Wheels: 15x7, The Wheel Smith
Rear Wheels: 15x8, The Wheel Smith
Front Tires: 205/70-15, Diamond Back Classics
Rear Tires: 255/60-15, Diamond Back Classics
Gas Tank: original behind the seat with custom cover
Engine: Chevrolet 350 V-8 painted green
Valve covers: billet
Manifold/Induction: Holley Street Avenger 650/Edelbrock intake, watermelon air cleaner
Ignition: HEI Street Fire
Headers: Doug's ceramic-coated 2½-inch diameter with crossover pipe
Transmission: Tremec TKO 600 five-speed
Shifter: Hurst with watermelon shift knob
Modifications: factory stock with sunvisor
Grille: re-chromed stock
Bed: oak planks with stainless steel strips
Bodywork and Paint By: Gary, Flo, Chess, and Butch
Paint Type/Color: PPG custom mixed Artichoke and Bay Leaf
Headlights/Taillights: re-chromed stock
Outside Mirrors: aftermarket
Bumpers: re-chromed originals
Gauges: Classic Instruments
Air-conditioning: Vintage Air
Stereo: Custom Autosound, Pioneer speakers
Steering Wheel: smaller reproduction '55 Chevrolet
Steering Column: ididit
Seats: 1995 GMC Safari Minivan third seat
Upholstery By: owners and John Sterner of Statler's Upholstery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (seats and carpet)
Material/Color: red leather
Carpet: Red Daytona weave