Russell Griffin’s 1961 Apache Is A Modern-Day Warrior

 

When you are used to hanging around with the likes of Vikings, Spartans, and your own “tribe” of Apaches, you get used to being able to handle whatever life throws at you.

That’s exactly what  Chevrolet intended way back in 1960, when they introduced a new line of utility vehicle, poised to please those wanting to get some work done. But it also had some new creature comforts that could tame the savage beast known as the sprawling open roads of America.

Apache

This Apache’s stance is thanks to a 2-inch drop up front and 3 inches in back.

GM introduced their new-for-1960 line of work trucks with a new body style that set it apart at first glance, but they also changed many things that its customers wouldn’t notice until they hopped behind the wheel. A new frame was designed that lowered the drivetrain within the chassis, which then allowed the cab to sit lower, something you’d realize as soon as you got in or out. Something that folks would do on a daily basis with any work truck. Its new independent front suspension utilized torsion bars on the ’60 through ’62 models, and coil springs from then on. The new suspension design was aimed at giving the utilitarian trucks a car-like ride.

Apache

Trucks were available from the factory with four-wheel drive since 1957. Before that, the  Northwestern Auto Parts Company (NAPCO) worked with Chevrolet to develop the Powr-Pak 4×4 conversion. The old designations of 3100 (short-bed ½-ton), 3200 (long-bed ½-ton) and 3600 (3/4-ton) gave way to a new class of 10, 20, and 30 nomenclature that designated one-half, three-quarter and one-ton capacities. GMC classified them as 1000 (1/2-ton), 1500 (3/4-ton), 2500 (one-ton) and 3000 (1 ½-ton).

Apache

To help highlight the availability of all-wheel drive, a “K” was positioned in front of the weight class designation. If the truck was the more common two-wheel drive, a “C” would lead the weight class categorization. GMC did not use the “C”, but did use the “K” to denote four-wheel drive. But that’s not the only new names to hit the sales brochures for the new line of blue-collar vehicles being produced by Chevrolet.

Upgrades include power brakes and steering and additional power, thanks to the Chevrolet Performance crate engine V8. Classic Instruments gauges keep the driver informed and the Vintage Air A/C system supplies cool through the custom vents fitted into the dash.

Even though letter designations and numbers work well for classifications and records-keeping, history has shown that customers relate better to names instead of codes. That is why GM decided to personalize their new products with names that would not only identify with buyers, but would also personify the heavy-lifting that their new trucks would exhibit.

There was virtually no rust! And even the wood in the bed was mint! – Russell Griffin

Rather than name them after flowers or other dainty objects, they dug deep into the course of history for names that rivaled the can-do attitude of the American public. Names like “Apache”, “Viking”, and “Spartan” denote a proud heritage of overcoming adversity and conquering the task at hand. Light-duty trucks (10-, 20- and 30-series) were badged as Apaches, while the medium-duty versions (50- and 60-series) were called Vikings, and the heaviest of them all (70- and 80-series) were called Spartans.

A Southern Apache

Each of the names were fitting for the intended purpose of those who wore them. For our purposes, we’re looking at Russell and Eva Griffin’s 1960 Apache fleetside truck. One look at their ride and you can see that there are some things that have changed over the years. But Russel also informs us that there are many things that haven’t changed since their truck left the factory.

This truck was found more than thirty years ago, nearby to their Dover, Florida, home. It had been stored in a garage in their neighborhood for quite a few years by an elderly gentleman.

“The truck was all original with only 48,000 miles on it,” Russell explains. Everything was intact, right down to its 235ci straight-six engine and three-on-the-tree transmission. “There was virtually no rust, and even the wood in the bed was mint.”

Being in such a pristine state, he decided to enjoy the truck just as it was found. After all, it had survived so many years of life as a utilitarian means of “git ‘er done”, that a little bit of street driving around sunny Florida wouldn’t do it much harm.

Apache

Russell’s Apache is donned with Celery Stalk Green and Vanilla Shake Cream colors, accented with a tasteful pinstripe.

After a couple of years enjoying the hauler as the General intended, he felt the time was right to restore the truck. Calling this a restoration could cause debate, but, Russell did tear the truck down to the frame and completely rebuilt it. The debate will ensue, since after he repainted the engine, he installed dual carburetors on the straight-six for a little more “oomph!” The only other add-ons were some “chrome goodies” that were added for a little bling. He also upgraded the wood in the bed with oak boards.

The First Upgrade Is The Deepest

Everything was going fine, and he was thoroughly enjoying the truck, except for when he traveled with his friends. That’s when the little utilitarian truck’s six-cylinder, three-on-the-tree, and 3.90:1 rear gears weren’t quite up to the task of keeping up on the highway. To overcome that situation, he sourced another transmission with overdrive, which helped when it was time for his light hauler to “haul the mail”.

Apache

This Apache rides on a set of Cragar 15×7 (front) and 15×8 (rear) wheels shod with BFGoodrich tires.

That configuration worked well for about five years. Then Russell decided that it shouldn’t be so much like work to enjoy his previously work-specific truck. The Apache was again taken from regular service and this time, a new powerplant was requisitioned in the form of Chevrolet Performance’s 385 Fast-Burn V8, which was based on GM’s ZZ4 bottom end using a set of Fast-Burn aluminum cylinder heads. With 385 horsepower on tap, the engine was a worthy replacement for the factory original’s 135 ponies. Just to make sure, Russell added a Chevrolet Performance cam upgrade. Behind that, he installed a 700R4, four-speed overdrive built by Larry Hart Transmissions. The new power assembly was followed by a new 12-bolt rearend with 3.73 gears and an Auburn Gear positraction differential. Now, Russell could easily conquer any long stretch of open prarie with ease.

The truck is a dream to drive, even with the original torsion bar front suspension! – Russell Griffin

Other additions to this hot-rodded hauler are 2-inch dropped spindles up front, and a 3-inch drop to the rear suspension. A set of Sanderson headers direct the fumes to the Thrush turbo mufflers and out through the 2-1/2-inch aluminum exhaust. Topside, an Edelbrock intake feeds the fuel from the FAST efi unit, and a matched FAST distributor sends the spark to do its work when needed.

Russell also added power steering, air conditioning, and power disc brakes so that every aspect of driving his Apache would be less like work.

Whereas these trucks were initially intended to haul people and goods that would keep the economy going for decades, it’s fair to say that not many folk who found the bulk of their day behind the wheel might describe the time as enjoyable. But, thanks to the Vintage Air A/C system and modifications that Russell and friend Kenny Brock at Specialty Motorsports have added to his Apache, he happily finds himself whiling away the years travelling hither and yon, visiting car shows and events whenever possible.

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“The truck is a dream to drive, even with the original torsion bar front suspension,” he quipped. While today’s trucks no longer carry any of the brutus-sounding names and have become far more than simply utilitarian work vehicles, far surpassing what was envisioned when trucks like Russell’s were first produced, he is still quite satisfied driving his modestly-modified pickup truck with the Indian name.

So how content is Russell with his current ride? Well, in his own words, he’d be happy to keep enjoying his hot-rodded Apache “Until Jesus comes!” At which time, we’d have to agree, that will be a major upgrade!

About the author

Andy Bolig

Andy has been intrigued by mechanical things all of his life and enjoys tinkering with cars of all makes and ages. Finding value in style points, he can appreciate cars of all power and performance levels. Andy is an avid railfan and gets his “high” by flying radio-controlled model airplanes when time permits. He keeps his feet firmly grounded by working on his two street rods and his supercharged C4 Corvette. Whether planes, trains, motorcycles, or automobiles, Andy has immersed himself in a world driven by internal combustion.
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