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Beyond Ordinary: The Transformation of a ’97 Chevy Pickup Truck

John Mata Jr. October 26, 2023 Chevrolet

A Chevy Truck Project 20+ Years in the Making

Chris Echel of Greenville, North Carolina, bought this truck from his dad back in the year 2000. His pops had purchased the ’97 Chevy two years prior and used it to serve as a volunteer fire truck. It was even decked out with emergency light bars on the roof and a utility camper shell on the bed. The truck came in handy for awhile, but once it fell out active duty, Chris was able to get his hands on the keys and began to customize it little by little throughout the years.

This Chevy has gone through many changes under Chris’ ownership. He started with a simple static drop back then and eventually upgraded to an air-ride system over time. He has also gone through lots of wheel styles that kind of bookmarked each phase of the truck, like when it rocked an Escalade frontend swap or even before that when it had a Checkmate flush-mount fiberglass bedcover that Chris wishes he still had. Chris’ pickup was definitely his pride and joy back in those days, but it was sidelined when his daughter Madison was born some 16 years ago!

Chris was able to drive the truck over to the SMRC compound under its own power, so the truck was showing a promising sign of life from the beginning of its latest reconstruction.


The time had finally come to dust off this Chevy and build it up better than ever before. Too much time had passed, and with the rise of popularity of OBS pickups, Chris felt compelled to go much bigger and badder than he ever thought was possible for his old truck.

“I never really completely forgot about the truck,” Chris says. “I just didn’t know how or where to go about picking back up on it. I had all the intentions of doing a lot more work on it myself in my shop Backyard Kustoms, but I will be the first to admit that I didn’t have the time or the level of skill to make it turn out the way I truly wanted. For this, I turned to Rob Perry of Smoky Mountain Rod & Customs in Nashville, and I have not looked back since.”

Doug from Adanced Coatings and Trim in Indianapolis transformed the cab into an otherworldly nighttime driving experience.

Chris was able to drive the truck over to the SMRC compound under its own power, so the truck was showing a promising sign of life from the beginning of its latest reconstruction. While there, the crew thought it best to first start cracking on the chassis system. Chris didn’t do a horrible job at ‘bagging the truck years ago, but the whole idea of the rebuild was to do things better. To achieve this, a three-quarter custom frame was fabricated and outfitted with nothing but the best in fresh components from Air Lift ‘bags and 3P pressure air-ride management system, Stone Fab control arms, a rear 4-link setup, dual Viair compressors, and a whole lot more.

The front braking system was left alone for the most part with the exception of the addition of cross-drilled rotors, and the rear drums were converted to Impala discs with Cadillac calipers and brackets. While Chris’ Chevy has ridden on various sets of wheels in its time on the road, the guys made sure there was enough room to properly fit 24s all around. After searching around for the right fit and style, the team settled on US Mags’ Phantom with a standard front width of 9 inches and a wide 12 inches at the rear for a lasting lip impression.


Next, the guys at Smoky Mountain Rod & Customs started work on the Chevy’s exterior by shaving the handles, roof seams, and third brake light from the cab as well as from the one on the Leer camper shell Chris wanted to add to the truck. A GMC frontend was swapped in, and the front bumper was tucked to add a subtle twist on this Bow Tie’s appearance. A Grant Fab roll pan with dimple-die accents adds a dash of aggressive styling to the rear, and a set of molded tubs were whipped up for the inside of the bed. The cowl hood has been a fixture on this truck for years, so Chris wanted to keep it in place for nostalgia’s sake, but the familiar front side markers and taillights were swapped out for colorless lenses from Klearz to clean up the color palette for the truck’s next stage of customization.

Chris had played around with blue flames in the past and wanted to give it a real go this time around while he had the expertise of painter Steve Mancini at his disposal. The finished product features a killer Tamco Bluetiful basecoat finished off with silver flames and lime-colored pinstriping outlining the licks to allow them to pop from the surface. Chris says that the flames were not inspired by the truck’s prior service as a fire department vehicle, so we’ll just chalk that up to a cool coincidence. Either way, this Chevy’s flame job is exactly what Chris was hoping for.

Under the hood is a GM 355 engine with a Holley Sniper EFI and a 2.5-inch exhaust.

To ride the wave of momentum that was surround the project, Chris called on Doug from Advanced Coatings and Trim in Indianapolis to find a set of seats that could be customized and recovered in new upholstery. In fact, Chris was betting Doug could help transform the entirety of the cab space with a leather wrapped dash, one-off paneling, headliner and center console, a custom speaker and amp enclosure that could take up residence behind the seats, as well as a ton of custom lighting for an otherworldly nighttime driving experience. Doug successfully delivered on all of these points and more. Chris’ friend Josh Boogie of Southern Fried Garage also stepped in to wire up a booming sound system featuring amps and speakers from DD Audio before moving outside to hook up all the underglow lighting and illumination behind the wheels.


While the transformation of this ’97 Chevy truck didn’t exactly happen overnight, it was definitely worth the wait.

“I used to refer to this truck as ‘the unicorn’ because nobody had really seen it since it was in deep storage for so long,” Chris admits. “I’ve been into this model back when it was still newish—long before they were the ‘hot’ truck to buy and build. I now refer to this truck as the OBS Killa (with an ‘a’) to kind of drive that point home. I also wanted to celebrate the custom sport truck styling of the early 2000s, and I think it has a throwback appeal to it that works great for today’s audience.”

Chris planned on racking up thousands of miles in his truck as soon as it was completed, but he has been a bit hesitant due to it turning out way nicer than he anticipated. That’s understandable, and it’s a fact that can’t be argued. Either way, Chris is enjoying a well-deserved victory lap after the grand unveiling of his big project.

“This truck actually won at the 2021 Street Trucks show in Georgia, which included a photo shoot for the magazine, but I wanted to hold off on the photos while I wrapped up on a few more finishing touches,” he says. “I’d like to take a second to thank my daughter and my son Aiden for their support and interest in the truck. Also, thank you to Rob Perry at Smoky Mountain Rod & Kustoms and everyone else who helped breath new life into my old truck—this has been an unforgettable experience.”



Chris Echel
1997 Chevy OBS Pickup
Greenville, NC


  • Shop: Backyard Kustoms (owner), Greenville, NC
  • GM 355 engine
  • Holley Sniper EFI
  • Slight cam
  • Sanderson headers
  • 2.5-inch exhaust system
  • Flowmaster Super 10 muffler
  • 350 Turbo transmission slightly modified w/ shift kit


  • Shop: Smoky Mountain Rod & Customs, Knoxville, TN
  • Custom three-quarter tube frame
  • Stone Fab control arms
  • Rear 4-link
  • Air Lift ‘bags front and rear, 3P air management system
  • Bilstein front and rear shocks
  • Dual Viair 485C compressors
  • Two stainless 5-gallon air tanks
  • Link bars and other suspension components painted
  • 20-gallon aluminum fuel cell
  • Rearend narrowed 3 inches


  • 24×9 and 24×12 US Mags Phantom wheels
  • 255/30/24 and 305/30/24 Lexani tires
  • Cross-drilled rotors at front, rear disc conversion using Impala rotor and Cadillac calipers and brackets


  • Shop: Smoky Mountain Rod & Custom (Paint by Steve Mancini)
  • Tamco Bluetiful paint, Slick Silver metallic flames, Lime Line pinstripe
  • Leer camper shell
  • Shaved handles, roof seams, third brake light on truck, and camper shell and tailgate
  • Custom sheetmetal work in engine compartment and under hood
  • Grant Fab rear roll pan w/ custom dimple-die detailing around license plate
  • Molded wheel tubs in bed
  • Klearz clear taillights and front side markers
  • GMC frontend
  • Billet grille insert
  • Cowl hood
  • Suicide doors
  • Underbody lighting and wheel lights


  • Shop: Upholstery and interior lighting by Doug and Tanya Ehrenwald @ Advanced Coatings and Trim, Indianapolis/Stereo by Josh Boogie @ Southern Fried Garage, Little River, SC
  • Modified seats, custom stitch, and leather upholstery work
  • Custom leather-wrapped door panels and dash
  • One-off center console w/ kick panels
  • Custom speaker box
  • DD Audio DM 1500 monoblock amps, D4.100 4-channel amp, CXO2 2-way, crossover signal processor VO-B2a bullet tweeters, VO-M6.5a midrange speakers, and customized subwoofers
  • Pioneer AVH-WH4500 head unit
  • Dakota Digital gauges
  • Vintage Air A/C
  • Custom steering wheel


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