They say you can’t tell a book by its cover. That is also true with many cars and trucks as well. A case in point is John Gessner’s 1955 Chevy truck. At first glance, it may appear like your typical shop pickup that has lived most of its life hauling parts and getting drenched in used motor oil. In fact, this truck’s current state is just one of the iterations it has lived during its lifetime.
John Gessner of A&J’s Southern Rod Shop wanted a truck he could call his own. That’s why he purchased this truck in the early ‘90s. Back then, there were plenty of classic Chevy trucks still being used as trucks. But that wasn’t what John had in mind. He wanted a truck that would haul in a different kind of way. In its first new lease on life, John’s ’55 used a big-block Chevy for power. That big-block kept the truck’s straight-axle front suspension firmly planted as John worked his way aggressively through the four-speed transmission. More recently, the truck spent some time with a Chevrolet Performance 350 Ram-Jet engine and did the street rod scene with John.
Another popular saying is, “What’s old is new again!” and that sums up perfectly this latest iteration of John’s blue cruiser. Shiny surfaces are a great way to show off how straight and clean a vehicle’s lines are, but it also shows imperfections with the same impetus. John wanted to be able to drive the truck without the worry of stone chips or dings that might occur while enjoying the ride. While some believe blemishes give a vehicle patina over time, John decided to go straight to the patina stage when rebuilding his truck this last time. And while many may not be obvious, there are far more modifications to this truck than any errant stone or road rash could provide.
Resto-Modding A Classic Chevy Truck
John’s classic Chevy pickup’s body looks very much like it may have come from the factory so many decades ago, save for the ‘1997 Caddy taillights tucked in the rear of the bed. But in fact, the truck’s body has undergone several modifications, some of which could go unnoticed if not pointed out. Starting at the rear of the truck, the bed’s wooden bottom has been replaced with a corrugated metal slab from a Chevy S-10. The inner wheel wells have been mini-tubbed and there is a custom roll pan to clean up the backside of John’s ride. Each fender flanking the bedside has also been shortened three inches. Up front, the bumper has been tucked in tighter to the body and the hood has been louvered for cooling and that hot rod styling. The hood also flips forward now, thanks to some new hinges.
Under all those body modifications, John updated the 1955 Chevy truck’s rolling with a ’79 Camaro front subframe which uses a set of Fatman Fabrications’ two-inch dropped spindles and a pair of Hotchkis lowering leaf springs out back. The lowered profile forced John to notch the frame to give the needed clearance for the rear axle. A set of traction bars help the springs keep their composure when the throttle gets mashed to the mat.
The rearend came from a ’57 Chevy car and was treated to a 3.43 gearset and Positraction differential. A set of drums on each end help keep the speed down when necessary and are greatly aided by the set of Master Power GM discs up front. Around each of those brakes runs a 15-inch Chevy Rally wheel measuring either seven inches up front or ten inches in the rear. A full complement of BFG rubber gives the truck excellent driving manners and a perfect stance.
Vintage Small-Block Chevy Power
When shooting for a vintage vibe, there could be no better powerhouse than Chevy’s tried and true small-block V8. John went with a modern crate engine but kept with the old-timey looks thanks to a set of Edelbrock valve covers from the ‘60s.
John finished off the top of his small-block with an Edelbrock intake and AVS carburetor and matched an Edelbrock cam to complete the package. John upgraded to an H.E.I. ignition so he doesn’t have to worry about his 55’s engine firing on demand. Behind that warmed-over Chevy engine is a Saginaw four-speed that gets its marching orders from a Hurst shifter.
John is no stranger to perfect paint, but as we mentioned, that was never the goal with this truck’s latest design. Instead, John chose to have the paint maestros at Wicked Kustoms slather his truck in DuPont’s Laguna Seca Blue and white basecoat paint. Then, Wicked’s Greg Dahl applied the faux patina and Bowtie service-style logo on the doors. A House of Color flat clear was applied to protect all that patina.
Some would prefer to own a pickup with perfect paint, and there are others who would only want defects as a mile-weary badge of honor. Need we remind you that John’s 1955 Chevy truck has spent time on both ends of that spectrum at one point or another? The fact that currently, John’s truck sits squarely between both ideologies attests to his balance of style and functionality with this current build. Which is exactly the way he wants it – for right now.