Haul in the Family – A Guide of Classic Truck Parts for ’40s and ’50s Pickups
Vintage trucks have always been popular in the world of hot rodding. Whether they were parts haulers, shop trucks, or tow rigs and push vehicles for race cars, working pickups have long gone hand-in-hand with all forms of rodding and racing. And like anything with four wheels, hot rodders could rarely leave their trucks alone – many otherwise “utility” trucks got cool wheels, hopped-up engines, and custom paint jobs.
Beyond the dual-purpose modified workhorses, there’s also a long history of trucks that were customized simply because that’s what the owner wanted. Dig through rodding magazines from the ’50s and ’60s and you’ll find plenty of custom truck pictorials, and by the ’70s and ’80s trucks had a custom following of their own. We know of many rodders and professional builders today who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s cutting their teeth (and learning to cut sheet metal) on mini trucks and sport trucks.
It’s safe to say that trucks are more popular than ever today. On Saturdays during Goodguys events, just take a walk through the special Trick Truck Corral parking area and you’ll find ’50s-era farm trucks turned into stunning hot rods, low-cruising ’70s and ’80s models, lifted four-wheel-drives, and even classic examples from the ’20s and ’30s.
There are plenty of reasons for this popularity. First, many people can relate to pickups, whether they grew up learning to drive one on the farm or learned how to build custom vehicles by shaving and lowering a sport truck. Second, trucks are plentiful. They rarely get thrown away, which means there are many field and barn finds out there waiting to be reborn. Couple that with a ready supply of aftermarket components – from small parts to complete frames and cabs – and you can see why there are so many cool haulers being built. It’s not just Fords and Chevys, either – we’re seeing Studebakers, Willys, Jeeps, Mopars and other nameplates being rodded and restored, too.
Trucks are so popular that we have two categories in our annual lineup of Goodguys Top 12 awards – an early model and late category. In the Goodguys realm, Truck of the Year Early, sponsored by Scotts Hotrods ’N Customs, includes trucks from 1959 and earlier, while the LMC Truck of the Year Late class focuses on 1960-87, which includes the booming C10 and F100 models.
The Truck of the Year Early category includes trucks that were originally designed purely for hauling cargo and working on a farm. They defined the notion of work trucks and in most cases, function trumped form or comfort. Fortunately, hot rodders have a knack for pulling the beauty and unique styling of these workhorses into the form of a sweet cruiser – and the aftermarket is ripe with products designed to assist. We gathered up some great new classic truck parts that can help you build the truck of your dreams, focusing on the pre-’60 rigs that helped define the classic truck market. Take a look, and then start working on that to-do list to turn that old hauler into a cool cruiser!
When these old pickups were being designed, comfort, handling, and performance were not given much consideration. The goal was a sturdy, reliable work truck that was up to the task of hauling, farming and well, working. When it’s time to build a hot rod that will ride nice and handle well, why even work with that factory chassis when you can turn to Heidts for a new foundation?
Heidts frames are fully boxed for great strength and include the company’s popular hub-to-hub Mustang II or Superide II IFS kits along with your choice of their proven four-link rear suspension or an independent rear suspension for the ultimate performance. Heidts offers many other options and upgrades to suit any build level and budget with complete frames available for ’53-’56 Ford F100, ’47-’54 Chevy, and ’55-’59 Chevy pickups.
Mopar truck fans will be geeked to see that they can start with an all-new, high-quality gas tank thanks to the team at TANKS, Inc. They now offer an 18-gallon tank for ’39-’47 Dodge pickups (which can also work on ’48-’53 models with minor mods).
The tanks are formed of galvanized steel and coated with a durable silver finish. A standard five-bolt sending unit mount is provided and the tank can be used with a standard fuel pickup for carbs or one of TANKS internal pump assemblies for fuel injected or late model engines. To ease mounting, there are 3/8-inch course thread caged mounting nuts, a drain plug, and a 2.25-inch fuel neck outlet.
If your early pickup has any of its factory wiring left, chances are it’s not quite up to handling the needs of today’s accessories. Painless Performance knows the challenge hot rodders face when it comes to updating the wiring of an old pickup and offers many solutions such as their customizable 21-Circuit Pickup Chassis Harness.
These pickup harnesses feature ample wire lengths to cover longbeds and extended-bed applications. The customizable harness is offered with either open-ended ignition switch wires that can easily be adapted to any ignition switch or a pre-terminated GM ignition switch in the column. The chassis harness is supplied with a GM-engineered fuse block, mounting bracket, GM turn signal connectors, wired plugs for the headlights and dimmer switch, plus each wire is custom printed with its intended circuit for easy identification.
Setting the Specs
Roadster Shop is known for performance chassis and wicked builds, but the company also understands that not every build requires a race-designed chassis. To meet the needs of hot rodders and cruisers, they offer the SPEC Chassis which was designed to deliver outstanding performance in a user-friendly package at a good price.
For ’55-’59 Chevy fans, Roadster Shop offers a SPEC Chassis which starts with laser-cut rails for the frame to improve strength while saving some weight and in most applications, no floor mods are required. Factory located mounts are in place for the cab and bed and the frame rails are designed to accommodate mini-tubs and up to 12-inch wide wheels. The chassis assembly is designed with an aggressive 4.5-5-inch ride height and bagged versions will lay the rockers down with a 29-inch tall tire.
Some enthusiasts take the modifications beyond just the mechanical elements of their vintage haulers, smoothing and modifying the bodies to give them more distinctive, updated style. Shaved trim, smooth seams, bright custom paint, and big-inch wheels are all part of the custom recipe – and classic trucks respond well to these mods! Incorporate some cushy modern elements into the interior and you’ve got the makings of a clean cruiser, as evidenced by rides like Mike Avey’s blue ’56 F100 and Carl Shyiak’s ’55 Chevy.
LMC Truck has you covered in more ways than one when it comes to helping you build an early pickup. For starters, the company has a library of catalogs offering classic truck parts and information to help get your truck on the road. Next, they literally have any truck application covered with their loop-pile carpet kits.
LMC’s carpet kits are molded from the original floor pan for a perfect fit that covers the entire floor. The carpets are made from 100-percent nylon and feature a heavy 36-ounce jute padding under the front passenger area to help insulate against heat and reduces road noise. Carpets reach from the firewall to the back of the cab and have a color-coordinated vinyl binding to prevent fraying on the edges. One important note: before ordering, confirm if your floor pan has an automatic (low hump) or manual (high lump) trans cover.
Premier Street Rod
There’s nothing lightweight about a late-’50s truck hood and fitting one that aligns properly and shuts nice every time is no walk in the park. Premier Street Rods understands this ongoing battle and now offers a helpful solution with their Adjustable Under Hood Brace for ’55-’59 Chevy trucks.
These new braces easily secure under the hood of your truck and feature a heavy-duty Heim joint at each corner allowing for adjustability, allowing you to adjust for a perfect fit. The braces are fully tig welded in-house and are supplied with stainless hardware for a nice finish. Once installed, you’ll instantly feel a difference every time you open and close your hood.
When you’re looking to add modern day power and huge tires and expect a comfortable ride as well, it’s time to consider making the move to a completely new chassis, such as the offerings from Speedtech Performance.
Speedtech, based in St. George, Utah, offers a modern chassis for ’53-’56 Fords and ’48-’59 (and later) Chevy pickups. Speedtech produces a fully welded and internally gusseted box-style chassis and outfits it with their high-clearance upper and lower control arms with room to accept up to a 315 tire. Proven C7 hubs are incorporated to their forged aluminum spindles and a splined sway bar finishes the front. Out back, a torque arm rear suspension secures a Dutchman 9-inch axle housing with pre-welded brackets including 31-spline axles.
Fat Man Fabrications
FAT MAN IFS
Making the move to an independent front suspension (IFS) is mandatory when it comes to scoring the right stance along with improved handling for your early truck. Fatman Fabrications offers a complete IFS setup for early pickups that you can install on the original frame rails without cutting your truck in half.
Fatman designed its IFS kits so the radiator, bumper, and sheet metal mounts are preserved while a nice drop is achieved. Options such as sway bars, dropped spindles, a power rack and pinion, RideTech coil-overs, or air ride systems allow you to dial-in the stance you’re after, along with the style and handling. Kits are offered for GM, Ford, Mopar, Studebaker, Hudson, International and more!
Old School Cool
Fat-fendered trucks have a nostalgic flair all their own, one that is easily enhanced with traditional-style custom touches. Old-school customs like Kenneth Reierson’s ’56 F100 or Darcy Broten’s dark green F1.
There’s no denying that vintage trucks are cool, but if you want to stay cool on the road you might want some help from Vintage Air. Vintage offers a number of SureFit kits for early trucks including a new system for ’47-’59 Chevys.
The Gen IV Series of SureFit kits are Vintage Air’s most powerful and intelligent climate control systems. The kits are designed to fit under the dash of each application and employ their electronic servo motor controls eliminating vacuum lines and cables. The evaporator features an A/C coil assembly and copper heater coil so you can dial-in just right temperature along with blower speeds and dehumidified defrost flow. A three-dial control panel is included, or Vintage now offers a deluxe chrome three-lever panel for ’55-’59 systems.
Art Morrison Enterprises
AME your Early
The team at Art Morrison Enterprises turned their focus on one of the most classic F100s of all time, the ’53-’56 Ford, by developing a GT Sport chassis for this classic pickup. AME incorporates beefy 2×6-inch main rails to strengthen rigidity and installs their Sport front suspension and four-bar rear suspension with coil-overs and a Panhard bar.
The GT Sport Chassis is designed as a bolt-in replacement and includes mounts for the body, running board mounts, and the core support. A power rack-and-pinion steering is employed as well as sway bars and your chassis can be fitted with engine mounts for small- and big-block Fords as well as the popular 5.0L Coyote powerplant. AME will work with you on ride height options for stock or raised-bed floors too.
There are plenty of ways to improve the ride quality of your vintage truck, starting with the shocks. QA1 offers a number of shock options such as their premium Stocker Star Series adjustable shocks.
QA1’s Stocker Star shocks are an easy bolt-in and are ideal for use with stock-style springs. The monotube design features 18 different settings to adjust the compression and rebound action so you can dial-in the ride characteristics to fit your application. The shocks look as great as they perform with smooth, billet aluminum housings that are made in the USA and 100-percent dyno tested.
Quiet Ride Solutions
Old pickups were never known for their quiet and comfortable cab conditions, but QuietRide Solutions can help with a number of solutions to reduce noise and heat. The company’s Firewall Insulation Kits feature pre-cut and formed ABS insulation pieces that that are molded to the shape of the bulkhead for a perfect fit and easy installation.
The next step to cool and quiet your cab is one of QuietRide’s AcoustiShield Thermal Acoustic Insulation Kits. These kits feature application-specific pre-cut panels of Dynamat Xtreme and HeatSheild to quell body panel vibration and to insulate the interior. Panels are supplied for the rear cab wall, floor, roof and doors for trucks from 1928 on.
The resto-rod style is perhaps the most popular approach for ’40s and ’50s pickups. Stock bodies with updated suspensions and drivetrains satisfy the goal of many enthusiasts to drive a truck that has classic style and more modern power and handling. Jacob Lusk’s super-sanitary ’58 Chevy Apache is a standout example of this style from recent years, wearing factory-style colors, trim, and even Deluxe trim rings and hubcaps, but riding on an aftermarket chassis with a well-detailed 348c.i. V8 sporting stack-style EFI.
New Port Engineering
If you plan to rack up some miles in your truck, somewhere at some time, you’re going to run into rain. New Port Engineering understands the importance of having a clean windshield for a safe drive and offers a number of direct-fit windshield wiper motors and accessories for classic trucks.
New Port offers their heavy-duty 12-volt motor that provides two speeds for a long list of early pickups. Their heavy duty, sealed motor has been proven over the years to deliver reliable performance with their clean-wipe technology. Brackets for each application are included as well as new linkage arms. Kits are available for early Ford, GM, Dodge, International, Willys, and even Studebaker.
Take a Seat
If you still have the original bench seat of your project truck, it’s probably a mess of worn-out springs and shards of material. To keep you and your passenger comfy, a new seat will be in order and Wise Guys offers a huge selection of bench and bucket seats for early pickups.
Wise Guys also offers custom-built seats and can add heat to keep you cozy on cool days, add power lumbar and even power seat controls – whatever you’re looking for in your cab. They offer custom sewing patterns, materials, designs and colors. They can also provide just a frame or foam kits so you can personalize your seat and interior.
Scott’s Hotrods ‘n Customs
Scotts Hotrods ‘n Customs offers a number of custom IFS systems, rear suspension kits, and even complete frames for ’48-’60 Fords and for Chevys dating back to 1948. Each system is based on the application combined with the drivetrain, track width and desired ride height for your specific plan. From there, they custom build the A-arm lengths, crossmember pivot points, and other details to ensure the geometry is ideal for your truck.
Each IFS features a 2×4-inch, 3/16-inch-wall one-piece crossmember, 1-1/8-inch, 1/4-inch-wall DOM tubular A-arms, Scott’s stainless steel adjustable upper A-arm rod ends, serviceable ball joints, forged steel spindles, and either Aldan American coil-overs or Slam Specialties bags.
Rock Valley Antique Auto Parts and Tanks
After decades of use (and often abuse), the fuel tank on your vintage truck may be rusty, damaged, or just missing altogether. Never fear. When it comes to the fuel tank of your classic truck, Rock Valley has you covered.
Rock Valley offers a long list of stainless steel fuel tanks to update most makes and models out there. Rock Valley’s tanks are formed from 304-grade stainless and fully tig welded and pressure tested. The tanks are offered for carbureted engines as well as models with in-tank pumps to support electronic fuel injection systems.
Think old trucks can’t handle? With all the aftermarket suspension classic truck parts available for them, vintage haulers have the ability to carve corners with the best of ’em! Don Yarbrough’s ’55 Chevy is always a strong contender at Goodguys AutoCross events and has taken the Truck class win at the Colorado Nationals for three consecutive years.
The glass of your truck, or any classic vehicle for that matter, makes a huge difference to its overall appearance. Whether you choose stock replacement glass, a one-piece windshield or door glass, scratch-free, crystal clear glass is an upgrade that you’ll appreciate every time you saddle up in the cab.
With more than 25 years of experience, Vintage Glass has it or can make it. Their glass is processed on a CNC machine to NAG (National Auto Glass) specifications. As an example, Vintage offers a vent elimination kit for ’53-’55 Fords that features a curved glass to replace the vents with a single window. The tempered glass is available clean, green or smoke gray. Custom patterns can also be scanned and processed for unique pieces as well.
So, you want your cake and eat it too? TCI Engineering just announced its all new Slammed truck chassis for ’55-’59 Chevy pickups. The chassis is designed to lay the sheet metal on the ground and still deliver a smooth ride and handling.
The frame rails are fixture welded and fully boxed at TCI and the four-link bars are moved up the side of the frame to retain the proper geometry with the low ride height. They also moved the lower shock attachment points outside the frame rails to maximize roll resistance. Tapered style rear air springs are used to provide maximum lift and travel, resulting in a smooth cruise.
When it comes to instrumentation for your classic pickup, if you’re looking for traditional looks with modern day technology, check out Dakota Digital’s RTX lineup for ’47-’59 Chevy pickups. The gauges deliver user-selectable LED backlighting, a full color TFT message center, and Bluetooth connectivity to a mobile app. (Don’t fret Ford fans, they’re working on gauges for you too!)
Each gauge set is designed as a direct replacement and starts with a CNC machined housing that is filled with Dakota’s advanced gauges and electronic technology. To ease installation, a central control box is included to keep installation and setup as easy as possible.
Weatherstripping and other little soft rubber bumpers are the unsung heroes that keep your ol’ truck quiet on the road. Door seals are necessary to lock out wind noise and rain and prevent sheet metal from clanging together.
When it’s time to seal and protect your pre-’59 truck, look no further than Steele Rubber Products. Steele offers all of the seals and components you’ll need for the doors, windows, vent windows, and more! They also offer kits to cover a variety of areas on your build such this door weatherstrip kit for ’50-’55 Chevy and GMC trucks. This six-piece kit includes three different weatherstrips (created from the originals) to fit and seal each door.
Lowriding isn’t just for coupes, sedans, and convertibles. Trucks make great canvasses for this art form, too, and you’ll find plenty of examples in the lowrider exhibits at Goodguys events in Del Mar and Pleasanton.
New Tech, Old Look
Classic Instruments just rolled out new gauges for ’47-’53 Chevy trucks that feature an OE look on the surface but are backed with plenty of modern technology. The gauges feature billet aluminum center medallions and factory correct colors to bring a retro look to your cab but function with the accuracy and technology that today’s hot rod builders require.
The kit features a 4 5/8-inch speedometer with a twin assembly featuring the fuel, oil, temp, and voltage gauges. Classic’s advanced ZST gauges do not require an external control box and a snap-in wire harness keeps installation easy and clean. Stainless low-step bezels and flat glass lenses are supplied and the package is also available with a 4 5/8-inch Speedtachular option (a Speedo/Tach combination gauge).
Glide on Air
No Limit Engineering has been designing handling parts for trucks for years and continues to deliver awesome handling upgrades in the way of complete chassis, clips and components. If you don’t want to go the full chassis route, check out their Air Glide front end system.
Rather than simply swap bags for coil springs, No Limit designed its Mustang II-based IFS system with custom air bag mounts for an improved fit with function. The system uses a shim-style alignment and provides built-in upper and lower shock mounts and bump stops. The Air Glide system incorporates their Smart spindle and 11-inch rotors and is available for ’47-’54 Chevy pickups.
Old Air Products
Step up your level of cool with Old Air Products and their Hurricane 4000 Series A/C, Heat and Defrost system for ’47-’55 Chevy and GMC trucks. The system fits nicely under the dash to the firewall along with a custom plenum that fits along the bottom edge of the dash for louvers and switching.
Old Air offers rotary switching or an electronic slide control to fit your style and each kit includes a SuperKool condenser assembly, a compressor (available in chrome or a polished finish), mounting brackets, an A/C hose kit, and pressure safety switch. In short, everything you need to make your ol’ pickup even cooler!
Not everyone wants to make the move to an IFS in their vintage Chevy truck, which is exactly why Classic Industries offers this cool 3-inch drop axle for ’47-’54 Chevy/GMC trucks. Three inches will get your truck standing more aggressively with improved handling thanks to a lower center of gravity.
The axle is made of 2-inch steel tubing, while the ends are CNC milled from solid steel. The spring pad center-to-center measurement is 26.75-inchs and accepts a 1.75-inch wide spring and provides a camber reading of -1.5-degrees.
Hot rodders are well aware that classic trucks make perfect calling cards for shops and other businesses. Even when they’re fictitious, it can still be fun to have a cool logo displayed on your truck.
Do-it-yourself has long been a mantra of hot rodders and Speedway Motors understands that everyone out there may not have a welder and other tools at their disposal. With that in mind, they offer a complete bolt-in triangulated four-bar rear suspension system for ’47-’54 Chevys designed to bolt-in to the factory frame.
The kit includes a new 9-inch rearend housing (60-inches wide) with mounting and suspension brackets welded in place. Frame brackets, a crossmember for the shocks, and four chromoly bars with urethane bushings are supplied as well as a pair of 11-inch coil-overs. Everything bolts together with the rear axle centerline aligned in the original position, giving your truck a much better stance and overall handling capabilities.
GSI Machine and Fab
Classic trucks are the reason GSI was founded and their passion shows through in the look and function of their components. One of their latest offerings is a complete Air Ride Chassis for ’55-’59 Chevy trucks. To ensure a great ride, combined with full ride height adjustments, GSI optimized the suspension geometry to minimize camber movement through the travel of the suspension.
Their lower control arms feature alignment cams to ease alignment and bumpsteer is controlled with GSI’s tie rod adapter kit. The frame is crafted on state-of-the-art CNC machinery for a precise fit resulting in great strength. The front suspension is served by a pair of AirLift D2600 bags with a pair of Firestones in the rear to work with billet Watt’s link and four-link setup. GSI went to great lengths to ensure a 24×15-inch wheel could fit under the fenders.
Horkey’s Wood and Parts Inc
One of the nicest finishing touches you can add to your vintage pickup is a nice wood bed floor. The crew at Horkey’s Wood and Parts have made it easy to update a bed with a nice wood finish whether your truck has a steel bed or even if it’s already finished.
Their Show Deck Bedliner is built upon an extruded aluminum subframe so there’s no need to drill any holes in the bed. The rubber padded subframe sits over the original bed without scratching it and is designed to allow air movement to keep moisture from forming between the two. The liner can be assembled with the wood and finishes of your choice along with steel, stainless, or polished stainless hardware. The deck can easily be assembled with a screwdriver and tape measure plus you can remove it if you need to haul some parts!
Flat Out Engineering
It’s pretty common to upgrade a ’40s or ’50s truck from a beam axle front suspension to an independent setup, but how about stepping up to an independent rear suspension, too? Flat Out Engineering can help with kits like this one for ’53-’64 F100 (Chevy kits are also available) to install a C4 Corvette independent rear suspension in your classic hauler.
You supply the Corvette components and Flat Out offers the brackets to make them fit your truck, retaining all stock Corvette suspension geometry for unrivaled ride and handling. The mounting brackets locate on many stock frame holes, requiring some additional holes to be drilled – but no welding. The kits are designed for use with coil-over shocks to ensure great ride quality. Hardware and detailed instruction are included in all kits, and Flat Out also offers similar Corvette front suspension kits for vintage trucks.
We all know that natural patina has been popular on vintage vehicles for years, but nothing wears this weathered finish quite like a classic truck. Faded paint, surface rust, nicks and dings just suit the workhorse nature of these old rides. And since many vintage trucks are literal field finds brought back to life with updated underpinnings, it only makes sense for them to showcase their well-earned wear. Todd Allen’s ’59 F100 and Joey Gonzalez’s ’59 Suburban show how a little patina can look just right.