81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

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81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:19 am

I thought everyone here would enjoy a build thread on my brother Jason's 81 Chevy stepside. Our Dad bought this new back in 81 and we just started working on it. The truck was already restored once back in the early 90’s so now we moving on to the third phase for this truck, 'Round 3'. It’s going back to a stock appearance but with some modern upgrades including and LS motor and T56 trans. But first we need to start with some history...

In November of 1980 our Dad took delivery of an 1981 Chevy stepside pickup. This truck was to replace a 1977 Ford F150 he bought new and had a number of engine problems with. He ordered it through the local dealer in Moscow, PA, AJ Chevrolet. The truck was ordered fairly plain as a Custom Deluxe. It had a 250 straight 6, 3 on the tree, power steering, manual brakes , 2.73 open rear, hubcaps, chrome front and rear bumpers and dark carmine red paint. Over the years our Dad added a number of his custom touches to it, including front bumper guards, aluminum running boards, an aluminum cap, a Lund fiberglass visor and Signal Stat cab lights. He also cut a sheet of plywood to fit in the bed, covered it with red indoor/outdoor carpet and slid in a bench seat from an early Bronco. My Brother and I spent a lot of time riding in the back of the truck, most memorably to Busch Gardens in Virginia for vacation and several trips to Canada to go fishing.

This truck was our Dad’s daily driver which he drove back and forth to work in Tannersville, PA. From what I remember, the truck never let him down and even in the worst weather it got him to and from work without an issue. Both my Brother and I also learned how to drive in this truck, long before we drove anything with an ‘automatic’. By 1990 our Dad decided it was time for something new and ordered 1991 Dodge ½ ton pickup. Instead of trading the truck in, he decided to keep it and give it to my Brother Jason for his first truck. My Brother was only 15 at the time so I wound up driving the truck for several months while we were working on my 1979 Olds Cutlass.

Unfortunately we don’t have any good pictures from when my Dad used the truck as his daily driver. The best pic I could find is this one from around 1984 which is just a partial side shot. This is when we were restoring my Dad’s 1964 Impala SS. I’m standing on the frame, our Dad is in the middle, and my friend since grade school Pj, is on the right...

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In 1990 or so our Dad decided it was time to restore the 81 Chevy for my Brother. Here is a pic of Jason standing next to the truck right before we started tearing it apart...

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In this pic you can see the truck had a different pass side rear fender. I was coming home from working at the supermarket one night when it changed from rain to snow. I had taken all the weight out of the truck (for traction...) the night before so I could pick up some painted parts for my Cutlass. Once I hit the snow the truck started spinning round and round until I was quickly stopped by a tree, just outside of Lake Scranton. Fortunately I was able to score a replacement fender from the local junkyard. I parked the truck on the far side of the driveway for a few weeks so my Dad wouldn’t see it :)

At that point we started taking the truck apart outside. I believe this would have been late summer of 1990, right after I got back from basic training...

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It didn’t take too long to get the truck stripped down to the frame...

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At that point the frame was cleaned and painted black...

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We also power washed the motor and gave it a fresh coat of GM corporate blue...

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More to follow...
Last edited by oldspwr on Thu Feb 14, 2019 1:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:20 am

By the time the frame was done I was back at College and my Dad and Brother started working on the bed, hood and fenders, getting everything ready for new paint...

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They also spent some time sandblasting and prepping the tailgate... This was long before we decided it was best to have someone else sandblast the parts :)

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Once all of the parts were prepped they took the cab over to a friend of ours who had painted both my Dad’s 64 Impala and my 79 Cutlass. You can see here how tired the cab was, the rockers, cab corners and floor were pretty much shot...

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More to follow...
Last edited by oldspwr on Thu Feb 14, 2019 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:20 am

At that point it was decided to go ‘monochromatic’ with the paint on this truck. Throughout high school and college I spent way too much time reading Hot Rod, Car Craft and Popular Hot Rodding magazines. In the late 80’s, early 90’s, monochromatic was a big deal and I did that to my 79 Cutlass (which I still have today, still looks exactly the same...)

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So just about everything on the truck received a coat of GM Torch Red, the cab, new GM doors, bed, fenders, interior, bumpers, etc...

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Once the truck was put back together they brought it back to our house...

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More to follow...
Last edited by oldspwr on Thu Feb 14, 2019 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 81 Chevy Steside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:21 am

Once it was home it was decided to upgrade the interior from the factory burgundy to gray. My Dad bought a new padded dash from the dealer in Scranton and painted in light gray. My Mom went to the fabric store and bought enough material to cover the door panels and reupholster the seat...

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Jason drove the truck for a short while with the 6 cylinder until a friend of my Dad’s mentioned he was selling his ’77 Buick with a 350 Chevy. The car was in tired shape so my Dad bought the car for the motor and trans. At the time we didn’t realize it but the although it had a 350 Chevy in it the trans was a 200 metric, not a 350. So after carefully removing the front clip we started pulling the original 6 cylinder along with the manual trans.

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And here is our good friend Mike U working the cherry picker...

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At that time I went through the motor. We had a local shop machine the block, cut the crank and do the heads and we reassembled everything back in our garage...

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Of course we decided to paint the motor red and our friend Mike B helped out this time...

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And once everything was done we installed the motor in the truck, along with a 350 auto that Sepanek Racing in Moosic PA put together for us...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 10:23 am

Prior to putting the front clip back on, we make another visit to the junkyard and scored a power booster to upgrade the manual brakes to power. The motor, trans and power brakes were all great upgrades to the truck. This was Jason’s daily driver over the new few years with only a few minor changes.

He wound up hitting a deer one night which damaged the grill and a fender. So at that time we wound up replacing the damaged 81 grill with an 86 along with the headlight bezels. The front cross member also rotted out and the lower control arm broke free from the frame. Fortunately he was able to nurse it home that night and they replaced it with one from a parts truck one of my Dad’s buddies had. Last but not least the original 15” wheels were replaced with a set of wider 15” rally wheels. This pic was taken at one of our friend’s wedding (sporting the 86 grill along with the rally wheels...)

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During this time Jason was driving the truck back and forth to college, 2 years at our local Penn State campus in Dunmore PA and then 2 years at State College PA. He also met his future wife Annie in State College and she also drove the truck back and forth to work. Once they both graduated in the spring of 1998, they both found jobs in Virginia and the truck went with them. Once they were on their feet and able to buy something newer, the truck came back home. At that time our cousin Johnny had a storage facility with some room in it and offered to store the truck for Jason. By this time the truck, specifically the cab was getting tired again. The snow and salt had taken its toll on both the cab corners and floor. Surprisingly the rockers held up fairly well though.

The truck sat inside the storage facility for several years until our cousin need to free up the space for a future tenant. At that time he brought the truck up to my garage where we spent a little time on it getting make sure it was road worthy. This is right after it was dropped off at my garage. From left to right is Jason, me, our cousin, my neighbor Mr. Brown and our Dad...

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After a little bit of work, Jason drove the truck home (only a few miles from my house) and parked it in his storage shed.

In the meantime my Dad and I were busy restoring two Brockway trucks, first a 1955 155W and then a 1970 E361T. These were huge projects and we spent between 6 and 7 years on each one. During that time my Dad was keeping in touch with a good friend of his, Walter Bonitz. Walter and my Dad served in the Army together at Fort Carson CO. Walter had moved to Idaho a number of years ago but my Dad still talked to him regularly. During one of their conversations Walter mentioned that he knew of a nice rust free cab that was on a GMC 1 ton chassis. The truck had a minor engine fire but there was no damage to the cab. A deal was made and Walter wound up removing the cab and front end from the truck and trailering it from Idaho to Pennsylvania with his Cummins powered Dodge pickup. This was in the April of 2008...

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This was a real nice cab, complete with air conditioning, the Sierra trim package, tilt wheel, etc. The only thing it didn’t have was PW or PL, but overall it was in great shape with only 1 repaint.

That’s it for now!
Last edited by oldspwr on Thu Feb 14, 2019 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 81 Chevy Steside Pickup - Round 3

Postby Huskiedrive2 » Thu Feb 14, 2019 12:10 pm

Great story Tom! And it's a testimony to your family's love of that truck. Lots of memories for you I'm sure. Your dad's first customization with the roof markers, visor, and running boards screams "professional truck driver" to me. It could have been easily found in the parking lot of any freight terminal back in the '80's. Funny, I had a 74 GMC 3/4 ton dressed up much the same!
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Re: 81 Chevy Steside Pickup - Round 3

Postby stubnosebrock » Thu Feb 14, 2019 12:40 pm

Badass. Any plans for a hair drier on that future LS?
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 14, 2019 3:33 pm

Thanks guys...

Stan... For as long as I can remember my Dad had his own custom touches on his trucks.

Brandon... I like the idea of a hair dryer but I'm not sure if Jason is up to it! But you never know!!!

This is the look we are after...

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We want to make it look like it came from the factory this way.

Tom
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby stubnosebrock » Fri Feb 15, 2019 1:37 pm

Sweet. If anyone can do it, its you. Thinking 5.3 or 6.0?
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby Second » Sun Feb 17, 2019 6:29 pm

Thanks Tom! What a nice project/story. I was most pleased to see a picture of your Dad from years ago. He sure was kind to me- a pure gentleman. Will this truck be a match to the Brockway fleet? Please keep us updated.
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:14 pm

Brandon... we're not sure which LS we are going to use. My best guess now would be either a 6.0 or 6.2...

Second... glad you're enjoying the posts!!! Jason has a 2015 Chevy Tahoe color pick up, Siren Red Tint Coat...

Time for another update!!!

While Walter was visiting his family, we wound up taking the trailer with the cab and frontend over to my place. I live across the street from my folks neighborhood so we didn’t go too far. Using the forklift with some fork extensions, we lifted the cab off of the trailer and set it on a handful of pallets and then set it on one of my old open snowmobile trailers...

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We then took the trailer over to Jason’s house where it sat for the past 11 years or so... In the meantime, back in 2015 Jason decided to put the truck back on the road for the summer. After replacing a rusted brake line, the truck was given a good cleaning, he put a PA antique plate on it along with antique insurance and he put a handful of miles on it over the summer...

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For some reason the transmission developed a decent leak so it was again parked in the shed for a while.

So now fast forward to 2018... Jason and his wife decided to build a pole barn next to their house. The first thing we needed to do was move the snowmobile trailer with the cab on it. But the last 11 years were hard on the trailer and it literally rotted over the rear axle. Fortunately the cab was still way off the ground and protected from the elements with a series of tarps...

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Using some landscape timbers, a come along and a 4 wheeler with a winch, we were able to slide the cab (pallets and all...) onto Jason’s trailer...

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Once everything was loaded, we moved the trailer off to the side...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:15 pm

It wasn’t too long after we moved the cab that we started working on the garage (pole barn). With the help of a friend we leveled the site and then after the garage was built we installed all the electrical as well as a boiler for heat. By the fall of 2018 the garage was 99% complete and I had started thinking about starting on the 81. We typically take the week off between Christmas and New Year’s so it was decided we would bring the truck back over to my garage and start the disassembly. Of course we wound up picking a rainy day to move everything.

We started by removing everything that has been stacked in front of the truck over the past several years...

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And then with the help of the winch on the 4 wheeler we pulled the truck out of the garage. The trans developed a pretty good leak after sitting for some time so we didn’t want to take a chance and start it to move it...

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Once it was off the grass we used the 4 wheeler again to pull it up onto my open trailer...

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Then we made the trip over to my house with the truck...

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And after unloading it we were able to push it into my garage...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:16 pm

We started with removing the rear fenders which turned out to be an effort. For some reason we used carriage bolts when we installed them the last time and each one spun when we tried to remove it. But after sometime with the 3” cutoff wheel where were able to get them off. These fenders are pretty crusty and the top lips were rusted away. So they were repaired once before but appear to be a little too far gone...

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Once the fenders were off we were able to get the pass bed side off and start removing the bed floor. Again each of the carriage bolts were spinning so it was an effort to get everything apart...

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But within a few hours we have the bed completely stripped off the truck. We were happy to discover that the frame was still in good shape. Fortunately this truck has been out of the weather for the past 20 years or so and I really think that helped. If it saw the brine they put on the roads today we would probably be looking for a new frame...

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My daughter Maddie also came out to visit and lend a hand as well...

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And we put her to work removing the grill shell...

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That’s it for now!!!
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby Huskiedrive2 » Thu Feb 21, 2019 11:28 pm

Tom - looks like a great project! Nice to see you have help. I'm sure grandpa is smiling down watching her work on his truck.
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:20 pm

Thanks Stan!!!

Once we finished up with the bed of the truck we started working on the front end...

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Everything looked pretty good but we did find some rust on the inside of the bottom right fender. I’m am pretty sure this fender is original to the truck since I believe we changed the driver side when he bumped the deer. This fender is still salvageable and we still may end up using it. From everything I have read you are much better with factory sheet metal (fenders, doors, etc.) rather than aftermarket. The aftermarket still does not fit very well...

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And wasn’t too long until we had the entire front end stripped and a yard full of parts!

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And then all of the parts went back into Jason’s shed...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:21 pm

The next thing we did was start working on removing the cab from the frame...

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We wound up using the floor jack to lift the cab along with some 2x6 sections of box steel. In hindsight it would have been easier to use the forklift but it still worked out for us...

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We had to take the back tires off to roll the frame out from underneath the cab but it all worked out...

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And finally the frame was outside...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:22 pm

Once the frame was outside this gave us some room to make a dolly for the cab. For the new cab I planned on using the dolly I made from my Dad’s 361, so for this one I had a smaller frame with wheels that someone gave me a while back. I had some 2x4’s left over from a shed project I worked on in the fall so I used those to build a frame...

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Once the dolly was done we could move the cab around and roll the frame back into the garage, along with the 4 wheeler (waiting for our next snow storm...) This was the week or two after Christmas...

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The truck originally had a 3 speed manual on the column and we wound up replacing it with a 350 automatic when we installed the 350 Chevy. At that time we pulled and automatic brake pedal from a truck in the junkyard. Since Jason wants to upgrade to a 6 speed (T56), I tried to located the original clutch and brake pedals that I removed a number of years back. I wasn’t able to find them which is hard to believe since I keep just about everything... A good friend of ours had and 86 Chevy that he also bought new and it originally had a 350 Chevy with a 3 speed on the column. The frame pretty much rotted away and he said we were welcome to the pedals. So we made a trip to his garage and removed the pedals. These were set up for the hydraulic clutch which is exactly what we needed. The 81 pedals would have been set up for a mechanical clutch so this actually worked out better for us.

During the course of the next week I started working on a dolly for the donor cab. I pulled out the dolly I used for my Dad’s Brockway cab since I had built that with box tubing I had along with some decent casters...

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Then I made new brackets that I could bolt the cab on using the existing cab body mounts...

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And this is what I wound up with...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:23 pm

Once the dolly was done, I decided to bring the donor cab over from Jason’s to my garage. We had it buried in his yard to make room for his garage so we had to dig it out with the 4 wheeler. Maddie was supervising the operation...

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We typically try to pick the coldest days of the year to do things outside and this was no exception. We untarped everything and hooked the trailer up to my truck...

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Once we got to my garage we unloaded the frontend, set if off to the side and then unloaded the cab and put it in the garage on some pallets...

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Bringing the donor cab and front end over to my garage freed up Jason’s utility trailer so this allowed us to take the old cab back over to Jason’s garage (and free up room in my garage to give us some more space to work...) Of course it was cold again this night and we had a hell of a time wheeling the dolly up on the utility trailer. We wound up using a come along but with the small tires on the dolly and the steep angle it made for an interesting time.

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But the next night I was able to take it back over to Jason’s and unload it in his garage...

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Once we had some more room in my garage we gave the donor cab a good look over...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:24 pm

The following weekend we decided to put move the donor cab from the pallets to the dolly I made. But this time I decided to use the fork lift and sling the cab overhead...

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Fortunately the dolly bolted right up to the existing cab mounts...

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My Brother had mentioned that some mice had gotten inside the cab and it stunk. Actually the smell was beyond horrific... The cab smelled so bad (rancid) that I decided we had to strip it down outside. So we both grabbed some painters respirators and started stripping it down...

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More to follow...
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Re: 81 Chevy Stepside Pickup - Round 3

Postby oldspwr » Wed Mar 13, 2019 4:25 pm

It turns out that the AC box was the biggest culprit of the smell. This thing was jammed packed with stuff!!!

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Although we did find a dearly departed visitor in the 6x9 speaker grill in the door...

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Once we were done stripping the cab we wheeled it back inside and gave it a thorough wipe down with Lysol...

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The next thing we did was remove both the windshield and rear glass. There was some heavier surface rust along the pass wide of the windshield opening but it still feels fairly solid and cleaned up well with a wire brush (for now...)

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Well that’s it for now!
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