Diehards founder Gary Minor has said, more than once, “I’m not opinionated–I’m right!” My response is, “Yes, I am opinionated, but every once in a while I get things wrong.” In this particular instance, it was a case of simple ignorance. I’m talking about the last column I did, on the two barely-seen customs built by son Bill for Eric Clapton at Roy Brizio’s Hot Rod Shop nearly 10 years ago.
First off, in that post I mentioned that I had never even seen the engine in either car. Immediately my brother Chris, who can find anything on the Internet, emailed me a photo of the dressed-out smallblock Chevy in the chassis for the pickup. He said he found it on Brizio’s website, under a heading “Rods in Progress,” where they show dozens and dozens of construction photos of each car they build. He sent me the page (sub-titled “Eric Clapton 1949 Chevy Truck“) as well, showing about three times what I show here. Look it up to see more.
Then I got a call from Bill, trying to act like a typical disgruntled reader (but not doing a very good job). His objection, very rightly so, was to my statement regarding the pickup: “The bodywork on this one isn’t nearly as extensive.” Totally wrong. I plead ignorance (I had no tech info on either vehicle; it wasn’t the point of the column). On the other hand, I built and drove one of these pickups for several years. And if I couldn’t tell, by looking, all that Bill had done to it, well that’s either the triumph, or the price, of subtlety.
So, with Roy’s permission, what I’m going to do here is cherry-pick from the zillion photos taken by Jim Vickery in the Brizio shop to show you some idea of how this mostly repro ’49 Chevy pickup got sliced and diced every which way. While the prior column focused mainly on the finished products, this one will be more like the ones you saw in the little mags in the ’50s, showing how Valley Custom or the Barris shop chopped, channeled, and sectioned sheetmetal. Get comfortable. There’s plenty to show.
In the photo above, you see an all-new, fresh-sheetmetal ’49 Chevy cab sitting on a complete repro TCI chassis, with a mail-order, aluminum-head crate smallblock engine propped in place. No wasted, worn, or rusted gennie parts here. Excellent sheetmetal to cut and weld. In the background is the ’50 Ford. I can tell from this angle that the top has been chopped a smidge, and other bodywork mostly done. Bill said that when the Ford left for paint is when he got going on the pickup.
The first order of business was to chop the top one inch. Yes, subtle. Originally these 5-window cabs had tempered quarter windows that couldn’t be cut, but Bill said they could get laminated glass today, so all windows were cut the same amount.
There’s something cool about that roof sitting on the floor. At right we see a rare photo of young Bill, with a door now in place and cut, trimming for a perfect fit of all top pieces.
Now the top’s welded back on. Why is the cab standing on it’s nose? Don’t ask me. But I love the picture. Note that someone else has been dressing the engine, in the chassis, in the background.
While the cab was channeled 2-inches over the frame, Bill sectioned the front end 1-inch, through the hood. Keeping the hood aligned with the cowl top meant the front fenders had to be raised 1-inch to meet the shorter lower edge of the hood. To do so, Bill had to make this horizontal and vertical cut in the lower A-pillar, which both raised the fender mounts and the part that meets the lower rear edge of the hood.
Note the ding in the hood. This is the only gennie sheetmetal in the truck, but it was otherwise nice. Tape makes for easy marking, and adjusting, of the cutting line, which had to be at the most vertical areas of the hood. ‘Bout time for a new cut-off blade, there, Bill. Yes, air tools have made much metalworking easier since the ’50s.
So, after careful planning, taping, and cutting, these are the two hood pieces that now have to be welded back together. Note the repro fenders aren’t modified, just raised one inch.
If you’ve ever tried doing something like this, these photos should amaze you. First of all, with the two hood pieces clamped together, I see no gaps or “wiggles” anywhere. In the second photo, I can’t even see any welds, other than a few tacks near the back corners. When I’m cutting and welding sheetmetal, it never comes out like this. Furthermore, can you tell that hood and top are each an inch shorter? Ummm.
Next, Bill decided the rear fenders on Chevy half-tons sit too far back (not centered on the bed), so his solution started by cutting 4 inches out of the TCI frame rails, as he and Jack Stratton are shown doing, to move the rear axle and suspension, as well as the fenders, forward.
Not only have the nice repro fenders been moved forward 4 inches, but the bed has been shortened probably less (Bill doesn’t remember exactly), with the fenders centered. You can also see floor work that was done to channel the cab.
At the rear, Bill made a small rolled pan, with flat sides to meet the fenders, plus he “rolled” the ends of the stakes beds. He also filled the tailgate with a flat sheet, added ’41 Ford taillights (I think), and tried an early ’55 bumper with a center step for a license, but ultimately decided against it.
The repro firewall was cherry, but you can see it already had to be cut to clear a V8 head, the steering’s on the wrong side for Clapton, and it’s just full of holes and ribs. So somebody decided a simpler, cleaner, handmade one would be better. So Bill made it, and it is.
Now it’s all mocked up for trial fit with correct wheels and tires, running boards, and bumpers. Not sure what the headlights rings are (trimmed ’54 Ford?). And as we saw last time, the first grille ideas were simplified versions of ’54/early ’55 Chevy–clean, but just too bulky. Now, besides the leaded emblem indents and the filled center split, can you tell where that hood has been sliced and spliced?
Since both of these vehicles were being shipped directly to England, Clapton wanted both to be right-hand drive. So Bill filled in the whole dash with a new formed piece, then added gauges on the right, with open glove boxes at either end. Presto Change-O.And, yes, here’s the engine shot my brother sent me. All we know is it’s a crate smallblock Chevy, probably with a 700R4 auto trans, and dressed out in lots of polished and plated goodies. This wasn’t Bill’s department at Brizio’s.
I assume someone else was in charge of neatly running brake lines and doing other chassis reassembly. But what I love about these photos is the glossy black paint on the frame rails reflecting the checkerboard floor. This would have been done by Joe Compani, who was Brizio’s in-house “piece painter” (engines, chassis, etc.) for years before moving out on his own (Compani Color). Now located next to Bill, he has put gorgeous, award-winning full paint jobs on most of the SCRC builds.
This truck got sent up to Concord, CA, in many pieces to get painted by Darryl Hollenbeck. While the color looked more silver under the arc-lights at the GNRS in Anna’s previous photos, it’s actually a beautiful, subtle, metallic green that Clapton selected from an Aston Martin. The right photo also gives you a better look at the finished engine.
Bill said he wished he could have put similar trim around the windshields of both vehicles, but it wasn’t feasible. This molding around the cut-down, 1-piece door windows was whittled out of billet aluminum, to Bill’s design, by an outside CNC machinist, then polished.
The final, more delicate and refined grille was made from ’49 Ford and custom-formed pieces, which required significant reshaping of the front of the hood and fenders (which now have frenched headlight openings). Bill also formed metal to cover the radiator and fill-in between the fenders. And he has yet to carve clear plastic for the turn signals.
David Cattalini at Brizio’s just informed me that Sid Chavers has upholstered every car built in Brizio’s Rod Shop but two. Good gig. I’m not sure what you call this luscious leather–saddle tan? Glove leather?–but I love it as much as E.C. does.
OK. Still with us? Here’s another look at the very nicely finished product, in a slightly greener (and truer) hue. It’s not likely you’re going to see it anywhere else again.
Look closely and you’ll see final finish-work done at the ends of the bed rails. The front bumper is ’49 Ford, while they went with the straight one at the rear. Who knows where Eric will hang his British license plate (if any). My only nit-pick with this beautifully subtle Chevy pickup is the placement of the gas cap. But that could well have been the customer’s order, and who am I to pick nits with E.C.? Not me. And this is enough until next time. Stay tuned. Share with a friend.