Right now, one of the coolest rides of all is an American pick-up truck. These utilities from the late 1930s to the mid-60s have captured the imaginations of a wide demographic, aged between 18 and 80, being equally enamoured by their mix of toughness, personality, usability and a sense of old-fashioned fun.
There are various schools of presentation you can go for. Some misty-eyed old timers would want a perfectly-restored original, complete with white-wall tyres. Others go for the mild-rodded look, and then there is the wild-child approach, with a ride-height slammed to the tarmac and a huge supercharger scoop proclaiming that this is one of the baddest in the land.
The 1948 GMC pick-up we discovered recently in Industria, just west of Jo’burg, is simply beautiful. What makes it so unique is its colour, its mild customisation in terms of wheel choice, and its immaculate presentation. But mainly it is the colour. And would you believe it, this All-American trick truck is painted in British Racing Green!
Andre van Rooyen is the man that built this GMC for one of his customers, working out of his Richard Street premises, known as Rally Sport. The name comes from a Chevrolet Camaro Rally Sport which Andre bought 25 years ago, and remains his dream car. But he says the business, started by his father Seun, has been going for nearly three decades, specialising mainly in hot-rods.
“We must have built maybe 60 or 70 hot rods since we started back in Greymont. I joined my dad in the business 23 years ago, and in that time, we have had premises in Newlands main road, then at the old Americano Road House building on Ontdekkers Road, and we’ve been in the Industria-West area now for eight years.
“I prefer being a bit more under-the-radar in Industria, because I’m hands-on, I like to work on cars, and I have less walk-ins here in Industria.
“The GMC lived a very sheltered life before it came to us, in absolutely standard condition. It has spent all of its 74 years on the West Rand, and being a GMC, the upmarket version of the Chevy, it was obviously bought by a well-off farmer who valued it and looked after it. “The build I did for my customer (who remains anonymous) took us two years, but we did lots of projects in between. The customer was chilled about taking delivery, so we could take our time and do things properly.
The starting point was the colour. Andre says it is based very closely on British Racing Green, but a bit darker than the hue you would normally associate with, say a Mini Cooper S of the 1960s. Green, especially British green, is not a colour you’d normally associate with an American pick-up truck, as most of them are in some dazzling shade of orange, red or perhaps black with some sort of metal flake.
“We spent lots of time preparing it, fixing the few rust patches that were present, and then it was painted by Major 2, down the road in Maraisburg. PPG Coatings was the system used to supply the impressive finish. Interestingly, the load bin was perfectly preserved, and we decided to top it off with some checker plate, instead of wood, which I prefer. With a steel load bin you can still use your rodded pick-up to load stuff if you are careful, and it’s so much more authentic than some fancy wooden finish that are you are always worried about.”
Practicality. That’s a huge part of the fun-factor of these pick-ups, because you can take your mountain bike or dirt bike with you on road trips. And they are practical projects too, because they have little in the way of difficult-to-source trim items, especially in the interior. Basically, they have a metal dash which is painted the same colour as the body work, a bench seat that needs re-covering, and door cards that you can cover in a practical material. The original trucks only had one gauge in the dash, and nothing in the way of fine beadings or chrome-work.
“We covered the original seat in leather, because that’s what the owner wanted. He also wanted the door cards covered in matching leather, but wanted the screw heads to be showing, for an original look. Carpets are mohair, which add a further touch of luxury, and the steering wheel is a smaller item than the 18-inch original. It’s a replica of a ’57 Chevy car steering wheel, three inches smaller in diameter, which makes getting in and out so much easier.”
Andre also fitted some classy, retro-looking Dolphin gauges, with separate dials, for a 140-mph speedo and a combination rev-counter-fuel and water temp dial. Modern switch gear is used for items that weren’t even thought of back in ’48, like a windscreen washer.
The 1948 to 1953 GMC and Chevy pick-ups had a distinctive slatted grille very similar to the Chevrolet cars of that period, and they were instantly identifiable. The same went for the equivalent Fords and Dodges of the era. From 1954 onwards, the grille was far less dramatic, and you pretty much had to wait until 1958 for the next iconic look, which was the quad-headlamp pick-up from General Motors.
The bumpers on this ’48 GMC pick-up were re-chromed by African Electroplating in Industria West, another firm that has a big connection to the classic car restoration fraternity. Other trim items, such as light bezels and bonnet embellishments, were imported from America. The cute wing mirrors actually come from a late 1930s American car which Andre inherited from a customer. As for the tail lights, they are original housings, but feature LED internals, much brighter and safer than the originals when it comes to signalling braking or turning!
Purists will be pleased to know that this deep green GMC is still Chevy-powered, but unlike the straight-six that it started out with, a classic Chevy V8 measuring 350 cubic inches (6,0 litre) now provides suitable motivation, along with a Turbo 350 three-speed automatic gearbox.
The diff, rear suspension and front suspension all come from a Series II jaguar XJ6, a classic South African hot-rodding solution for a good ride and strong stopping power. Andre notes that the green, mean GMC now features power steering and power brakes, and is well capable of 160 km/h cruising and stopping safely from those sorts of speeds.
The custom wheels are 20-inchers, giving that modern retro-rod look, and the rims are known as V5 items, fitted with low-profile rubber.
“I have built some pick-ups using a standard live axle, and the ride then is like a trucks. This one rides like a car, and it is so much more pleasant for cruising.”
Andre says that the hot items in the cool-cruising world of hot-rodded classics today remain VW Kombis, American pick-up trucks and muscle cars. But the next big thing, he reckons, is going to be American station wagons from the ‘60s and ‘70s. He already has one up on his hoist, awaiting yet another big V8 conversion!
Story by Stuart Johnson
Pics by Jay Groat