Kelly Hawthorne is a mild-mannered guy who likes his customs clean and simple. That way he can thrash on them, doing burnouts for his kids and not getting too upset when he finds a rock chip afterward. The truck you see here was built entirely by Kelly, except for sewing the seat cover and a few stereo do-dads. He took it on as a challenge to impress a few family members, and for the love of spending time in the garage.
Kelly developed a passion for all things hot rod because of his father, Richard Hawthorne, and grandfather, Donald Parsley. His dad painted Corvettes at General Motors for 30 years, so he was always around paint and bodywork. Combine that with time spent at grandpa's house driving trucks as a kid, and you can see why Kelly is a grease monkey.
Kelly was in the process of building a pretty sweet Impala and wanted to make it an SS clone. During a show looking at cars, Kelly spotted this beat-up truck sitting off in the distance. After a little investigation and some serious haggling, Kelly bought the truck. The truck was being used to haul a camper and generally getting beat up, but it had some nice parts. The original intention was to remove the M22 Rock Crusher transmission and put it into the Impala project and then rat-rod the truck to resell later on. The problem was that once Kelly got the truck home, his two daughters, Sydney and Jayna, saw it and named it Petie. Kelly couldn't bring himself to sell it after that. He eventually found a transmission for the Impala so the truck became the new project.
Before ripping into the truck, Kelly decided to build a 1/12 scale model first to help him decide on a few things. Once the model was complete and he had the approval of the family, the fullsize truck was ripped down to the bare frame. During the build, Kelly taught himself a lot of new skills, starting with welding. He used that new skill to graft on the TCI Mustang II front suspension and fabricate a flip kit for the back. The front-end modification lowered front ride height and added disc brakes. Instead of using the stock rearend he used an assembly from a '67 Chevelle, stuffed with 3.36 gears. While he was working with the welder, Kelly decided to box the entire frame for added strength.
After the frame was squared away, Kelly started fixing the body panels in preparation for paint. Skill number two he learned was bodywork, and after numerous days of cutting, grinding, sanding, and blocking, the body was sealed in epoxy primer. Then it was time for paint, so he went to the local paint store with his 1/12 model in hand to have the color mixed. The local paint supply house went through 12 batches of blue until they nailed the exact shade Kelly was after. Flying by the seat of his pants once again, Kelly used new skill number three and laid down the two-stage blue paint all over his freshly worked body panels. To fill the huge hole that is the bed floor, Kelly ordered a pine wood kit from Classic Industries, which he stained and then cleared. That was skill number four.
The Hawthorne clan showing their holiday spirit during the local Christmas parade.
To power Petie, he freshened up the 327 V-8 and equipped it with a slew of performance parts. The motor makes enough power to propel the heavy Chevy down the quarter mile in 15 seconds, which is not bad for a daily driver on skinny tires with a 32-inch shifter that has a throw from dashboard to rear window. The M22 transmission was in good shape, so all Kelly needed to do was install a new throw-out bearing and a Zoom clutch, skill number five. To add a little retro flavor, Kelly bent--up a new shifter using a torch and the rear bumper of his work truck.
Inside the truck, things are clean but sparse. These classic trucks have a lot more sheetmetal than upholstery, so the bulk of it is covered in the same blue as the exterior. Kelly chopped up a bench seat from a Ford Ranger to make it fit nicely in the cab before sending it off to DJ's Upholstery for a simple black, pleated vinyl cover. An Ididit steering column and three-spoke wheel were acquired to connect the driver to the Mustang II rack-and-pinion. One thing in the interior that doesn't fit the retro theme is the Kenwood audio system, but it's really hard to find 8-track tapes these days so we will give him a pass on that.
Since the photo shoot, Kelly has a new wife, DaRhonda, and two boys, Mason and Bryce. Now, all six members of the newly formed Hawthorne clan pile into the truck for the local cruise night. Kelly says, "I might have to build something with four doors, maybe a wagon."
Kelly has flogged his truck in our Sport Truck Challenge for two years straight, and even though he hasn't taken home the First Place trophy, he has earned our respect. Plus, with all the new skills he learned on this build, we can't wait to see what he comes up with next.