(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.
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.
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.
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.
The instrument panel cluster has white-faced original gauges with bright green LEDs.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Sweet looking truck. I’ve always liked GMC pickup trucks of the 1970s and 80s. They’re some of the few things Americans (both USA and Canada) have been able to build right.
Well that sure is a very lovely looking truck indeed and within 5 minutes of my house there are three of these trucks, but they look nothing like this. I like what you have done with your truck and is there a spare tire in that bed carrier? The dashboard lights remind me a certain 57 Plymouth.
Great movie! The soundtrack was the best part.
Now that you mention it, the green does look like Christine’s cluster.
I like the interior lights- they look much nicer to me than the standard white ones.
I purchased both Green and Blue LEDs for the instrument panel. Since most people install Blue, such as the Dakota Digital instrument clusters and since I prefer sometime a little different from the ordinary – I installed the Green. They are also brighter than the Blue. And yes, I did think of Christine – I just need to get the CD now!
Great to see someone lavishing their pet with this kind of attention. We can be obsessive types!
I love shoulda-woulda-coulda customs, great job.
That is one beautiful truck and I love that bench seat! Please excuse me while I drool.. 🙂
When I designed the seat, I wanted it to be two tone in color – blue and tan. I also wanted a design that looked somewhat factory – seems to be my passion. I also wanted a “V” look to it, in the vain of the 1950s/60s Chevy “V” under the emblems for V8 equipped cars and trucks. That is where the angled “V” on the seat back comes from. I also like the “Plus Sign” stitching and center buttons on my 1960 Thunderbird, which is also used on the 1960 Lincoln convertible but modified. I believe it is also the 1960 Lincoln that has the small horizontal pleats, which I like. So, I incorporated the “V”, the center button with the “Plus Sign” stitches, and the horizontal “Pleats” to come up with my design.
That is very cool and you definitely came up with a winner 🙂
I’ll have to admit, I didn’t “get it” at first until I saw the seat pattern and the wave of ’50s nostalgia that was sloshing around in the ’80s came back to me, and then it all clicked. Nice.
Not my cup of tea, I prefer my 73-87 trucks stone stock.
But, I really admire the work and attention to detail you put into it. It does have that 70s GM concept vibe.
I never realized how similar the Truck steering wheel and the Caddy’s were until now.
Same here. I love all my cars stock first car I ever owned had 13′ tires with full steel wheel covers. OK, I admit, the only thing I have changed only on 2 out of the 4 cars I have owned is to change is the radio. The outside remains dull and boring, straight from the assembly line the way I like it 😉
You’d be amazed about steering wheels. The ones from the 1994-1996 F-150 were also used on Aston Martins.
Fomoco used that early airbag wheel on just about everything except the Escort/Tracer in the mid 90s.
Nice work my friend! And could not agree more with your comments about the steering wheel. I replaced the “deluxe” wheel in my ’83 Ford Ranger with a high end leather Grant wheel. Had to make an adapter to get rid of the stupid sheetmetal “crush” sleeve and dorky looking bellows all Grants come with, and being 1 inch smaller, it almost felt weird at first. But now I would not trade it for anything. I feel like I drive a Lincoln now because of it. And its an ’83 Ranger 4X4 with a 5.0 swap I have owned since ’90, did the V8 swap in ’92
A little known fact is that the production American sedan that first implemented a “small” steering wheel was the 1961 Lincoln Continental. They are 16″ in diameter, the same as the 1986 GMC original steering wheel. All other cars of the time, even the Corvette still used a larger steering wheel. I think I read that Ford had found out that a car was easier to negotiate with a smaller wheel from experience for facing – of course power steering was becoming more common place. This is the first time that I have replaced an original steering wheel. Normally I do not like to see original steering wheels replaced on vintage vehicles. The design usually suffers, however the GMC wheel was so plain and ordinary that I wanted to do something different, but still not want a custom after market wheel. I looked and looked at different factory wheels before finding just want I wanted in the Cadillac wheel.
Im curious how well your rear cornering lamps work?
Did the C4 Vette have rear cornering lamps or were they for reverse?
I’m pretty sure those lights on the C4 are turn signal repeaters and or position lamps
The Corvette had what I call rear cornering lights – but while they worked like cornering lights as far as the light distribution, they were in fact side backup lights, like mine.
They add a little light on each side – more when it is a totally dark night. However, some light is much better than none. There are some cornering light fixtures that project a brighter pattern than these, which are off of a 1980s Oldsmobile, however I wanted a set that would match the lines of the truck. Left goes on right and right goes on left also, so that the light it projected to the rear. I did use 2357 lamps, which have a 25% brighter high beam as well as wiring so that both filaments are lighted at the same time.
Where did you get the rear wheel skirts? That is a car style that needs to come back. I am looking for a set of rear wheel skirts for my 97 Lesabre. There was a dealer option package with both landau top and rear skirts offered for the 92-99 Lesabre and I have seen them around. I am waiting for a set to come up on eBay or the junk yard and will snag them.
I purchased these fender skirts almost 15 years ago from J. C. Whitney. I don’t think they sell them anymore. They were made by Lund. Very rarely they can be found on Ebay. I purchased a second set, so that If I ever need to replace them, I will have an extra set.
Rock on my friend. The steering wheel is a coup de grace, and the proper whitewall and Lincoln covers- the anti 22″ clown wheels. Longhorn is the best of Texas. Keep us updated on her, and let us know how fast she’ll run the quarter mile. Good call on not putting in some ridiculous heavy big block that ruins the handling.
Not exactly my style, but I think the whole idea and execution are great! This really does look like something GM would have done as a concept during the post-Grease ’50s nostalgia wave. To pull that off takes real vision and I love the attention to detail.
Lots of hard work there ! .
Those fender skirts are either Fox Craft or copies of same .
I had a 1976 GMC long bed 2500 (3/4 Ton) , what a great truck it was .
Long live those Square Body Generous Motors Corporation trucks ! .
Not to my taste at all either. The spare tire sticking out really throws off the lines imo..
But that seat is amazing!
Good work my friend. And if you like it, that’s ALL that matters! Enjoy it!
Great truck, and shows how the enormous amount of stuff out there for GM trucks makes them fun and easy to customize.
You are also right about the feel of a good leather steering wheel. It makes a world of difference, since that’s how you are interfacing with the car.
Nicely done, the Brougham of trucks, but I mean it in a good way. That bench seat cab is something you don`t see too much nowadays, but it does have a cool `50s style custom look to it. Nice color combo too. A standout.
Well done! Impressively stock sort of look. The skirts work surprisingly well. I saw a very stock S-10 one time with skirts. If worked quite well. I’ve often wondered where folks get skirts for cars that never offered them as the are a fairly common sight.
10 to 15 years ago, you could still buy fender skirts from places like J. C. Whitney, but time moves on and I don’t think they offer them anymore. So, you have to rely on Ebay, swap meets, or Craigslist. Otherwise you have to make them yourself. I had thought about making a set (a lot of work, and not perfect unless you have and can use an English Wheel), for my 1972 Riviera Silver Arrow IV so that the skirts would be more in the plain of the rear fenders. Again, this was like 10 years ago and I just bought a set – maybe a good think that the bought set bows out a little because I ended up installing wire wheels that are outboard an extra inch or so.
I have completed the triple pin stripe, which was a 7 hour job. I did silver, which seems to blend into the tan and blue nicely, and which seems to sort of look light a light blue (blue and silver mixed), from a distance. Exactly what I wanted. I also have fabricated polished aluminum trim for the lower lips of the fender skirts, which matches the front wheel well opening and looks more factory. I also made a set of aluminum slat floor board/mats – sort of like the early 1960s Olds Starfire. And I have replaced the Longhorn Emblem with CAMEO II, which is a little more appropriate – since the style of the truck is sort of a modernized version of the 1950s Chevy Cameo.
The floor board aluminum slats. Not the best photo. They look better in person.
I’m not trying to run your show- but have you thought about a set a Eldorado chromed pedals? Especially if you could modify the rubber to navy blue, or insert blue leather. I would die! Those floor boards are awesome.
I have thought about some type of pedals that have a polished stainless steel insert. As long as it had an original look, like from an Eldorado – it would improve the look and be more upscale looking. For now, I just replaced the original brake pedal pad with a new original one.
Interesting conversion Bill, thanks for running through all the details.
Nice truck, and good job with all the customizations. Indeed, this vehicle looks unique, but not in a too brash way. I too am tired of countless chrome-plated 22″ rims..
The title photo reminds me somewhat od Citroën Dyane and Citroën Ami. Perhaps the skirted rear wheels in combination with solid hubcaps, and (at least optically) high-looking stance of rear suspension. To my eye, the truck would perhaps look even better if the rear suspension was lowered (but ever so slightly).
And I think instrument gauge illumination woud look better in blue. It does not matter if everybody else is doing it – with so many blue accents on this truck’s exterior and interior, instrument panel illumination should match it; green looks out of place.
Or perhaps if you don’t want blue, amber would be also good choice.
Yes, it seems that every square body Chevy/GMC truck has big wheels (like 22’s or monster wheels), billet grill, and monster engine. The same ole same ole! As someone once said – They are like belly buttons, everyone has one.
The truck suspension was originally 2″ higher in the rear. My truck has rarely been used for hauling and is close to the original stance – it is 2 1/2″. However, I would prefer to elevate the front so that the truck rides level or slightly higher in the rear. I just have not figured out how to do it.
I have thought about installing the blue to see how it would look, and did think about the blue matching the blue of the truck. Just no time to do everything.
That’s very nice, but it’s not an accurate restoration – your side spear molding is straight. The factory side spear moldings were never straight, always crooked and wavy! Lousy workmanship on the line.
Exactly why when I ordered my 1976 C-20 Custom Deluxe I did not order the side spear molding.
This is a really cool job you’ve done. Congrats.
The only factory Chevy truck I can think of that was somewhat custom was the Cameo. Very rare nowadays, probably only seen at car/truck shows. That and the mid-70s “Gentleman Jim” GMC pickups, but that was just a decal on the bed sides. My favorite all-time pickup was the Dodge “Li’l Red Express Truck”. Now THAT was a looker!
I was very picky about the side spear being straight. I really emphasized to the painter about the separation line between the blue and tan being correctly positioned and straight. I looked down the side of the truck a lot in the installation process. I was really careful to get it straight on the fender skirts since they bow out slightly. Actually I did better on the passenger side – it looks slightly better looking at the truck from the side perpendicular. The driver’s side looks better looking at the side from slightly higher (as you would be standing 10 ft from the truck). This is because the side spear at the center of the driver’s side skirt is about 1/4″ higher in the middle. Due to the curve out, it looks straight from the standing position. I almost changed it, but then was not sure which way looked the best – so one side is level and the other side is 1/4″ off. Did I mention that I am picky?
I remember the new mid 1970 Ford LTDs, with fender skirts, having a side spear which had every single panel installed out of line. Front door high, rear door low, fender skirt slanted, rear fender low, etc. It ruined the design of the spear! How on Earth did they let the cars out of the factory like that? You could see the miss match from across the highway at highway speeds! I would say they were worse than the square body trucks.
A few days ago, I changed the name of my truck to CAMEO II, relating to the 1950s Cameo Carrier that you mentioned. I found some chrome italicized letters that I thought would look correct. The name is more appropriate for the truck. I will still use the longhorn emblem on the tail gate as a design and the stylized one on the seat as well. The horizontal line of the CAMEO II letters also cleans up the cab extension a little. See photo.
Very different – perhaps this is what a Sierra Denali would have looked like had it come out when these trucks were new.
No 22″ chrome wheels, no billet grille, and no Flowmasters on my ’83! Just a low key slight mod from stock! 🙂
I have always really liked the 1983 Chevy grille. The body color bar that extends the entire width of the grille opening looks very clean and new. I thought about using that grille on my truck, but I had already did the tempered glass headlight covers, which I did not want to give up. Nice clean truck and nice color.
This is really exceptional. It’s nice to see someone with a vision carry it out so completely. My favorite parts are the bench seat (with logo!) and the well-executed detail around the headlights. I’m also a sucker for the paint scheme—for some reason, blue & white two-tone is the image that pops into my mind when I think of any GMC truck from about ’67 to the late 90s when they stopped offering it.
It truly does look like a concept vehicle, or might I even say a “day two” concept vehicle that actually got converted to driver status.
I’ll admit, it took me a second to warm up to it but when I did wow can I ever appreciate what you’ve done. Not just that but I can appreciate the attention to detail you put into this.
I’ll agree completely on how much a steering wheel can change a vehicle. It’s amazing how much I liked driving my second F-150 over my first because of the comfortable leather wrapped wheel. Makes a world of difference!
This truck is hideous….perfectly good squarebody slaughtered….I don’t know what would ever possess someone to do all of those gaudy “customizations” even in an attempt to mimic old concepts… I think it is utterly tasteless and way over the top, you could’ve gotten the same point across with much more subtle modifications and a decal of your own across the bedrail paying homage to those old trucks of the 70’s in a much less tacky way… In my opinion this “build” if that’s even what you want to call it (I’d prefer butcher job) is a complete failure…
I just saw this truck when I went to chilis Friday night. I had to circle around the parking lot to get a better look. This is a one of a kind truck like I’ve never seen before. Very nice. Job well done.