Walt & Jean Nelson's 1955 Chevy Pickup
(from Volume 24, Issue 291)

story by owner Walt Nelson, photos by Michael B. Kelly


I always had a passion for cars. At the age of 16 I bought a “beat” 1957 Chevy for $30, back in 1966. The motor was in pieces in the trunk, so I installed a used motor and drove it until I enlisted in the Air Force as a jet mechanic. After going to many schools I became a crew chief on an F-4 Phantom Jet. In the states and overseas, after four years I was discharged and went back to school for two years to receive an airframe and powerplant license (A&P) from the FAA. This school gave me the skills to tackle doing all kinds of metal work. I also had the chance to work as a truck mechanic for the city of Norwich in Connecticut, working on fire trucks, police vehicles, and highway department trucks. I loved the job, and after 35 years I retired as the Fleet Maintenance Superintendent, in charge of about 170 vehicles.

During those years I built a 1939 Chevy Pickup, 1938 Chevy Coupe for my wife, and a 1964 Chevy Malibu SS matching numbers car. In 2009 a good friend, Bob Barry, and myself drove his 1948 Chevy Pickup to Louisville, Kentucky for the NSRA Street Rod Nationals. Bob’s truck was a five window and had great visibility. When we got to the Nationals we looked at different trucks and liked the 1955-56 Chevys with the big back window. So my ‘39 was sold, and the hunt was on for a 1955-56 big back window Chevy truck for my next build.

I’ve been building hot rods in my garage at home for years, doing all my own work including the mechanicals, body and paint, with help from my wife Jean, who orders most of the parts, and helps me in the garage with sanding with a DA, and helping me in removing and installing body parts such as fenders, doors and hoods.

Weeks after I started my search I found what would become my ‘55 in Arizona, and as I understand it was on an Indian Reservation. I purchased the stock truck complete, minus the engine and transmission. It had an 8-foot bed, but had the big back window that I was looking for. It also had a short bed chassis with it. Everything was taken off the chassis and sent to be sandblasted, primed with DTM Epoxy inside and out, then put on a rotisserie. Not much work needed to be done on the cab, except replacing the firewall since someone drilled about 100 holes for pop rivets to hold a large piece of rubber mat on the inside to help keep the Arizona heat down. I cut everything out and welded in a one piece 14 gauge firewall, with the center cut back 3-inches for the HEI distributor.

I removed lots of dents and started on the inside, welding all the seams around the door jams and the roof for a smooth look. The dash was reworked and customized, with the addition of 4.5-inches to the bottom for installing A/C vents, and the radio holes were filled. Buick LaSabre seats were installed, and I made the center console arm rest that is molded all the way around the seats from 18 gauge metal.

I installed a TCI front crossmember and rear parallel leaf springs. The front received 2-inch drop spindles, 1-inch upper and lower control arms, and 11-inch rotors and big bore front GM calipers. All of this made the front sit 6-inches lower than the stock straight axle. To make sure there was enough travel, the chassis was notched 2-1/2 inches over the rear end.

I wanted to build a short bed, so 9.5-inches was cut out of both front bed sides, and 3.5-inches out of the rear. I replaced all corner uprights, extending them 4-inches at the bottom, plus raised the bed floor 2-inches to have room for rear spring travel for the 9-inch Ford rear end with 3.50:1 gears. The inner wheel wells are from a 67-72 Chevy truck, which I narrowed 4-inches and welded in. The inner side of the tailgate was used, and I made the outside skin from 16 gauge metal. Plus I cut the top of the tailgate down 1/4 inch so when the Pro’s Pick aluminum hard top tonneau cover is powered down the gasket at the rear makes a weather tite seal and would be even with the bedrails. Both bed steps were cut and molded for the side exhaust pipe tips to exit, plus I made a rear rollpan cut out for LED taillights and a license plate.

Once I had a rolling chassis the 350 cubic inch Chevy motor was installed, along with a 700R4 transmission. A Walker 4-core radiator was used, and I made a metal cover for it to clean up the appearance. Next up was a cold air intake, made from 3-1/2 inch truck exhaust pipe, which gets air from the grill area.

After weeks of gaping doors, fenders, and the hood with the help of my wife Jean, next was weeks of block sanding and priming, then sealer and paint. I started with the chassis, which received PPG Redline Red base/clear. The cab received four coats of paint, plus three coats of clear, then wet sanded, after which I applied 3 more coat of clear (flow coating), which was a lot of work but well worth it. The body was ready to reinstall for the last time, along with all of the glass and other items. Next came the wiring, tilt steering column, Vintage Air Gen IV A/C unit, and Classic Instruments gauges. The door panels were made from 14 gauge aluminum, painted then flamed.

After working on the ‘55 for 6 days a week for two years, now it was complete. Time to enjoy it with my wife Jean, and put miles on it. We went to some NSRA and Goodguys shows all over the Northeast and won some nice awards. That included the PPG Outstanding Use Of Color award at the NSRA Northeast Nationals in Burlington, Vermont in 2013. We received the 2013 Cruisin’ New England Superwheels Showdown Vehicle Of The Year award at City Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. While at the Goodguys Nationals in Springfield, Massachusetts in 2014 we received the Magnificent Masterpiece award, and in 2015 it was given the Builders Choice award at the Goodguys East Coast Nationals....plus many Best Of Shows at local events. We have put 7,000 miles on it since completion, driving to all the shows.

In late 2015 we moved to Port Orange, Florida near Daytona International Speedway and the beaches. Jean and I both enjoy the nice weather, plus attending shows and cruises here. For 20 years we have been going to the fall Daytona Turkey Run on vacation, now we live here and go to the spring and fall shows inside the Speedway with our hot rod. I have no plans to build another one....but you never know what tomorrow will bring. For now, just enjoy the ride! CN