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Boy Meets Grille

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by Steve Temple  More from Author

Falling for a ’38 Chevy Pickup

So many street rods are a love affair—and also sometimes love gone wrong. Just ask Richard Fripp about his ’38 Chevy. His rod romance began back

in 1976, when he had just opened his electrical shop in Walnut Creek, California and did not have a lot of money. During his first week in business a customer came in to his store have some work done on his pickup, which he left for repairs. It turned out to be a fateful day for Fripp.

“I immediately fell in love with this truck because of the grille,” he admits. That, and the large front fenders. (And who hasn’t been struck by certain features at first sight of a loved one?)

During the repair process, Fripp showed this truck to his wife Helen, telling her that if they ever buy a truck for the business, this is the model he wanted. Not wanting to interfere with his heart’s desire, she agreed and said to ask if the customer wanted to sell it, and they’d somehow find the money to pay for it. That’s when the love gone wrong part emerged (but not between Richard and Helen).

Later that afternoon the customer came back, and after they talked for a while, it came to light that he was in the process of cleaning up a few things for a divorce sale. Two days later Richard and Helen had the keys in hand.

But the old rig needed loads of work. At this time it was partially painted an Olds yellow, had fiberglass fenders, a 283 engine with a 350 transmission and Olds rearend. The suspension and frame had not been changed much and the cabin interior was as stock as it could be. (If you know Thirties pickups, it’s being charitable to even call it an “interior.”)

Richard got to work painting the fenders, with his oldest children helping him rub out the paint. Recalling this the first phase of the relationship, “Going to car shows was great,” Richard recalls. “Four kids, bail of hay, and Tonka toys rolled around the plywood bed thereafter for many years.”

Life was good, but things were going to get even better by a strange sequence of events.

“Since my business was also a warranty station for AC Delco,” he explains, “I had been given a lot of dealer catalogs throughout California. These catalogs went back into the Thirties, and early in 1979 I found an original dealer who still had a warehouse with 1938 parts. There I found four NOS fenders, still in original primer and original boxes—what a find!!! I purchased all the 1938 Chevy truck parts he had.”

After installing and painting the original fenders, Richard’s business started to grow, putting a crimp on his rod romance. “Taking our truck out to car shows became increasingly difficult, and it 1986 we parked the truck in our garage, hoping we would eventually get a chance to do everything we wanted change,” he sadly recalls, shaking his head. Later he came to a sudden realization that would rekindle the spark.

“In 1993 we drove our truck up to Hot August Nights from Walnut Creek, California,” he explains. “I then realized that the original suspension had to be changed before I drove it again.” Just like that bone-stock interior, the bone-jarring ride was sorely in need of an update. Even so, the pickup spent many years in storage, patiently waiting for some personal attention. That began to wear on Richard.

“I found myself going to the garage, sitting myself down in front of it,” he says. “Our truck always had a smile on its grille and I always left it feeling better.”

It took some feminine intervention and intuition to break the logjam. In 2006 Helen was trying to get Richard to retire, and wisely said that if he did so, she would pay to get his truck finished with all the bells and whistles.” But on one condition: he had to get some professional help (for the truck, not him personally). “Since I am not the best auto mechanic, she won,” he laughs.

The modifications included a Street & Performance LT1 Corvette engine, backed up by a 4L60E transmission. To smooth out the ride, the pickup now rides on TCI’s Mustang II IFS and a Ford 9-inch with 4-Link setup and coilovers. Those special rims are from Billet Specialties.

Body mods included suicide doors, and shaving the gutters, door dandles, cowl vent, and fuel-tank filler. Dressing up the unadorned factory interior is ostrich and leather upholstery on custom built-in seats, along with Vintage Heat & Air, a Flaming River Tilt Column, and power windows. And the cargo bed was finished like fine furniture with solid oak planks from Mar-K, stained red to match the House of Colors Candy Apple Red over Gold Base. Under the tailgate is LED Sequential Bar Lighting.

During the buildup at the Rod Shop in Reno, NV, Richard played a prank on one of his sons. “Shortly after taking our truck into the shop, my oldest son came up to our ranch where the truck had been stored. During a conversation he was having with a guest he said, ‘If you want to see a beautiful truck come up to the barn to see my dad’s truck.’”

Richard jokingly informed him that he had sold the pickup and it was no longer here. “My son said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ and ran to the barn. On his way back he told me that I can’t believe that you sold my inheritance.”

Over the next two years at every family event the truck was the main topic of conversation with all four of my children. “You might have thought I sold one of their siblings,” he grins. And the last laugh would be on them.

“On my 60thbirthday my wife arranged our entire family to come up to my birthday party,” Richard relates. “During the party a truck and trailer showed up in front of our home and our new truck started pulling out of the trailer. Everyone rushed outside, not believing their eyes. Then my sons looked at me and chased me three blocks to kick my butt for lying to them!”

Besides giving his kids a jolt and winning a slew of car-show awards, Richard likes to acknowledge what an impact this rod has had on his life. “I believe that this little Candy Apple Red Truck saved my live,” he says. “Being a triple-A personality during my working years, I can finally sit down for an entire day, talking to car buffs and meeting new people.” And isn’t that what a good relationship is all about?

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