It was not too long after my BMW 2002 left and I was already looking for another old project. This time though, I knew I should get something more on my level – running and driving! I’ve always loved the 50s trucks from the big three and figured it was high time to try to get one. Luckily, one of my all time favorites was listed in a small town just 20 miles east of here – I had to go check it out.
It was early December, an odd time to sell a classic car. Usually in the upper Midwest, this is the time for classic cars to be buried in the back of a machine shed or garage on a battery tender. The seller had limited room and wanted it gone, as it had been on Craigslist for some time. I looked it over and we went for a drive around the small town. It made some lovely old truck sounds and seemed to run and drive just fine. Piloting the truck through the Christmas light illuminated downtown seemed like I could’ve been in 1958 for a moment. It was enough for me, I bought it. I think it was $4,000 if I recall correctly. Not too bad for what it was, I felt.
I normally lean towards being more of a Ford guy, but the 1958 and 1959 Chevrolet Apaches (and the less common GMC 100) have always been very handsome trucks in my eyes. Throw in the legendary 235 c.i. inline six-cylinder engine, a four-speed manual transmission and an older repaint with some great patina and you’ve got a winner – at least in the case of this example.
That winter the truck remained parked in the driveway, which I’m sure the landlord loved to see an old car return so quickly, but occasionally I’d fire it up and park it in a different position to prove to her it would at least move. That spring I noticed the carb was leaking so I gave it a good ultrasonic clean and a rebuild, which helped. I sourced an uncracked windshield from an old junkyard but not much else. The truck ran and drove but wow, I guess I needed to establish my expectations on how old trucks drove! Acceleration with that super low first gear was hilarious and the truck rode like a covered wagon. The ergonomics sure were non-existent, too. I didn’t end up driving it much because it was really slow for traffic in this rushed day and age/in this fast-paced college town of 60,000 people. Although functional, I also couldn’t help feeling the truck still needed refreshing of just about everything. The doors sagged, the brakes sucked, etc. And I had little to no inclination to fix those, nor knew where to start.
When I bought it, I must’ve been stuck on some kind of Bridges of Madison County mentality in which everyone drove a truck like this and got around fine. Recognizing the challenges and that I was unlikely to do anything with the truck, I listed it for sale that summer. After a short while, I got an inquiry from a lady in southern Iowa. I took her for a drive around the block or two and explained there was no power steering, power brakes or any other comforts. I also explained the vehicle’s shortcomings but no matter, she said her brother was a mechanic. She seemed more excited that the truck looked like Tow Mater from Cars. Oh brother… But she paid me and returned a few days later with a truck and trailer to haul it home.
In hindsight, I just think this wasn’t the right truck for the right time. Not only is my town seemingly not suitable for a slower, older vehicle like this, I was not in a position to work through its needs. Perhaps someday I will live in a more suitable locale as I would really love to have another 50s truck again. My uncle-in-law in rural Southeast Iowa daily drives a ’58 GMC ¾ ton with the 283 c.i. V8 that was refreshed by the previous owner and he got an absolute steal of a deal on it. Thankfully, these trucks are still very common here and many folks fix them up for hobby. There should be one out there for me when the time comes…
I remember my father bringing home one of those (or a Ford F-100) from the dealership’s used car lot periodically to take care of some gardening or yard work project. When the truck had one of those four speeds, he always treated first as a granny gear and would normally start out in second on the street.
Good call. Writing this I wondered to myself if I even ever attempted a second gear start. Might have helped!
Yes, that’s typically how it’s done with pickups from this era with floor-mounted 4 speeds. The first gear is so low (numerically high; the one in my old Ford is 6.68:1) that its best use is for hauling heavy loads, or with a 4WD, pushing a plow. Otherwise, begin in second. For typical use, the transmission is essentially a 3 speed.
1st gear was non synchro in ford 4sp 4wd trucks in 70s. guessing that was the case with these as well. 1st was of no use for unloaded on road driving. always started in 2nd.
In my experience, the concept of owning a classic vehicle is a lot better than actually owning one. We are accustomed to driving modern vehicles that run, stop and drive comfortably. When actually confronted with driving a 1950’s vehicle, the truth comes to the fore: we have come a long way since 1958 and engineering doesn’t go backwards.
I think power steering may be the single biggest factor on how well an older car works for DD duty. I drove typically equipped 60s cars regularly and found them fine. The handling and brakes were not up to modern standards, but they were not terrible. My old pickup, on the other hand, rode hard, was noisy, and had the nastiest manual steering I had experienced in a good long while – particularly trying to park with the radial tires that were on it. Even my 29 Model A was more pleasant to drive (and that one DID have horrible brakes for modern conditions).
Sort of depends on what it is and how you want to use it. I used my C2 Corvette pretty much daily when in Paris in the late ’90s and apart from heavy steering at low speeds (big block car with no PS and set on “fast” ratio) it was always a pleasure.
I replaced my hi-tech electric car (loved that, btw) with a 50 year old VW a couple of years ago when I came to Chicago as a bit of an experiment and I have found that it does all the “car” things one needs. It gets me around, I can fit my bike in it and it will do long trips. It even keeps up with traffic, whilst costing very little to run. Having said that, you have to be aware that you have no ABS, passive safety (I upgraded to inertia reel 3 point belts though) and no ESP or traction control. (OK, I know the latter is not really necessary with 50hp!). That’s why my small son gets transported in a modern vehicle and I have a large life insurance policy!
I still enjoy every drive – steering is fairly light, ride quite ok and the gear change (now) a real pleasure. I am just always aware that I may be overlooked by trucks and SUVs and drive defensively.
It helps to choose a simple car where all mechanical parts are still easily available and cheap – I got rear driveshafts recently from O Reilly’s for $75 ea within 24 hours.
Old cars are better for being used regularly in my experience and maintaining and improving them oneself not only saves money and is therapeutic, but gives one confidence that it can be fixed by the roadside in the event of mechanical misbehavior.
The clubs associated with them are also great technical and social resource and people seem to love seeing the my old coupe out and about.
The other thing to consider is that you are avoiding the depreciation that comes with new vehicles – my wife’s top of the line SUV has lost ten times what I have spent on my old crate….
I know just how you feel. I bought a 63 Ford F100 on a whim, one that was in much the same condition as your truck, only with less visible body rust. I lived in the city and every Saturday morning I was itching to go out and drive it. After a couple of hours wrestling with it I would be worn out and would be ready to leave it parked for the rest of the week.
You are right, city or busy suburban traffic is no place for a vehicle like this. A far-out suburb, a small town or out in the country is where one of these would work.
This looks like it would have been a great truck for somebody.
Good that you recognized that this project could be beyond your skill level before tearing the truck down into pieces. Easier to sell a whole project than one in parts that need to be sorted of which some may have flown the coop.
I’d bet that for every ten, who think something like this would be cool to drive around, in the end only two or three actually stick with it. Most would do better by stripping out the systems and inserting up to date brakes, engine, transmission, suspension and tires. A lot like that Derelict 1948 Buick Super Convertible seen on Jay Leno’s Garage. I’m not into restomods per se because of what is done to the body but a sleeper restomod, like this Buick, is truly cool.
Not your ordinary 1949 GMC
All to many times people think it would be cool to have an old project vehicle, get all excited tear about a vehicle that drove into the garage and then either find out they don’t have the skills/time/money or the just loose interest. Too many times the next stop is the scrapper for the poor vehicle.
So for all 1st timers I always recommend keeping the vehicle drive-able as much as possible. In other words work on one project at a time and drive it a bit before starting the next project. I also recommend mixing up the difficulty of the projects. Rebuild the front end, then tackle a small project or two before diving into the next big dirty project.
My brother once owned a 1978 Chevy with a four-speed not unlike yours. It was also disturbingly quick in first gear. It was also loud and it drove like a Conestoga. He drove it into the ground, but managed not to kill it. It ended up sold to a meth addict who slowly stripped it for parts. Last I saw it, it had a Mazda radiator and no interior beyond a driver’s seat.
I don’t remember what my point was, exactly, but I can see why you wouldn’t want to drive one of these things in modern traffic.
Your short stents of ownership are like automotive dimsum. A great way to get a taste of the many flavors of old vehicles without getting bogged down.
I always liked the sharp snapping sound those old truck four speed transmissions made when you clicked them through the gears.
These old Task Force trucks are, IMO, great for actual work rigs .
I’m in So. Cal. and had no problems going 60 MPH on the freeway empty or loaded .
Few ever take the time to properly tune those old 6 bangers, even clapped out and belching blue smoke they’re peppy, never going to burn rubber of course .
Most old trucks are seriously loosey-goosey in every single suspension bushing, link, king pin and so on making them scary to drive over 35 MPH but all this is also pretty simply to fix , you just have to be willing to get dirty .
I hope th lady who bought it is happy .
My dad used to have one of these in a long bed. I wish I could find it. Had a lot of good memories of that truck and my dad. He was always working on something. Not because it was broke, it was just his way to unwind. We used it a lot for various odd jobs and weekend projects. Went everywhere with hi. In that truck.
My dad had one of these in a long bed. Had a lot of good memories of him working I. It, not because it needed it, but I think it was his way to unwind. We use that truck for a lot of weekend projects and things. I wish I could find it.
-some- states have a search option that if you have the VIN or tag number they’ll find who owns it now .
Be *very* glad you have happy memories of your father .