The CarAdvice team reveals what's hidden away in their sheds and backyards awaiting some TLC.
If I ran through a complete list of the cars I’ve owned and/or modified since I first attained my licence, two things would happen. One, I’d invariably forget about a few and leave them off the list and two, someone would whisk me away to a swift counselling session such is the depth of the issue I have with buying old cars.
Now, more than ever really, no one ‘needs’ an old car. There are so many affordable second-hand cars that are under 10 – or even 20 – years old that have such luxuries as air conditioning and power steering, not to mention fuel injection and brakes that work, that there is no need to slum it and drive a woeful old car because that’s all you can afford. Back when I got my Ps in 1993, that certainly wasn’t the case, but now times are genuinely different.
So, you go into old vehicle ownership with eyes wide open, knowing what you’re in for. Or you should anyway. However, in the case of those of us who work at CarAdvice, you’re spoilt by the constant array of up-to-date technology. Technology that works, that isn’t weather dependent, that doesn’t just decide to have a bad day, and is reliable.
While I may have thought differently once, there is no charm to an ancient carburettor that hates the cold or the heat, a cooling system that reaches boiling point in traffic, headlights that are less effective than a smartphone torch, or windscreen wipers that are purely there for visual effect.
My days stopped on the side of the road trying to diagnose an issue and call it fun, are well and truly over. And while I love the design of old cars to the point of obsession, I draw the line at any mechanical object that needs to sit in a garage and can’t be used. To me, there is no point.
So, I approached the build of my ’66 C10 very differently from the outset. First though, the back story.
I’d always wanted an American pickup. But they tend to be thin on the ground and pretty expensive here, even for average examples. Many that make their way to Australia have been ‘enhanced’ by the very best in American backyard butchery. So, you need to assume you’re going to have to do some work, even if things look good from the outside.
I had sold my 1962 VW Kombi single cab (that we used for a CarAdvice shoot a few years ago) and bought a 1965 Buick Riviera. Still one of the most beautiful car designs in US history, in my opinion. It looks like a modified custom straight off the showroom floor. Mine had been imported by GM Holden in '66 and converted here – not very well. Yes it was RHD, but not a great example of a RHD conversion by any means. And while I loved it, there were too many things I needed to fix to be happy with it. And I still would have had the old Nailhead motor, rubbish automatic and drum brakes.
Plus, selling the Buick allowed me to entertain the notion of (and find the space in the garage for) a pickup truck, which I’d been wanting for a long time. 1966 was the last year that Chevrolet offered this particular body style, and mine is a short bed, big back window deluxe body, which of course is the most in demand. It’s always the way isn’t it. You’re not the only one who is attracted to a certain design. Everyone else wants one too, and the prices keep climbing. That’s the case even in the States, so when I was tipped off about this one arriving in Australia, I went to have a look 24 hours after it left the container.
While the intrinsic shape of the truck is the same, the smaller back window doesn’t look as good, nor is it as functional, and the long bed looks, well, too long. It’s more useful in terms of carrying gear and working, but it just doesn’t look as good. And it’s not like the short bed tray is tiny either.
I still have the original 1966 Tennessee registration plate, and it had been a Tennessee truck its whole life. Yes, it has rust. Plenty actually. But, as you’ll see in coming instalments, many of the areas that were rusty, are going to be cut out, replaced, or repaired anyway, so I wasn’t too concerned by that. Aside from the absolutely disgusting rear chassis notch, the work that had been undertaken in the States actually wasn’t too bad.
I was initially attracted by the 305TPI Corvette motor and 700R4 transmission, as well as big front disc brakes. It also had a set of genuine American Racing wheels, with good quality 20-inch tyres, and to be honest it was the best driving old car I’ve ever owned. The carby-fed small block and non-overdrive auto were long gone, and it even had power steering that worked. So it was actually quite a nice thing to drive.
All my other old cars have had restored original drivelines, so this was a big step up. It had a brand-new fuel tank, the EFI had been set up correctly, and the cooling system was built properly, too. You could sit in traffic on a 40-degree day, and it behaved like a modern car.
Because the four-speed auto has a 30 per cent overdrive, it rolled along the highway beautifully too, the V8 ticking over not too far above idle. The windscreen wipers worked – just – and the heater worked as well. All the lights and blinkers worked and to be fair to it, it was a pretty reliable and decent old workhorse.
The plan was always to convert it to RHD. I want to use it, I want to tow with it, and I want to be able to hand the keys over to certain select family members and friends and not have to worry about the driver being on the wrong side of the car. But, when you delve into the mechanical and engineering reality of doing that properly, it becomes apparent that you might as well go the whole hog. If you can afford to do so of course. Because the mods I have planned now aren’t cheap. In addition, it’s the first project car I won’t be building myself.
The old 305 was a bit smoky, so it needed a freshen up anyway, and the starter motor was doing the (apparently typical) GM thing of not cranking when it was hot. Plus, there were a litany of missing grommets and insulation in the cabin, so driving it on a hot day was like sitting in a sauna. Uncomfortable.
Yes, it was a cool old thing to look at, but I wasn’t happy with it the way it was. I wanted the fuel tank out of its stock location in the cab, I wanted power steering and air conditioning, I wanted coil overs and proper geometry all round, big disc brakes front and rear, and everything except the surface wear on the paint to be properly rust repaired.
I don’t know that I’ll ever own an old vehicle with fresh paint again to be honest. The C10 is the third four-wheeler in addition to three two-wheelers I’ve had with faded, original paint, and I absolutely love it. It tells a story, and I’m not afraid to drive it, regardless of the weather or where I’m going to have to park it.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the work and artistry that goes into a proper paint job, but a faded, patinated exterior is liberating. With all that in mind then, I had started scheming in my mind what I wanted to do, and one thing I have never even attempted to do, is a modern, EFI transplant into an old vehicle.
That’s when I spoke to a guy I’ve known for a long time, Ryan from United Speed Shop. While the team at United will build pretty much anything with four wheels, their wheelhouse – so to speak – is Chevrolet Trucks. The guys that work there love them and they have built a few absolutely amazing examples over the last few years. Check out their website and social media for some sensational examples of the work they do.
Not long after that phone call, I drove the C10 up to Newcastle and caught the train home…
The plan is simple. Well it is for me this time anyway. Pay the bills. Keep digging into those pockets. Not so much for Ryan, Greg, Kurt and the team at United. The list is long. They will be converting the truck to RHD, I sourced an LS3 and 6L80e out of a 95,000km 2011 HSV GTS, they will fit one of their Magnum IFS units up front with power steering, and their own four-link system at the rear.
We’ve opted for big Baer disc brakes all round, I’ve ordered a custom set of Budnik wheels from the US (19x8 and 19x10), and the truck will have integrated air conditioning. Geelong Differentials will be building me a custom 9-inch diff with LSD and 3.9 final drive to work nicely with the six-speed auto and rolling diameter of the wheel and tyre combo.
The fuel tank will be relocated under the rear tray, the floor of which will be lifted to accommodate the ride height and suspension modifications. United will build a custom exhaust that will be hidden under the truck, and make the right noise, while still running cats and everything will be properly insulated and sound deadened, as close to a modern car as we can get.
I’ve even gone to the trouble of sourcing a modern wiper motor from Detroit Speed and Engineering so the windscreen wipers will behave like they would in a new car. You should have seen the look on the security lady’s face at LAX when I put a complete wiring loom through the scanner as hand luggage…
It’s gotten completely out of hand now, but the research has been fun. In fact, the research and parts hunting is what makes old vehicle ownership as much fun as it is.
I’ll go into more detail about the first stage of the build in the next instalment, and if you’d like to see some video of the truck, let us know in the comment section below. I was thinking we’d knock out a video at the halfway stage, so you can see the rolling chassis and all the work that has gone into that, and then a final video when the truck is finished, with some driving impressions. So, let us know if you’d like to see more details and some video.