Motortopia - EVERYTHING Automotive!
Exciting News! Motortopia App Now Available on Apple App Store!              → Get 50% off on digital subscription any magazine... use code: DIGI50 ?
Close Ad

STELLA! The Complete Build…

A Street Truck Aimed to Inspire

The classic movie, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” was recently selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.” Lately, it seems that ’88-’98 Chevy trucks are quickly being known to have the same qualities in the truck enthusiast world. GMT400 trucks were on every street corner and car show in the ’90s. With massive production numbers and excellent engineering, these Chevy trucks are still pretty easy to come by and available in many different forms, including shortbed, longbed, quad cab and even two different SUV platforms. Oftentimes, the guy who’s buying and restoring these trucks wanted one in his teen years, and now he’s older, generally successful and more financially stable than when he was 16 years old. These factors also drive custom parts manufacturers to focus on making products for the industry icons and get ahead of the popularity curve.

’88-’98 Chevy trucks
’88-’98 Chevy trucks

It’s easy to talk the talk and say you’re a fan of this body style, but it’s far more impactful to walk the walk and own one yourself. So, we took the challenge and jumped into the deep end of desire by picking up a running, driving ’95 Chevy C/K truck from the original owner for a smooth $2,000. Cold A/C and a solid cranking 4.3-liter V-6 gave this truck the appeal, but the full gas tank and a fresh oil change showed us that the previous owner still had love for this 20-plus-year-old family member. 

To quickly explain the project’s name: “Stella” is a Latin term meaning “star.” The name popped in our heads after we ordered our 22-inch American Racing Nova wheels. The word “Nova” is a female name of Latin origin that has a definition of both “newness” and “of great energy.” It’s also an astronomical term for a star that suddenly increases in brightness, just like this truck’s future. (Plus, Stella was a pretty stellar character in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”) So, with all that in mind, the name Stella just fits, don’t you think?

Over the next few pages, we’re going to take you through the process of giving this truck new life on the same old roads it’s been cruising down since its inception, first starting with a new suspension, upgraded disc brakes and a new set of wheels and tires. That’s only the beginning, but you have to follow along to see the rest. If this truck doesn’t motivate you to go out and start wrenching on your own OBS project, I’m not sure you picked up the right publication. Now let’s get to the good stuff!  

Chevy Frame
Before we got down to the nitty gritty, Dallas Maynard from Full Pen Fabrication removed the bed and pressure cleaned the frame. Twenty-plus years of rust and road grime is better off in the driveway than in your face—am I right?
RideTech C-notch
RideTech supplied this C-notch
To get the truck as low as we want it, we need to make some clearance in the factory frame rail. If we don’t, the axle will hit the frame every time we hit a bump, and the sound it makes is something we don’t want to hear! RideTech supplied this C-notch with our new suspension kit so the frame was traced, drilled and sliced before our new C-notch was bolted in. This bolt-on C-notch reinforces the OEM frame rails and features integrated suspension mounts.
 This bolt-on wishbone system greatly improves traction, handling and ride quality while offering a 4- to 6-inch drop in height. Installation does not require any welding or major modifications to the bed floor. It includes patent-pending R-joint rod ends to eliminate binding and noise. The HQ Series coilovers are direct bolt-on and allow for easy adjustment.
HQ Series coilovers
HQ Series coilovers
Front HQ Series coilovers include bolt-on upper shock mounts to allow more ground clearance and maximum suspension travel, front upper and lower StrongArm tubular control arms, front and rear HQ Series coilover shocks, front sway bar and HD drop spindles.
Big brake kit
This Pro Performance 14-inch front and 13-inch rear big brake kit is designed for ’88-’98 GM trucks and SUVs. This kit does not require machining to the axle or rotors, and the caliper has an integrated parking brake option. This brake kit will work with any disc brake drop spindle, such as McGaughy’s, Street Edge or Belltech. You will receive a template and instructions on modifying your spindle, which requires cutting of the caliper “ears” and drilling and tapping for the caliper mounting bracket. They look amazing behind our 22-inch American Racing wheels and Nitto Invo tires.

 

Plastic grille
Classic Industries black plastic grille
Classic Industries offers this reproduction black plastic grille as well as the dual composite headlamps and corner lights that are all designed to replace the original. This conversion is as simple as unbolting the original grille and headlights and swapping in the new stuff. To swap the headlight plugs, we turned to MrTailLight.com for the kit. The company offers the new headlight plugs and all the mounting hardware you need to take the guesswork out of the process. We can’t convey how simple this process is and it’s very affordable.
383ci Stroker motor
BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker motor
Now to focus on the engine swap. The factory 4.3-liter V-6 has got to go, but since this is a perfectly running engine and transmission, we will save it for a quick flip project. The crew at Overpower Customs yanks engines on the daily so ripping this one out is child’s play. Jason and Trey removed all the plugs and bolts before hooking it up to a forklift. Replacing it will be a new BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker motor paired up to a Centerforce clutch in our American Powertrain transmission.
Cleaning the engine bay
Before the new engine can go in, Trey pressure cleaned the engine bay to remove all the old grease and grime. The core of this truck is in great shape!
Vintage Air pulley kit
Vintage Air pulley kit
Our BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker engine comes turnkey other than the drive pulleys. So, before they bolt up the new 5-speed American Powertrain transmission, a Vintage Air Front Runner drive pulley kit goes in. The completed kit looks amazing! It is nice and tight to the block, so we don’t have to worry about fitment when installing the engine. Also, the Bright finish gives its the quality look they deserve.

To control our fuel delivery system, we chose to go with Edelbrock’s new Pro-Flo 4 electronic fuel injection. The Pro-Flo 4 is not just a replacement for your carburetor. It’s a complete engineered system that provides the ultimate in performance, drivability and quality. This will result in a smoother idle, faster acceleration, better peak power, improved fuel economy and the ability to control detonation, all in the E-Tuner 4 app

The key to the improved performance is the fuel injector location, which is at the end of the runner on the intake manifold right before the airflow stream enters the combustion chamber. This location provides a more efficient mixture control that’s unaffected by varying intake manifold runner temperatures and length.

Next to be bolted to the block are our Hedman Hedders designed for the SBC 350ci engine. Hedman Hedders began as a one-man shop in 1954. Bob Hedman, founder of Hedman Hedders, sold his highly sought-after exhaust tubes to fellow racers on the salt flats of the Mojave Desert. But what started out as a way to make a few bucks to pay for Bob’s racing hobby quickly turned into the premier header manufacturer for both the racing and street header marketplaces.


Centerforce is the clutch of choice for our project and recommended by American Powertrain. The Centerforce II Clutch Series utilizes a full facing disc with premium friction materials and a pressure plate with centrifugal weights. It offers superb holding power and maximum clutch life, making this clutch ideal for selected street/strip, off-road and towing applications.


• Patented centrifugal weight design
• Patented ball bearing pressure plate
• High quality friction material 
• Light pedal effort
• Increased holding capacity
• Smooth engagement

American Powertrain’s Pro-Fit kits for 88-98 Chevy/GMC C1500 OBS GMT400 trucks come in either 5 or 6-speed. There is no need to cut the floor if your truck is already manual since it fits in the factory location. This kit reuses the original cross-member. It’s actually a very easy install!  

Benefits Include:
30-50% increase in fuel economy
Low RPM cruising for greatly reduced driver fatigue and an improved highway driving experience. 
Reduced engine wear leading to longer engine life
Cooler engine operating temperature

The 88-98 Chevy kit includes
AP Revolution Shifter Mechanism locates shifter that will fit bench or bucket seats
Seamless DOM Driveshaft Assembly that has been race balanced
Solid U-Joints
A Driveshaft Slip Yoke made from Cryogenically hardened steel
Polyurethane Transmission Mount
Greased and pre-packed pilot bearing with stainless rollers
Reverse Light Harness
Electronic Speedometer Conversion
Shifter Knob and all the Hardware and instructions you need.

Mishimoto Radiator
Mishimoto radiator

With the engine fully assembled, Trey can slide the engine into the bay and start prepping the cooling system. We used a set of factory V-8 motor mounts to bolt it to the frame and Mishimoto radiators and electric fans. This is a 6.2-liter (383ci) diesel cooling system that Trey recommended for additional cooling. To make it all work correctly, Trey installed a factory OEM diesel coolant reservoir and made a trick aluminum coolant transfer pipe.

Aluminum coolant transfer pipe.
Aluminum coolant transfer pipe.
The last thing to complete before the first startup is the Dynomax exhaust. Jason welded the DIY stainless exhaust kit together and sprayed it black to look the part. 
The engine swap is complete, and no fancy wiring harness was needed. We know that LS swaps are the popular trend nowadays, but we didn’t want to hassle with the electronics on this one.
Now that we have a 5-speed transmission, we need to cut a hole in the floor for the shifter and install a clutch pedal. We used a factory pedal from the junkyard and it simply bolts into the factory location. While the interior is out, we had Corbin from Florida Boy Customs dye the dash and interior panels black.
Billet steering wheel Forever Sharp
Billet steering wheel from Forever Sharp
Instead of reinstalling the factory bench seat, we turned to TMI Interiors to see if we could get a set of their new ’88-’98 GMT400 interior kits. Luckily for us they came through and we were able to bolt in these new custom bucket seats with center console. This kit is now available for your truck and includes door panels, seats, headliner and dash cap. We also installed a new billet steering wheel from Forever Sharp and it looks perfect! What a massive upgrade to the interior of this ’95 Chevy C1500. Those TMI seats look amazing!
Dakota Digital
Dakota Digital
Sport truck mirrors from LMC Truck.
Sport truck mirrors from LMC Truck.
Before bolting up the new door panels, we swapped out the factory-style side view mirrors and replaced them with these sport truck mirrors from LMC Truck.
Time to get some blood in Stella’s veins and give her some spark. As with all of our build, we turned to Red Line for their engine oil, power steering and transmission fluids. We also poured in Mishimoto’s Chill radiator fluid. After a 500-mile break in we will flush the transmission and refill it with synchromesh transmission fluid.
Our first start was a success and Stella finally got to see the sunlight again! The Blueprint Engines 383ci Stroker sounds strong and the Dynomax exhaust rumbles perfectly. Naturally Trey wants to see if anything is loose—and what better way than to light the tires up!
While Trey finishes some final tuning to the Edlebrock Pro-Flo, we started working on the exterior of the truck. A new 2-inch raised cowl hood from Autometal Direct combined with an LMC replacement tailgate and an AVS on the Web roll pan will give the truck the aggressive look it deserves. All this new metal will need to be painted to match, and to save costs we decided to go with Automotive Touchup color matching paint and their DIY paint products that even include the paint guns.
2-inch raised cowl hood
As with any paint project, the prep work is key. We wanted a clean work area, so the garage was cleared out and sawhorses were brought in. Taping off the parts we don’t want painted comes first.
OEM panels
These OEM panels are ready for a primer with a simple scuff with scotch pads and a wipe down with acetone.
Automotive Touchup
Automotive Touchup
Automotive Touchup made it easy on us by offering a three-stage ready-to-spray paint system that requires no mixing at all. Just stir, pour and spray, giving around 15 minutes per coat and one-hour per stage.
LMC replacement tailgate
Keeping the hose away from the surface and your hand parallel the panels is what we were focused on. We are not pros or even experienced amateurs, but Automotive Touchup gave us the confidence we needed to pull off a great paint job. We were extremely impressed and pleased with the results.
Eddie Motorsports billet hood hinges
Eddie Motorsports billet hood hinges
Instead of reusing the factory hood hinges, we took the opportunity to bolt on these new Eddie Motorsports billet hood hinges. They come in polished or powdercoated with the bolt-on in the factory location. No cutting, no welding.
Bolt on the hinged hardware
The provided hardware is bolted into place and the new gas struts are clipped in. No hassle!
Hood Hinges
Lastly, the hood is brought back into the mix and bolted on with the new hardware. These hinges look great and operate extremely smoothly.
2-inch raised cowl hood
2-inch raised cowl hood from Autometal Direct.
The front of the truck is complete, and it looks great! Now time to focus on the back.
LMC replacement tailgate
LMC replacement tailgate
Hinged and hardware.
Before the new tailgate can go on, we need to bolt on the hinged and hardware. This kit from LMC Truck provides all the parts and pieces you need including the latch and trim ring.
DIY brush on bedliner
DIY brush on bedliner kit from KBS Products.
To give the inside of the bed a makeover, we taped off the edges and coated it with this DIY brush on bedliner kit from KBS Products. It’s easy to accomplish and looks great if prepared properly.
Now that the new tailgate and roll pan are installed, the back of the truck looks great, too!

Project Sources

American Powertrain
americanpowertrain.com

American Racing
www.americanracing.com

Autometal Direct
www.autometaldirect.com

Automotive Touchup Paint
www.automotivetouchup.com

AVS on the Web
www.avsontheweb.com

AZ Pro Performance
azproperformance.com

Blueprint Engines
blueprintengines.com

Centerforce Clutch
www.centerforce.com

Classic Industries
www.classicindustries.com

Dakota Digital
www.dakotadigital.com

Dynomax Exhaust
www.dynomax.com

Edelbrock
www.edelbrock.com

Forever Sharp
fssteeringwheels.com

Full Pen Fabrication
www.fullpenfab.com

Hedman Performance Group
www.hedman.com

LMC Truck
www.lmctruck.com

Lokar
www.lokar.com

Mishimoto
www.mishimoto.com

MrTailLight
www.mrtaillight.com

Nitto Tire
www.nittotire.com 

Optima Batteries
www.optimabatteries.com/en-us

Overpower Customs
overpowercustoms.com

Red Line Oil
www.redlineoil.com

RideTech Suspension
www.ridetech.com

TMI Interiors
www.tmiproducts.com

Vintage Air
www.vintageair.com

Project Stella Stage III | Preparing for Power!

Back to our favorite project of 2020! To catch everyone up, Stella is a 1995 Chevy C1500 truck with no major issues when we picked up for only $2,000. The original owner sold it to us after a fresh oil change and a full tank fill up, which was a good sign right from the start. The goal for this truck is a corner carving, modern driving sport truck that is completely paid off and reliable as a daily driver. Stage I of this build documented the install of a new RideTech coilover suspension system and AZ Pro Performance big disc brake conversion. Now it rides amazing on the 22-inch American Racing Nova wheels.
Next, we wanted to replace the interior so we could stop sucking in old headliner glue and 25-year-old seat dust, so a full TMI interior kit was ordered and the carpet was replaced. Now that the seats are here and ready for install, we dropped the truck off at Florida Boy Custom in High Springs, Florida, for the seat swap. While it was there, Corbin let his skills shine by completely coating the interior. Looks unreal!
Following the interior, we sent the truck over to Overpower Customs in Lake Park, Florida, for the engine swap. Our factory 4.3-liter V-6 still runs and drives like a champ, but the power doesn’t match the looks. Trey and his team will be removing the original and installing a new BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker motor. This will be paired up with a Centerforce clutch and a new American Powertrain transmission. Before it can be bolted in, we took the time to mount the Vintage Air Front Runner pulley kit. Follow along as we watch the guys do their work.

If you can remember from our last Stella update, we installed new carpet in the cab of our 1995 Chevy C1500. We also spec’d out the parts we need for our Small Block motor swap. Now it time for the next step.


 To complete our interior upgrade, we decided to contact TMI Products to see if the company’s new ’88-’94 Chevy GMT400 seats are ready to order. Timing is everything and we asked at the right moment. They needed a truck to test fit their production pieces and gave us the opportunity to preorder a set before they were officially launched. Naturally we took them up on that offer and our order was placed. When it arrived, we dropped it all off with Corbin at Florida Boy Customs interior shop in High Springs, Florida.

Our custom order included seats, door panels and a headliner. TMI also offers dash pads, headliners, sun visors, carpet, bench seats and bench seat center consoles for this year trucks as well.

The first thing to do is remove the existing interior pieces and make some space to work. Corbin will be painting all the interior pieces black for a cool, sleek look.


 With the old carpet removed, the guys at Florida Boy Custom masked off the dashboard and prepped it for paint. This is not something we recommend you trying yourself. Instead, leave it to some pros at a real interior shop. The paint will chip and fade if not properly coated, especially when you go to put it all back together.

When TMI sent us this teaser photo we were excited as could be, but once we felt them in person, it was a totally different level of smile.

The seats look great and feel perfect. A center console with cup holders is the perfect setup for this sport-styled pickup. Each seat has its own set of sliders, and they not only slide forward, but also recline and fold forward.

The new painted dash looks perfect and our Forever Sharp steering wheel is the icing on the cake. Corbin and his crew at Florida Boy Customs did an amazing job.

Since we have a ’95, we have to swap out the door panel hardware with replacement parts from an ’88-’94 truck for the new TMI door panels to fit correctly. We will add power windows and locks as well, but that’s a project for another day. Until then, Corbin did his best to match our original door panels to the new TMI seats. Additionally, we added a set of Lokar window cranks. We think it looks great!

Now to focus on the engine swap. The factory 4.3L V-6 has got to go, but since this is a perfectly running engine and transmission, we will save it for a quick-flip project.

The crew at Overpower Customs yanks engines on the daily so ripping this one out is child’s play. Jason and Trey removed all the plugs and bolts before hooking it up to a forklift.

Before the new engine can go in, Trey pressure cleaned the engine bay to remove all the old grease and grime. The core of this truck is in great shape!

Our BluePrint Engines 383ci Stroker engine comes turnkey other than the drive pulleys. So, before they bolt up the new 5-speed American Powertrain transmission, a Vintage Air Front Runner drive pulley kit goes in.

First thing we need to install is the harmonic balancer. This engine calls for an 8-inch weighted from a 400ci engine, available on their website or from your local auto parts store.

EDITOR’S NOTE

What exactly does a harmonic balancer (sometimes called a dampener) do? Each time a cylinder fires in your engine, a force acts upon the crankshaft, causing it to twist. This force also causes vibrations in the crankshaft. These vibrations from the engine can become too much for the crankshaft to bear, causing it to fail.

This is where the harmonic balancer comes in. The circular device, made of rubber and metal, is bolted at the front end of the crankshaft to help absorb vibrations. ItÕs usually connected to the crank pulley, which drives accessories like the air conditioner. The rubber inside the pulley is what actually absorbs the vibrations and keeps them at a safe level.

First, Vintage Air pieces to install are the water pump mounting studs. After applying a bead of silicone around the coarse thread end of the water pump mounting studs, Jason threaded them into the block.

After installing the alternator and compressor to the Vintage Air bracket, the complete main bracket assembly fit perfectly over the water pump mounting studs and is bolted down.

The belt tensioner is now installed with the provided spacer on the belt tensioner bracket. NOTE: Be sure to insert the dowel pin into the correct locating hole of the tensioner spacer based on whether you have power steering, followed by installing the crankshaft pulley directly onto the harmonic balancer.

The power steering pump pulley must be installed with the proper tool, available at any parts store. Do not attempt to hammer or press the pulley onto the power steering pump shaft! Failure to use the proper tool will destroy the pump.

To install the belt, insert a ?-inch drive ratchet or breaker bar into the socket on the tensioner, and rotate it clockwise to the tensioner stop. Route the belt around the crankshaft pulley, power steering pulley and alternator, and over the compressor. Finally, pull the belt down and slide it under the water pump pulley. That’s it!


 The completed kit looks amazing! It is nice and tight to the block, so we don’t have to worry about fitment when installing the engine. Also, the bright finish gives its the quality look they deserve. Impressive! Stay tuned to the next issue for our Centerforce clutch install along with the American Powertrain 5-speed transmission.

[divider]SOURCES[/divider]
TMI Products
www.tmiproducts.com
951-272-1996
FL Boy Customs
@floridaboycustomsllc
352-359-4760
Vintage Air
www.vintageair.com
210-654-7171
Overpower Customs
overpowercustoms.com
561-844-3777