1952 Chevy Panel Van - Fatbird
Reconstructive Therapy on a Fat-Fendered Firebird
Six years ago, Billy Wayne Stockton of Waxahache, Texas, found himself laid up in a wheelchair after being involved in a motorcycle accident. Not one to sit idle, Stockton (an aircraft cabinet maker by trade) started working on rebuilding his '52 Chevrolet 1/2-ton Panel. "I have an intense love for these old round-bodied trucks," says Billy Wayne. "It dates way back to my childhood. My father used to drive us kids around in his '53 Chevrolet Suburban." Stockton acquired his Panel in February, 1977. But it wasn't until the accident that he began to reconstruct the truck (and perhaps himself) in earnest. "My wife Liz, and my children Stephen and Jennifer were extremely helpful throughout the whole ordeal," he says.
At first glance, Stockton's Panel looks like just another well-executed smoothie -- a prime example of what you can do with one of these old GM breadboxes. But take a closer look and you'll notice a harmonious blend of vintage and contemporary GM components. For example, the truck's chassis features a '79 Chevelle front clip complete with power steering, 2-inch loweredsprings, and power front disc brakes.
No great shakes, you say? Well, it's what's sitting between those front framerails that's the real news. Rather than opting for your run-of-the-mill Chevy small-block, Stockton chose a '78 Oldsmobile 403 backed up by a Pontiac TH400. "These engines were found in some of the late '70s Firebirds," Billy Wayne says. "That's why I call the truck ''52 Fatbird.' It's just a fat-fendered Firebird underneath." Other modifications to the '52's chassis include a '79 10-bolt Chevelle rearend. Wheels and tires consist of a set of 15x7-inch American Torque Thrust IIs rolling on P215/65R15 BFGoodrich Radial T/A rubber.
Modifications to the body are subtle, but extensive, and Stockton is responsible for all of them. For openers, both front and rear pans have been rolled in fiberglass. When it came to running lights, Stockton frenched in the fronts and installed halogen lamps. Out back, the truck uses a set of late-model Corvette taillights poised on both sides of a frenched-in license plate. You will also note that the door handles have been shaved and electric door solenoids have been substituted in their place. The cowl vent has also been welded and filled in. The Chevy's two-piece hood has also been welded together and smoothed. More noticeable are the Panel's two rear doors, which have been welded together to become one. Further modifications include widening the rear fenders by 1 inch to clear those low-profile BFGs. Also, the rear fenders were welded to the coachwork.
When all the bodywork was completed, Stockton delivered the truck to Joe Ruiz at JB Kustoms where it was painted House of Kolor Sage Metallic Pearl with marble underbase. Ruiz applied a distinctive deep-redwood burl body band, which also carries through to the interior.
The interior also features extensive modifications. Stockton completely refashioned the dash, filling it with VDO Classic instrumentation, then wood-graining it and covering it in brown leather. Seating consists of a pair of '93 Chevrolet Geo buckets residing on top of Stockton-fabricated pedestals, which are complete with slide-out storage drawers. Stockton Aircraft (Billy's company) was also responsible for the beige Garrett Aircraft leather upholstery with jade green and mocha carpeting. Additional trim includes green Avonite marble and red burl-wood interior body band. Also along for the ride is a Kenwood audio system by Earmark Audio, complete with Phoenix Gold amplifiers, subwoofers, and JL Audio rear subwoofers. Rounding out the system is a set of Boston Acoustic 6-inch tweeters, which was installed in the back door and the front kick panels.
The Panel was completed in February, 1997. Billy Wayne has logged more than 52,000 miles since then, and Wayne has taken it to truck shows all over the Southwest. "When I drive up in the '52, it brings a lot of smiles to people's faces," he says. "But none more than to that of the owner. I'm a real lucky guy."