Custom 1953 Chevrolet Flat-Bed Truck - Sam's '53 Chevy
Needle in a Truck Stack - Busted Knuckles
Sam Head's latest project, a '53 Chevy five-window sport truck, holds a special place for the staff of this magazine. Sam's love of custom trucks is the reason his son, Calin, ended up becoming the tech article czar of this great magazine. Much of Calin's automotive knowledge was passed down from his dad, and thankfully, that knowledge was tempered with a killer sense of form and function. Sam's owned in excess of 45 cool pickups over the years, each one of them receiving his creative custom touches, but ironically, his motivation for doing so was never to gain magazine superstardom. In fact, he's the proprietor of the best little upholstery shop in Southern California that you've probably never heard of. Sam simply loves building custom trucks, and rather than pushing to get them into magazines, his friends and neighbors have bought one after another, enabling Sam to keep his hobby going with each new build. Forty five trucks-that's a lot of custom interiors and paintjobs. We wish we had his energy.
Sam recently retired, but he's still got his shop and yet another cool project up his sleeve. He specifically bought a 3/4-ton '53 Chevy flat-bed truck because it had a great body, and he had a line on the perfect chassis to go beneath it. The heavy hauler was found buried up to its axles in mud, so getting it home took some effort. But, once it was back at the shop, Sam quickly stripped it and rolled the 3/4-ton running gear outside. A quick phone call to a friend, Benny Benson, in Reno, Nevada, netted him a stock chassis with some choice upgrades.
The owner had begun his own project and then shifted gears, ditching the factory chassis in favor of a high-end aftermarket piece. Sam scored the old frame, which had already been boxed in with mild steel and outfitted with a Heidt's IFS frontend. The front suspension relied on battle-tested Mustang II gear, upgraded with drop spindles, disc brakes, and rack-andpinion steering. Out back, the Chevy 10-bolt axle came equipped with a 2.73 ring gear and posi unit, and was swinging on a parallel four-link suspension with elongated Panhard bar. Adjustable, satin-body coilover shocks are found at all four corners. Those sweet vintage American Racing Torq- Thrust wheels and 60-series Remington radials came from Calin-they were left over from a Chevy van project that saw the business end of a Sawzall when he ran out of love and room for it.
The body of the '53 is virgin steel that Sam plans on keeping stock for the most part. Sam has retained the stock '53 doors but modded them with one-piece glass from a '47 Chevy, a move that is neither quick nor easy because the inside of the doors are solid, with no access holes. This required Sam to assemble the '47 window tracks and regulators outside of the doors, drill holes at each end of the door, slide the window channels and regulators inside the door, then plug-weld the parts perfectly in place. It was either do it this way or cut a massive access hole into the perfect sheetmetal of each door, which Sam wasn't down to do.
The only other body mod Sam performed was "peaking" the hood, which originally is a two-piece unit. Sam welded the two halves together to rid the hood of the trim running down the middle and smooth the whole thing out. He says that he's planning on adding '59-'60 Corvette taillights to the rear fenders, but otherwise the truck is going to look fairly stock. Plans call for a two-tone white and pale-green paint scheme, and to clean up the old Torq- Thrust wheels so they look new again.
After building a ton of Ford F-100s, then getting out of the Effie scene because it became grossly overpriced, Sam got into '67-'72 Chevy trucks. He built about a dozen of them, starting with his first custom one in 1969. His years behind the sewing machine, designing and sculpting custom interiors for his own trucks, as well as demanding customers, has taught him a thing or two about what works in the cab of a truck. He says that adding a set of power bucket seats taken from a late-model Hyundai is a good, inexpensive way to get cool-looking seats that fit comfortably between the narrow pillars of the '53. He plans on doing the interior tastefully in tan, although he didn't cop to whether or not that would be in leather, vinyl, or something else.
We don't know how long Sam will keep his latest project. We know it will be finished, though, just like all the other trucks he's built. It's slated to receive a 355-cid small-block Chevy and Turbo 350 automatic tranny for motivation, which combined with the 2.73 gears will make this truck a smooth cruiser on the freeway. It sounds like a recipe for the perfect go-anywhere ride, which is something we'd all like to have. No mess, no fuss, just get in it and go anywhere. Maybe Sam will keep this one. Then again, he's had a great recipe for building custom trucks for decades now and each project always seem to go the way of the buffalo, just in time to make room for that next great idea. We'd like to see Sam enjoy the ride, but we're pretty sure the ride isn't the point. It's likely the build that he enjoys the most, and that's why he calls it a hobby.