Being raised in the Fifties, John Mathieu was used to being around some of the better-built vehicles of the 20th Century. During that time, car manufacturers put a lot of effort in designing vehicles with distinctive body lines that had more character. Because there was less competition in the domestic automotive market, it allowed for the Big Three to take more care in the construction of each of their models. Today, these vehicles are considered cold, hard classics and are a solid part of automobile history.
While John was growing up, these vehicles were plentiful, and the youth of that time were starting the trend of customizing them. John's brother, Jim, was no different and went well into the hot-rodding scene. His brother spent countless hours in their parents' garage, working on the next fastest project to scream down the quarter-mile. Naturally, John was curious to see what his brother was up to, so he ventured into the garage and began to observe. And, when he saw the results of racing the cars after all of the hours of wrenching, he wanted to get involved even more.
John was like any other kid and always looked up to his older brother like an idol. Helping his brother work on cars made him feel more like his brother with every passing moment they shared. Since John was also mechanically inclined, it was easy and fulfilling for him to work on the high-horsepower vehicles. When John became old enough, he wound up walking the same line Jim walked. Eventually, he went on to own and build his own fast cars.
Then came the Sixties, and the United States was at war in Vietnam. John's brother enlisted in the military and was sent overseas to fight for freedom. Tragically, Jim died from a gun accident and left John without a brother to look up to. But, John kept working on cars in his brother's memory.
As time passed, John found a new love in his life. This time, it was a woman named Wendy who would later become his wife. Together, they slowed down and decided to start a family. They had two sons that consumed all of their free time and forced them to concentrate on nothing but raising the kids. As the years went by, the children grew old enough to require less attention, and John was aching to get back into custom vehicles. In 1985, he told his sister to buy a subscription to Hot Rod Magazine as a Christmas gift for him. Soon enough, he was receiving copies of the publication in the mail and was reading stories about vehicles with modifications he could perform himself.
It got him worked up again, and he decided to get a '40 Ford two-door sedan to begin a frame-up build. The reasoning behind the sedan was for John to be able to build a car and then make use of the back seat. While working on the Ford, his two sons would also help wrench, just like he did with his brother, but this time, it was him and his kids who were becoming closer. When the construction of the sedan was complete, the family spent time on weekends going to events to show off their creation.
Afterward, John built another sedan, before moving on in search of his next big project. He always liked trucks and wanted one, but in the past, he could not build one because he had a family to tote around with him. That all changed once his sons started to do their own thing. John no longer needed to have a second row of seating in his new custom and asked around for leads on a classic pickup. He found out about a car lot 100 miles away that had a few trucks of his liking. After a few trips to the lot, he ended up with this aged original '51 Chevrolet truck.
Once it was in his garage, he began to understand how damaged the cab and the frame were, by a flood that covered the truck in mud. He decided to fix the problem with a complete tear-down of the truck, drilling out every rivet on the frame to expose all of the rusted areas. With the entire truck in pieces, John sent it to the sandblaster to take it down to bare metal. From there, he was able to see where repairs were needed on the frame in order for him to build on top of it. Construction began, and the truck was later mocked up with everything but the glass and the wiring. Then, John blew it apart to perform his first paintjob and reassembled it back together to form the truck you see here.
Originally, the classic truck build was expected to take three years, but shortly thereafter, John's plans all changed when he found out just how much damage the old truck had lurking beneath its surface. Instead, the truck took seven years to completely build from the frame up to how it looks on these pages. John has had a lot of automobiles pass through his hands. Vehicle designs have changed quite a bit in those years, but John stays true to the classic styles of his childhood. This truck displays the simplicity and style that will always be embedded in the back of John's memories, along with the good times he had during their buildups.
John Mathieu / Western Springs, Illinois
'51 Chevy pickup
'88 Chevrolet 350-cid V-8 engine / Edelbrock performer intake manifold / HEI ignition / Optima battery / custom-made exhaust with a Flowmaster muffler / 700-R4 automatic transmission with TCI 2,200-stall speed torque converter / GM tilt-column shifter / Ford 9-inch rearend
BY: John Mathieu
Front: 15x6-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs with 3-1/2-inch backspacing
Rear: 16x8-inch American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs with 3-3/4-inch backspacing
Front: BFGoodrich T/A radials 215/70R15
Rear: BFGoodrich T/A radials 275/65R16
Front: Heidt's Mustang II IFS kit with 2-inch drop spindles, control arms, and 350-pound springs / 11-inch GM disc brakes
Rear: RB's Automotive parallel leaf springs with 2-inch drop blocks / 11x2-1/4-inch Ford rear drum brakes
Accessories: Custom-built stainless 18-gallon gas tank under the back of bed
Chassis: Custom C-notch / frame completely sandblasted and painted
By: John Mathieu
Shaved hood emblems, door handles, and tailgate / Mar-K bed with wood floor / Gaylord's tonneau cover
BY: John Mathieu
PPG Meadow Green
BY: John Mathieu
'83 El Camino seats / 5-inch Classic Hot Rod-series gauges / custom-made door panels / English Toffee vinyl / Daytona wool carpet / rechromed dash trim / Vintage Air underdash air-conditioning/heater unit
BY: Schobers Upholstery, in Montgomery, Illinois
Pioneer DEH-1500 head unit / two Polk Audio 6-inch components in door panels / two Polk Audio 6-inch speakers behind seats / Pioneer 400-watt amp
BY: John Mathieu
John's wife, Wendy, sons Mike and Kevin, and friends Dan Puscheck and Tim Bidus from Auto Body Unlimited