The Pre’50 American Auto Club decided in early 2015 to replace it’s trailer with a period vehicle to promote the club at shows and transport it’s
paraphernalia. We decided that it had to be a panel van of some description but not too late a model. Myself, the Club’s Event Organiser, was given this job. I had been looking for about 8 months both in the UK and the US, unfortunately panel vans are quite hard to find both here and in the States. Some were just too rough and others whilst they looked good online were too expensive for us as we did have a budget to keep to.
Eventually I found a suitable vehicle on eBay.com in November 2015. The vehicle is a 1964 Chevrolet C30 Panel Van and was owned by a window restorer in Santa Maria in California. It is fitted with a crate Chevrolet 350ci V8 (approx 2,000 miles on this engine) with a 4 speed automatic transmission. This is the longer wheelbase version (known as the Longhorn) with a 10 foot loading bed. The truck is 19.5 feet long. These are hard to find in the States and there are not may (if any) in the UK.
This was the word for word listing on eBay:
1964 Chevrolet C30 Panel. 10' bed New crate 350 and automatic transmission. Fantastic everyday driver with new drivetrain. Use this as a perfect billboard for your business.
The good. Everyday driver right now. Big V8/new automatic transmission/nice interior.
The bad. Needs new windshield/Little surface rust/very little body work.
When I watch a vehicle on eBay I never bid as most don’t actually sell as they do not make their reserves. I look at what the maximum bid is and then use this as part of the negotiation when I message the seller. I have bought my last 3 vehicles from the States in this way.
As expected the C30 did not sell at auction so the owner was contacted after the listing had ended, fortunately he had posted his mobile number within the listing. He disclosed his reserve was $8,000 so I went in low at $4,500 which was higher than the maximum bid of $3,980. A bit of negotiation later and a price was agreed at $5,500. From various photographs the seller had on eBay and those he emailed to me, the C30 was in overall good condition with a few minor dents and rust patches. It also had a cracked windscreen; however the owner agreed to have this replaced before shipping for an extra $190. The total cost was $5,690 which at the time was £3,822 at a rate of $1.487 to the £. I used UKForex, as I have done so before, to transfer the funds to his US bank account. They give you a better exchange rate than the banks, there is no fee and it was in his account within 24 hours of leaving my account (the funds having been transferred from the club account to mine).
As the truck had no handbrake, various cables and a parking brake lever (these are difficult to find), which mounts horizontally under the dash to the left of the steering column, were purchased in the US and shipped to the owner in California for shipping with the vehicle.
John Kulin at Golden Chariots was contacted to ship the C30 to the UK and as the owner lived close to the container terminal in Long Beach he kindly agreed to drive the vehicle there saving us transportation costs as these are high in the States. Various documents were completed for UK and US customs, the bill of sale and title document were sent to Golden Chariots agents in the States and the C30 was shipped from California in a container in mid December 2015. It arrived in the UK, after changing ships a few times, in early February 2016. Import duty was paid (5% on historic vehicles) and the C30 was collected by trailer on 15th February from Kingstown Shipping in Dartmouth and transported to Gloucester. Shipping was easy with everything handled by Golden Chariots and their agents.
As most of you are aware transportation costs in the UK are high too and I was looking to keep these as low as possible. I had heard that Steve Passmore knew a man with a trailer so I asked him and was given the number of a Hungarian gentleman called Istavan. He said he could do it for £140. Wow, so I said yes. We arranged to meet at 5.30am on a cold February morning at Thornbury and we drove to Dursley to collect two immobile rusty mid 90s Alfas. Once they were loaded it was off to Bedford where they were dropped off and then we headed for Dartford where our C30 was waiting. Paperwork checked at the bonded warehouse and then the C30 was ours. On our way back we stopped off at Reading to collect an old Mazda coupe. We arrived back in Gloucester at 7.30pm and I eventually got home at 8.30pm.
Once it arrived in Gloucester we could assess what we had bought. As our C30 had spent it’s life in the dry state of California it was very sound in the chassis and body panels. Various lights and other electrical parts did not work. The engine and gearbox were in excellent condition and these required no work at all.
We replaced the headlights with Austin Mini lights to bring them to UK spec and got the indicators to work. We had to replace the indicator lever switch which involved removing the steering wheel. Although it had windscreen wipers and motor these were not connected (??) and the horn (of which there were 2) did not work either. Fortunately the wiper motor was ok and once connected to the wipers, and a new switch fitted, worked fine. A windscreen washer system was retro fitted as this is a compulsory MOT requirement and the horn replaced together with a new horn contact in the steering column. I don’t know what it is with American mechanics, diy or otherwise, but their wiring and connections are terrible and untidy. So Ken the long suffering auto electrician (he visited our C30 many times to work on the electrics) tidied all this up for us too. This was over the space of a quite few months with parts imported from the States. By now it was apparent that it was unlikely to make the Rally of The Giants in July, so I cancelled its appointment at the body shop.
I then took it for its first MOT on 15th April 2016 and of course it failed. Major area was lack of hand brake (which we knew about) and there was too much movement in the rear shackles hangers on the rear of the leaf springs on the right hand side. Again these are difficult to find but I eventually found a supplier in the States who made what I needed.
Once the parts had arrived it was back to the local garage on 20th June for the final work to be done for its MOT. By the way the garage where all the work was being done is a small village garage that has been there for over 45 years, very old school, and excellent mechanics with Ian the owner doing the work for us. The lack of handbrake was to cause a big problem as the rear axle (we discovered) was not original and the type was unknown. We think it had been replaced to handle the larger engine. Fortunately the parking brake cables coming out of the rear drums had been cut off so the operating parts were still in the drums (phew!!). Now the cables we had shipped with our C30 did not fit so we couldn’t use these or the hand brake lever.
As our C30 is fitted with individual seats and not a bench seat, and following discussions with Ian, we decided to fit a normal handbrake lever on the transmission tunnel and cable to the rear drums. A 1982 Ford Orion handbrake was bought on eBay and Ian retro fitted this and used Ford Transit brake cables fabricating all the brackets required. Unfortunately the rear leaf spring hangers and brackets were very difficult to remove so Ian outsourced this to a local HGV workshop who fitted the new ones. It passed its MOT on 20th June 2016.
It was registered on 1st July 2016 with registration number PTU 319B. Happy days!!!. Although it was registered it was still not going to go to the ROG as I was waiting for US style plates to be made and didn’t want to waste money on UK plates that would never be used again.
Off to paint and body repair on 1st August where it was to spend the next 3 months. This job was given to Martin Pollard in Frampton on Severn as he has worked on my own vehicles in the past and his work is excellent.
The worst areas of rust were at the top of the windscreen on both sides just under the overhang where we had actual holes, behind the front wheel arches at the bottom of the fender on both sides and along the bottom of the driver and passenger doors. There was a dent in the top leading edge of the front right hand fender just under where the hood closes and a bad repair on the shaped area just in front of the rear lights on the right panel. Plus, during its life like any commercial vehicle the roof had been used as a platform so this had to be straightened.
The hood and side doors were removed and work started on seeing what was underneath the paint. It was in remarkably good condition for a 52 year old van. Everything below the belt line and the hood was taken down to bare metal as there were 5 layers of old paint, of which 2 weren’t adhering to each other very well and spraying on top of this was not a good idea.
I had considered purchasing replacement panels for the areas that were affected by rust as these are available from LMC Truck in the States, however the cost was too high (parts about $130, shipping and duty would have added $300). Martin cut all the rusted steel from the panels affected above and fabricated and blended all the replacement steel to repair the body. His work is excellent and looks like it did when it left the factory.
The body behind the front doors had a few ripples in it as well as a puzzling group of holes drilled into the left hand side, maybe it had a bracket or something fitted in the past? Many hours were spent filling and smoothing both the sides of the truck, hood and roof.
The interior of the cab was quite rough looking so I decided that this would be spruced up, especially as at one time a radio had been fitted and someone had taken a hacksaw to the dash and had left an ugly jagged hole. Martin made an excellent job of filling and smoothing this and now it looks as if there was never anything there. The interior was already white so it was repainted in the same colour white to match the outside. The cargo area and the inside of the rear doors were left as they were.
I wanted a colour scheme and design that would stand out and give the impression that the roof line was lower than it actually is so the side panel, across the rear doors and across the windscreen area was going to be white with the roof and everything below the belt line blue. Mel and I chose Volkswagen Meer Blue (this was the colour that we felt most closely matched our blue club logo) and Ford Diamond White.
The wheel trims that were on our C30 were really ugly so I decided that the 16” eight lug wheels would be painted the same white as the panel, chrome trim rings were added the visible parts of the wheel hubs painted gloss black. The original tyres were looking old so a set of 235/75 16 white band tyres were bought from North Hants Tyres (from whom I managed to obtain a substantial discount), together with the chrome trims, to finish of the look of the wheels.
The bumpers and other trim were polished and put back on. New door rubbers were fitted, these were in a box of bits that came with the truck when we bought it and Martin realigned the doors so they fit alot better.
The ugly late model truck door mirrors were binned and new period mirror arms were purchased from Classic Parts in Kansas. I had a spare pair of period rectangular mirrors that used to be on my 1965 C10 pickup so I donated these to our C30.
Our C30 rolled out of Martin’s paint shop resplendent in its shiny new paint and colours on Friday 4th November.
The final phase was the sign writing for the panel. The club name, logo and tag line with web address were to go on the side panel with the Route 66 type club badge on the right hand rear door in line with the number plate. I opted for vinyl graphics as these are cost effective, quick and easy to fit. Werx Co, a local sign writing company handled this, and graphics were finished on Wednesday 9th November just in time for the Classic Car show at the NEC the following day!!
Our C30 debuted at the NEC Classic Car Show and spent the weekend promoting the club and was well received by the public and other car clubs who attended.
Our C30 drives and handles really well and the small block Chevy engine burbles nicely through it’s twin pipes. It has an original factory brake servo for its 4 drum brakes which are on a single system and there is no power steering. The 4 speed auto box shifts smoothly and she is a joy to drive.
You can see our C30 at the Bristol All American Car Show at Yate on 25th June 2017 and at the Rally of the Giants at Blenheim Palace on 9th July 2017.
We would like to thank the following who kindly donated to our C30 restoration fund:
Adam Alexander, John Allen, Luke Arnott, David Bull, Phillip Hynes, Mel Lloyd, David Radcliffe-
and to those committee members who have also loaned money to the club so the restoration can be completed:
Luke Arnott, Mel Lloyd, David Radcliffe-