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1957 Chevy Pickup - In The Black

A 1957 Chevy with a Duramax Soul

Isaac Mion
Jul 1, 2013
Photographers: Isaac Mion
Anyone who has been involved in a major customization knows you always end up in two positions when finished: behind schedule and over budget. But when your schedule is 30 years long, as was the situation for Joel and John Cornuet, you have the ability to take your time, do the work yourself, and stay under budget.
“I have always wanted to build something different,” said Joel. “Something you wouldn’t see anywhere else and something with a modern diesel in it. I also wanted to build it for my dad. He is the one who had the dream of rebuilding it one day.”
Rewind to the early ’80s, and John had just bought a ’57 3200 ½-ton longbed. At this point, John’s thoughts were on the future of the truck, and he had big plans for restoring it, including a lift and a four-wheel-drive conversion. A few years later, Joel came along, and once he was big enough to waddle around on the oil-stained garage floor, he started helping out his dad.
Photo 2/8   |   The LED strip under the tailgate is reminiscent of the Caddy brake lights popular with many truck modifiers in the late ’90s. The look is still relevant today, especially when this black bomber is flying in stealth mode.
“When I was two years old, I helped my dad with the teardown,” said Joel. “We basically just took off the front clip and the bed and strapped all the components to the back of the frame.”
This is the ambivalent state the truck stayed in until Joel’s parents divorced and he and the truck had to leave the house he grew up in. One might imagine Joel’s mom didn’t make a huge effort to keep the pile of parts and the old ’57 Chevy they were strapped to in the divorce, but she actually did end up storing it for a while after Joel kept the truck at a succession of storage units, friends’ backyards, dragstrip storage, and his mother-in-law’s house.
Finally, Joel’s dad told him, “Either do something with it or sell it.”
Joel had a couple of tire kickers come around, and he actually almost sold it for $1,500. It was only after a visit to the NSRA Street Rod Nationals that Joel attended with his wife Allison that he really decided to drop the hammer.
“After coming home from that show, I was really pumped to build it, and I immediately started looking for a donor truck,” said Joel. “I knew it had to be a diesel truck and that it had to be badass.”
His donor came in the form of a wrecked ’03 Chevy Silverado with an LB7 Duramax. Joel paid $6,000 for this and also found a shortened ’57 3800 frame. Like any young man raised in a garage, Joel knew he would need the 1-ton to support the greater weight of the Duramax. He then harvested the seats, dash, computers, entire wiring harness, engine, and transmission. Then he turned around and sold the donor truck for $5,000. In the immortal words of Dick Vitale, “He shoots, he scores!” With three-point conversion plays like selling your donor truck for almost as much as you bought it for—even after ravaging it for parts—one can start to understand how Joel built the truck for so little.
Of course, one does need to take into account the fact that Joel did 99 percent of the work himself. Starting with the stock leaf-spring suspension, he dropped the chassis 2 inches and then wrapped the 16-inch rims with Geo-Trac Radial XLTs. Then he got busy installing the Duramax, Alllison 1000 transmission, and Dana 70 rearend, along with the associated plumbing and wiring necessary to operate the new components. Most of the first year of the build was spent tackling the grittier tasks, such as constructing a new firewall, building a skeleton for the dash to mount to, and widening the ’57’s rear fenders 5 inches to accept the dualie setup.
Photo 3/8   |   Tires are 235/85R16 Geo-Trac Radial XLTs. The wheels they wrap around are ’03 16x8-inch Silverado steelies—painted black, of course.
“I remember when I got everything all wired up and tried to start the truck,” said Joel. “It cranked over about three times then fired right up. It was a great sense of accomplishment. I grabbed a milk crate to sit on and went for a short drive up my driveway.”
The second year of the build, Joel concentrated on the bodywork and reassembly. He painted the body in a satin black and installed a pine kit stained with Australian Cherry finish in the bed.
“I have done bodywork in the past, but I have never had to do a whole vehicle,” said Joel. “Bodywork is not hard; it’s just tedious and repetitive. When you’re after perfection, it takes time and patience. I’ll tell you what, though, I learned a lot during the process.”
Joel also mentioned that his brothers Ryan and Jay stopped by from time to time to help wrench and cut stuff up, as did his dad. To get things wrapped up, Joel had his friend Justin Roquemore help install the glass, his wife Allison help with the interior, and Rob Coddens (a.k.a Idaho Rob) tune the engine with EFILive (with on-the-fly options available via an Edge CTS), which is the only horsepower adder—unless you count that 6-inch stack spouting out of the bed. “I didn’t want to ever have to pull the motor,” Joel said, stressing the reliability of the mostly stock setup.
Photo 4/8   |   For the bed, Joel used a pine kit with an Australian Cherry finish topped with a marine-grade clearcoat. That stovepipe in the back is a healthy 6 inches round, allowing the Duramax to exhale in the crisp, Colorado mountain air.
When asked what he would have done differently, Joel told us he would have used the ’03 chassis and spent the time shortening it to get the old body to fit.
“I would have liked to have independent front suspension with disc brakes, but there are zero options for that with the 3800 dualie,” said Joel. I was going to go with the Mustang II (frontend), but this truck was built on a budget.”
While Joel guesses he has about 3,400 man-hours in the truck, he estimates his total monetary investment to be a mere $16,200. To us, a figure much more impressive considering the quality that rivals the high-dollar builds you always hear about.
Photo 5/8   |   Clear lenses with LED halos make up the eyes of the front fascia. An ’09 Jeep Wrangler front bumper has been modified to fit the front end. The look is just Darth-Vadertaculous.
With elbow grease, tenacity, perseverance, hard work, and patience, Joel has taken a dilapidated vintage, near-barn find and transformed it into the closest comparison to a stealth bomber that a ’57 Chevy can be.
It just goes to show that sometimes you gotta finish what your daddy started.
Fast Facts
Year/Make/Model: 1957 Chevrolet 3200
Owner: Joel Cornuet
Hometown: Lakewood, Colorado
Odometer: 1,800 miles
Engine: 6.6L LB7 Duramax diesel
Aspiration: Turbo (stock IHI)
Fueling: Stock CP3 pump and injectors
Tuning: EFILive by Rob Coddens 
Horsepower at rpm: 430 hp at 3,200 rpm
Torque at rpm: 705 lb-ft at 3,200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed Allison 1000
Suspension (f/r): Leaf spring/leaf spring
Tires: Geo-Trac Radial XLT 235/85R16
Wheels: 16x8-inch (stock)
Fun Fact: The truck was almost sold for $1,500 before Joel decided to build it.

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