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Custom 1969 Chevrolet Suburban - Change of Plans

Tow Truck to Show Truck

Brandan Gillogly
Oct 23, 2006
Photographers: Brandan Gillogly
Photo 2/10   |   1969 Chevrolet Suburban drivers Side View
There's always an interesting story behind a project vehicle, the '69 Suburban you're looking at is no exception. When Mike Bowen was looking for a tow vehicle that could handle his '67 Chevy II show car, he decided on a Suburban because it could haul plenty of friends and all the gear you might need at a weekend show. Besides, what would be better than a truck from the same vintage? Plans changed, however, as after one faithful season as a tow vehicle, Mike made the decision to sell the Chevy II and focus his effort on the Suburban.
The foundation of the whole build is the factory frame that was C-notched and powdercoated before being upgraded with Early Classic Industries' dropped spindles and front disc brake conversion. Air Ride Technologies was sourced for the Firestone 'bags that keep ride height in check at all corners with help from the KYB shocks that keep the wheels planted. All that cutting and dropping let the 'Burban tuck Billet Specialties 20x7-inch wheels with 245/40R20 BFGoodrich Comp T/As up front, and 20x8-1/2-inch wheels with 275/45R20 tires in the rear.
Photo 3/10   |   1969 Chevrolet Suburban open Door Side View
Starting with a body style that is relatively unique thanks to its three doors, the crew at Wooding's Auto Body Works in Roanoke, Virginia, swapped the '69 fenders and grille for '67 front sheetmetal in homage of Mike's old Chevy II. With the truck getting prepped for paint that would show off the unblemished sheetmetal, the factory bumpers and their 25 years of tarnish and corrosion weren't up to the task, so Advanced Plating re-chromed both bumpers to match the rest of the trim. With the bolting done, the welders came into play as the cowl was smoothed, all emblems were shaved, and the passenger-side rear door was reversed to open suicide-style. With all of the bodywork completed, Troy Wells sprayed the House of Kolor and PPG paints: Garnet Red on top and Ice Cream Pearl on the bottom. From there, Shawn at Hardcore Graphix in Roanoke, Virginia, airbrushed on the graphics in Candy Tangerine and Cobalt Blue.
Under the cowl-induction hood you'll find a 2003 Ram Jet 350ci small-block with Vortec heads that drinks from a Brother's Truck Parts 18-gallon fuel tank. Mike wired the engine himself using a Ron Francis wiring harness, which helped him hide the majority of the wires, for a clean installation. The brain of the engine was programmed by JET Performance and upgraded to read an O2 sensor mounted in the Jet-Hot-coated Hooker headers, which dump into custom-built 2-1/2-inch exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers. Making the 350hp engine stand out are plenty of aluminum bits like the Vintage Air FrontRunner serpentine belt system, March Performance engine cover, and Street & Performance valve covers and air cleaner. After the small-block churns out the power, it's sent through a TCI-prepped turbo 350 to a Moser-equipped 12-bolt set to cruise with 3.42 gears.
Photo 4/10   |   1969 Chevrolet Suburban wheel
Finally we get to the interior, where we were really floored. Starting in the back, Mike custom-fit a Bruce Horkey bed kit into the rear floor, and King's Auto Upholstery in Roanoke surrounded the wood with square-weave German burgundy carpet that is a dead-on match for the Garnet Red paint. Moving to the passenger-side, the suicide rear door opens for a panoramic view of the amazing bone-white leather and burgundy ostrich that King's wrapped over almost everything. From the modified Corbeau seats to the door panels and the top of the dash, yards of leather cover most of the surfaces you're likely to touch while sitting in the 'Burban. What isn't covered in leather is painted Garnet Red, like the custom center console that was built by Chris Belcher, who also wired and installed the stereo. The fiberglass enclosure that Chris built flows into the center console and frames the rear seats while holding two 10-inch Rockford Fosgate subs and two separates. Additional separates are located in the front kick panels and are powered by RF Punch Series II amps mounted behind the rear seats, a P4004 for the mids, and a P5002 for the subs. Orchestrating the sound is a Pioneer Super Tuner III head unit mounted in the dash right above Vintage Air A/C controls.
Mike seems to enjoy leaving for a show without having to worry about a trailer, and he's been to a lot of shows lately. Since its completion, Mike has been driving his Suburban to shows across the Southeast, where he's won Best Interior and Top Ten picks. Not bad for a tow rig turned cross-country cruiser.


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