Broken Promises

November 4th, 2009

Joe Cowart’s 1957 Chevy Pickup was Supposed to be a Complete Restoration—It’s Amazing how Plans Change



1957 Chevrolet
Gulfport, MS

Photos by Jason Mulligan

This story starts the same way many other custom truck stories do, with a simple ad in a local newspaper. The ad simply said “1957 Chevy truck 4 sale” and included a phone number. One phone call later and Joe Cowart was on his way to meet with the widow of the truck’s original owner. A couple of hours later Joe was looking at an all original short bed, big window with the original inline-6 engine. The truck even had the button on the floor for the starter. Much to Joe’s surprise the bias ply tires that had been on the truck since 1963 were still holding air, and the truck actually ran and could be driven. After hearing how much the widow’s husband loved the truck, Joe made the generous offer of $3,500 for it, and before he knew it, he had the Chevy up on the trailer and was towing it the 120 miles back to his house.

Joe was pretty excited about his new toy and couldn’t wait to find a local shop to help him restore the truck to its original condition. He blew the truck apart and media blasted the stock chassis and all of the body panels to find out what was underneath the 46-year-old collection of paint, dirt and grease. With a pretty good idea of what work needed to be done, a sizable deposit was paid to a friend to get started. The lower halves of the doors were replaced, all four of the fenders were patched, and some of the bodywork was completed. A load of parts was taken to the local chrome shop, and a lot of the parts like the window felt, rubber seals and emblems were ordered. For all intents and purposes the truck was on the fast track to being a really nice restoration, when suddenly, all of the work stopped. The friend who was making such great progress got distracted by other cars in the shop and simply pushed the truck into a corner and didn’t touch it again.

After seeing that the truck wasn’t making any progress, Joe was able to find a second shop willing to take on the project. Another large deposit was paid, the truck and all of the parts were delivered, and eight months later no work had beem done. Joe was growing impatient, so a third shop was contacted, yet another deposit was left along with the truck, and this time the shop had the truck for 10 months before it became obvious that they weren’t going to work on it. Joe hooked up his trailer to pick up the truck and the parts once again, and took them home to regroup.

Joe was intent upon continuing with his plan to restore the truck until he walked through the doors of the fourth shop. That’s when all of his plans took a left turn, and suddenly, he wanted to turn his ’57 Chevy pickup into a hot rod. After talking with the shop’s owner, a plan was cemented, a price was agreed upon, and another deposit check was written. After the initial rush, the work on the truck slowed to a crawl. Joe started going to the shop on a daily basis to check the progress, sometimes spending as much time there as the employees. As he became a familiar face around the shop, Joe made friends with one of the fabricators by the name of Rob Brown. Rob boxed the frame, notched the rear rails for the rearend, and smoothed all of the holes. Then he installed the Fat Man IFS, Ride Tech parallel 4-bar, watts link, front and rear Ride Tech anti-sway bars, and of course a set of airbags.

Once work was finished on the chassis, Rob moved on to the body. He basically cleaned all of the clutter off the truck’s exterior, such as the drip rails, door handles, emblems, taillights, and tailgate chains. The inner and outer cab corners were replaced, as were the cab steps and the front fenders with a set from LMC Truck. Then suddenly the only person to make significant progress on the truck up and quit the shop, but before the truck could be derailed again, Joe gave Rob a call. Joe offered to pay Rob to work on the truck independently. Since he had been making such stellar progress, it was the logical thing to do.

So Rob moved all of his tools from the body shop to the shop at Joe’s plumbing business. Rob finished all of the bodywork and then he took everything back to the original shop to be painted. They covered the chassis and all of the components with House of Kolor Galaxy Gray and all of the sheet metal for the body with House of Kolor Kandy Mandarin. The chassis was reassembled with a 2004 5.3L Vortech power plant, 4L60E transmission and a Silverado disc brake rearend. Then it was taken back to the body shop to have the body reinstalled.

When the truck was starting to look like a truck again, Billy Brown came west from Atlanta to install all of the electrical goodies. He added the stereo, alarm, digital dash, and air ride connections before the entire wiring harness was installed.

From there the truck was taken to Headliners Plus to have the interior stitched up. The shop’s owner, Brian Hagwood, did a bang-up job on the seats, carpet, interior panels, and miscellaneous trim, but not before a Vintage Air system was tucked way up under the dash.
It only took four automotive shops and one plumbing shop to get the truck finished, but the truck is finally exactly what Joe wanted. He would like to thank his family, Stephanie, Lacey and Cliffton, for their patience, Jason at Street Dreams for help with parts, Glen Cook for cutting and buffing the paint, Mark at Street & Performance, Brian Hagwood of Headliners Plus, South Mississippi Sheetmetal Works, and all the guys at Cowart Plumbing for giving up valuable shop space to accommodate the truck project.

Under the hood is a 2004 5.3L Chevrolet engine backed by a 4L60E transmission. The wiring harness needed to put a late model motor into this classic is from Street & Performance.
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Under the polished wood bed floor, you’ll find a completely detailed chassis with stainless hardware and plumbing.
The steel dash has been smoothed and fit with a digital gauge cluster from Dakota Digital.
Brian Hagwood from Headliners Plus expertly performed all of the upholstery work.
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