What’s an SMAV you ask? Well it’s the nickname BangShift Contributor Scott Liggett gave to Jim’s 1957 Suburban project. What does it mean? Soccer Mom Assault Vehicle. With 454 cubic inches of fuel sucking Big Block Chevy under the hood, this thing will scare the yoga pants off of every Grand Caravan driving soccer mom in town, and leave them shaking their fists and screaming something about the environment. COOL! Totally BangShift Approved.
IF YOU READ PART ONE OF THIS PROJECT CAR SPOTLIGHT, CLICK THIS LINK TO SKIP AHEAD TO PART 2. IF YOU DID NOT READ PART ONE, THEN KEEP READING.
PART I: THERE IS JUST SO MUCH SANDING TO DO
The story behind Jim, aka Squirrel on the BangShift.com Forums, and his 1957 Chevy Suburban project is that he bought this thing for $1000 in 1998 in Globe, Arizona. As is always the case when you get a new project, Jim started working on it hot and heavy starting with the chassis. He took another chassis he had lying around and clipped it with a 1972 Camaro subframe. He set it up to run a 454 and Turbo 400 combo along with a 9″ Ford rear that has been mounted on top of relocated stock leaf springs.
At the same time Jim took the entire body apart and blasted it before taking care of the sheetmetal in the floor and lower areas of the truck. He also handled a few sheetmetal issues on the roof, but excitement over the project started to fade. That’s when things slowed down a lot, and although Jim did some bodywork to the truck over the years it has mostly been stagnant.
Editor’s Note: We have used Jim’s words as much as possible to tell what he’s done to the Suburban. All of Jim’s words are in quotes as captions for the photos.
In November of 2011 Jim decided to get the old Sub out of mothballs and started making repairs to things like the door hing mounting plates, front sheetmetal mounting locations, and screwed up spot welds on the firewall and cowl. He was also contemplating the insane amount of sanding he had left on this big bastard, and he was only talking about the INSIDE! In fact at the time Jim wrote “Work on the wheel tubs is progressing. There’s a LOT of sanding still to do on this thing, the interior is like painting the whole outside of a normal car. The outside of this thing is huge, like the outside of two or three normal cars.”
Hit PAUSE………..For 19 months… Not a word… No clue what is happening… I thought we were friends. Sniff, sniff.
June 23, 2013, exactly 19 months and 8 hours and 6 minutes after the last update Jim steps up and says “A few pictures….I’m getting ready to work on the front sheet metal, first I need to fix the slightly out of position frame horns, then finish sandblasting and sanding body parts and put some primer on them. I also need to prime the doors and hinges, and put them on.”
Yeah Jim, that and a bunch of sanding remember? At this point Jim has also decided that the Sub is for sale. The price is $5000 he says, but as he works on it the price will go up. We aren’t sure what he’ll want for it when it’s painted, but you’ll know by the time this blog item is done.
“New” front sheetmetal was next on the list of things to do, so Jim grabbed some decent ’56 front fenders that he had and started working on hanging them and fixing any rust that was present.
The driver’s side fender had rust at the bottom that required a significant patch that Jim handled like a pro. For a guy that doesn’t like to do bodywork, he’s pretty good at it.
Uh oh…”The more I work on it, the more I don’t want to sell it….hmmmm….” says Jim. This is not a good sign.
After all this, Jim still didn’t know what colors he was going with, or which two tone treatment. As with every car and truck in ’57 there were multiple two tone treatments available for each body style. Some were only available on certain trim levels, but in a lot of cases even then there were multiple choices. Not like today where you only get one color and that is it. Getting body colored mirrors is considered an upgrade now. Screw that.
This is where you will start hating Jim. It’s okay, we like him and would still tell him that we hate him. You see, it’s been 7 days. Yep, 7 days since he started sanding and welding and body working and all that. And he’s already getting ready to shoot paint. In fact, he’s made a decision on the white portion at this point. Check it out.
“I got the doors all in primer, and did the first block sanding with the long board…they don’t look as good as I’d like, so I may spend some more time on them, the pass side door needs more filler in several places. I used a half a gallon of primer on them already just priming them twice yesterday. That stuff is expensive, too.”
Ahhh, wet sanding. This is the part of paint and bodywork that nobody likes to acknowledge exists. It’s the ugly side of making things pretty and it hurts.
Ooohhhhh paint on the inside! I think Jim might be right, there is at least as much paint inside this Suburban as there is on the outside of any Prius.
So this takes us up to July 3rd. Can you believe that he took the 4th of July off? Come on you slacker. LOL So in 13 days he has gotten the big burb ready for paint. I can’t believe it. Wanna come stay at my house Squirrel? I have much smaller cars you can work on! We’ll show you what the body looks like with color on it below. Stay tuned for the next update on Jim’s big bad SMAV Suburban next week. There have been some changes to the plan, but it is running and driving as we speak. Stay tuned!
Here is a tease with what the body looked like right after being shot.
PART 2: There are so many parts left that need paint!
At this point in the project Jim is most certainly happy with the progress and at the same time completely dejected by the seemingly never ending pile of other stuff that needs sanded, primed, and painted. He may not realize it at this moment, but in a week or two he’ll realize just how great it is.
You’ll remember from Part One that Jim started with a partly primed and not quite straight suburban shell that was sitting on a chassis, and nothing else, just two weeks ago. We pick up on July 5th.
We can’t decide whether to love him or hate him for this one.
Remember, we are going to quote Jim from his original BangShift.com Project Car Forum Thread whenever possible.
One comment from Jim’s Project Thread that we thought was funny, was cantvalve16 who asked “Jim, how do you keep all the overspray off the rest of the garage? Your garage always looks so clean when you show your pics?” Jim’s response, “Actually, it’s a mess.”
We wish our messy garage looked as good as Jim’s messy garage.
Next up was to actually hang the doors, and even though it’s a two door Suburban, it has 4 doors when you count the barn doors out back. Getting all these parts to fit and latch and all that is no an easy job for one guy. Jim must have some secret elves he’s not telling us about.
When Jim went to get more primer, to complete the front end of the truck, the paint store was out of primer by the gallon. So, while waiting he decided to get some of the mechanical stuff going. You know, stuff like an engine and transmission. The cool thing is Jim is pretty good at this stuff, although he is quickly realizing that decades of Big Block building mean he doesn’t have much small block stuff laying around. He had enough though, and decided that the small block was going to get the call to duty this time around even though his original plan was for a big block to find it’s way into the Suburban.
For those of you who have forgotten, 1987 was the first year for 1 piece rear main seals, angled center intake manifold bolts, and centerbolt valvecovers from GM. Since Jim decided to use an ’87 350 out of another project, but without the throttle body injection, he had to modify one of his cast iron Quadrejet intake manifolds to fit the ’87 engine. This required some time in the vertical mill.
This may be our least favorite photo of the build because it looks so bad right here. That is one ugly engine.
“I installed the engine, and got some of the doodads installed on it. I’m still mocking up the accessory drive stuff up front. I got rid of almost all my small block stuff, I had two boxes of misc crap left, which fortunately contained most of the brackets I needed. The intake is causing problems…doesn’t have the mid 70s boss for the alternator brace, and the stupid threaded plug for the heater hose won’t come out, with repeated use of the torch.”
“I didn’t get much done yesterday. I installed the fuel pump and ran the lines, and started on the trans cooler lines, and got the fan belts. Today I’m working on the shifter, which is a modified Hydramatic shifter from a mid 50s truck. I also have an early 50s Powerglide car shifter to steal parts from. I had quite a bit of it set up several years ago, but never got around to shortening the main shaft, or messing with the gate. The early cars and trucks didn’t have Park, and Reverse was soemtimes at the right, instead of the left. The PG shifter I have at least has park, and I can modify it to work with the TH400 shift pattern. I got the parts all ready to go, I just need to paint them charcoal color. So, back to paint work for a while.”
“I put the bumper on the truck, and you can’t see the runs unless you really look. White hides very well.
I started on glass. I installed the little windows in the rear doors. It’s a pain…but eventually it gets done. I’ll see if I can get the windshield out of it’s hiding place tomorrow, and get Janet to help me install it. That will be fun.
I got more of the dash put together…wiper linkage is in, glovebox is done, started on the wiring. I replaced the door latchs on the drivers and rear doors, and they work better now. I still need to see if I can shim the rear doors, they are too far apart from each other at the top, so I need to shim the upper hinges to move the doors in a bit. Other than that, the rear end is done.”
:I went for a drive, around the yard…it works! Ammeter works (discharge), oil gage works, temp gage seems to work (moves a little), dash lights work, transmission gets reverse and forward, brakes work, throttle works. Only a few dozen more things to get done and check out.”
At this point Jim is 27 days int this whole process and has a running and driving Suburban that is only partially primered. That makes him roughly 4 years ahead of most of us, and a couple colors behind. It looks good. It will look better.
“I took a little drive into town, and it was working so well I decided to head over to Bisbee, which is about 25 miles away. The only big problem is the front springs, I finally got enough parts back on the truck that it added enough weight that the front sits a bit too low. So, I’ll see what springs are in it now, and order some a little stiffer. Other than that, it works great, just a couple rattles. Speedo is really nice, it’s a couple MPH slow at highway speed, but that’s no problem. I had it up to 80 and it drives just fine, no funny noises or vibrations, and the “eyeball” front end alignment I did is pretty good too, it doesn’t pull or anything.”
The date? July 23rd. Exactly one month from when he started on the sort of primed and stripped shell. Not a bad month’s work, although if he hadn’t slacked off on the 4th of July it would be farther ahead. Just saying. LOL
We want to be like Jim someday. First off he has more talent than we do in a couple areas, and that makes us envious. Second he has drive like none other to keep up with a project like this until it’s done and ready to hit the road. When he started this project it was for sale. Now? Not so much. Hell, he told us he’s got at least $25,000 worth of his own labor in it!
He drove the Suburban about 600 miles to meet up with Bill, Scott, Carl, Nick and I for Donut Derelicts on Saturday and said it was running fine. We like the look of this thing a lot. Great truck and a cool cruiser for sure. Here is a pic of it at Donut Derelicts in Huntington Beach.