1953 Chevy pickup rescued from work and neglect

The 1953 Chevrolet trucks were one of the first line of pickups designed for more than just labor uses. Introduced as a work truck with features similar to a car's, it provided pickups with a new image. Changes in convenience, appearance and engine performance helped create a different perception about owning and driving trucks. Motor Matters photo

By Vern Parker
Motor Matters

A 1953 Chevrolet pickup truck was rescued from a life of labor as a work truck from a Pennsylvania farm. The new owner used the truck casually and never had problems with the 235-cubic-inch, inline stovebolt six-cylinder engine or three-speed transmission.

However, when he outgrew its usefulness, the Chevy sat ignored for nearly a decade. That’s when he called a family member, Joe McKairnes, who quickly accepted the offer to come get it.

After winching the old Chevy truck onto a flatbed truck, McKairnes hauled it home. “Little did I know, but we also acquired a family of mice, which had made a home out of the truck’s cab,” he said.

Years of sitting unprotected in the weather had taken a toll. “Almost all of the bed metal was rusted away and the wood floor was completely gone,” McKairnes remembers. “The cab itself was mostly rusted away,” he continues. “Dents and old patchwork covered the rest of the body and fenders.”

A complete restoration project was in order. McKairnes was determined to do it all himself. With so much of the truck rotted and rusted away, it didn’t come close to weighing its original 3,100 pounds.

McKairnes tackled the project by stripping the 1953 pickup truck down to the bare frame. After bead blasting, the frame was painted black. The next task involved the major chassis components, including the brake system, suspension springs, steering and wheels. The wheels on the truck were incorrect and McKairnes located a set of the correct 15-inch wheels.

“Luckily,” McKairnes says, “the engine had been properly prepared for storage, so it required minimal work.” With the transmission and differential rebuilt, the chassis on a 116-inch wheelbase was complete.

More than 18 months of work went into restoring the cab itself. New steel was welded to replace rusted-out doors, floors and fire wall. The cab was primed after all the dings and dents were smoothed out. As the truck was being reassembled, McKairnes installed a new wiring harness.

Once the exterior was taken care of, the interior became the object of McKairnes’ attention. “Each gauge was rebuilt by hand and the interior painted,” he said. New glass and gaskets were installed, including the curved corner windows. Then he rebuilt the door latch and window mechanisms inside the doors. He located a proper tube-type radio in Missouri and installed it, after restoring it to working order.

With the cab fitted and bolted to the chassis, the 1953 Chevy received a coat of Juniper Green paint. The front fenders and front bumper were painted and installed, and highlighted by a chrome grille, making the truck look almost complete.

At the other end of the pickup, a new metal bed was installed with white oak slats between stainless steel runners on the floor. The spare tire was slung in a carrier between the frame rails below the tailgate. There is no rear bumper.

With help from his wife, McKairnes installed new seat skins on the bench seat. After making sure that all electrical and mechanical systems were functioning properly, McKairnes built oak bed rails and installed them along the top and across the cab end of both sides of the bed.

“It was a five-year project, and I can proudly say I did all the work myself,” McKairnes says. But he does credit his family with some assistance, including all four children.

Even though the pickup has a usable load capacity of 1,700 pounds, McKairnes hauls nothing in his short drives around town. He’s just proud to show off his accomplishment.

For your car to become the subject of the Classic Classics column, e-mail us your .jpeg image, plus brief details and phone number. Type “Classic Classics” in subject box and send to [email protected] Or, send a photo (frontal 3/4 view) plus brief details and phone number to Vern Parker, 2221 Abbotsford Drive, Vienna, VA 22181.