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Rags to riches: the 1947 Chev Thriftmaster and its 10-month transformation

11 February 2016


Never mind the Cinderella fairy tale, this 1947 Chev pickup is the real deal — transformed from a sorry rust bucket to a sleek princess in only 10 months!

When you delve into the world of vehicles, there’s always going to be the one car that does it for you — the one that you simply must have. So, what do you do when you come across that vehicle, and are in a position to buy it, but it gets away from you? Well, you simply build one that is better. That was the logic followed by Kelvin Taylor, and, through the expertise of Hamilton’s Rocket Speed Equipment, that dream has been fulfilled with the majestic ’47 Chev pickup seen here.

Kelvin had seen the beautiful green Chev pickup that Hamiltonian Tim Wood built, and it was exactly what he wanted. While he couldn’t have that truck, Tim pointed him towards the team at Rocket, who were more than happy to help turn the dream of owning one into a reality. To get the ball rolling, Kelvin hunted around for a suitable pickup to use as a base for his project. He missed out on a few before he settled on one. That truck was a New Zealand–new example, but unfortunately it turned out to be plagued with rust. As a result, the truck has been fully stripped, rebuilt, and treated — it’s now even better than your average ‘better than new’ rebuild. 

The pickup was brought to Rocket in May of 2014, under instruction for a quick turnaround. It was promptly stripped, and the worst of the rust began to show. Essentially, the bottom eight inches of bodywork were toast, as were the bottom of the fenders, cowl sides and vents, and door jambs. Whilst it was being repaired, the firewall and inner guards were also smoothed, making for a very clean engine bay. Despite the tight time frame, the standard to which this work has been completed is exemplary — you simply cannot tell that the repaired areas are not original. 

Following the repair work, plenty of new parts were sourced and installed, including doors, bonnet, and running boards. Since the wellside tray and most of the rear guards were good, they were retained and freshened up to a standard befitting the rest of the build. Whilst working on the outside, Rocket also performed some very subtle modification work that would go unnoticed by most. The doors are actually from a 1952 model pickup, with stainless window trim and the quarter window removed — replaced with custom one-piece glass. The stake pockets on the wellside tray were also filled. It’s tiny changes like this that have a disproportionately great effect on the vehicle as a whole — you just know that the build has been done to the highest of standards.

Underneath, the chassis also played host to some serious modification, including a Heidts semi-coilover front end, with tubular control arms, a semi-boxed chassis, and plenty of custom fab work. The independent front suspension system utilizes Heidts progressive coils, with Monroe shocks, stock leaf springs, and 1½-inch lowering blocks at the rear. The reworked suspension has the truck sitting right, and, more importantly, it rides and drives like a dream. Close your eyes and you might well be in a modern car, not a farm hack built just after World War II. 

Since the pickup’s intended purpose was to be a reliable, comfortable, and driveable vehicle, the Rocket boys made everyone’s lives easier by opting for a GM Goodwrench 350ci small block crate motor. The engine has been spruced up with a polished Edelbrock Air Gap intake manifold, Edelbrock 500cfm carburettor, and a full MSD ignition kit, but is otherwise pretty much stock — what more do you need, though? The block hugger headers run into a fully TIG-welded two-inch exhaust system, including Flowmaster mufflers. The system is sufficient to let the small block’s noise be heard when it’s wanted, but keeps everything comfortably quiet at all other times, making the truck the perfect cruising companion. 

The engine is backed by a smooth-shifting GM TH350 transmission, built by Chris Tynan and featuring heavy-duty clutches. This feeds a modified Holden Commodore two-piece driveshaft into the BorgWarner diff from a Commodore VP. A final drive ratio of 3.0:1 is ideal for the road, and more than makes up for the TH350’s lack of an overdriven top gear. 

With such intensive work in ensuring the truck would make for a flawless cruiser, the interior needed just as much, if not more, attention lavished upon it. Here, Michael Parks, from Barn Find Interiors, was approached. The stock bench seat has been retrimmed in a luxurious leather, and its frame and base have been colour matched. The leather treatment doesn’t end there, though, extending to the head lining, the panel behind the seat, the kick panels, and the door cards. The floor benefits from custom carpets, and the inside of the glove box is clad in black Jaguar carpet — how about that for attention to detail? 

Polishing off the cabin is steering gear courtesy of the Limeworks Speed Shop catalogue, with the steering column, shifter, and steering wheel from a 1940 Ford used. The dashboard has been smoothed and includes Vintage Air air conditioning and some intensively modified stock gauges. These gauges have been reconditioned, and modified to work with the truck’s modern 12V electrical system. The oil pressure and water temperature gauges, originally designed for a six-cylinder motor, have also been modified to suit the V8 engine.

 Looking at the truck from the outside, it’s the remarkably clean appearance that highlights it as something special. With the bodywork completed by Rocket, the truck was sent down the road to PJ’s Panel & Paint, which did a superb job with the filler work and final paint, using De Beer paint in a stunning shade of white. This simple colour scheme works perfectly, especially when combined with the smoothly finished tray lined with American oak and the fittingly period-correct Wheel Vintiques Smoothies and wide whitewall tyres.

Though the original time frame on the build was six months, the amount of work required bumped it out to 10 months. Even so, that is an incredible turnaround for any build completed to this level, especially considering how it started off. According to the boys at Rocket, Kelvin was more than happy with how the build had turned out when he saw it in person — hell, we would be too, even if it ended up taking 10 years! 


1947 Chev Thriftmaster

  • Engine: 350ci small block Chev, GM Goodwrench crate engine, Edelbrock Air Gap intake manifold, 500cfm Edelbrock carburettor, Edelbrock fuel pump, MSD ignition, MSD coil, MSD leads, block hugger headers, two-inch mild steel exhaust, Flowmaster mufflers, Walker Z-series copper radiator (with air con condenser)
  • Driveline: GM TH350, heavy-duty clutches, Holden Commodore VP BorgWarner diff, 3.0:1 final drive, Commodore two-piece driveshaft
  • Suspension: Heidts independent front suspension (IFS), tubular A-arms, coilover suspension, Heidts progressive coil springs, 1½-inch lowering blocks, stock leaf springs (rear), Monroe Sensa-Trac shocks, Heidts front sway bar 
  • Brakes: underfloor booster, custom brake pedal, GM rotors (front and rear), Impala calipers (front), Commodore calipers (rear)
  • Wheels/Tyres: 15×7-inch and 15×8-inch Wheel Vintiques Smoothie wheels, 205/70/15 and 225/75/15 BFG Silvertown tyres
  • Exterior: 1952 Chev pickup doors, quarter window removed, filled wellside stake pockets
  • Chassis: Semi-boxed chassis, modified stock transmission cross member, custom K-member
  • Interior: Reupholstered stock leather bench seat, leather head liner, leather kick panels, custom leather door cards, custom carpets, smoothed dash, hidden audio, Vintage Air air conditioning, Limeworks ’40 Ford column and shifter, ’40 Ford steering wheel, stock gauges, modified oil pressure and water temperature gauges, Pioneer head unit, Alpine 6×9 speakers
  • Performance: Untested

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 122. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: