Pro touring meets show trucking in this stunning black-on-black ’56 Chev hauler
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Strong Style Photo
Stop the clock and rewind to 2014. Feels like just a couple of years ago, doesn’t it? But it’s not, just ask Mark Sade, who’s been working on his 1956 Chev 3100 since then, and he’ll soon tell you it’s been far too long. Back then, the truck was imported out of North Carolina in the US and, at the time, had been rebuilt into a nice cruiser. It ran a 350/350 combo and was painted white, and, besides the few rust spots showing on the bottom of the doors, it was in reasonably good condition. Mark wasn’t looking for a nice cruiser though, nor a car that was merely in alright condition. His goal was for something far more sinister in the form of a pro-touring-influenced truck that was perfectly finished.
Mark’s no stranger to big builds. In fact, he’s even been responsible for a few that have made the pages of our sister magazine, NZ Performance Car. So, he knew that the best way to get the type of handling and road holding he was after wasn’t to bother messing around with the pickup’s 50-year-old stock chassis, but to start with a clean slate. Among the myriad options available online was a complete aftermarket set-up produced and sold by Fatman Fabrications. The off-the-shelf kit came complete with front and rear suspension, as well as a steering rack, making it perfect.
It wasn’t till he got the new chassis back home that he discovered that, although many Fatman chassis have been used abroad, some of the engineering could be improved on or, more specifically, would need to be if the vehicle was ever going to become road legal here. Luckily, he knew local chassis guru Terry Bowden, who’s helped out countless owners in similar situations, and whose fabrication work is nothing short of exquisite. The big change Terry made was producing replacement front A-arms with tubing of a more suitable size and design, fixing a few flaws with the originals. Terry also remounted the rack into a position that would remove any bump steer, which, given Mark’s intended use of the truck, is a very good thing, as were the additional crossmembers that he added to stiffen the whole lot up. Thankfully, the rack itself was OK, as were the QA1 coilovers that the Mustang II–style front suspension system was supplied with.
While all this was going on, Mark was also working away on a motor combo that would power the truck. After all, a mild 350-cube small block was hardly going to get the heart racing, not after having owned cars like an 800hp Nissan GT-R and a pair of pro-touring Camaros. While some say there’s no replacement for displacement, Mark’s aware that turbos are a perfect replacement — better still is the idea of mixing the two together. While that’s the long-term plan, for now, Mark tasked Ian and his team at Franklin Engineering Services to build a naturally aspirated (NA) engine that could handle a bit of boost when the time is right. Initially, the combo was in his Camaro, but the truck seemed like a perfect place for it instead. Starting with a 454 block, Ian’s team took it out to 468ci using a set of JE pistons atop H-beam rods and a forged crank.
1956 Chev 3100
Engine: Franklin Engineering 468ci big block Chev, 454 block, JE pistons, H-beam rods, forged crank, steel main caps, ARP fasteners, race bearings, race oil pump, oval-port Merlin heads, triple-valve springs, Cam Motion roller cam, 1.7:1 Crane Cam roller rockers, stud locks, solid roller lifters, March Performance belt drive, Dart intake manifold, black MSD Pro-Billet series distributor, MSD Pro CDI, MSD Blaster 2 coil, MSD 8mm leads, custom Desert Cooler copper radiator, twin electric fans, HPC-coated custom full-length headers, three-inch stainless exhaust, custom Adrenalin R mufflers
Driveline: TH400 transmission, B&M stall converter, SFI lightweight flywheel, Moroso bolt kit, Ford nine-inch diff
Suspension: Fatman Fabrications Mustang II front suspension, Terry’s Chassis Shoppe A-arms, two-inch Fatman drop spindles, rack-and-pinion steering, QA1 adjustable coilovers, four-link rear
Brakes: CVV electric brake booster, Wilwood brake bias valve, braided brake lines; (F) Nissan GT-R four-pot calipers, 320mm slotted rotors, custom billet hubs; (R) Wilwood calipers
Wheels/tyres: (F) 20×9-inch American Racing, 245/40R20 Nitto Invo; (R) 20×12-inch American Racing, 315/35R20 Nitto Invo
Exterior: Widened guards, PPG gloss black paint, custom rimu deck bed
Chassis: Fatman Fabrications chassis modified by Terry’s Chassis Shoppe
Interior: Custom bench seat, custom retrim, Dynamat insulation, Ididit steering column, Auto Meter gauges, Vintage Air air conditioning, custom dash vents, retro audio
Mark knew that to have the engine exactly as he wanted it there could be no old components remaining, so instructions were given to ditch the stock heads in favour of a pair of oval-port Merlin offerings. These were fitted with triple-valve springs, 1.7:1 Crane Cam roller rockers, stud locks, and solid roller lifters for maximum flow capability. A Cam Motion roller cam specced by Franklin Engineering ensures that just the right valve duration for a mix of NA and turbo performance, while a March Performance belt drive keeps everything turning in time.
In any boosted combination, a strong spark is critical, so since he needed to get new components anyway, Mark future-proofed by selecting a black MSD Pro-Billet series distributor, MSD Pro capacitor discharge ignition (CDI), MSD Blaster 2 coil, and MSD 8mm leads. What will need to change when the boost is added is the set of HPC-coated custom headers, which feed into a three-inch stainless exhaust system, complete with custom-made mufflers by Adrenalin R.
Thankfully, the driveline was a bit simpler. This, however, was mainly because Auto Trans took care of the hard part: building the TH400 trans into something suitable for the vehicle’s intended use and performance. During the rebuild, a B&M stall converter was added, along with an SFI lightweight ring gear and Moroso bolt kit. Further down the driveline, you’ll find a Ford nine-inch diff that was supplied as part of the chassis kit to begin with and like all the rest of the components underneath the truck, was powder-coated by Franklin Powder Coaters before being installed for the final time.
Initially, Mark had a brake set-up consisting of Nissan Skyline GT-R four-pot front calipers up front and a Ford drum rear, although, in recent times, the rear has been swapped to a pair of Wilwood calipers and rotors. The 320mm front rotors are still in place, as is a CVV vacuum pump and Wilwood bias valve to get the proportioning spot on. A set of custom billet front hubs were required for the front-end set-up, and a set of 20×9-inch American Racing Wheels has been mounted, custom-built to Mark’s requirements. Down the back, there is a set of 20x12s from the same manufacturer, wrapped in 315/35R20 Nitto Invo tyres.
Anyone who’s owned a similar pickup will be scratching their heads, knowing that a tyre that wide won’t fit inside the rear guards, and that’s something Mark was aware of, too. With an extra 30mm width added to each side by Mike and Bev at Pete’s Panel and Paint in Tokoroa, they now fit perfectly. It’d be fair to say that added width and the low ride height help add to the vehicle’s tough stance, too, as does the PPG paintwork, also applied by Pete’s.
The interior follows the same flawless attention to detail, with Dynamat insulation being added before any retrimming could take place. The custom hood lining is now embossed with a Chev bowtie, while a set of Hot Rod Series AutoMeter gauges fills the dash. To keep the driver cool, a Vintage Air air-conditioning system has been installed that vents — for lack of a better word — through custom dash vents.
The whole project took around five years from purchase to completion, and while it wasn’t without its hurdles in the chassis department, the changes made have resulted in a much better truck. With an estimated 550hp on tap, it’s got no shortage of grunt. And with the coilovers and steering rack, Mark’s not afraid to throw it into the corners far quicker than an old Chev pickup should go. Of course, besides going well, it’s been built to score a few trophies, too. The custom deck lid opens up on gas struts to expose the underpinnings in such situations. Having seen just how well it drives, it probably doesn’t need a turbo or two added to it, although, somehow we don’t think that will stop Mark from making sure it happens!
Previously owned cars: 800hp R32 GT-R, Ford Courier ute with turbo 1UZ-FE, ’68 pro-touring Camaro, ’69 pro-touring Camaro
Dream car: ’69 pro-touring Plymouth Road Runner, my truck, ’69 pro-touring Camaro
Why the pickup? Absolutely love this shape of the truck. While traveling in the States, I was fortunate enough to see one similar to mine completed, but in silver, and just really wanted to create my own version of it
Build time: Five years
Length of ownership: Six years
Mark thanks: Mike and Bev at Pete’s Panel and Paint in Tokoroa; Lee and his team at Wired Auto Electrical in Pukekohe; the team at Carters Tyres Pukekohe; Ian and his team at Franklin Engineering Services, for building the engine; Karl and Hans at E&H Motors; Mark Stokes at MS Vehicle Certification; Franklin Powder Coaters; Vaughn, for the countless talks and help with all the engineering issues we faced
This article originally appeared in NZV8 issue No. 187