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…