A Great First Project? 1953 Chevrolet Pickup

I did a write up on a prewar Packard sedan a few days ago, and suggested that its low selling price and lack of desirability to seasoned restorers made it a perfect candidate for a new restorer and/or enthusiast.  The premise was that it was a car that a newbie could learn on without worrying about messing it up.  We got a lot of positive comments on that idea, but a few said they thought that something easier would be a better first project.  Challenge accepted.  Take a look at this 1953 Chevrolet pickup for sale on eBay in Audubon, Minnesota.  Rough but mostly complete, pickups don’t get any simpler than this.  With a $3,500 buy it now price, is this hauler a great first time project?

Let’s start with what we know about the truck from the ad.  Being sold by an outfit called oldskoolgarage, this truck is the desirable five window cab model of the incredibly popular Advance Design series of Chevrolet pickups that sold from 1947 through early 1955.  This particular truck has a six cylinder engine that is locked up and likely useless, some rust in the cab corners, no transmission, good floors, and a missing transmission cover for the floor.  They suggest that the truck be a basis for an S-10 frame swap and the addition of an LS Chevrolet V-8.

I respectfully disagree.  The world is full of half baked old cars that have been ruined when some armchair expert attempted a frame swap.  Chances are this truck can be fixed up and brought back to driving status without too much trouble.  There are rough spots throughout the body, but none are unrepairable.  There are also a number of parts available through the aftermarket and at swap meets.  Absolute legions of these trucks still survive.  Many were sprayed over in matte navy blue and stuck in Old Navy stores for years.

I think this one would look good without too much fixing.  There is just something appealing about a well worn truck.  Just don’t hose it down with gloss clear coat.  Going through the brakes and suspension would probably result in some money spent on seals, bushings, wheel cylinders, etc.  You would probably have to replace the glass and the rubber gaskets that hold those pieces in.  The good news is that the windshields, door and vent windows, and the back glass are all easy to replace flat glass.  There is no mention as to the status of the curved corner windows.  These are available on eBay and from many different suppliers for a reasonable sum.

The interior is rough, but ready for service.  There is, of course, no mention of the gauges working.  A new set would be nice, or you could have these sent out and restored.  There doesn’t appear to be a radio, and some of the bits and pieces on the dash are missing.  The steering wheel, while cracked, does appear useable in its current condition.

The second picture reveals the missing floor plate.  A replacement is $40.00 from your favorite aftermarket retailer according to the seller.  The seat appears to have been recovered at one point, but there are no signs of the door panels.  These are simple vinyl covered pieces that shouldn’t be too hard to replace.  No mention is made of the condition of the gas tank resting behind that recovered seat.

There is mention of the status of the provided inline six cylinder engine.  It is said to be junk.  The good news is that this engine was produced for decades, and was heavily improved upon all the way up to the mid 1980s.  Inline six cylinders of almost every make tend to be durable and torquey, and the Chevrolet “Stovebolt” six variant is no different.  There are even a number of speed parts available for this design.  Time to go on a junkyard raid.

All and all, this is not a bad truck.  It would be a shame to do a LS powered frame swap on a truck with so much character.  If you were willing to get your hands dirty and have a basic Craftsman tool set, then this truck may be the perfect first project.

What do you readers think?

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Comments

  1. art moore

    My idea,if it were my truck..a later GM 6, keeping it simple.Fix what has to be fixed to make it roadworthy. No frame swap, no LS swap..just keeping it simple, and DRIVE it!..This old girl deserves a new heart, and maintenance, but could still be on the road for many more years…Oh!, and it really needs a blanket on the seat.

    Like 9
  2. TimM

    Needs some love for sure!! But looks solid enough!!!

    Like 2
  3. Dave

    Absolutely do a frame swap and an LS motor right away. That chassis is junk and the drivetrain is non-existent, so why not? Want to see an original? Go to a museum. I’d want to actually drive the truck instead of trundling around town at 40 MPH. And don’t paint it. Knock out the big dents and patch the holes, then clearcoat with a matte finish. Clearcoat doesn’t have to be glossy.

    Like 1
    • Chris M.

      It’s exactly what would be best in order to gain any level of function. I agree, a 5.3 with a modern chassis better brakes and steering while still enjoying the authentic aged appearance.

      Like 1
  4. FordGuy1972 FordGuy1972 Member

    While I applaud Jeff’s idea about getting a “new restorer and/or enthusiast” into the hobby by tackling a restoration on a bargain-priced classic, I think attempting a project like this ’53 Chevy might be too much to take on for a first-timer. While you might be able to acquire this pickup fairly cheap, it’s a major project to attempt considering what it needs to get it back on the road. It could end up a frustrating and discouraging exercise for an amateur enthusiast.

    I’m not a mechanic and as far as bodywork goes, that’s far beyond my skill set. If I were to attempt a restoration, I’d probably start with a “barn find.” A car or pickup that “ran when parked,” was complete and as rust-free as I could find. It would be a vehicle from the ’60s or ’70s, something that I could buy fairly cheap because it’s not a Mustang or Charger. A four-door sedan would be a good way to go; a compact, intermediate or probably a full-size model. The big ones can be found pretty cheap, many with a big-block. Parts and resources for these types of vehicles are easier to find as opposed to a project from the 1950s or older.

    Start with a less daunting project, something that doesn’t require a high level of skill or buckets of cash would be a better way to ease into the hobby for a newbie. What would encourage an amateur enthusiast is success, not failure. Just look at how many projects you see offered for sale that have been given up on. We’ve all seen them, the body shell with the engine and trans out and the interior turned into an echo chamber. It’s easy to get in way over your head. With an easier project, you’ll have more success and you won’t need a second mortgage.

    Like 9
  5. Zone3896

    Keep it like it is. If I had room I have a 235 with Fenton headers an aluminum 2 one barell Edmund’s intake and 3 speed full synchro trans ready to drop in this one

    Like 2
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      This is what we’re talking about, Chevy Guy-here’s a reader that knows what you need to know about stoking up the power on a machine like you’re searching to find and I’ll bet he’ll share what he’s learned f you ever needed to ask!

      Like 1
      • Chevy Guy

        Nevadahalfrack- If i bought this i would not want to turn up the power at all. From what I know these would have had like 80ish hp, and that’s good enough for me. I find it way cooler to keep it 100 percent original and just restore it so it is just the way it came from factory. Just the original parts, paint color, engine, everything!! I know its not practical but in my opinion it freakin cool!! Stock as a rock!!

        God Bless America!

        Like 1
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        Well said, Chevy Guy, leave it as it was engineered. Yep, you’re on track so keep us apprised of your progress.

  6. Chevy Guy

    Im 14 years old and a 49-53 Chevrolet 3100 is my dream truck and i want this one so bad!!! However i would not like to frame swap it or just keep it the way it is. I would source another engine as close to this one as possible, and then restore it to its original condition. Sand, paint, make the drivetrain reliable and original and drive it!! I’m all about keep everything original but make it look like it just came from the factory!!

    God bless America!

    Like 20
    • Mike

      14 going on 24! Good for you and I agree as well!

      Like 7
    • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Rock on, there, Chevy Guy, you GO!!!! Yes, bring the old girl back to life and that love will be with you forever. When you do that, whether this old gal or another, she’ll pay you back with knowledge of the likes you’ll find nowhere else. Massage that heart and running gear to life, get ‘er straight all over and she’ll make you proud like no other. Most of the folks here ( guys and gals) started the same way, whether working on some old busted VW Bug in the garage using an old lawn mower frame as the engine removal dolly or setting the floats on a Holley 780 atop a Edelbrock 360 tunnel ram fueling a 427 ci 466HP (big stuff back in the day!) in a ‘66 Chevelle that had no business being driven on the streets….
      ThE days of understanding what’s inside (the car and yourself) are NOT gone as long as there are good people (especially good young people) like yourself to carry/pass on the gearhead baton. You’ll always find folks on this forum that will jump-step up in half a heartbeat to share their knowledge if you get stumped…
      Thank you for being here to share your enthusiasm with us, Chevy Guy.
      Nevada1/2rack

      Like 4
      • Chevy Guy

        Thanks so much Nevadahalftrack!! When i do turn 15 or 16, i WILL buy a truck like this and hopefully i can get it running! I have had several go karts, mini bikes, etc and i know that a briggs 5 horse is lot different than an inline 6, but i would hope that i could get er chugging. I was born and lived in Montana for 8 years and there was an abundance of these trucks out threre and it just made me fall in love with this style!!

        God Bless America!

        Like 2
      • canadainmarkseh Member

        It’s refreshing to hear that a young guy is interested in this hobby. I find that restoration isn’t so much about the car but more about the journey and the knowledge that comes with it. You’ll be surprised at how many tips you can pick up on the internet. I’m almost 60 and I’m still learning too. I’m a licensed mechanic and welder. But I’m not a body man. And I’ve picked up a bunch of tricks of the trade by watch others. You sound like you’ve caught the old car bug and I’m glad to here it.

        Like 2
      • canadainmarkseh Member

        A foot note to all you guys that like to paint rusty metal. Your NOT preserving anything your speeding up the rust. Without proper metal prep your waisting your time. This is why I’m not a fan of clear coating over rust. As much as I hate seeing linseed oil used it makes more sense than clear coat. I’m way more inclined to think that proper metal prep and new paint is the way to go, but that requires work is that the problem now a days nobody wants to do a little work…?? I think that if you can spray clear coat than you can spray a colour. That’s the easy part. It’s the prep that takes the time. When ever I see a clear coat over rust job I have to wonder is the guy who did it to lazy to do it right or is he just an amateur that doesn’t understand why there’s paint on a vehicle in the first place. It’s to protect the metal that is why the factory paints cars. If they didn’t rust the factory wouldn’t paint them. The fact that paint comes in different colours is just a side benefit. It doesn’t take a lot to educate yourself as to why we paint anything.

        Like 1
      • Nevadahalfrack Nevadahalfrack Member

        We Believe in you, Chevy Guy, and we’re here to help you get it running when you find the right one for you-in your case it’s not so much IF but WHEN.
        The difference between a dream and a goal is a plan with a deadline; I’d say you have the goal already started with a partial plan (finalize it) and you have your resources here 24/7.

        Go for it, Chevy Guy. We’ve got your 6.

        Nevada1/2rack

        Like 1
  7. Jesse Moore

    I’ve built two of these for customers, a 50 and a 54. Drove the 54 in it’s original restored form before mods and it was a miserable old beast. Slow, rode like a buckboard wagon and couldn’t go around a corner OR stop if you wanted it to. The 54 then received all new mustang ii suspension, 4 link with a 9″ rear axle, efi 350 and a od trans. Drove like a newer car and overwhelmed the rear tires with a blip of the throttle but handled a little wonky and always has some sort of niggling little problem.
    The 50 I built last year received a s10 frame, kept the injected 4.3 and auto od trans, all suspension and brakes were stock. It accelerates briskly enough, and drives and handles great. They make an amazing kit to do a s10 frame swap for $1300 and it’s all keyed together with great instructions. Definitely the only way to go.

    Like 3
  8. Gaspumpchas

    I like Art’s idea. Shoehorning a sbc in there isn’t a big deal, since the tranny is missing anyway, how about a later six with a t5 out of an S-10? Might be easier overall than a frame swap, can still upgrade as you go. Sometimes one that’s just starting out might find the frame swap too daunting. All depends on your budget and what level you want to take it to. To me, a 283 with a t5 would make a great cruiser. Good luck to the new owner!
    Cheers
    GPC

    Like 1
  9. Wayne

    Gaspumpchas, a 230, 250 or 292 Chev straight 6, will bolt up to the early V6 S10 bell housing and 5 speed gearbox. Add a set of headers and intake. Refurbish the brakes, suspension and steering for the mechanical stuff. Complete the interior and bed floor. Mat finish clear coat it and find some nice steel smoothie wheels and dog dish caps. (But paint the wheels a basic, white, red, orange, just something to contrast the rusty appearing body)
    And then drive it’s wheels off.

    Like 2
  10. Ken

    A “1953” model with pull-down door handles (not used after ‘51) and a hood with a Chevrolet emblem (not used in ‘53) and without the 3100 emblem is not a ‘53.

    Like 3
  11. Del

    This is not a “Great first project”

    Its a non running rusty bost anchor.

    Price is silly.

    Buy at least one running for a first project.

    Those Montana guys have some

    Like 2
  12. Northshore Gunsmiths

    I am a first timer with a moderate skill level For me I would like to have all the pieces to start with repairing and rebuilding what was there as a guide .That would be easer then trying to make things fit are having to chase down something you have never seen before. Get my feet wet first then go for the swim

    Like 3
  13. Gaspumpchas

    Good luck Northshore this one would be a great start for you.
    Cheers
    GPC

    Like 1
  14. 1st Gear

    These old workhorses SCREAM to be kept OLD SCHOOL.There was a bad ass ’53 at Good Guys last summer-dig this; dual quad 409, Richmond manual,9″,tilt front end,gasser,hands down the sweetist pre ’55 truck at that show.Old school rules.Thanks.

  15. crazee

    Just got to spend the weekend driving my buddies fully restored 53 GMC truck around Park City Utah. Pulls like a freight train with the stock engine (even at 8,000 ft) and cruises at 55 mph all day long. Fun stuff

    Like 2
  16. BravoCharleyWindsor

    So I have a ’93 Chevy K1500 that is not roadworthy anymore due to body and frame rot but at only 108k miles the 5.7l engine and 5sp 4×4 tranny would have a lot of life left in them, especially for use in a low annual mileage resto-mod vehicle. This, with modern disk brakes all around, would make a combination possibly? Not sure how far Id go with suspension/frame though.

    Unfortunately I prefer the pre Advanced Design, ’37-‘46.5 Chevy trucks, and preferably the 1.5-3 ton trucks. If this was one of those years/models I think I’d take the plunge as my first time project. But overall I’d try to keep as much stock as possible and restore/repaint/repair as much as possible to bring it back to “like new” appearance as possible.

    I loved that ’41 GMC former fire truck, now flatbed, listed here last week but $12.5k is a bit much for my finances now.

    Your thoughts?

  17. Wayne

    BravoCharles, If I am correct your K1500 has a solid front axle. If so, then it would be an ideal donor for this truck. Swap both differentials and the drivetrain over. Spring perch location will most likely not be the same location. So with come gentle grinding remove them and re-weld in to the proper location. Recommend that you just bolt it all together and once side to side measurements are perfect along with driveline angle weld them back on in the new location. The drive shaft lengths will most likely need to be changed along with engine mounts. But if I had the same situation ( rusted out truck with good mechanicals and option on solid old truck with no mechanicals) I would jump all over this deal.
    Good luck!

    Like 1
  18. bravocharleywindsor

    Ultimately I’m gonna’ pass on it. Price is a bit much for a body plus I’d have to pay to have it delivered. Not being the of a year and size (if not 1.5-3 ton then its gotta’ at least be a long bed!!) would make it hard for me to really get excited about doing all the work needed to make this girl purr and shine again.

  19. Dave

    Canadianmarkseh, odd I can’t respond directly to you, but many others can read this regardless. My point in just scrubbing the surface with scotchbrite and clear coating is the time involved in prepping a body for gloss paint. That truck will take hundreds of hours of prep to have a good paintjob that doesn’t look like a 12 year old hosed it with a case of rattlecans. Not to mention the time you will have in killing the rust. It’s not a matter of a little bit of work, it’s a lot of work, time and money that I would rather spend on making the truck actually driveable in todays traffic. Besides, it looks so much better the way it is.

    • canadainmarkseh Member

      I know it’s a lot of work I’m doing a restoration the right way right know including cutting out metal and welding in new. But when it’s done it will be fantastic. I started repairing my 02 trail blazer last Monday, replaced metal in all four doors and both rear fender wells. I’ve hammered and shaped the metal to minimize the amount of bondo I’ve applied rust killer to the need areas I’ll be done today. It looks very presentable and will keep it on the road for as much as 5 years up here in the land of the rust buckets. The so called geniuses here in the city of Calgary have decide to spray calcium chloride on our streets instead of mandating winter tire and it’s turning our vehicles into rust bucket in as little as 5 years. Calcium chloride is highly corrosive but it will melt ice to a lower temperature then salt. I can’t help wonder what the long term impact of spraying that crap on the roads is gong to have on our environment, talk about a double standard. I’m really familiar with rust repair I chase after it every year. So Dave I have to say I’m getting better and better at body restoration.

  20. Wayne

    canadainmarkseh, I am really sorry to hear about the excessive rust caused in your area. I grew up (my wife will say that has yet to happen) in the Chicago area which is also a rust belt area. But I had a problem today getting a handle on a post 2000 car actually having rust through to that extent. WOW!. I guess I have been really spoiled living in Northern Nevada where it is rare to see anything with rust through. Regardless of age. However our interiors get fried pretty quickly. When selecting this area to move here, the non-rust was one of the requirements. Riding my motorcycle on a regular basis was also one of the requirements instead of only 3 months out of the year. I don’t know what the cost of running a 2002 Nevada Trailblazer across the border is. But at least you could start a mechanical restoration/parts swap with a rust free body. Let me know next time and I will see what I can find for you.

    • canadainmarkseh Member

      Thank Wayne for the info. The issue with rust up here is with in the last decade. Sure the salt will get them eventually but Calcium Chloride will get them faster. Not uncommon to see 07 pickups with rust holes you can put your hand through. I’m just a poor guy on disability I’ve had a number of medical issues that have prevented me from working. If it wasn’t for my garage ( man cave ) I’d go insane and need to be locked up. I the winter when it gets down to minus 25c I move my activities into the basement and work on wood sculptures. Last year I made about 6 urns, 2 of them were auto related a 1973 ford 1 ton with camper for my uncle who passed last spring and for my self a 1951 dodge Mayfair 2 door hardtop. The rest were decorative boxes three of which are occupied. Your luck you rid year round up here I get 5 months on a good year.

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