After graduating high school, Rodger Lee, of Bakersfield, California, decided to try his skills at building a rat rod. It sounded simple enough, he had grown up in the oil town located in the San Joaquin Valley where most teenagers admire hot rods and trucks. Beginning that first venture, he opened a small shop he named Ironworks Speed and Kustom, and began living a dream. Following completion of his first rat rod, Rodger found it easy to embrace the custom world's lifestyle. After a couple of years in the rockabilly scene, Rodger changed his rod building direction and began building hot-rod trucks. After all, Bakersfield has always been known for its cowboys and their pickups.
When we met Rodger, at the Hot Rod Reunion at Famoso Raceway in 2004, he was still building rat rods but invited us over to his shop in Bakersfield, where he was throwing a BBQ/beer bash. While attending the festivities, he told us about a custom '57 Chevy Stepside pickup project he was about to begin. Always hungry for some new fresh tech articles, we were all ears. With his visionary ideas and simple sketches of an all tube chassis using Corvette C6 suspension and drivetrain, we knew the sky was the limit. The idea of an all tube chassis was something new and different and knowing our readers would enjoy the buildup, a plan was made to make many trips north to Bakersfield. Starting in issue 1, of 2007, we began covering the entire Black Gold buildup. Like many ground-up projects, not everything went as planned, which explains why it's some three years later, but we're finally able to feature the truck in all its glory. Trust us, it's worth the wait.
Black Gold's double round-tube chassis was constructed from 1 1/2-inch diameter .120 wall mild-steel with 1/4-inch-thick dimple-holed plates providing gusseted strength and good looks. Rodger designed his own suspension pickup points and geometry using all Corvette C6 factory aluminum front spindles and upper and lower control arms. The rear suspension is anchored by a Tremec T-56 six-speed manual transmission and C5 transaxle with a pair of rear axle hubs, stub axles, and lower control arms. Chris Alston Varishocks were combined with two Ride Tech pneumatic 'bags up front for a proven and reliable setup. An aluminum torque tube with a Corvette six-speed shifter and linkage linked the Corvette LS2 flywheel and transmission input shaft. The Ride Tech pneumatic Shockwave rear suspension was setup with the Shockwaves laid horizontally and cantilevered with rods mounted vertically. A set of Wilwood 14-inch vented, drilled, and ball-milled rotors, with six-piston calipers are responsible for halting the black beauty. The round tubular chassis, Tremec transaxle, torque-tube, and suspension components were delivered to Specialized Coatings in Huntington Beach, California, where they were media blasted. After the chassis was powderocoated Torch red, the torque tube, Tremec transaxle, and suspension components were powdercoated gray.
Totally tubular. This one-of-a-kind round-tube chassis was constructed from 1 1/2-inch O.D
Tuckin' deep, Budnik 22x10-inch billet hoops are wrapped in BFG 285/35R22 rubber in the re
Rodger didn't want a typical small-block 350ci V-8 under the hood of Black Gold and with LS-engine technology on the rise, the decision to go modern was given the green light. The Street Legal Performance (SLP) LS2 stroker 406ci (6.6L) aluminum short block was delivered to Jim Watkins at Watkins Engine Development. Jim performed precise machining and assembly of the mighty LS2 stroker. The engine block was fitted with a pair of Racing Head Service (RHS) aluminum racing cylinder heads, a Comp Cams camshaft, and a set of Comp Cams roller hydraulic lifters were dropped into the lifter bores. A set of Comp Cams roller pushrods link the lifters to the Comp Cams 1.8 roller rocker arms. The Kinsler EFI features seven-inch velocity tubes directing fresh air into the intake ports. A Meziere water pump circulates the engine's coolant, while a FAST electronic injection computer makes sure the LS2 receives the precise amount of fuel when needed. A FAST E-distributor box is mated to the electronic injection harness and computer and a set of MSD ignition coils and alternator keep the electric juices flowing. Rodger and his crew fabricated a set of 2-inch O.D. custom stainless steel headers from SPD Inc. U-tubes. After completion, the headers 3-inch stainless steel exhaust system and Dynatech race mufflers were sent to Specialized Coating to be ceramic coated. After the engine was assembled, it was delivered to Westech Performance Group in Mira Loma, California, to be properly broken in and fine-tuned. The LS2 produced 600 hp and 598 lb-ft of torque.
Moving to the 50+ year-old sheetmetal, the cab door handles were shaved and a remote forward-tilt hood and tonneau cover were configured and then installed with actuators. A pair of one-piece side windows from No Limit Engineering and power units from Rocky Mountain were installed for modern convenience and Brother's supplied a new windshield and rear window. Jim Ramierez from Stockton, California, did the final metal surface preparation before spraying the entire skin with DuPont European black. Jim then buried it in multi-coats of clear. To increase the depth of the black paint it was cut, buffed, and polished using Meguiar's products. Looking beautiful on the outside, Rodger turned his focus to create a retro-inspired interior.
The interior's dash glovebox, radio knobs, and switches were shaved and smoothed. The instrument cluster eyebrow was extended before painting the dash and a custom instrument cluster was redesigned and laid out by Shannon Hudson at Redline Gauge Works, in Santa Clarita, California. The painted Flaming River tilt steering column was capped with a Budnik 15 1/2-inch Flat Track CV-3 red leather Corvette-style steering wheel. A set of custom aluminum clutch, brake, and roller throttle pedals were designed by Rodger, then sent out to Eric Turner, who whittled them from billet aluminum.
An SLP LS2 406ci (6.6L) stroker engine shows off its Kinsler EFI with seven-inch trumpet s
Opening the cab door exposes the Vette-style interior. The smoothed dash was enhanced with
A fabricated early-model Corvette waterfall center console was filled with a stainless steel grid and a Vintage Air A/C control panel and vents. The floor console was also treated with a matching stainless steel grid insert for the Hurst shifter that is capped with a traditional Corvette white ball shift knob. That same floor console also houses the remote tilt hood, remote tilt tonneau cover, and window switches and the engine's red start button. An Accuair e-level remote provides three unique suspension heights to be selected at the touch of a button, giving Black Gold instant slammed curb appeal.
Armando's Custom Upholstery in San Jacinto, California, covered the custom Glide bench seat with lipstick red-leather. The door, kick panels, and headliner were also covered in lipstick red-leather. The cab floor was insulated with Dynamat before laying down the Corvette black pile carpet. Traveling tunes come from a Sony head unit, powered by Infinity amps and projected through Infinity speakers mounted in the kick panels, and two Infinity 8-inch shallow subwoofers behind the seat.
Calling the '57 Chevy complete, Rodger had himself a mighty fine classic truck with many of today's leading technologies and conveniences. During the '09 SEMA Show, Black Gold was awarded GM's Design Award. It also received awards at numerous '09 Goodguys shows. Black Gold was definitely designed and built with one thing in mind-to be one of the most engineered early-model trucks on the planet. It will undoubtedly leave its custom truck legacy for generations to come.