If you are reading this, you already know that vehicles aren't simply about transportation. Each has a story and some can make an impression that lasts a lifetime. At age 57, Joe Holt from Clearwater, Florida, is intimately acquainted with that phenomenon. In fact, he has a clear childhood recollection of driving by on his Stingray bike and seeing a ragged old 1955 shortbed Chevy, the service truck for a Phillips 66 gas station.
The vintage ride had a wide board bolted to the front with two tires mounted on it for pushing. The roughly welded rear bumper was made from angle iron and it had a cracked and weathered plywood bed. The paint was a faded red with the numbers 66 painted in white on both doors. At that moment, Joe knew he wanted to own that truck someday. Five years later in 1975 when Joe was about to graduate from high school, he had saved several thousand dollars and looked at the old truck many times. He had spoken with his father about making an offer on the truck and hoped to soon be its new owner. Unfortunately, he drove by one day and the truck was gone. The owner of the gas station said a man had recently bought it and Joe was heartbroken.
Sometime later, Joe graduated with a full football scholarship to college and on his 18th birthday, needing a vehicle to drive to college, got the best possible birthday present. His father handed him a greasy rag, smiled, and said "happy birthday!" Inside the rag was a set of keys and Joe knew immediately that it had to be the old truck. His father had bought the Chevy for $250. He repaired the cracked head, rebuilt the carburetor, had the radiator redone, replaced hoses and belts, did a brake job, changed fluids, and gave the truck a general going over. Joe sat in the truck for the first time and once he figured out how the push-button starter worked, took it for a drive, looking out over that expansive faded red hood as he cruised down the highway. That's when the truck got its name, thanks to a fresh pack of Big Red chewing gum found in the glovebox.
Fast-forward almost 40 years later and Big Red is still in the family (thanks to Joe's very understanding wife, Abby!) and getting better every year. In the early 1980s, Joe did an all-original restoration that included a new paintjob and many mechanical repairs. The rough wooden bumper with its twin spare tires was long gone, replaced by a set of smooth chrome bumpers, front and rear. Later, in the 1990s, he subframed the frontend with a Mustang II suspension and installed a 350 V-8 with a Ford rear. That's when the truck acquired its first Dakota Digital dash and Vintage Air A/C. Unfortunately, time and money constraints meant the paint still needed some work and the interior was not complete. In 2009, Joe decided it was finally time for a complete rebuild. With help and input from his four sons, the truck began to come together, assisted by several teams of experts, beginning with the guys (Mike, Rob, and Tom) from Color Concepts in Clearwater.
A Fatman hub-to-hub chassis established the new foundation, complete with independent frontend and four-link holding the Fatman 9-inch rear. The chassis became a roller thanks to a set of 18x8 and 18x10 Foose Shockwave wheels wrapped in Nitto rubber. The tired 350 was replaced with a tire-shredding ZZ502 and five-speed Tremec TKO transmission. The crew from NBS (as in "No BS"!) in Pinellas Park handled the install along with the wiring, the Wilwood brakes, Halon fire system, Viper alarm system, and Vintage Air A/C. The Color Concepts team returned, finishing up the bodywork, adding the unique inset taillights, and spraying the truck with a custom-mixed shade similar to Ferrari Red.
After that, it went to Mark Kraus from ShapeShifters who teamed up with Paul Michael's Interiors to create the truck's first complete interior in almost 40 years, with Michael's handling the stitchwork and Kraus creating the design and installing the electronics. Double stitched in 10 hides of black leather, the interior features TEA's Design buckets, custom center console, aluminum-trimmed dash and door panels, chrome-trimmed headliner, power windows, and electric-touch, Fessler inside door handles, along with custom Dakota Digital VHX analog gauges. The elaborate JL Audio/Kenwood audiovisual system features a Kenwood 7-inch touch-screen receiver that controls a 900-Watt JL Audio five-channel amp, powering a huge 13.5-inch JL Audio sub along with three-way split component sets in the doors. Stinger sound deadening inside minimizes any outside interference. Kraus wrapped up the job with slim Lokar exterior door handles and Sun Spec mirrors.
The completed truck is a joy to drive and Joe says there's nothing quite like hopping in Big Red and traveling down the highway. "It's a great feeling to look out over that expansive bright red hood and sense the raw power of the 502 as you put the Tremec through its motions. It is a mix of old and new technology, American art and design, American ingenuity at its best, and American history preserved." In addition to the talented teams working on the truck, special thanks goes to Joseph Griffin Holt and Abby Kennedy Holt.
Facts & Figures
1955 Chevy Series 2
Joseph E. Holt
Frame: Fatman hub-to-hub chassis
Rearend / Ratio: Fatman 9-inch / 3.73 gears
Rear suspension: Fatman four-link with QA1 coilovers
Rear brakes: Wilwood 11-inch, four-piston calipers
Front suspension: Fatman independent frontend with QA1 coilovers
Front brakes: Wilwood 11-inch, four-piston calipers
Steering box: Fatman
Front wheels: 18x8 Foose Shockwaves
Rear wheels: 18x10 Foose Shockwaves
Front tires: Nitto Extreme 275/40ZR18
Rear tires: Nitto NT555R Drag Radials 305/45R18
Gas tank: Custom stainless 22-gallon with filler in the driver side fenderwell
Engine: Chevy Crate ZZ502.
Valve covers: Billet Specialties
Manifold / Induction: Chevy manifold and Holley 750 Double Pumper
Ignition: MSD Electronic
Headers: Hedman ceramic coated
Exhaust / Mufflers: TIG 2.5-inch stainless system and Pypes mufflers
Transmission: Five-speed Tremec TKO transmission
Style: Series 2 shortbed
Modifications: Smooth firewall to showcase the 502
Fenders front / rear: Steel originals
Hood: Smoothed inside and out
Grille: NOS chrome
Bed: Oak planks with stainless steel strips, widened fender wells with billet gas filler cap
Bodywork and paint by: Color Concepts, Clearwater, Florida
Paint type / Color: DuPont basecoat, clearcoat custom-mixed "Joe Holt Red"
Headlights / Taillights: Truck-Lite 7-inch round LED headlamps, LED running lights, and inset aftermarket taillights
Outside mirrors: Sun Spec
Bumpers: Smoothed with bumper bolts welded to the inside and turned upside down
Dashboard: Smoothed and painted to match
Gauges: Dakota Digital VHX analog gauges
Air conditioning: Vintage Air
Stereo: Kenwood 7-inch monitor head unit controlling a JL Audio five-channel amplifier, 13.5-inch sub and 6.5-inch separated component sets
Steering wheel: Flaming River, Waterfall
Steering column: Flaming River tilt
Seats: Tea's Design buckets
Upholstery by: Mark Kraus from ShapeShifters and Paul Michael's Custom Interiors, both from St. Petersburg, Florida
Material / Color: black leather
Carpet: black wool