The world was changing when the 1960s rolled around, especially in the automotive world where pickup trucks were becoming the new passenger car. The 1950s was a decade dedicated to the station wagon, which signaled the country’s drive to lead bigger lives. Leading a bigger life meant that folks needed more space to carry all the stuff for their adventures. Chevrolet figured this out and released their redesigned truck line, the new C/K series pickup.
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What made the C/K series truck special in 1960 was the independent front suspension, which was the first time a pickup was treated to the design, and giving it a more car-like ride. The front suspension was sprung with torsion bars instead of coil springs, and the rear suspension used coil springs instead of the standard leaf springs in previous years. The 1960 model was also the first year that Chevy pickups offered a full-width bed as standard equipment.
Chevrolet also attempted to add features of the jet-age with aircraft-inspired “nacelles” in the hood of the redesigned truck. To the public, these nacelles looked like unruly eyebrows, and the 1960 through 1963 have often been referred to as “eyebrow trucks.” Even with the redesign and change in suspension, the new C/K series trucks were priced to sell. The 1960 C20 Fleetside originally sold new for $1,289, which was within $300 of what we paid for it 56 years later.
How We Found Our Eyebrow Truck
As luck would have it, an enterprising young worker at a salvage yard began seeing some beat-up but special cars come through the yard to be crushed. They started listing these rugged old classics on eBay, which returned much more than scraping these vehicles would bring. We just happened to find one of the auctions, and placed a modest bid, not really thinking we would win the truck.
As stated in the ad, we knew that the truck was running and had been registered. We could also tell from the photos that the truck was pretty stock and original. No hood swaps, engine swaps, or anything like that. The dash was even original. There were some issues with the exterior, but they didn’t appear to be that bad. Two days later we received a notification via email that we had won the auction, and we needed to make arrangements to pay and pick up our Apache.
We called right away to make arrangements, feeling pretty good about saving a real treasure from being crushed. A day later, we were standing in a wrecking yard near the Mexican border, just south of San Diego.
Taking Stock Of What We Had
Standing next to our new purchase, the first elements that stuck out were the awesome wraparound windshield and unique hood, both of which are very difficult to find as replacements, and ours were in good shape. The hoods on 1960 through 1962 model years were notoriously difficult to stamp at the factory, which led to their discontinuation and redesign in 1963. Most of the 1960, 1961, and 1962 Chevy pickup trucks running around today have the latter hoods mounted due to the scarcity of the originals.
The big, bold front end also featured four-headlights. That feature would only last until 1962, when the Chevrolet engineers reverted back to a dual highlight system. The uncommon “eyebrows” are even more formidable in person. Photos simply do not do these nacelles justice.
As far as the powertrain goes, our truck was very commonly packed with the inline-six. The 235ci, 135 hp Thriftmaster engine was considered a real torque-monster in its day. It was so highly regarded that Chevrolet used the high-pressure 235ci engine, equipped with mechanical lifters, as the original 1953 Corvette engine. The yard worker that was showing us the truck said, “It’s not a 350,” and appeared to be saddened. Our response surprised him: “Good! We are going to love this truck, and its parts, for what it is, not what is isn’t.” The old stove bolt engine deserves respect and we have no plans on changing it.
A Three-On-The-Tree Shifter
Among the many things to love about these old trucks, like the foot-operated headlight dimmer switch, and the parking brake level mounted horizontally beneath the steering column, is the three-speed column mounted shifter. Yes, driving in Southern California traffic with a manual transmission can be a workout, but there is no way we are going to change out this feature. Everyone that has ever driven a three-on-the-tree vehicle makes a fond comment when they look inside the truck and see that chrome handle on the column.
From the first look, we could tell that this project vehicle is an unmodified three-quarter ton fleetside truck, which is pretty rare for a 56-year old vehicle. The previous owners didn’t even add a radio. The dash, like the rest of the truck, was totally unmolested.
A Closer Look
Once we retrieved the truck and got it back home, we had time to go over it with a fine tooth comb. Gathering numbers is always a good starting place, so we did some research on the VIN and engine ID. The VIN number (0C254L121279) told us that the truck was manufactured for the 1960 model year (first digit), a two-wheel drive (second digit), three-quarter ton cargo (third digit), pickup (fourth digit), Los Angeles assembly plant (fifth digit), 21,279th vehicle built (remaining digits). The engine number also told us that it was manufactured in Flint, Michigan, on Tuesday, January 5, 1960.
The data plate on the inside of the cab told us that the truck was sent out of the factory with a flaxen yellow paint job, paint that was still on the truck … mostly. The exterior was mostly faded flaxen yellow with a substantial amount of patina. At some point, patina becomes just plain old rust, and our truck was right at that precipice.
Like any project car that a hard-working, blue collar, mechanically-inclined enthusiast picks up, we plan on driving this beast daily! No kidding, this project will be the daily driver of our Rod Authority editor, Bobby. Like most enthusiasts at Power Automedia who own project cars, he will be driving it when possible, and walking when necessary. This is a straight-up, lay on your back on cardboard, on the concrete driveway project build.
You won’t see many fancy parts installed. For instance, the stock OEM steering wheel has broken and missing segments of plastic on the spokes. It would be easy to replace the wheel, but then you lose some of the originality of the vehicle. Plus, it costs money to replace every single part that has problems on such a weathered old truck. Like many budget builders do everyday, we plan on repairing and repainting the steering wheel, not replacing it.
The plan also includes keeping the stock numbers matching engine. While many turn their nose up at the old Chevy straight-six engines in favor of the commonplace small-block 350, we intend to keep the original engine in place.
The first tasks will be to make the truck roadworthy and safe to drive in the open. Then we will move into restoring the moldings that keep the outside environment on the outside. Replacing worn bushings that make the ride nicer, and working with the suspension a little bit. The truck could stand to be lowered — not much, just about an inch will do. This can be accomplished without too much expense and will greatly enhance the stance.
Those changes won’t take a big bite into our budget and will allow us to spend the money where it really makes a difference — like with a radiator and cooling components. You really don’t want to cheat yourself on a decent radiator system. With very few gauges in the truck, we also want to improve the instruments. Money spent here is a great investment, as not only will the driver benefit from accurate information, but looking at nice gauges enhances the driving experience.
Tires, wheels and brakes are high on the list, too. These are basic safety items but they really lend themselves to the appearance of the vehicle, too. The right wheels and tires can instantly change the way other people see your project car. More than any other component, wheels and tires will make or break a project.
Finally, we plan on getting some wood in the bed. Currently there is none. Zero. Nada. Nothing. While it may look neat to see the full rear suspension while you are driving, no wood in the bed defeats the purpose of having a pickup.
Keep Your Eyes Out
The eventual goal is to take our truck to local car shows where the three-tone flaxen yellow, patina, and rust will be appreciated. Until then, the slow and steady repairs will be addressed as problems are presented. As with any hard-driven project vehicle, we may experience a breakdown on the side of the road. There is a strong possibility that you will see us at a car show, or on the side of the highway so keep your eyes open. If you see our proud Apache Geronimo, stop to say hello and lend a hand if we need assistance.
For build updates, newest to oldest, scroll down.
March 1, 2017: The First Stovebolt Six EFI Conversion Ever
We took a good look around to see if anyone had ever adapted their straight-six Chevrolet 261 stovebolt with an EFI system. Nada, zero, zilch. We couldn’t find one anywhere, so we reached out to our friends at FiTech Fuel Injection to see if it could be done. “We have tons of slant sixes running around with our systems on them,” Ken Farrell told us. That meant that it could be done and we were in the right place to do the first one on a Chevy straight six.
FiTech’s Master EFI kit included everything we needed to make the conversion from the manifold flange up – which even included a frame mount EFI fuel pump system. The difficult part was going to be finding an intake manifold that would adapt to a four barrel square or spread bore carb mount.
Again we got lucky with a local shop in Menifee, California, that had been selling slant six and straight six Chevrolet manifolds forever. Jack Clifford Performance Products was still selling manifolds for the 235 and 261 Chevy engines and we were close enough to drive over and buy one. Twenty minutes later we were swapping out the fuel system.
The whole idea was to improve the efficiency and get better gas mileage – after all, that is the biggest selling point for the EFI sysetems … right? The real question was whether we could change this fuel pig into a truck that had more fuel economy than the day it rolled off of the factory line. We don’t want to give away the story but let us go ahead and say that we were pleased with the results. The full installation article can be viewed here: Getting Our Fuel Budget Under Control With FiTech.
February 28, 2017: Updating The Cooling System
The old radiator in our project truck was tired, and likely, more tubes were plugged than open. Just looking in the fill port was enough to tell anyone that the liquid within, contained enough rust and fibers to create a real cooling issue. The bright orange color of the fluid told the entire story. This cooling system had been abused. It looked like the fan had kissed the core a few times over the decades too. There was a tell-tale gash that had been fixed with JB Weld.
Just our luck, Champion Cooling Systems is about 15 miles up the road in Lake Elsinore, California. If anyone were to know about old engines and the extreme heat of the inland empire region of SoCal, it would be Champion. So we reached out to the crew there and got some great advice. As luck would have it, Champion sells a radiator for our rare 261 engine 1960 C20 truck combination. This larger six-cylinder option was not popular or high demand for that vehicle, so it was obviously an omen.
We swapped out all of the cooling system components, and as we suspected, the truck was running with no thermostat to prevent overheating. This also prevented the engine from running efficiently, so getting the cooling system back up to speed was important before we could move to our next engine upgrade, a stand alone EFI system.
Once we restored the cooling system back to roadworthy status, the Champion radiator worked like a … well, it worked like a champ. It worked so well that when we performed the EFI upgrade, we had to change the thermostat so the coolant would get hot enough for the self-learning EFI system to work. That’s what you call a real success story. Read the full story here: Keeping Cool With A Champion Radiator.
February 8, 2017: Upgrading To Front Disk Brakes
For safety reasons, we decided to upgrade our front brakes to power assisted disk brakes from Master Power Brakes, a company that specializes in brake conversion kits for vehicles just like our our project truck. Master Power Brakes has built a solid reputation of offering modestly priced brake conversion kits for vehicles that need a technology upgrade and get driven often. Exactly what we wanted.
The conversion was way more than what we expected and as we quickly found out, the kit was certainly a great value. There is a lot of technological upgrade in this modern conversion kit that was not available or common when the truck was built in 1960. For example, the system’s master brake cylinder included in the kit is miles ahead of the stock OE system. Utilizing a single reservoir was routine 55-years ago, but the Master Power Brakes conversion kit included a dual reservoir master cylinder that prevents a total loss of fluid in the event of a wheel cylinder failure.
Understanding that the front brakes provide anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the overall braking under most conditions, we were able to improve the braking for our truck tremendously by changing to disk brakes. As an added bonus, the kit came with a power booster which allowed us to have power brakes, something that was not available on this vehicle when it was sold. This function turned out to be a bigger deal that we thought it was going to be.
A combination valve that helps prevent rear brake lockup, nose dive, and other nasty conditions, was a major bonus in the system. We were able to go from eight lug to a standard five lug hub, which was included in the kit and made replacement wheels easier to find and more economical. Stock ride height spindles were also included but drop spindles are available for anyone wanting to lower the ride height at the same time.
We talk about weighing the pros and cons of each system, and what system is best for the application in our full feature article; Project Geronimo: Stop Right There With Front Disc Brake Conversion.
January 17, 2017: Debating Our Brake System
Driving our heavy truck was a little uncomfortable in the undisciplined southern California traffic. Once we got out on the highway amongst the plethora of rice rockets and other modern technological marvels, it was obvious that we were not going to out-accelerate or out-brake anything else on the road. Southern California doesn’t have a large Amish community, so we couldn’t even claim victories against horse and buggy drivers.
We knew that something had to be done to make our project truck safer for ourselves and for the others on the road. The question was whether to replace the four wheel drum brakes for a near new performance level, or upgrade to a front disk brake or four wheel disk brake system.
Dissecting what our needs were in relationship to our project truck’s overall budget goal, changing to a front disk brake upgrade made the most sense. The logic tree for that determination can be viewed in our article; Project Geronimo, 7 Reasons To Leave Drum Brakes In The Past.
September 30, 2016: Stock Generator To Powermaster Alternator Conversion
On of the easiest and best conversions anyone can do to bring new life into a vintage vehicle is upgrading the electrical charging system. Specifically, getting rid of the stock style generator and replacing it with a Powermaster PowerGen Alternator or Powermaster stock replacement alternator.
We opted to use Powermaster’s 100 amp one-wire alternator (part #7294). Using the Alan Grove Components, Inc. Alternator mounting bracket (part #224L), we were able to mount the alternator without an issue. Choosing the correct wire size and adding a ground wire was performed by direction of the experts at PowerMaster. No more dim lights at idle RPM for our project truck after this conversion.
The full conversion article can be view at: Project Geronimo: Generator To Powermaster Alternator Conversion.
June 6, 2016: Upgrading With A Spin On Oil Filter Conversion
The optional stock canister oil filter was a nice piece in 1960, but filtration and oil technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the past 56 years. Clean oil is important to extend the life of any engine and the filter elements for the canister filters are becoming increasingly difficult to find.
Adapting a spin on type oil filter is a quick, easy, and inexpensive conversion with the Trans-Dapt No. 1028 remote oil filter adaptor. We managed to do the full conversion to a common off-the-shelf Chevy Fram PH8A oil filter for under 30 bucks (not including the cost of the filter). The full article can be viewed by clicking here.
May 6, 2016: Improving Combustion With Performance Distributors
Some may ask how changing a distributor would be one of the first things we opted to do to our project truck. Clearly this is not the usual direction, but after we had evaluated the old straight six “stovebolt” engine, it was the right choice.
The stock distributor was well worn. We were going to have to replace it just to make the engine run stable enough to determine if we could continue to upgrade or rebuild the mill. Our friend Steve Davis at Performance Distributors has been dealing with these old Chevy engines for decades, so we asked for his help.
Steve guided us to the Davis Unified Ignition (DUI) HEI unit that was a popular item in their arsenal. We added some Performance Distributor’s Live Wire spark plug wires and overnight had an engine that was ready to be the daily driver that we were looking for.
Along the way we received a top notch education on vacuum advance and how it works to make our old beast continue to purr.
You can read the full distributor upgrade article here: Improving Combustion with Steve Davis of Performance Distributors.
February 16, 2016: Evaluating A Vintage Engine
The primary goal of the project is to show how a vintage truck “saved” from the crusher could be brought back to life as an economical and dependable daily driver by investing “smart money” within a shoe-string budget. Also keeping in mind that a secondary goal of this three-quarter ton Chevy truck from 1960, is to make it outperform a three-quarter ton truck from 2016. The only area where our worn out, straight-six, three-on-the-tree truck could approach the performance levels of newer trucks is on gas mileage. Under this scope of operations, we really needed to take a good look at our drivetrain, starting with the engine, to see what could be done to achieve those goals.
Using our five senses and a vacuum gauge, we take a good look at the health of the vintage 235 cubic-inch Chevrolet. After coming to a rough conclusion, we make some immediate plans for the build. You can follow along with our engine assessment by reading the article Evaluating A Vintage Engine.
June 16, 2015: Changing A Voltage Regulator
We suspected a bad voltage regulator in our vintage truck, because the engine would continue to run when we turned the ignition to the off position. We don’t mean “run-on” like stumbling until it died – we mean RUNNING, like we could leave the key in the off position and drive into town, cruise the boulevard and drive back to the farm. This is not uncommon in a vehicle with a generator. The voltage regulators have a reverse current relay that would fail, and allow the generator to keep the ignition alive.
Fortunately, replacement parts for the stock voltage regulator were available off-the-shelf at a local parts store and we were able to swap out the voltage regulator fairly quickly. This reminded us of a couple of special things that vehicles with generators required that alternator equipped cars do not. For more details and the full story on the V/R swap, click here: Project Geronimo Update: Changing The Voltage Regulator.