My Curbside Classic: 1986 GMC “Longhorn” – My Version of a GM Concept

GMC 1986 at Otto's 1 - Copy
(by Bill Prince)   I bought my 1986 GMC Sierra Classic long bed truck about 15 years ago. It was an original truck, including the paint, interior and 305 engine. I bought it in Victoria, Texas, although the truck originally was from Cuero, Texas. Since I have had it, it has been in Houston, Texas. These trucks (Chevy and GMC) were made from 1973 through 1987: series one from 1973-80, and series two from 1981-87. I suppose that millions were made, but none ever looked like mine does now.

GMC 1985 Pickups-01

The older they get the better they look, in my opinion. Really a sharp looking design when you see them in new condition and in several of the handsome two- tone colors. Now that’s a thing of the past! At the time that I bought the truck, these square-body trucks were still being used by yard crews and the like, and in general as just old used trucks. Mine was somewhere in the “not new” but “not antique” period. I always liked the square look, including the wheel well openings and two tone paint schemes.

Most of the trucks being restored or upgraded at the time I bought mine were either being lifted, with bumper guards added, or used as low riders. I wanted something different, so I decided to modify mine (with mostly reversible mods) to look like a GM concept truck of which I once saw a photo. I am not sure if it was just a rendering, clay model or actual prototype. In any case, it had a sort of El Camino look to it. I believe it was a unibody (per the 1961-62 Ford trucks). I did not duplicate this feature.

GMC 1986 at Otto's 3 - Copy

During the 15 years I have had the truck, I’ve made many changes to mimic or copy the concept truck of the 1970s-1980s. Except for the engine, paint, and bench seat I’ve done all of the work and fabrication myself. I did most of the work over 10 years ago, but have made additional changes with time. The original engine needed to be replaced about 3 or 4 years ago, so I had an engine built– a 350 yielding about 375 hp, and using a Corvette block, Vortec heads, mild cam, serpentine belt, etc. It has dual exhaust, and the sound is “just right” – not loud or cheap-sounding, but just a nice tone (and a nice stereo tone when you stand behind the truck at idle).

I also had the original turbo 350 transmission rebuilt with a shift kit. It can get second gear scratch! After all these years, I finally had the truck repainted in the original colors, a nice “salt & pepper” color scheme. I am not finished with the re-restoration yet, as I still have to install the triple pin stripe and a few other things, including polished aluminum trim at the lower edges of the fender skirts which I will work on tomorrow.

As far as the custom features go,  there are many: Cab Extension (including custom fabricated, argent-painted “interior” aluminum panels), polished aluminum trim, cab side trim, and “Longhorn” emblem. Longhorn is the name I have given the truck. I used Falcon Ranchero emblems for the cab extension and for the cover to the tailgate pull lever. And I added the spare tire cover featuring covers for both sides along with polished aluminum trim. A rear antenna is also mounted by the spare tire. I designed and fabricated tempered glass headlight covers with small white lines, and aluminum trim mounted over the chrome headlight bezels. Chrysler turn indicators are mounted on the hood.

Next to the “all clear” tail light lenses (with red full light distribution LEDs) are mounted 4 “gills” (which I designed and fabricated)  matching the contours of the leading edge of the tail lights and mounted on each side of the truck rear fenders – they include hi-tech red reflector tape on the back edges, which I also designed and fabricated.

The rear bumper is a Suburban bumper with cutouts on the lower edge for the exhaust tips, which have brackets fastened to the bumper so that they do not vibrate against the bumper. The hubcaps are a very similar to the rare stock hubcaps, except that they are more expensively made, coming from a Lincoln Mark IV. The center emblem had been blacked out–I may add a GMC emblem– and a thin Chevy orange ring is painted in the center around the emblem plastic circle.

The whitewall tires have been “shaved” so that they are 1 1/4″ wide – the same as the original tires that were an option. The drip molding over the doors has been removed and the holes filled in for a smooth, clean look. Even the lower spot-welded edge that runs along the side of the body under the door has been painted black to clean up the profile view. Most of the changes were made to give a very smooth and “factory” look to the truck that’s still slightly custom.

GMC 1986 Glass Headlight Covers 1 - Copy

I also added lots of lights. These include front cornering lights that operate with time-delay relays off of the turn indicators; rear cornering lights that work with the backup lights (I tried to find light fixtures that would match the lines of the front and rear fenders); and small, glass 55 W extra backup lights that operate with the main backup lights (using a rear mounted relay) mounted in the license plate opening . Two switch-operated engine compartment lights are mounted under the hood. Extra interior lights are mounted over the doors and operate with the factory light over the back window. Courtesy lights under the dash also operate with the factory interior light.

The headlights have been upgraded (factory-looking fixtures and white light lamps – not blue!) with H4 and H1, using relays and very heavy gauge wire. All these lights are protected by fuses. The headlights are very bright: 130/90W and 100W. The interior is sort of original, except for the seat, which is matching tan/blue in a style that I designed, along with a custom stylized Longhorn logo that I fabricated. A matching arm rest/console is removable.

GMC 1986 White Dial Face Green Lights 3a

The instrument panel cluster has white-faced original gauges with bright green LEDs.

GMC 1986 White Dial Face Green Lights 4a

The carpet, headliner, and dash cover have been replaced during the last 2 years. The windshield was just replaced after the painting of the truck.

GMC 1986 Cadillac Steering Wheel GMC Logo 3 - Copy

Yesterday, I installed a 1985-90 leather-covered Cadillac steering wheel. It looks fantastic, and still sort of original. It has the same general tilted down, two-spoke design as the original, except that it is much nicer looking, leather wrapped, and 1/2″ smaller on the OD and 3/4″ smaller on the ID. It is also navy blue, which matches the interior.

I painted the steering column navy blue to match. Now the steering wheel stands out more, as does the black-faced instrument cluster. The result is much more expensive looking than in all black. I most likely have forgotten to mention many things, but the truck is close to finally being done. I just re-polished all of the custom aluminum trim (a lot of work). The pin stripe will be about the last thing to do. It will be a triple stripe, and either silver, or light blue (I think), probably mounted on the blue. We shall see!

GMC 1986 seat2

Sooooo – this truck is truly unique, and I am always asked if it’s a factory truck – which is just what I want it to look like, although a special type of limited- production truck. Today, after 15 years, the square-body trucks are antiques and are being restored to original or nice custom condition, with chrome 22s, unlike back when I bought mine. I have tried to be careful with the changes I’ve made, so that the look is clean and original, with most of the custom trim being unique to this vehicle and just tacked on. My truck looks much better in person, but the photos will give you a good idea of what it looks like. Again, the pin stripe will really set if off. I cannot wait to get that done.

Oh, I will also custom fabricate a tan-color rear bumper “filler” later this week–sort of similar to the factory filler between the front bumper and the body. After all this time, and all of my hand fabrication, and money spent – there is no way I will ever sell it. When I bought it, I never intended to keep the truck all of this time. I just needed a good, reliable vehicle at a very cheap price. This truck pulled me through some difficult financial times, and has just grown on me more and more. Now, with the new paint and new steering wheel, I feel like I am driving a new truck–or more accurately, a better-than-new truck!

GMC 1986 at Otto's 2 - Copy

You might have noticed that I mentioned the steering wheel! I am amazed at how much difference this steering wheel makes. I have driven the truck only once since installing it yesterday. The feel of the leather wheel, the slightly smaller size, and the wheel design all result in a much improved driving experience. It is simply hard to put into words, and something I would never have imagined! This may be the only website where there are other people who understand all this stuff. After recently completing my custom 1972 Riviera Silver Arrow IV, and now my 1986 GMC Longhorn, I am ready for some well-deserved rest.