A few years ago, I toyed with the idea of picking up an old pickup. I wanted something that I could still use as a truck, something I could drive to Home Depot on Saturdays and maybe cruise to work on nice days. Something not too nice, but not a wreck, either. During my search, I drove A LOT of trucks. I didn't buy one, but the experience taught me that the trucks to own are the early 50s Chevys. I loved how they drove, how the silky inline-six purred along, and how surprisingly well they rode (of course, I'm used to my Dodge ¾ ton 4x4, so anything short of a Conestoga wagon will probably ride better).
Imagine my delight when this wonderfully restored 54 Chevy 3100 pickup showed up on the back of a trailer last week. I thought about buying it for myself, since its exactly what I wanted, but ultimately decided that its just too darned nice. I just couldn't bear the thought of throwing lumber or topsoil in the back of this little truck, no matter how ideally suited to my needs it might be. The mechanicals are fully sorted, the interior is probably better than new, and its ready to use today.
The gorgeous blue metallic paint is probably my #1 reason for saying this truck is too nice to take to the lumber yard it's deep, shiny, and well-applied. The curves on these trucks were still more car-like than truck in 1954, meaning that it takes a good body man to make them look this sharp. Of course, there are replacement body panels available for just about every piece on this truck, but this one is a west-coast original and that's 100% factory steel throughout. The paint isn't an original color and it has too much metallic in it for 1954 single-stage enamel, but it sure looks good on this truck! So dark it sometimes appears black, but with brilliant blue highlights when the light hits it just right, this is the kind of vehicle where people will ooh and aah over the paint job. And if you're going to do it dark like this, you need to make it straight, which this one is. Good panel gaps and even the bed is probably finished better than it ever was from the factory. Like I said, it would be a crime to dump a load of mulch in the back of this one.
Although a new truck was on the way for 1955, Chevy wasn't just phoning it in with the 1954 models. New features included a 1-piece windshield and a new grille whose design chief designer Chuck Jordan explains by saying, We mounted [a complete production 1953 front end] on legs and tried different grilles. We had to use the same hood, same fenders. ... [Our job was to just fill the hole." Ultimately, they wound up with a single horizontal bar bisected by a stubby V-shaped center bar, low rectangular parking lights, a new hood ornament. New hubcaps sporting Chevy "bow ties" were the last detail upgrade before the new trucks arrived. On this truck, the chrome has all been refinished to better-than-new condition, and the glass is excellent all around, thanks to it being flat and easy to reproduce. The windshield is a new item with a tinted band across the top like a modern vehicle. And the crown jewel of any vintage truck has to be the floor of the pickup bed, which features gorgeous refinished oak planks with a honey glow that looks so inviting you cant resist running your fingers along it.
Chevy discontinued the 216.5-cubic-inch Thrift-Master Six and replaced it with the 235.5-cubic-inch engine from Chevy's larger Load-Master trucks. It makes 112 horsepower and a very usable 200 pounds of torque more than enough to move the lightweight truck. The engine in this particular 3100 was completely rebuilt at the time of restoration and runs beautifully. Bathed in corporate blue paint with correct Thrift master 235 decals on the valve cover, its the heart of a very nicely done engine bay. Like the paint job, its not 100% correct, but it sure does look good. You'll note the optional heater has been installed (yes, even heaters were still optional on trucks in the 50s), and all the components are fresh, from the hoses and clamps to plug wires. There's still an oil-bath air cleaner atop the original carburetor, and with full pressure lubrication being introduced in 1953, a canister-style oil filter became standard equipment. This one runs even better than it looks, quick to fire and idling with a grumble that seems very truck-like and appropriate.
The chassis is clean and solid, but not perfectly restored this is a truck, after all. The frame rails are simple black, the floors are too. You can see the oak bed from underneath, and it has been refinished on the bottom as well as the top for long-lasting durability. The exhaust system is older but tight and leak-free and sounds exactly right. There are modern tube shocks on the ancient-tech rigid front axle and leaf springs front and rear handle the ride and load-carrying. Drum brakes at all four corners are manual, but very effective given the trucks modest performance envelope. The transmission is a fully synchronized 3-speed manual feeding a rigid axle out back with 3.90 gears inside these trucks were made to work in the field, not cruise the highways at triple-digit speeds. It rides on a set of modern 15-inch whitewall radials encasing original steel wheels that have been painted to match the body.
Like the paint and engine bay, some liberties have been taken with the interior in the interest of making it look and feel better than new. I like the basic goodness of these trucks, and that stems from their back-to-basics approach (actually, these WERE the basics, no need to go back). The floor mat is a correct rubber reproduction piece that makes cleaning out the interior a snap. The seats have been done in a correct pattern using gray vinyl that matches the paint used on the lower half of the 2-tone dashboard. Door panels are painted steel with gray fabric inserts at the top and matching vinyl armrests. I like that the door jambs have been painted to match the interior, which adds some continuity when the doors are opened, and the basic design goodness allows the shapes to do the talking without a lot of extra ornamentation. The gauges appear to have been restored, and the indicated mileage of 1127 is presumed to be since the truck was restored. The steering wheel is a correct piece and reflects GM's love affair with jet age styling, and the column-mounted shifter can be shifted with just your fingertips. Seat belts have been added in the name of safety.
Who knows, maybe this is the one where I finally pull the trigger. I fall in love at least once a week and talk about buying these cars for myself all the time, but this one is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Clean, well-sorted, fully restored, and ready to enjoy that's the way to go when buying a collector vehicle. Frankly, I didn't think I could afford one this nice, but here it is with a very affordable price tag attached to it. I like the color, the interior, and the finish work is first-rate. If you've been looking at these trucks, you know there are a lot of really rough specimens out there. Yeah, they'll probably run forever, but finding one that someone has spent more on restoration than the truck is worth is incredibly rare. Their loss is your gain, I suppose. Call now, before this one comes home with me!
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