1953 GMC Longbed Hydra-Matic Project

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bd97@comcast.net
I purchased my 1953 GMC in July , 2000 from a gentleman in New York. It is a 1/2 ton Longbed with the original 228 engine and a Hydramatic Transmission. It has the deluxe 5 window cab and an original AM radio. It is equipped with Fenton Headers and dual exhaust. Although the headers are not original equipment, the dual exhaust makes the truck sound great.

After running the truck through the summer, I decided to upgrade the look of the engine compartment. Someone had sprayed heavy black coarse undercoater on the firewall and inner fenders. I also wanted to re-paint the motor. The paint was poorly done and overspray from undercoater spray can was all over the engine
I began by pulling the engine. I should have pulled all the sheet metal from the nose but at the time thought I was going to just scrape the firewall and paint it. Little did I know what a project I had created for myself. I used paint stripper and wire wheels to begin to clean the engine.
It was at this point that I purchased a blasting cabinet. I thought it would make cleaning the oil pan, valve cover, and side pan a lot easier. Of course, once I got the blaster running, I found that I needed a larger air compressor. A 5 HP two stage compressor took a ride from Home Depot to my garage and the blasting began.

After figuring out that the inner fenders and the firewall needed to be painted with different glosses of black paint, I decided to remove the inner and outer fenders and the rest of the nose.
I put the nose sheet metal aside and first painted the engine with Bill Hirsch Engine Enamel. I know nothing about auto spray painting. Fortunately I had a great neighbor who sprayed the block for me, giving me a few spray painting lessons in the process. I blasted the Fenton Headers and painted them with some Hi Temp Manifold Paint.
After completing the engine, I decided to pull the Hydramatic Transmission to get at the peeling paint on the underside of the cab. I also looked at the gasket where the torque tube mounted against the rear end housing. The gasket was leaking and to fix it the housing was going to have to come apart. I had been on the fence about changing the original 4:11 gears to Patrick's 3:55 gear set. There would not be a better time to do the work as long as I was removing the torque tube. I was fortunate to have a friend who had done the Patrick's swap on his own car. It was a fairly straightforward job. Patrick's instructions made removing the pinion bearing from the shaft sound like a simple task. We had a lot of trouble and ended up using a puller and an impact wrench to remove the bearing. Setting the lash between the ring and pinion was tricky but also a pretty interesting process. It certainly helped to have an expert assistant.
After sanding, priming and painting the rear end assembly, I started to grind and sand away on the frame and underside of the cab. This was probably the low point of the job for me. The work is dusty and dirty but all part of the process. I stripped the firewall to bare metal and once again enlisted the help of my neighbor to refinish the firewall. We primered and painted it gloss black to match the outer sheet metal. I was not planning on doing any work to the paint on the outside of the truck so I had to be careful to carefully mask everything from overspray. After the firewall was done, I masked that off as well. I started primering and painting the frame.
Now that the important painting was finished, I thought I would try my hand at painting the frame. I primed it and painted it with chassis black. I also blasted and painted the front axle, new front springs, tie rod, brake backing plates, shock absorbers, and other small front end parts.
Taking the advise of a few guys on the Stovebolt Page, I decided to upgrade to a dual Master Cylinder. I fabricated a new bracket and bolted it to the frame directly behind the original bracket and pedal linkage. I had a machine shop friend make me a piece of stainless rod, threaded on each end with female 3/8 - 24 threads. I used that to join the rod from the pedal linkage and the rod from the master cylinder. Using my new double flaring tool ( I used to think I had all the tools until I started this job ! ), I bent all new brake lines. I clear coated them and installed them with rubber lined clips from NAPA. I bolted in 4 new wheel cylinders, filled the system with silicone fluid and bled the air from the system. The braking system works much better than when I first purchased the truck.
I re-installed the newly painted torque tube and Hydramatic Transmission. Next up was installing the engine. In the back of the flywheel is a large O ring about 18 inches in diameter. This seals the auto trans fluid between the torus cover ( like a modern torque converter ) and the flywheel. When I installed the O ring it kept working its way out of the groove. I used some Permatex # 2 in hopes that the O ring would stay in place while I installed the flywheel against the torus cover and bolted it up. I hoisted the engine in place and the cover bolted up nicely. I worried about that O ring for a few weeks until I got the truck running. After all that worrying there were not any leaks after all.
I had pulled the steering column to fix a leaky steering box. Tony of the Stovebolt Page gave me a few tips to replace the seal in the end of the Pitman arm. I refinished the column and box, ground away and filled the cracks in the steering wheel and painted them all up. My son was a great help when I installed and new firewall cover and bled the brakes. He was a very attentive brake pedal pumper !

The shift linkage for the Hydramatic was a bit tricky to get back in properly. Thankfully I had taken a bunch of pictures when I pulled it apart.
I began installing the new wiring harness and bending the fuel and vacuum lines in the engine compartment. I tried to do as much engine work as I could while I had easy access.

I rebuilt the starter and generator painted them. Not many parts escaped the inside of my blasting cabinet.
The inner fenders turned out to be quite a project. I had each one of them in my blasting cabinet for about 5 hours. They were covered with that sticky black undercoating. The blaster removed that stuff but it was a slow process. I refinished them with a semi black and installed them back on the truck.

I also pulled the tires from the rims and blasted away at the rims until they were all cleaned up. I mounted the tires up by hand, put the trim rings back on and shined up the whitewalls.
I had my friend Rob English help me install the outer fenders, hood and radiator supports. As anybody who has tried to line up an AD hood is aware, it can be a tricky job. Having someone who has been through it once before is a great help.

Ray Stanley, the Metal Man, did a great job repairing and straightening a used splash apron I found on E Bay. The truck it came from had been in an accident and the apron was badly bent.

The engine started easily. I had the usual trials of adjusting the timing and the carburetor, but it runs nicely now. I had my original AM radio converted to FM by Gary Tayman in Florida. He did a great job while preserving the original look.

The Patrick's gears completely change the personality of the truck. I am glad I made the swap.

I got a great amount of help and inspiration from the guys and gals on the Stovebolt Page. Anytime I was in a jam, I posted a question and more than one person was there with an answer.

It turns a lot of heads and inspires some great stories from people about their cars of the old days. Bill
Spring 2002

What was it that Yogi Berra said ? " It was like Deja Vu all over again ."

Late last fall my engine developed a skip. I checked the compression and found that the # 3 cylinder was down to 40 lbs. I decided to pull the motor and have it rebuilt. I searched through Hemmings Motor News and after making a few calls, I decided on Mike Aldrich. He owns Aldrich Automotive Machine in Hatfield , Mass. After a week , Mike called me and informed me that I had a leaky head gasket, a few worn valves, and a few other problems. I gave him the OK to go through the entire engine. In the picture you can see the black marks on the head gasket indicating the leaks.
While I had the motor out, I wanted to address a nagging tranny fluid leak I had in the rear of my transmission bell shaft. The old cork seal had been leaking automatic tranny fluid despite my changing the cork seal to a rubber ring.
I spent some time with my local NAPA man, Lance, and found a modern seal that would fit snugly around the mating shaft piece. My local machine shop friend, Carl, did a beautiful job machining a new sleeve and press fit it onto the rear of my bell shaft. The new seal then pressed into the rear of the machined sleeve. My tranny fluid leak was hopefully in the history books.
I had pulled my Hydramatic Transmission out as well. I wanted to re-paint the bell housing with my new choice of engine paint. I went to the local body shop supply house with the valve cover from a friend's 51 GMC and found a color to match. After cleaning the tranny and spraying it with black engine paint, I re-attached the newly painted bell housing, I think the red-orange looks more accurate than the red I had used last year.
Mike Aldrich called about a month after I gave him the motor to say it was ready. I had him re-assemble the entire motor. He also primed it with high temp primer. He also planed my intake manifold and Fenton Headers so they would fit nicely against the head. When I arrived at his shop he had it shrink wrapped and ready to go..
On the way home from Hatfield, I dropped my headers off in Hartford , CT. I had spoken to the guys at Airborn Coatings about getting my Fenton Exhaust Headers powdercoated. I had painted them with Eastwood hi-temp mainifold paint last winter. After one season the finish was coming off. Airborn uses an aluminum coating that they guarantee for three years. After a week the UPS man dropped them at my house looking great..

I painted the block with my snazzy new paint and mounted a few parts. After talking to a few guys about a hesitation problem, I decided to run a pair of hot water lines to my intake manifold to pre-heat it in the absence of my stock exhaust manifold..
Bending, flaring, and fitting the coolant lines was certainly a lot easier with the engine on the stand. For me, bending lines is slow and tedious work.
Readers of the Stovebolt Page will have advanced warning of the antics of the Old Car Kook. Who needs an engine lift when you have the Kook ?
My friend Ken from work offered to help us on engine drop in day. It was great to have an extra pair of hands. Rob did a little photo doctoring on this shot as well.
It was a slow process to get the engine in without scratching the firewall, inner fenders, etc. All three of us had something to do. I had a tight squeeze tightening up the bell housing bolts.
I used some high tech equipment to add tranny fluid into the torus cover of the transmission.
Rob had his wide angle lens on for a shot of my shop at the end of the day..
I spent another day or so hooking up the exhaust, linkages, fuel lines , etc. I primed the oil pump with a homemade shaft and a half inch drill and then cranked it over. After adjusting the timing once or twice, the motor fired up.. I took the truck for a hoodless drive around the block to keep the oil pressure up high.

I spent the next day tightening up a few minor leaks, adjusting the timing and carb, and re-adjusting the valves. The new seal on the bell shaft does not leak, the hesitation is gone, and the motor runs much nicer than before the rebuild.

A couple of friends helped me re-install the hood, I put the floor covers and mat in, and so far, the truck is running nicely. Next winter I hope to park it and leave it alone !

Danbury Mint

In late 2001 I got a call from Rob English stating that the Danbury Mint has chosen my truck for their next model. Shortly after that in mid December Dave Brinckerhoff from the Mint arrived at my shop with cameras in hand.. He spent a few hours asking questions and taking pictures. Over the next year there were many E mails to work out every small detail. In October, Dave mailed me a prototype for Rob and I to critique so the final adjustments could be made. In February, 2003 the final product was ready for distribution..

Rob took these nice close up pictures. As you can see, it is a perfect duplicate of my GMC..

The Danbury Mint distributed this paperwork to announce the sale of their newest model.

Ozzie Sweet Photography


In August of 2002 I drove my truck to the Barrington Truck Show in New Hampshire. Two days later I received a call from acclaimed photographer Ozzie Sweet. He had seen my truck at the show but had been unable to locate me. After a check of the phone book, he called and asked me to drive to York, Maine the following day so he could shoot my truck for possible inclusion in a future calendar.

As you can see from the picture above, Ozzie picked out a fantastic setting overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. He supervised every detail to be sure he got a great shot.

Ozzie is not only a legendary photographer, but a true gentleman. It was fun to talk to him about famous subjects of his past pictures including Jimmy Durante, Albert Einstein, Bob Hope, Mickey Mantle, and his personal friend Ted Williams..
For more on Ozzie check out this article in the Portsmouth Herald.

NAPA Auto Parts Calendar


I was lucky enough to get another call from Ozzie Sweet in the summer of 2004. He wanted to photograph my truck once again for the NAPA Auto Parts Calendar. I met up with him in Francestown, NH and we rode a couple of miles to this picturesque spot.


Ozzie used his Hasselblad camera that day. The images appear upside down in the viewfinder. Ozzie jokes about it telling me that he has been looking at the world upside down for over sixty years.
At the end of the session Ozzie was kind enough to pose for a picture. He is a nice guy and a pleasure to know. My truck appears in the NAPA Calendar on the October 2006 Page.

To read a recent Boston Globe article about Ozzie, click here.

Hitting The Road

I have ventured out to a few distant truck shows with my friend and traveling companion, Rob. We are stretching our legs a bit more each year. Our first long jaunt was about 300 miles to the ATHS Syracuse Show in 2003.


We planned our trip with a stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.


Here is an "on the road" shot by Rob as we approach Syracuse.


On arrival at the show, Rob and Leon spiff things up a bit..


When you begin to talk about driving a 50 year truck on a 600 mile round trip journey, you can encounter a few doubters. Sometimes they are in your own household. I arrived home to find this homemade card from my daughter.

Macungie 2004


2004 brought a trip to the ATCA Show in Macungie, PA.


Rob's route took us right over the George Washington Bridge in New York City. We got a few stares as we traveled along in commuter traffic.


I had an opportunity to tour the Mack Assembly Plant in Macungie. The line was neat as a pin. It was interesting to see all the parts come together.


On the way home we stopped at Statue of Liberty Park at Rob's suggestion. President Reagan has just passed away and the flags were at half staff. With the Statue of Liberty in the background, we got a nice shot.

Auburn ATHS 2005


This was our longest adventure by far. From home to Auburn was about 850 miles.

We met up with Tony somewhere around Buffalo. Rob led the way on a high speed run in afternoon rush hour traffic through Cleveland. If you weren't scared you weren't there...



Despite a couple of minor mechanical issues, we cruised into Auburn around noon on the second travel day. Before hitting the show we sponged off the road grime at a local car wash.


The Auburn Inn was a gracious host. The manager took a group photo of the GMC Boys; Tony, Bob, Rob, Ken, MT, Andy, Arlyn, and me.


The ride home took us right through downtown Cleveland. The light towers illuminate the home of the Cleveland Indians, Jacobs Field.




Rob took this shot of me as made the run for home. I am wearing the life saving noise cancelling Bose Headphones. Rob's Huckster is reflected in my door.


On Going Repairs and Updates



The search for parts and the repair process are never ending. I picked up a few hard to find items at Eliot Auto Parts in Maine.


It takes both hands to remove the cylinder head from this "Cool Bus" engine block.
At this junkyard the prices are better in bulk..


I was able to snare a spare Hydra-Matic Transmission as well..


After the Macungie trip I decided that my days of driving on bias ply tires were history. I purchased Diamond Back radial wide whitewall tires for my truck. The old rims and tires were 15 inch. I upgraded to 16 inch in hopes of buying a taller tire to reduce engine rpm on the highway. The new rims are for a later truck and are 5 inches wide. The fellow at Diamond Back mentioned that the tread width should be no more than an inch and a half wider than the rim. My new 215 85 R 16 tires have a tread width of 6.3, just under the limit of 6.5. They are 30.4 inches tall as compared to 27.2 for my old 15's. The whitewall is 3 1/2 inches wide. When the rims arrived back from Central Mass Powdercoating I was ready to mount up the tires.

After wrestling with them myself for awhile, I called in my friend Joop.


It is all in the technique. Joop had me on the right track in no time.


One down and four to go. They are looking good..