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1950 Chevy Suburban - Southern Comfort

Bob Ryder
Jan 25, 2008
Photographers: Brandan Gillogly
Photo 2/9   |   1950 Chevy Suburban right Front View
Kenny Whittamore from Berea, Kentucky, decided he and his wife Tammy needed a more functional custom ride to haul their two daughters, Alyssa, age 10; and Katie, age 5. In the past, Kenny built early-model pickups that accommodated two occupants; three would have been cramped, and there was no way to stuff two adults and two kids into a pickup cab.
So, the quest began to find an earlymodel fat-fendered Chevy Suburban. After discovering a very rough '50 Suburban, Kenny peeled off four Franklin's out of his wallet for it. He drug it home, only to have it sit for two years. Kenny never did get any inspiration to start the project, so he sold it to a friend. His buddy gave up on it and sold it back to Kenny a couple of years later. At which time, Kenny stuffed it back in the barn where it sat for several years. For some reason, one day Kenny decided to pull it out and build it as a "rat rod." Somewhere along his rat-rod journey, Kenny lost his direction, and in doing so, built this beautiful, custom Suburban.
Photo 3/9   |   What separates Kenny's '50 Suburban from others is the unique rear suicide doors that he fabricated and installed himself, using four doors and four doorjambs.
Having built street rods and custom early-model pickups in the past, Kenny did all the work on the Suburban; except for the engine machine work. The project turned into a family and friend affair, with assistance from his dad, Charles, and two best friends, Paul Stewart and J.R. Scenter.
The original frame was boxed using 3/16-inch plate that added both strength and rigidity. The suspension was modified using a '74 AMC Pacer crossmember, upper/lower control arms, and spindles. The front coil springs were pulled out of a '72 Chevelle big-block, then Kenny cut the springs to achieve the 7-inch 'dropped front stance. A pair of Monroe shocks control the vertical oscillation dampening the front suspension. Wilwood disc brakes are responsible for stopping both front and rear wheel rotation. The rear end was pulled out of a '72 Nova and a fresh set of OEM 3.23 gears were stuffed inside the GM 8-1/2-inch pumpkin. The rear suspension is controlled by a five-leaf spring pack and Monroe pneumatic shocks. The 'Burb rolls on a set of American Racing Shelby Cobra 17x8-1/2-inch aluminum wheels in the front, and 17x9-1/2-inch wheels in the rear wrapped in Kumho rubber sized 245/45ZR17 for the front, and 255/50ZR17 for the rear.
Photo 4/9   |   1950 Chevy Suburban wheel
To achieve ample horsepower for the fat `Burb, Kenny extracted a '75 400ci small-block out of a local salvage yard. It was then dropped off at Morgan Motors in nearby London, Kentucky, where the engine was disassembled and the block was decked, align-bored .030 over, and the connecting rods were reconditioned. The original 882 cast-iron heads were also machined and reconditioned. The 400's steel crankshaft was ground again and polished .010 under. A set of eight Silvolite .030 over pistons and rings were stuffed into the cylinder bores. A Crane cam with 284/290 duration and 480/494 lift was inserted into the cam bearings. An Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold receives both fuel/air mixture from a Road Demon 725cfm carburetor. The spark energy comes from an Accel coil and distributor that distributes the electric pulse through 8mm Taylor ignition wires. A pair of DynoMax ceramic-coated 1-5/8-inch-diameter headers, with 3-1/2-inch-diameter collectors, flow into a 3-inch DynoMax exhaust and a Super Turbo catalytic converter. Kenny made a pair of 1-1/2x10-inch-diameter stainless steel tips to showcase the custom exhaust work. A TH 350 Turbo transmission was upgraded with a B&M shift kit and 1,800 rpm stall converter. The transmission was linked to the GM 8-1/2-inch rear end with an '85 Ford aluminum driveshaft with GM yokes.
Photo 8/9   |   1950 Chevy Suburban right Side View
The '50 `Burb sheetmetal was initially in pretty rough shape. Many hours were spent straightening the roof, body panels, fenders, and hood. The `Burb's entire sheetmetal was hand-massaged back to perfection. The ugly, factory gas filler neck was shaved, a new Hagan Street Rod Performance push close/release gas door assembly was grafted into the lower rear corner, behind the driver-side rear fender, and Kenny reworked the grille bars, headlight bezels, front and rear bumpers before sending them out to be re-chromed. The taillights were borrowed from a '51 Chevy pickup, then frenched into the rear fenders. The hood's center seam piece was removed, then filled in, sanded, and smoothed. A rear third brake light was grafted into the roof above the barn doors. One unique feature of Kenny's family hauler are two rear-side suicide doors; the '50 Suburban was a two-door model. It took four '50 pickup doors to make two rear suicide doors. Kenny took the left and right rear portions of the pickup doors, then welded them together. After the suicide doors were fabricated, the welded doorskins were removed, and new doorskins were installed. The doorjambs were used from the same two cabs that the doors came from. The rear portions of each left and right doorjambs were cut and welded together forming the new rear-door suicide doorjambs. They were then grafted into the body skin behind the B-pillar doorpost.
After the entire body sheetmetal was filled, block-sanded, straight and smoothed. Kenny sprayed the top portion of the exterior skin with PPG Vibrance Aluminum, then applied PPG Vibrance Orange Glo over the Aluminum. The mid-swoosh stripe was colored with PPG White basecoat, then a couple of coats of PPG Fireball. The lower portion was colored with PPG Cashmere. After the paint had time to cure, it was then buried with five coats of PPG Clear.
Photo 9/9   |   1950 Chevy Suburban right Side Door Open
Kenny created the entire interior. After drilling four holes into the center of the dash, he used 1-1/2-inch-diameter exhaust pipe for the gauge pods, that were filled with white-faced Auto Meter fuel level, water temperature, oil pressure, and voltage gauges. Both Auto Meter white face speedometer and tachometer were inserted into the stock locations. The unique steering wheel was taken from an '88 Chevy Cavalier. Kenny also fabricated the dash waterfall that merges with the '98 Suburban center console. The Vintage Air A/C system maintains a comfortable habitat for the Burb's occupants. The four bucket seats and rear bench seat are from an '88 Astro van. The seats were stripped, then re-upholstered with Illusion Light Buff leather. The cross-point sand carpet matches the sand 1/4-inch foam-backed headliner.
Kenny drives his Suburban to all the shows he and the family attend. You won't ever see it on a trailer. As if the two daughters and wife Tammy aren't enough entertainment during those long or short cruises. A JVC head unit/CD changer, Sony DVD screen and Vintage Air controls were grafted into the dash waterfall. A pair of Pioneer amps power up the Pioneer 10-inch subwoofers and 6-inch Pioneer speakers tucked into the front kick panels and rear headliner. For visual effects, Kenny installed an Audiovox DVD player and a Sony PlayStation 2.


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