Sam Head * Redondo Beach, CA
'50 Chevrolet Advanced Design
Sam Head recently retired from owning and operating a custom upholstery business. After putting in 40 plus years of cutting and sewing, it was time to close the doors and relax. Well, Sam isn't the kind of guy who can take it easy. As his son, I can attest to that point. He's what most would consider a workaholic. I would call him a friggin' animal. I once watched him pull in a running truck, swap the cam and fire it back up in a half hour. Most of the time, it was best to just get out of the way and watch the wrenches fly.
Some of my fondest memories as a young kid would be the Sunday trips in his big-block-powered '67 truck. We would go visit his gearhead buddies, check out their projects, and do a little bench racing. When it was time to leave, the fun began. Dad, like clock work, would mash the go pedal and roast the tires down the street, while the smile on my face got bigger and bigger. As I grew up and the years rolled on, so did the custom vehicles. As a matter of fact, not only did my dad build seven '67-'72 C10s, a '60 Ford Starliner, a '62 Ford Unibody truck, a '56 Chevy 210 sedan, a '66 and '69 El Camino, a '53 Ford Sedan Delivery, a '57 Chevy truck, two '73-'87 duallies (one crew cab and one two door), a'56 Ford panel truck, and a couple of vans. He also built a few Corvettes for Mom, a '67 Camaro for my older brother Chris, and my first car--a '64 Mustang.
I'm getting off track a little. Let me reel it back in. Retirement is not something my pops is taking lightly. In fact, he decided instead of sitting on the couch and becoming a potato, he was going to build a truck he has never done but always wanted to. The truck in question is the bubble-fendered beauty on these pages. While the truck looks awesome now, that was not the case when he bought it. This poor truck had seen better days. The body, while complete, was so dented up that it looked more like a golf ball than a truck. There were even dents between the cab and bed. It's still a mystery how they got there. Anyway, Dad rolled the truck into the shop in the morning, and by sundown all the sheetmetal was off and the frame rolled out. Like I said, he's an animal. The next day, the bodywork commenced and the first thing addressed was welding the two-piece hood together and adding a center peak. One thing he did that I thought was pretty ingenious was make wood sanding blocks to perfectly smooth out the peak.
Some of the body parts were unusable once all the layers of paint were stripped off. The bed was in pretty bad shape; the only things worth saving were the tailgate, crossmembers, and headboard. He bought new bedsides from the Truck Shop in Orange, California, and got a really clean set of rear fenders from his buddy Dave Bechtel. To keep things old-school, he picked up a set of '50 Merc taillights off eBay, and after a little grinding of the housing, they fit the shape of the fender perfectly. My dad found out the hard way that the lenses of the Merc lights are made of glass and shatter when dropped, but luckily replacements are available. The other subtle, but cool body mod was the doors. The original doors were trashed, so Pops picked up a set of '53 doors, but those have vent windows, and push button handles. Liking the handles and not wanting vent windows he carefully extracted all of the one-piece stuff from the '47 doors and grafted them into the '53 doors. Now he had the uncluttered glass and the better looking door handles.
The rest of the bodywork went off without a hitch, and it was time to build a foundation for the sheetmetal. This is where things got a bit easier. One of Dad's brothers, Benny Benson, has a custom shop of his own and had a customer looking to sell a frame. This guy wanted to build a complete tube chassis for his project. After some haggling, they settled on a price and the already modified frame was on its way to Sam's shop. The frame is a set of stock rails with a Heidt's Mustang II conversion up front and a parallel four-link out back. There are chrome adjustable coilovers at all four corners and a fresh 10-bolt posi attached to the four-link. Some minor tweaking to the motor mounts was all that was necessary to ready the rails to slip under the cab.
Instead of stuffing a big-block under the hood, which is dad's norm, he opted to use a 355ci small-block he had in the back of the shop. I asked him why no rat motor? He replied, "I'm going to drive this every day, and have you seen the price of gas?" Gas was over four bucks a gallon at the time.
He backed the mouse motor with a TH350 built by Steve Sharp and used Kuegal components to hook up the shifter. The project was taking shape, but there was one element that Dad and I were fighting over--the wheels and tires. I know this is his truck, but I couldn't keep my mouth shut when it came to his 15-inch Americans. I pushed and pushed for him to try a set of 20s, and once I borrowed a set and stuck them on, he was sold. He ended up buying the borrowed rollers, a sweet set of KMC Novas with Nitto rubber.
Next, Dad got with Vic Sapien from Seaside Collision Center to lay down a slick coat of PPG Grabber Orange. Vic took pieces of the truck every day until everything was smooth and shiny. After the paint cured, Dad started assembling the shiny stuff. A whole new front grille and bumper setup from Classic Industries fills the front of the truck. Inside the bed is a hickory kit from Bedwood and Parts, which Sam decided to oil instead of spending a bunch of time laying down varnish.
Since it was his specialty, Sam waited until the end to complete the interior. I asked him if he was going to go all crazy with it and he said, "No. I want it nice, simple, and easy to do."
He had a set of '04 Hyundai seats that only needed some minor work. He shaved the headrests and fabbed up some new brackets, and that was pretty much it for the seats. He also made a matching vinyl headliner and door panels. Even though the motor has a mild cam and sounds pretty good, a radio will be needed. I gave him an older Pioneer head unit and a set of 6x9s that I had. He built a box to sit behind the seats and hold everything. The dash has a cool radio delete plate and the modern stereo would just look out of place anyway. To match all the lines of the dash trim, a Grant Banjo steering wheel tops the '69 Chevy C10 tilt steering column.
After Pops finished the carpet and installed all of the new gauges, the truck was ready for its maiden voyage, straight to Porter's Alignment Shop to get the wheels straight and then to DNA Speedway Muffler to have the Flowmasters and tailpipes hooked up. Now that the truck is basically done, pops has been cruising it all over town. I guess this was the retirement plan all along--build a truck and then take it easy. I asked him if this was the last one and he said, "Yes." But I have heard that at least five times. Knowing my old man, this will not be the last custom vehicle he builds, but I'm glad he finally got to build an Advanced Design.
'69 350ci punched out to a 355ci / TRW 9:1 pistons / mild Edelbrock Performer cam / Weiand Action Plus manifold / 650cfm Edelbrock carb / Cal Customs valve covers / Trans Dapt air cleaner / serpentine system from a '94 Chevy truck / electric fan from a late-model Ford F-150 / Steve Sharp TH350 transmission / block hugger headers found at the swap meet / three chamber Flowmaster mufflers / HEI distributer
Front: 20x9 KMC Nova
Rear: 20x10 KMC Nova
Front: 245/35ZR20 Nitto NT555
Rear: 275/40R20 Nitto Extreme Drag Radials
Front: Stock rails with a Heidt's Mustang II IFS conversion up front / tubular control arms / 2-inch dropped spindles / Alden adjustable coilovers
Rear: Parallel four-link / Panhard bar / Alden adjustable coilovers
Accessories: Frame-mounted power brake booster and master cylinder setup from CCP / '72 Chevy 10 bolt posi rearend / 17.5-gallon fuel tank / Wilwood Billet Dynalite calipers with 11-inch rotors
Chassis: Boxed rails / handmade crossmembers
By: Owner and Benny Benson
Two-piece hood welded together and peak added / new bedsides from the Truck Shop in Orange, Ca / '50 Merc tail lights / one-piece glass swapped into push-button doors / Classic Industries front grille and bumper set / Bedwood and Parts hickory wood kit, stainless strips, and aluminum gas door / capped bed rails / shaved tailgate chains / rear bumper filler panel extended to meet fenders
By: Owner and Dale Stuntz
PPG Grabber Orange
By: Vic Sapien of Seaside Collision Center
Ron Francis wiring harness / Chevs of the 40s gauges and dash pieces / '04 Hyundai bucket seats / tan vinyl headliner / '69 Chevy C10 tilt steering column / Kuegal shift rod / all new seals from The Truck Shop / new glass cut by All Star Glass / Grant Banjo steering wheel
Pioneer Head unit and 6x9 speakers in a custom enclosure located behind the seats
"Thanks to the guys who helped me along the way: Vic Sapien, Dave Bechtel, Dale Stuntz, Bob Gardi, Steve Sharp, Dan Cummins, Benny Benson, Doug Holmberg, Pat Porter, Mario "Bean Dog" Albor, "Big" Bob Higgins, Vellios Machine Shop, and my son Calin."