SALINA — The tale of Randy Miller’s beautifully restored 1953 Chevy pickup takes so many twists and turns, it’s hard to believe the once-tired old truck is now a running, driving show-stopper.
Although he operates his own diesel repair shop and works on trucks virtually every day, Miller wasn’t looking for a truck project when this one fell into his lap.
"I had been eating at the Shrine on Thursdays with my dad. I ate with these people for a year … and one day, Mike Catlin, a banker, said to me, `I see you work on trucks. I’ve got this old pickup that my dad left me. It’s in storage now, but if you’d do something with it, I would give it you,’ " Miller recalled.
He agreed to take a look at it and was impressed by what he saw. The old farm truck only had 80,000 miles on it.
"It was a ’53 Chevy and he just wanted somebody to finish it. He didn’t care if I hot rodded it or what," Miller said. Although he’s a MoPar man at heart, he couldn’t pass up the Chevy half-ton 3100 Deluxe.
The original plan was to hot rod the pickup, using a donor ’84 Camaro’s front clip, complete with a built-up 350 V-8, automatic transmission, power steering, disc brakes and air conditioning.
"I put ’em side by side one weekend. I had them both up in the air and I rolled back and forth under them on a creeper, measuring, for about six hours," Miller recalled.
Finally, he told his wife, Patricia, "There ain’t no way I can strip her down and cut her up."
He knew the Chevy pickup deserved a full frame-off restoration. "A friend of mine wanted the Camaro, so I sold it to him and got rid of the temptation," Miller said.
He used his considerable mechanical skills and rebuilt the original 216 cubic inch inline 6-cylinder engine, as well as the entire suspension and steering on the truck. Hardened valve seats were installed to allow the engine to use modern gasoline and a set of Williams headers bolted up to split the exhaust into duals for a little more horsepower. A twin carb intake may be added eventually.
The interior was returned to better-than-showroom condition, with the bench seat reupholstered, along with the door panels. The "three on the tree" column shifter and original instruments were freshened up and Miller found a correct 1953-vintage 6-volt radio for the dashboard.
The body work wasn’t so easy.
"I’m an engine man, not a body man," Miller said. But he had to retrieve the truck from the first body shop, which hadn’t done any work on it. The second shop started it, but got bogged down in detailing.
Amazingly, things got even worse at the third shop. Miller went to check on the progress, only to find a tax agent flashing a badge at him and telling him the shop was being seized and he had two hours to get his truck out of there.
He called some friends and with their help, the disassembled truck was hauled back to his shop in pieces. What to do next?
Wayne Reidel, who had worked at the third shop, needed a job and Randy Miller needed a body man. So a deal was struck where Reidel would do the body work on the pickup at Miller’s shop.
"He is excellent on metal work," Miller said. But then there was the matter of paint. Miller had already zeroed in on the appropriate color: Chrysler Medium Metallic Green. Reidel agreed to give it a shot, and after five tries, a near-perfect finish was in place.
Reidel has also applied his skills to the 1974 Dodge Charger that belongs to the Millers’ son, 26-year-old Justin, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident about 10 years ago. Both projects were put on hold during his recovery and Randy Miller says getting back to work on them was therapeutic for both his son and him.
The minty green Chevy pickup was finished just in time for last year’s Leadsled Spectacular in Salina, where its stock presentation garnered a lot of attention among all the wild rods and customs.
"It’s great going to shows with it and getting to hear people’s reactions to her," Randy Miller said.
There’s just one more unfinished piece of business: Miller has lost contact with Mike Catlin, the man who gave him the truck.
"The bank went under and I don’t know if he’s still in the state. I would love to show him his truck. I keep thinking I will run into him at a show."
With any luck, maybe that last chapter will be written soon.