The FREE Complete Bay Area Auto Enthusiast Guide

By KENNETH HALL – Motoring Tampa Bay correspondent
When people bought a new pickup in 1954, they bought it as a work vehicle. That is why pickups in those days were short on amenities, but they were built to be tough and durable. The 1954 Chevy pickup owned by John Benitoa, of Lutz, has seen 64 years of hard work, but it is still tough and durable.

“It was the first vehicle that my dad, John Benitoa Sr., and I bought together, and it is still in both of our names,” Benitoa says. “It is the most reliable and great-running car that either of us has ever experienced.”

The Benitoas were not looking for an aged pickup when they encountered the truck 21 years ago. They were actually checking out a Jeep for the younger John to use to tow his jet ski. Then, they spotted the 1954 in the Jeep owners back yard.

“The sun had faded its red paint to the point that it was almost pink,” Benitoa says. “The grass was all grown up around the truck. The wood in the bed was all rotted and the tires were flat, but everything else seemed to be in decent shape, including the engine, a 1960s era 350 small block, which the owner believed was blown. I ended up paying $1,500 for it.”

The pair returned with a trailer to tow the truck home, but on a whim, they put a new battery and some gas in the truck, sprayed some ether in the carburetor and the truck started right up. They put air in the tires and drove the truck to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

After a minimal amount of cleaning and the addition of a Duntov 30/30 camshaft, as well as a sheet of plywood providing the bed, the older Benitoa drove the truck to and from work for 10 years. “It looked like the truck from Sanford & Son,” Benitoa recalls.

After about 10 years, his dad replaced the front end with one salvaged from a Mustang II. Then his parents went on a two-week visit to Alaska and Benitoa, inspired by the TV show Overhaulin, gathered his friends to restore the truck before his parents return.

“We did a complete frame-off restoration,” Benitoa says. “We rewired the entire truck, removed the engine and painted it, put new hardwood planks in the bed and installed a power steering system. The original transmission was replaced with a 700r4 because we wanted the overdrive feature.  We removed the gas tank, which sat behind the seat in the cab, and installed an aluminum tank under the back of the bed. We replaced the tail lights and shocks and had someone install a 2 ½-inch Flowmaster exhaust system”

Benitoa and his friends replaced the carpet, door panels and installed a new headliner. The bench seat was replaced with blood-red bucket seats. They added  a new radio, hidden in the glove compartment to preserve the vintage look of the dashboard and installed new AutoMeter racing gauges.

“We hung the fenders, tailgate and hood in a tree in my yard then painted everything matte hot rod black,” Benitoa says. “When we were finished, we returned the truck to the garage, and when my dad returned from Alaska, he was thrilled with the results. About nine months ago, I added a power braking system to the truck.”

Benitoa says his truck is fast, especially for a full-size, all-steel truck. In his younger days, he would race guys in much newer sporty cars and win.

“The 1954 Chevy truck is so much fun to drive, and it gets more attention than any of my other classic cars,” Benitoa adds. “It is crazy how much attention that truck gets. It has such a mean look, almost like it is mad, but it is such a great-running vehicle.”