It was the summer of 1970; a thirteen year old Joe Holt, from Pine Castle, Florida was on his way home from his summer job as a mechanic’s helper at Booker’s Garage, near downtown Pine Castle. As is typical during the summer months in Florida, it was hot, like over ninety degrees hot, and the humidity was at the level where you could taste it when you walked outdoors.
Young Mr. Holt got around town on his Schwinn Sting Ray, a bicycle that was known as the “bike with the sports car look.” A short frame, high rise handle bars, a unique long bucket saddle with chrome saddle struts, and 20-inch wheels–what more could a young motor head ask for? Holt pedaled his Sting Ray past the Phillips 66 gas station every day on his way home; he had his eye on an old pickup truck sitting on the side of the station. It had a big wooden front bumper with two old tires bolted to it, so the truck could be used to push broken down vehicles off the road.
The spare tire hung on the side of the weather beaten plywood bed, and the rear bumper was a chunk of angle iron kind of welded to the frame. The paint had succumbed to the unrelenting Florida sunshine, and was now more of a faded pinkish red hue, than the bright apple red Holt could see in his mind. Both doors sported the number 66 in large white numerals. Identifying it as the station’s service truck, or at least it was at some time.
“I didn’t know if the truck was still in use or not,” Holt recalled. “I just knew I had to be the proud owner of this truck.”
Holt continued to cruise by the old neglected truck for years, he was almost eighteen years old now and he had saved nearly three thousand dollars to put towards buying it. About six months prior to his eighteenth birthday, high school graduation, and securing his first driver’s license, Holt made his normal trek past the station, and noticed the truck was gone. He quickly went in and asked the owner of the station about the truck, and was told, some guy bought it a few days back. Needless to say Holt was devastated, in his words, heartbroken.
Big Red is just as comfortable cruising the white sand beaches on the Gulf Coast of Florida as it is on the street.
June of 1975, Holt had graduated from high school and was awarded a football scholarship to continue his education. His eighteenth birthday was just around the corner, and he had been searching for a car he could drive to college. Frankly, he wasn’t having a great deal of success with his search.
Bumper mounting brackets were welded to the bumpers to eliminate unsightly carriage bolts.
During a family gathering to celebrate the milestone of his eighteenth birthday, his dad handed him a dirty, tattered, greasy shop rag, smiled and said Happy Birthday Son. Inside of the old nasty shop rag was a set of keys with a GM logo on them. Father and son proceeded outside, and there, sitting around the side of the house just out of sight, sat the old 66 service truck. “I didn’t believe what I was seeing.” Holt stated. “Dad bought the truck for two hundred fifty dollars, put some work into it so it would be drivable, I was absolutely overwhelmed.”
The two by six oak bed adds a clean finished touch, the inner fenders were custom fabricated to make room for the 10-inch Drag Radials and inboard fuel filler which is functional.
On the first trip down the road with his prized possession, Holt discovered a brand new six pack of Big Red chewing gum in the glove box, from that day forward, the truck has been known as Big Red.
Some forty plus years later, Big Red is still part of the Holt household. It’s undergone a number of upgrades and improvements over the years, but due to budget issues, the old truck never really got the full frame up restoration it deserved.
That changed in 2010 when Holt entrusted his pride and joy to Mike Marsh, the owner of Color Concepts Auto Refinishing in Clearwater, Florida.
“Like most projects of this nature, it took longer, and cost more than we originally planned,” Marsh grinned. The first stage of the build was a meeting of the minds to determine what the truck would look like, and what Holt wanted to do with it when the project was complete. After several meetings and a considerable amount of head scratching, it was agreed the truck would retain the original classic lines of the second series short bed Chevy, be equipped with the modern amenities, and receive a horsepower upgrade. The truck had to be bright red, and street legal.
Big Red sparkles in the Florida Sunshine, headlights and turn signals are all LED, custom designed tube grille and chrome headlight bezels give the truck a clean finished appearance.
The recessed tail lights are upgraded to LED as is all lighting on the truck, interior and exterior.
The build started with a Fat Man, hub to hub chassis with the four-bar rear suspension and QA1 coilovers. The standard nine-inch Ford rearend was sent to NBS performance and fabrication to be narrowed up to accommodate the 10-inch Nitto 555 Drag Radials planned for rear propulsion. Mike and his crew went to work on the mini tubs and bed assembly next. The inner fenders were modified to enclose the tubs and provide the finished look to compliment the two by six oak flooring.
Work then shifted to the front of the truck. Necessary modifications were made to the frame and mounting brackets to contain the GM502 big-block crate motor and the five-speed Tremec TKO transmission. An aluminum flywheel and dual disc racing clutch coupled the power plant to the transmission, and the completed assembly slid nicely into place between the Fat Man frame rails.
The GM 502 Crate Motor provides plenty of power and fits nicely between the Fat Man frame rails, all wiring and lines are concealled under the fenderwells to add that finished touch.
The cab was the next order of business. When lowered in place, Mike and his crew at Color Concepts were pleased to find that only a few minor modifications would need to happen to provide clearance around the transmission. Once the cab was in place, the Foose Shockwave wheels and Nitto 555 rubber were bolted on–18×8 on the front and the 18×10 Drag Radials on the back. The roller was then placed in the capable hands of Andrew and Dave Stephens of NBS Performance and Fabrication, for the incidentals.
The Foose Shockwave wheels maintain the look of the era and the drilled rotors of the Wildwood Brakes are visible.
Andrew and Dave completely wired the truck and installed a four wheel Wilwood disc brake system to provide the stopping power. They fabricated and mounted the AC system, put a complete fire suppression system in the truck, and fit an alarm system snugly under the custom built dash.
When Dave and Andrew finished with their portion of the project, they were the first guys to actually turn the key and bring Big Red back to life. After sorting out a minor carburetor issue, the truck was sent to Mark Krause of ShapeShifters Interiors for a complete interior makeover.
With some assistance from friend and colleague, Paul Michaels, Kraus produced a beautiful double stitched leather interior with a custom, handmade composite and aluminum center console, with power actuated access panels. The dash and instrument panel was modified to provide for the wraparound. Chrome accented AC outlets and the Classic Instruments cluster provide the driver with all of the necessary vital signs, and preserves the appearance of the era.
Hand stitched leather buckets, wrap around custom fabricated AC vents, and a complete audio system that blends nicely in the custom laid instrument panel
The 900-watt JL audio system features a seven-inch Kenwood digital screen and a 13-inch CW5 woofer behind the passenger seat. Every light in the truck was upgraded to LED, from the headlights to the custom recessed taillights. Both doors were equipped with Lokar touch open door handles. Glass in the doors are custom cut one piece safety glass, the vent windows that were standard equipment in 1955 have been eliminated in favor of the modern one piece power actuated system.
When Kraus finished the interior, the truck returned to Color Concepts where Mike and his son’s did a few minor touch ups and final detail to ready the truck for delivery to a very anxious owner.
The Fat Man chassis and suspension give Big Red a slightly lower profile and a more stable stance.
After several years, Joe Holt stood in front of the completed project with a huge smile on his face. Big Red was more than he ever expected. Many hours of work, by some of the finest craftsmen in the Southeast, produced a vehicle that certainly did more than turn heads and evoke long envious stares. This truck is unquestionably an example of American automotive history preserved, a combination of old and new technologies. “There is absolutely no feeling in the world that compares to the feeling I have driving Big Red,” Holt smiled. “I feel as though I am driving a piece of history, and I am so happy to be able to show it off every chance I get.”
Holt recently displayed the truck at the annual Festivals of Speed in Saint Petersburg, where festival organizers quickly awarded Holt with Best in Class American Muscle Custom.
From any angle Big Red looks good.
Thanks and credit to Joe Holt for his input and assistance with this article. Be sure to check out the gallery of Joe’s ’55 below.