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598-cube big-block 1959 Chevrolet Apache Fleetside

By Iain Kelly | Photos: Chris Thorogood, 27 May 2020 Features

1959 Chevrolet Apache Fleetside

Building one rare chevy commercial vehicle into a tough streeter wasn't enough for Reece Christensen; now he's back with this bitchin' '59 Apache Fleetside

PARTNERS of car fiends who not only tolerate but actually encourage project-car builds are surely the rarest and most sacred creatures in all the street machining world. Having someone who understands the roughed-up hands, financial burdens, long hours in the shed and unending frustrations that project vehicles deliver can make the whole process so much easier.

This article was first published in the April 2020 issue of Street Machine

Melbourne’s Reece Christensen can attest to this. Having previously built an astounding 1960 Chevrolet Biscayne sedan-delivery, Reece wasn’t exactly racing out to get his teeth into another full-bore, old-school project. It was actually his wife, Susan, who kicked off the build of this epic ’59 Chevy Apache fleetside.

Chev Apache Fleetside rear

“We were on holidays and saw one go past, and my wife said she wished that I built one, so I took it and ran with it,” Reece recalls. “I jumped online straight away and started looking.

“I searched everywhere for a fleetside but couldn’t find one. I found this ’59 in Vegas that a guy had for 20 years but never finished, which had a stepside tub. The truck was really good – probably 99 per cent rust free, even in the areas they always rot like the seams and cab corners.

“I found the fleetside tub in Canada, from a guy with a mint one-owner fleetside truck he was going to put a stepside tub on,” Reece continues. “Most of the tubs I had come across were irreparable, so I pulled the trigger and paid what he wanted.”

Chev Apache onroad side

Building cars is rarely a solo affair, and Reece had some invaluable help along the way. “I have to give a massive thank you to John Argiropoulos from JNA Automotive, who built the chassis,” he says. “He basically didn’t sleep for two weeks straight due to all the welding and grinding. The chassis build really did push the friendship, so I have to give him a special shout-out”

It shouldn’t come as a shock that Reece, as the owner of Bodyshop Paint Supplies in Bayswater, would have impeccable paint and panelwork on his projects. With the help of Peter Lamb from Melomotive and Adriaan Bark from Adriaan’s Restorations, Reece got the commercial’s bodywork ruler-straight and smooth, before laying down waterbased DeBeer paint in a custom coarse metallic variation of Grecian Gray.

Read next: Blown LSA-powered 1957 Chev Apache pick-up

Chev Apache Fleetside onroad

“These pick-ups weren’t designed to be this nice from the factory; they were just farm trucks,” says Reece. “I wanted this one to be the best one in Australia, so it meant we had to spend time closing up the shocking gaps and getting all the surfaces spot-on.”

Read next: Blown 1957 Chev pick-up

Chev Apache Fleetside

The ’59 wears big 22x8.5 Raceline Nitro rollers up front and gargantuan 24x14 hoops out back. They’re wrapped in rubber-band Pirelli P-Zero Nero tyres – 255/35 front and 405/25 rear

While traditional bodyworking techniques would require months of intensive work that might still end up with imperfections, Melomotive’s spline technology – which Pete Lamb developed while working on concept cars at Holden – radically reduces the time required for bodywork by working across whole panels, styling lines in one go.

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Chev Apache Fleetside tray

To cover the giant 4in chassis notch and 24x14 rear wheels, Reece had to make up a new custom floor and a pair of much larger wheel tubs for the tray. A custom raised tunnel for the tailshaft was also needed to prevent the unis from smacking the floor

“It took a week’s worth of splining to get the body how I wanted,” Reece says. “Splines have changed the way you do restorations, even for guys who have been doing it for 40-50 years. I’ve run a few of Pete’s spline courses here at the shop, and even experienced guys can’t believe how it improves bodywork.”

Chev Apache Fleetside and Biscayne sedan delivery

Reece previously built a killer – and very rare – 1960 Chevy Biscayne sedan-delivery (left) into an Elite-level masterpiece over a nine-year stretch. Sporting a twin-turbo LS1, custom trim by Manny at The Trim Shop and arrow-straight bodywork by Pete Lamb, it is a long way from its origins as a US Postal Service delivery car

Such a mint shell needed matching underpinnings to hold it off Terra Australis, so the stock frame was considerably beefed up. The chassis was boxed for improved strength, with a TCI independent suspension clip and steering rack fitted up front and a four-inch notch added to the rails out back to get the TCI four-link rear end sitting at a more pleasing ride height.

Chev Apache Fleetside wheel

The truck stops thanks to Harrop Ultimate disc brakes all ’round, with six-pot calipers up front and four-pots out back. “It was tough getting the brakes to work properly,” says Reece. “I used an under-dash electric booster, and getting that to work in a serviceable manner with very limited room was hard”

“The chassis in these trucks is basically just a C-channel frame, so they weren’t really strong enough for even the factory V8,” says Reece. “In hindsight, it probably would have been cheaper just to buy a complete chassis from the USA. The job didn’t seem to end there was so much welding and grinding, but it drives so good; it honestly drives as well as my X5 BMW. I can drive it on the freeway at 110km/h, or up mountain roads, or even powerskid it.”

Chev Apache Fleetside engine bay

“I love the engine bay and the painted engine,” says Reece. “It looked like a drag car engine, so I put old school-looking Billet Specialties rocker covers on and painted the engine, and now it just looks awesome. I also found an original oil-bath air filter housing, gutted it and made the insides all custom to suit a big K&N air filter”

While Reece’s rare 1960 Chevy Biscayne sedan-delivery packs twin-turbo LS power, a 598ci fat-block from BluePrint Engines lives under the Apache’s curvaceous bonnet. “It was built so I could go cruising with my son Hudson, so I just wanted it a bit more cruisey and with more instant grunt,” Reece says. “It was the biggest standard-deck-height big-block I could put in it without changing the firewall. I wanted all the seams and what-not, as I wanted to keep it looking stock. Still, it sounds like an open-piped drag car at the lights and it shakes, but it is definitely awesome to drive.”

Chev Apache Fleetside engine bay

Built around one of BluePrint’s 4.600in-bore four-bolt blocks, Reece’s motor swings nearly 600ci thanks to a 4.5in crank with 6.480in H-beam rods and 10.5:1 pistons, all made out of forged steel for increased strength. A 258/266 hydraulic-roller cam provides pleasing amounts of chop, while BluePrint’s own 119cc aluminium heads are topped by an Edelbrock single-plane intake and Holley Sniper EFI throttlebody. With a Race Radiators custom aluminium three-row core to keep it cool, MSD ignition, and two-inch four-into-one headers playing into a twin 3.5in exhaust, the big Chev made 752hp on BluePrint’s engine dyno.

Chev Apache Fleetside interior

Emmanuel from The Trim Shop did an amazing job on the truck’s cabin. “I wanted to keep it bench seat and looking original, with some extra touches,” explains Reece. “I have air conditioning and heated seats in here, because I want my wife and young fella comfy. You can buy heated pads to go into any seat, so that is what we did”

A 2800rpm TCE converter and Stage 3 TH400 from Paul Rogers turn the grunt down a custom four-inch tailshaft to the McDonald Brothers sheet-metal nine-inch out back, which is full of the good fruit like full-floater 35-spline billet axles, a Truetrac LSD and 3.77 gears.

Reece’s hard work turned the neglected desert truck into a show-stopping masterpiece in just under a year – all while running his business and being a dad! “It was a crazy 12 months,” he says. “I’m surprised I’m still married, as I was working on it before and after work, plus weekends!”

Chev Apache Fleetside dash

Despite the crunch at the end to get the truck done in time for MotorEx 2019, Reece actually already spotted his next project and picked it up before he’d even finished the Chev. “I’d been hassling a guy every Tuesday to sell me his Torana, and I got it on the understanding from my wife that I wouldn’t touch it for 12 months,” he says. “I think she wanted to have a husband back for a little while before I dive back into another car!”

Reece Christensen

REECE CHRISTENSEN
1959 CHEVROLET APACHE FLEETSIDE

Paint: DeBeer custom-tweaked Grecian Gray

ENGINE
Brand: Chevrolet 598ci big-block
Induction: Edelbrock, Holley Sniper EFI
Heads: BluePrint aluminium 119cc
Camshaft: 258/266 hydraulic-roller
Conrods: Forged 6.480in H-beam
Pistons: Forged 10.5:1
Crank: BluePrint forged 4.5in
ECU: Holley Sniper
Fuel system: VF HSV GTS pump
Radiator: Race Radiators custom three-row aluminium
Exhaust: Custom 2in 4-into-1 headers, dual 3.5in exhaust
Ignition: MSD distributor

TRANSMISSION
Gearbox: Paul Rogers Stage 3 TH400
Converter: TCE 2800rpm
Diff: McDonald Bros sheet-metal 9in, Strange Engineering centre, Truetrac, full-floater 35-spline Strange billet axles, 3.77:1 gears

SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Ridetech coil-overs, 2in drop spindles, TCI power rack-and-pinion, Flaming River billet steering column
Rear: Ridetech coil-overs, 4in C-notched chassis, TCI four-link
Brakes: Harrop Ultimate discs; six-piston calipers (f), four-piston calipers (r)
Master cylinder: Electric/hydraulic

WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: Raceline Nitro; 22x8.5 (f), 24x14 (r)
Rubber: Pirelli P-Zero Nero; 255/35/22 (f), 405/25/24 (r)

THANKS
Adriaan Bark at Adriaan’s Restorations; Peter Lamb at Melomotive; John Argiropoulos at JNA Automotive; my wife Susan; all my staff for covering me at work while I hid out the back of the shop making noise

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