Sometimes you never know what you may find at an auto show, especially when it is an auto show that is a tribute to the Ford Mustang. As I walked through the Mustang 40th Anniversary show grounds I suddenly noticed, from the distance, a sight that was pleasing to the eyes after traversing through a sea of Mustangs… a dark green 1953 Chevy hot rod pickup truck. I walked over to it to pay immediate respect to this grandfather of Chevy trucks and found out that the fact the truck looked so good was due to the talented Steve Carter of Carter Kustom from Brentwood, Tennessee.
After talking to Steve for awhile, and checking out his other two displays, a 1969 Mach I Mustang and a 1965 Mercury Comet, I knew I was in the presence of a master fabricator and talented auto artist. We exchanged business cards and before I knew it, I was snapping photos of this beautiful Chevy truck you see before your eyes. Yet, the truck wasn’t always beautiful.
According to legend, when owner Regg Swanson brought the truck to Steve, it was in very bad condition. In fact, it looked like something that would be found in a junkyard for spare parts, than something that would be found in an auto show! Having previously been a farm hauler, the truck came to Steve in less than good condition. "He brought over this piece of junk and wanted to have it ready to go for a birthday party... his 50th celebration in fact. Regg had a party around this truck, when it was used for farm hauling, on his 40th birthday and found it fitting to celebrate his 50th birthday around the same truck... okay, maybe not exactly the same truck, this time it was going to be renewed," says Steve.
Steve explained that though Regg received what is a hot rod truck, it was never truly what he wanted or so he thought. "Being of a conservative mindset, Regg was telling me he didn’t want a hot rod, but everything he wanted the truck to be able to do was defining exactly what he didn’t want… a hot rod," says Steve "But when I turned over the keys to him after finishing the project, he was very happy with it, in all of its hot rod glory."
So, with the official nod from the owner, Steve began the 1.5 year buildup. First off, you will notice that the truck is pretty conservative for a hot rod with only subtle changes. For instance, the only body modifications are a frenched in antenna (capped off with a skull I might add), rod taillights, custom push-in gas door, and a rear roll pan, thus keeping the truck as conservative as possible.
Initially the owner wanted this truck to be painted black, but Steve felt that black was a little too "Plain Jane" for a truck that was no doubt destined for greatness. "I asked Regg to bend a little on the paint job... anything other than black. I painted a '68 Mustang Shelby GT 350 black, a '49 Olds Rocket 88 black... I just didn’t want to do 'another' black ride," says Steve. So, after a little coaxing, Steve was able to get Regg to compromise on the paint job, but the paint had to be a dark color that could almost resemble black. After spending a few hours combing through books of paint color swatches Steve found the perfect color, British Racing Green Dupont Chroma Premiere.
After receiving the thumbs up, Steve prepped, primed, and smoothed the body to perfection to make ready for the paint booth. Of course, in true "Carter Kustom Fashion" Steve had to break away from the conservative mold, just a little, and add one of his specialties... ghost flames. Steve laid down a sweet set of golden ghost flames that gracefully adhere to the fenders and hood. "Yeah, the ghost flames are a specialty of mine and on this particular truck, they are the one thing that makes this pickup 'roddish' in appearance, but at the same time they are subtle enough that people do not notice them... at least not right away," says Steve.
On the inner workings, Steve was given the "go-ahead" to make the truck as comfortable and powerful as needed for today's driving standards. Steve thought if this was going to be a hot rod pickup then it had to move like one. The choice was simple; a 350 GM ZZ4 crate engine was ordered and installed. To help the engine breathe easy, Steve fabricated a custom dual air intake. Keeping all of those ponies in line, all 355 of them, Steve opted to go with a 700R4 automatic overdrive tranny. Finishing off the "stuff" that makes things happen is a drive train consisting of a 9 inch Ford posi-traction rear end with a 3.55 gear ratio.
With all of the "go" and no "slow" Regg would be a very unhappy man, so Steve installed a set of 11 inch Grenada rotors and Chevy calipers up front. In the rear, the braking system consists of 11.5 inch Lincoln disc brakes, thus giving this classic truck stopping power it once didn’t have.
Of course no hot rod would be complete without the appropriate "hot rod stance." Bringing this classic pickup out of the clouds and down to mother earth is a Mustang II suspension with 2 inch dropped spindles and KYB shocks up front. Outback, Camaro leaf springs give the rear the classic "hot rod rake" along with a set of KYB shocks. Finishing off the exterior hot rod appearance, a set of 18 inch American Racing Torque Thrust wheels were mounted, with Pirelli rubber providing the traction.
With the chassis, power plant, and exterior ready for the "Big 5-0" birthday celebration, it was time to complete the look with a custom interior fitted with today's modern amenities. The dash was smoothed, painted (with ghost flames of course), and fitted with Phantom instruments. The cabin is kept cool and warm, with a vintage A/C unit. To provide a little entertainment while on the road to a show, and we do mean on the road since it was built to be driven some what regularly, a Secret Audio Receiver was installed which is powered by a 600 watt Kenwood amplifier. The Ididit steering column is topped off with a vintage steering wheel. Finishing off the interior, tan leather covers the door panels, custom seat, center console, and headliner.
Regg Swanson may not be a hot rodder by choice, but we can assure him that his truck is everything that a hot rodder likes and wants. This truck is tasteful for even the most conservative person, yet will stop even the most devout hot rod enthusiast dead in their tracks. No matter what your poison is when it comes to custom autos, a nod of approval has to be given to its builder, Steve Carter. There is no doubt we will see more of Steve's work in the future!
Shout Out: "Be sure to visit my website at: www.carterkustom.com to check out some of my other projects that I have worked on. Thanks to Regg for the opportunity to build him a timeless classic pickup and thanks to ESM for the feature!" -Steve