AARON Gregory built Memphis Hell, his awesome ’51 Chev pick-up, to do bulk road miles. Since debuting the car at MotorEx in 2012, he’s driven it to just about every show on the east coast of Australia, and has landed in the Top 60 at Summernats twice.
This article was first published in the October 2019 issue of Street Machine
Cutting the tub down has improved the truck’s handling. “I’m now running 10-15psi less pressure in the back airbags for the same ride height,” Aaron explains. “I also moved the front ’bags further inwards to get more lift, so I had to fit some tube upper control arms to clear them, and that means I’m now using 10psi less in the front as well. All of this puts the car at a much happier place on the road; the front end no longer skips through corners or understeers”
As the hyper-talented fabricator and car-builder (and semi-professional dancer and comedian) shook the truck down, he also played with its style. It debuted as a billet-equipped showpiece, transformed into a more traditional hot rod look, and is now a genre-busting race truck with custom three-piece wheels, aero modifications, a manual transmission, and even a new tub and roof chop!
Aaron is stoked with the way the truck handles now: “I’ve gone from a 185-wide tyre in the front to a 265, so I have heaps more rubber to grip and stop now.” Beefy sway bars front and rear, along with Astra electric-hydraulic power steering don’t hurt, either
“I had five months off work sick over a two-year period, which gave me way too much time to think,” Aaron laughs. “The truck’s initial build was rushed, so I wanted to make it better and fix a lot of those aspects.”
While the cammed VP Commodore BT1-sourced 304 initially ran on LPG, Aaron changed it over to a carburettor-fed petrol set-up a couple of years later, before recently going back to fuel injection. And this started a snowball.
Watch next: Aaron talks about the creation of Memphis Hell
“Once I had the EFI sorted, I had a car that actually went pretty well, but it had big balloon tyres at 15s on the back, so it struggled to get off the line,” Aaron explains. “I didn’t want to put a big converter and diff gears in it, because that would hurt how nice it is to drive on the freeway, which is where it spends 95 per cent of its time. So I bought the six-speed manual that Ryan from United Speed Shop pulled out of his Chev pick-up, and then got Matt at Geelong Diffs to rebuild the diff with 3.9 gears, as it was the only part we didn’t go through seven years ago in the original build.”
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“I went to Cooly Rocks On last year with the guys from Melbourne (SM, Aug ’18) and dragged the bejesus out of the tub cruising around town on Saturday night,” Aaron laughs. “I got back from that trip and the rollpan was flapping in the breeze, so I figured it had half-torn itself off and I may as well put the grinder through what was left”
You might have noticed the Chev has changed wheels again, with fat custom-built three-piece Simmons OMs replacing the steelies. The fronts span 17x10in and the rears a crazy 18x12in, with the centres custom-powdercoated by Scott Barter from Oxytech Powder Coatings. Funnily enough, Aaron got the wheels sorted after he already had the rubber for them.
“I can put it back to the hot rod look in about an hour,” Aaron says of the race-ready additions of a Gurney flap and rear splitter. “I have all the chrome bumpers, bench seat, whitewalls, et cetera, so I can put that back in and go do a hot rod show”
“I got the rear tyres from my mate Jamie Smith, who had scored a couple of 315-wide tyres and asked me if I knew anyone who’d buy them,” Aaron says. “I told him I could probably use them, and that led me to talk to Scotty about the Simmons centres he had, and it all snowballed from there. It really went from a sprightly little farm truck on 15s into more of a race truck, although this is one thing I have always wanted to do with it.”
Having sold his original 330mm UPC disc-brake kit off with the billet wheels, Aaron had to buy another kit to refit to the truck now that he had more room behind the 18s. The front wheelarches were also opened up so Aaron could have a better steering radius when riding 50mm off the deck. But that wasn’t the most drastic bodywork he performed; he cut up the truck’s custom tray and then chopped the Chev’s roof in just a weekend.
“The parts for the EFI swap were all leftovers from mates, including the intake manifold with twin throttlebody conversion,” says Aaron. “That came off Chubby’s Commodore and was ported, honed and flow bench tested. It’s the duck’s guts!”
“Because the truck was built in such a rush, I don’t think I was ever really happy with the tub,” Aaron says. “I kept the base and structure of the tub but I decided to remodel it to what I originally wanted it to be, so it has come down 100mm at the top, come in 120mm at the rear, and the rear guards have come down 75mm and forward 50mm. This has pulled 50kg out of the truck!”
The rocker covers are Lowe Fabrication units, coated and stenciled by Oxytech. And the rockets? “I made those out of my old exhaust tips. They cover up the fuel rails and are part of the Memphis Belle B-17 theme”
Aaron reckons the secret to the roof chop being nailed in just a weekend came down to the meticulous planning he did while laid-up crook.
The cold air intake was fabbed up in steel by Aaron at the request of his dyno guy and, like everything else that is brown in the engine bay, was powercoated by Oxytech
“I’d gone through Google millions of times looking up roof chop photos, build pics, books on the subject and whatever. I had a plan to chop the truck at work over a weekend, because I don’t have room in the shop for it to sit around for long periods of time. I cut it, got Scotty Barter to help me lift the roof off, knocked the slices out, then lowered it down and tacked it back in place.”
Once the chop was finished off, Aaron had his mate Steve Bulman mix up a customised blend of BMW Marrakech metallic brown to blow on the altitude-adjusted lid, before Aaron had new glass cut and fitted. He then dropped the chrome bumpers off and whipped up an alloy Gurney flap and splitter to add some aerodynamic attitude.
“I went for a drive up to Bilpin with the bench seat and got sick of driving from the passenger side,” Aaron says. “So I found some leather WRX seats and harnesses on Facebook Marketplace. I won’t use the harnesses on the street, as you can’t move with them”
“While the truck has changed heaps in terms of its looks, I’m way happier with how the thing drives now,” Aaron says. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve driven this truck to Melbourne; it’d be double figures easily. And if someone wanted the truck in Darwin I’d have no problems driving it there.”
To get the T56 working in the Chev, Aaron used a Mal Wood conversion kit, which came with an adapter to mate the Rodeo clutch pedal to a VE Commodore hydraulic-actuated clutch assembly. His next hurdle was the shifter. “Ryan had set the T56 using the forward-mount shifter position, which was under my dash, so I had to fab up my own gearstick to bring that back to a nice distance from the steering wheel”
But surely after pouring years of hard labour and bucket-loads of money into his hand-built, one-of-a-kind machine, Aaron wouldn’t want to risk driving it on the roads with all the pelican-touchers in their beaten-up Camrys?
“It turns on a dime and points and shoots like a champion, so now I am thinking that maybe it actually will go really well on a race track,” laughs Aaron. “It isn’t a stripped-out, full-on race car and never will be, but there is huge potential to have heaps of fun in it at track days and then still be able to jump in it and cruise down the freeway to Melbourne at 110km/h doing 1600rpm”
“It was always supposed to be something I could just drive,” says Aaron. “Even though it had the Elite Hall paint, trim and wheels, I never wanted to lose what I wanted to build the truck for. I wanted it to drive better than my VE Commodore, and I think I’m almost there.”
1951 CHEVROLET PICK-UP
Paint: DeBeers Olive with BMW Marrakech roof
Brand: 1992 Holden 304ci V8
Induction: Custom air intake, Holden bunch-of-bananas manifold, Edelbrock twin throttlebodies
ECU: Holden Delco PCM
Heads: Factory EFI 304ci
Oil pump: Stock, HQ sump
Fuel system: VE Commodore injectors, –8 line, fuel cell under tray, Shaun’s Custom Alloy surge tank, VL Turbo in-line pump, Holley Blue lift pump
Cooling: VP V8 radiator, Ford thermo fan
Exhaust: Pacemaker block-hugger headers, MagnaFlow mufflers, custom system
Gearbox: Tremec T56 six-speed manual
Clutch: Mal Wood HD organic, billet flywheel
Diff: BorgWarner BTR78, LSD, 3.9:1 gears
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Slam Specialties RE6 airbags, Pedders SportsRyder shocks, Astra power steering, tube upper control arms
Rear: Slam Specialties RE7 airbags, Pedders SportsRyder shocks, custom four-link rear-end
Brakes: Ford two-piston calipers and 330mm discs (f), VP SS calipers and 250mm discs (r)
Master cylinder: Rodeo
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Simmons OM three-piece; 17x10 (f), 18x12 (r)
Rubber: 265 (f), 315 (r)
Oxytech Powder Coating; United Speed Shop; Lowe Fabrications; Scotty Barter; Ryan Carter; Steve Bulman; my dad Steve; all the guys and gals in Negative Camber; my fiancée Mia