One cool thing about early model trucks is they all come with history and endless storylines. It has been some 53 years since this '56 Chevy stepside pickup rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. During this period of time, many of these pickups have accumulated thousands of miles, while others have been stowed away and forgotten in barns, shops, and garages for decades.
Dean Johnson from Apple Valley, California, purchased a '57 Chevy stepside pickup years ago with full intensions of someday building his dream ride. After he and his wife Cheryl were married they wanted to purchase a home and start a family. Being a responsible husband, Dean made the sacrifice and sold his '57 to put the money down on their first house.
Some 20 years later, Cheryl purchased Dean a '56 Chevy big window to show her love and appreciation of his previous sacrifice allowing him to fulfill his dream. Knowing what he had envisioned was beyond his capabilities, he teamed up with Brent Heathcoat at Heathcoat Fabrication, also in Apple Valley. Brent has been a well-known custom car and truck builder in SoCal for many years, so Brent quickly agreed to take on Dean's project.
The first segment of this frame-off build was to graft and box a '72 Camaro front clip to the original '56 framerails. The front suspension consists of modified OEM lower and upper control arms with a pair of Caulkins 2-inch dropped spindles and Air Ride Technologies Shockwave pneumatic shocks. Dean wanted to make sure his truck had dependable stopping power, so he had a pair of '72 Camaro front disc brakes with factory 11-inch rotors, and OEM Camaro dual-piston calipers installed. Dean stayed with a mild wheel and tire combination, and settled on a set of Billet Specialties 17x8-inch polished aluminum Chicayne wheels wrapped in P235/45ZR17 Nitto Extreme 555 rubber for the front. A four-inch step notch was fused into the rear framerails to allow increased free negative travel. A pair of Air Ride Technologies Shockwave 'bags were mounted to the rear framerails and the four-link rearend mounting brackets. The Currie 9-inch rearend was stuffed with 3.25 gears, an Auburn posi unit, and 31-spline axles. The rearend was suspended from the frame rails by a triangulated four-link suspension setup. The rear disc brakes with 11-inch cross-drilled rotors and dual piston calipers were borrowed from a Ford Excursion. A pair of Billet Specialties polished billet aluminum 17x11-inch Chicayne wheels were consumed in a pair of chubby P285/40ZR17 Nitto Extreme 555 tires out back.
To make those rear tires nice and smoky, a '93 Chevy LT-1 350ci engine was delivered to Marv Grogan at Thunder Works in Victorville, California, where it underwent disassembly, cleaning, machining, and reassembly. Marv transformed the LT-1 350 into a 383 stroker by boring the engine block cylinders .030 over to 4.030 with a 3.750 stroke. A set of JE SRE pistons were fitted with Clevite bearings and Hastings Power Flex rings. The JE pistons were then pinned to a set of GM 5.7L connecting rods. A mild Comp Cams Extreme Energy camshaft with 269 int/276 exh lift duration was carefully inserted into the camshaft bores. A pair of lighter GM Performance Parts LT-4 aluminum cylinder heads were assembled with 2.00 intake/1.55 exhaust valves and Isky springs/keepers. Street & Performance ceramic-coated 17/8-inch headers draw the exhaust from the cylinder head exhaust ports into a 21/2-inch exhaust system that flow into a pair of Flowmaster dual-chamber mufflers. The engine is backed up to a '93 GM 4L60E automatic transmission. The 4L60E transmission and rearend are linked by an Inland Driveline driveshaft. This much power sends Dean back into his seat with an ear-to-ear grin. To make the engine bay look as sanitary as possible, each part was meticulously detailed. A high-horsepower engine in a beat-up truck is never a good combination, so Dean set out to make his truck look as good as it ran.
Dean was determined to keep the sheetmetal all vintage '56, no aftermarket re-popped skin here. Parts and pieces were scavenged, mixed, and matched as the cab, doors, fenders, hood, grille, headlight bezels, bumper, bed, and tailgate were constructed. The original rear steel bed and tailgate were mated with a pair of Brothers' fiberglass smooth steps and rear fenders, which measured three inches wider than original. The bed's white wooden ash floor planks were sanded, then given multi coats of urethane stain that took Dean two weeks to perfect. The bed floor stringers and carriage bolts were sent out to Artistic Silver Plating in Signal Hill, California, where they were brushed chrome to match the other exterior accessories. The bed floor was raised two inches to accommodate the modified stepped rear framerails. A custom rear roll pan was fabricated with a license plate cove flanked by four '62 Corvette taillights and bezels. After purchasing three grilles, Dean pieced together one perfect grille. The grille, headlight bezels, front bumper and door handles, were delivered to Artistic Silver Plating where they received a sano brushed chrome treatment. The headlight bezels were filled with OEM T3 headlights to keep the original appearance. A Brothers' tilt-forward hood kit was installed to the OEM hood allowing easy access to the mighty mouse powerplant. The factory side window wing vents were refurbished and installed with new weatherstripping.
Under the hood we discover a '93 Chevy LT1 350ci engine with aluminum heads that was punch
The undercarriage of Dean's '56 is just as beautiful and impressive as the topside.
Dean spent a week sanding and finishing the white ash wooden planks to achieve its flawles
Due to the fact that the scavenged body, cab, doors, front fenders, hood and bed were in good condition, bodywork and filler was minimal. Julian Paiz at 1st Class Auto in Hesperia, California, prepped, mixed, and sprayed the sweet "butterscotch" DuPont Hot Hues Amber Extacy and Sikkens paint with a hand full of class metal flake. The butterscotch-colored paint and flake was buried in multiple coats of clear, then cut, buffed, and polished to its glistening finish. Knowing there was only one area left to attend to, Dean looked to perfect the interior of his '56 Chevy.
Pushing the OEM-style door handle button and pulling open the door exposes the lavish interior that was crafted by Rosalio at Fox Upholstery in Victorville, California. Before any interior was installed, Brett and Tim laid down several coats of Dynamat Extreme sound deadening material on the cab floor door panels, kick panels, and rear cab panel under the big rear window. Bucket seats were removed from a '02 Chevy Malibu and Rosalio removed the headrests and rebuilt the seats with higher side-bolsters for a snug fit. Dean handpicked the bone leather hides to be used throughout the interior. Rosalio created the seat panel and French stitch design of the seats. Rosalio also created the custom headliner from vinyl and suede inserts matching the door panels. Tim Wepprecht hand-fabricated all of the interior components, center console, door/kick panels, and rear cab panel. Tim finished the interior components using vinyl and suede along with aluminum inserts to accent the exterior brushed finish. Tim also made acrylic inserts under the armrests and through the console. These acrylic inserts were then lit up using amber LED lighting, which creates an orange glow when the doors are opened.
The rockin' vibes were created by Tim Wepprecht and Jesse Moralez at Audiotistics in Apple Valley, California. The system is controlled by a Clarion Max 675VD head unit and the highs/mids are powered by a pair of Rockford Fosgate T400-4 power amps. The mids and separates blast through a pair of 6.5-inch mids with 1.1-inch inverted aluminum dome tweeters. The thunderous bass is delivered through two Rockford Fosgate 8-inch subwoofers, which are located at each of the lower cab corners. The subwoofers are juiced by a Rockford Fosgate T400-2 amp, which delivers 400 watts of power. Cruising in this ride, Dean now had himself a low-slung, high-powered, tune-blasting time machine.
It only took 53 years for Dean to have his ultimate truck, but with help from his wife and some talented builders, it's better than even he could have imagined. To get in the groove during the feature photo shoot of Dean's '56, we found ourselves popping a few butterscotch candies and tasting the sweetness.