While we were walking the rows of trucks at the Chevy/GMC Nationals in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, we couldn't help but notice the clean '54 Chevrolet driven by Janet Henderson and her husband, Robert, of Bowling Green, Kentucky. Aside from the great stance and vibrant paint, we couldn't help but wonder about the modified hood. After a few minutes of prodding we had a pretty good idea of the motive, and Janet confirmed out suspicions: There's a very healthy powerplant under that purple hood, and it's got to breathe.
Robert built this truck as a birthday present for his wife, but a truck that was just restored wasn't exactly what he had in mind, so he went the extra mile and added several custom touches that have enhanced the drivability and also the head-turning ability of this classic Chevy. The fact is, this truck was never meant to hold a small-block, let alone a small-block topped with a BDS 671 supercharger, but the engine bay was up to the task of swallowing the entire engine without so much as a hiccup. After a few test cruises, Robert learned that there just wasn't enough airflow through the engine bay to cool the monster mill, so some creative trimming was in order. Forget the tiny fender vents you see on Escalades and Range Rovers. The vents on this truck are all about function. Now the truck can idle all day long without puking coolant, and the factory profile isn't broken. In fact, from head on, you'd never have any idea what was lurking under the purple hood. Step up beside the truck, however, and the polished aluminum gleams from behind the shadows. Finishing off the V-8 are Hooker ceramic-coated headers and a 3-inch Flowmaster exhaust so the force-fed air has a place to escape once it's been burned. Finally, all of that power has to go someplace, so backing up the engine is a rebuilt Turbo 350.
To get the smooth look and stance he knew Janet wanted, Robert shaved the door handles, chopped the top 3 inches, and added wheeltubs to the bed to hold 29/18.5/R15 Mickey Thompson Sportsmans inside 15x14-inch American Racing Torque Thrusts. Up front, 215/65/R15 Spectrum LXRs are mounted to 7-inch-wide Torque Thrusts. For the final touch, Robert frenched '32 Ford taillights into the fenders and fabbed a roll pan to get rid of the factory bumper. With all of the bodywork complete, Robert left the truck in the capable hands of Joe Fontana, also in Bowling Green. The result is a PPG Twilight Plum Pearl and silver two-tone with silver ghost flames that match the hot-rod nature of the truck and never fail to turn heads.
Underneath the nostalgic body is a mix of old and new. The stock platform would have done just fine behind a mild engine, but the thought of the BDS blown 350ci mill twisting the factory frame into a pretzel left Robert with no options; some serious reinforcing was in order. The rails were boxed and steel tubing crossmembers were welded in to create a sturdy ladder frame that would withstand the power of the small-block and the traction of steamroller tires. Dropping the suspension, both front and rear, are Air Ride 'bags and components.
The interior of Janet's ride features more PPG Twilight Plum Pearl and Silver, split just like the exterior, but it's not on any factory dash. Instead of the usual two-gauge dash, Janet's truck has got a full Wabbit dash, which is a whole new piece from pillar to pillar and instantly sets this truck apart from the average '48-'55 Chevy. Inset in that dash is a full array of Classic Instruments gauges and a Pioneer head unit. For seating comfort, a 60/40 bench was covered in gray leather by DJ's Upholstery in Bowling Green. The door panels, headliner, and billet steering wheel also received the leather treatment.
Judging by how happy she was to have her truck photographed, we'd say that Robert knew exactly what to get Janet for her birthday. We hope we're not letting the cat out of the bag, but Janet did mention a '49 Chevy 3100 that's in progress. Just act surprised, Robert.