Reminiscing about our previous truck projects, we've all made decisions we would later come to regret. Sometimes it's a single part that didn't work as planned, and other times we wish we had chosen a different theme or platform entirely. However, we recently met one first-time builder that regrets nothing about his current project truck. Eric Thibodeaux of Spring, Texas, started out with an unconventional canvas: a 1981 Chevy El Camino SS. While most builders would choose something common for their first project, Eric defied convention and pressed onward to create one of the cleanest El Caminos we've ever seen.

Eric, a maintenance technician, had some mechanical aptitude after helping his friends with many of their builds, but he had never had a custom truck of his own. After picking up the tired ElCo for a mere $1,400 back in 2005, he would go on to dedicate five years of his life to building it into what it is today. The process began at Eric's home, where he tore out the stock suspension and added a bridge notch to the rear frame. The front then received new Belltech drop spindles and Firestone 'bags, while the rear got another pair of Firestone 'bags, some Bilstein shocks, and a custom diagonal two-link setup. Stainless 3⁄8-inch line and ½-inch valves connect the system, allowing the truck to sit on the ground when aired out. Complementing the drop is a set of staggered Billet Specialties wheels with sticky Nitto tires. Eric learned a lot during this stage, but he realized that his El Camino would need more than a new stance to stand out.

Fortunately, Eric's brother Greg knew a thing or two about building engines. A 1977 Chevy 350ci small-block was sourced, and torn down for a complete rebuild. After boring out the block, the addition of a 400 crank and shorter rods brought displacement up to 383 ci. Ported and polished Dart heads and a new Edelbrock cam were added to further increase power output. The refreshed motor breathes through an Edelbrock intake, four-barrel Holley carb, Hedman headers, and custom dual exhaust. After being bolted up to a 1980 Chevy 350 automatic transmission, the mill produces a solid 420 hp.

With a new powerplant and ride, the final step was bodywork and interior. Keeping the OEM look, the El Camino was resprayed in a simple two-tone of PPG black and silver at Marcustoms in Houston. To add some flair, an orange pinstripe and black Super Sport lettering were added to each flank. Carrying over the clean factory look to the interior, Junior's Upholstery, in Conroe, Texas, wrapped a pair of '93 Saturn seats in black leather with suede and orange stitching. The same materials were also used on the dash, headliner, door panels, and custom center console. A Billet Specialties steering wheel and window crank levers stand out alongside the dark leather. Eric topped off the interior with a full stereo system consisting of a Sony head unit, Orion Cobalt amps, Orion Cobalt 6½-inch components, and two Orion Cobalt 10-inch subs behind the seats.

It's rare to come across a custom truck builder that wouldn't change a thing about their current project, and even rarer when it's their very first. However, after looking over Eric's El Camino, it's no surprise that he has no regrets about it. His dedication and clean design have turned this El Camino into a showstopper, winning it six trophies since its completion in 2011 (including Best in Class at Texas Showdown 2012). Eric would like to thank Marcustoms, Junior's Upholstery, his brother Greg, and his friends Daniel and Josh.

Inside the Build

Year Make Model:1981 Chevrolet El Camino SS
Owner and City:Eric Thibodeaux • Spring, Texas

Type: 1977 383ci Chevy V-8, bored 0.060 over, 400 crankshaft
Heads: 2.02 intake/1.60 exhaust Dart Iron Eagle heads, ported and polished
Cam: Edelbrock Performer RPM .488/.510 lift
Induction: Edelbrock Performer intake
Exhaust:Hedman ceramic-coated mid-length headers, Custom 2½-inch dual exhaust with Flowmaster 40-series mufflers
Fuel System: Holley 650-cfm four-barrel carb
Ignition: MSD distributor, MSD coils, Smiley 8mm plug wires
Output: 420 hp
Built by: Greg Thibodeaux

Transmission: 1980 Chevy 350 three-speed automatic
Rearend: Factory 7.5-inch with 3.08 gears

Front suspension: Belltech 2-inch drop spindles, Firestone 'bags, ⅜-inch line, ½-inch valves
Rear suspension: Bridge notch, Diagonal two-link, Firestone 'bags, Bilstein shocks, ⅜-inch line, ½-inch valves
Brakes: Factory front discs and rear drums, stainless lines

Wheels & Tires
Wheels: Billet Specialties Qualifier 18x8 front, 20x8 rear
Tires: Nitto NT-555 215/35R18 front, 245/35R20 rear