Just two short years ago, Royal Purple decided to get involved with the Hot Rod Power Tour and loaded up two of its own, Jared Martin and Patrick Burris, die-hard gearheads, who began to drive along. By the second stop, a short conversation with a fellow veteran rodder/builder ended with, "Build your own damn car!" in a barking tone. They quickly became aware that not only was this guy out of his league, but the lesson to be learned was: A modifier isn't a builder, especially not to this pair of true die-hards. They took that lesson to heart, and the idea was planted that to be a creditable participant and gain the respect they wanted and deserved, they must have a vehicle running on their very own blood, sweat, and tears.
On the way back to Royal Purple's home base in Houston, they thought and thought about what would really make a splash. The usual suspects came to mind: first generation F-body, Chevelle, Malibu, Impala, or maybe an old Mopar. These were all good candidates, but most likely theirs would pale in comparison to the mild-to-wild specimens regularly running on the tour. They needed to make a splash, but also, they needed something functional to haul the display and deliver product to their destinations. Despite the phrase "deliver product" running through their minds, it took quite a while to determine just what vehicle to build. By the time they got to Houston, they had decided on a '50s or '60s Panel Delivery truck and hopped on the internet to spread the word. It didn't take long for Royal Purple's Dallas distributor, Shannon and Wiley of North Texas Lubricants, to call after finding a hopeful up in Dallas. It was straight, it ran, and it seemed to have very little rust, so up on the trailer it went and home it came.
The '61 Panel Delivery had definitely seen better days, and the previous owner had apparently mastered his skills as a shade-tree mechanic, making numerous repairs to the Chevy's skin over the years. Undaunted, they put a game plan together and began tearing the old panel down, in hopes of creating our vision of a fantastic truck to be called The Royal Purple Express.
Once the body was off, they started by media-blasting the 45-year-old chassis and sending it to the powdercoaters for a nice gloss-black finish. Then, they began the daunting task of creating the parts list. Another fun surprise came when they found out rather quickly that '61 Panel Delivery parts are difficult to come by, with the exception of those pieces that cross over to the GM trucks of that era. Fortunately, Chevy Duty and Rare Parts were able to supply the bulk of what was needed, and they breathed a sigh of relief. Some areas, however, had to be totally fabricated, such as the cargo floor, so they consulted the expertise of a local carpentry guru, American Fixtures in New Carney, Texas, and with his help, the work turned out better than expected. "Originally, we had planned to power the truck using a late-model GM drivetrain," Martin continues. "However, this body, with its shapely fenders and menacing front end just begged us for a big-block; anything less would be an injustice, and so we obliged." During the body and chassis preparation, they contacted longtime friend Dick Maskin at Dart for a big-block, Pro One heads, and a Pro One intake. Next, they contracted Panella Motorsports to piece the project together properly-no shade-tree mechanics here.
"We thought 541 cubes would suffice," Martin states. "However, after talking with Jim Summers of ProCharger, we quickly learned we were wrong; it needed to be blown." Jim sent over one of ProCharger's 8-psi centrifugal superchargers, and The Carb Shop built a custom blow-through carburetor to accommodate the blower. Panella Motorsports squeezed 606 hp out of the low-compression big-block on a primary dyno run. But, there was fine-tuning to be done, so they put the motor in the capable hands of Slater's Automotive in Humble, Texas. Tests have confirmed that the blown 541 delivers a reliable 850 ponies to the tarmac, on pump gas.
When unloading this much power to the ground, they knew no stock rearend would do. A Currie 9-inch rearend, complete with 33-spline axles and a bulletproof Detroit Locker, was installed by Royal Purple's own Butch Cox and Patrick Burris. Relegating the power to the back is a 200-4R Overdrive transmission, filled with Royal Purple Max ATF, built by Century Transmission in Richmond, Texas. With all that power on tap, equal attention needed to be paid to keeping the purple hauler under control, especially if Jared's behind the wheel, from what we've heard. They quickly decided that manual drums on all four corners weren't going to cut it anymore, so a full Baer conversion was made. The exceptional performance of the braking system is rivaled only by the ultra-trick look of the big Baer Claw calipers peeking between the spokes of the 18-inch Torq-Thrust IIs.
The last step in the build was to make the cabin livable for two on the long hauls for which the delivery was built. Their goal was to keep it simple yet have some modern conveniences inside. The center cluster was smoothed for a clean look, and a custom-built console cradles the B&M floor shifter. They insulated the cab floors and the firewall with Dynamat to keep the radiating heat and engine noise to a minimum, while adding a complete Vintage Air system to keep things cool. A pair of Corbeau seats with high bolsters complete the interior comforts, while a Grant steering wheel finishes off the ididit billet column. Knowing they needed to monitor the blown 541 from the cockpit area, they added a Dakota Digital display, which not only made this possible but also provided a modern look to an old classic.
The panel is a far cry from the country bumpkin image the original gave off and now is as smooth and slippery as oil on the garage floor.