Memphis Hell | Aaron Gregory's 1951 Chevrolet Pickup
Words: Karlee Sangster Photography: Luke Ray
As a teenager, Aaron Gregory had very little love for cars. Rebelling against his panel beater father, Aaron didn’t exactly love growing up alongside his father’s continuous stream of projects. “My old man would always have something on the go in the shed whether it be motor bikes, cars, boats, a handbuilt motor home. He even put together a Morris Minor 1000 onto Holden Gemini 2.0L running gear for Mum. He’d have me out there helping, trying to find a nut for this, or a bolt for that. I hated cars and mechanics back then!” he recalls.
A straight-A student in high school graphics and woodwork, Aaron graduated and took up sailing and racing boats, completing his boatbuilding apprenticeship. It was as far away from mechanics as he could get. A trip to Canada for the sailing world championships in 2002 changed things. A lowered Chevy Silverado caught his eye and when he got back home he enlisted his father’s help and the pair built up a dual cab Rodeo minitruck, “the poor man’s Silverado,” jokes Aaron.
Boats no longer held his interest and he was offered a job with Holden at Fishermans Bend in the concept car fabrication division. He was officially a car guy.
Fast forward a few years and Aaron still had Yank trucks on his mind. “The Chev pickup was on my car bucket list,” he says. “They’re quite popular in the States and finding inspiration for modification is easy, and those curves are sexy as hell! I put a post on the Ozrodders web forum asking if there were any around and a bloke from near Churchill in the Latrobe Valley responded, offering an Aussie built Holden RHD version. I went down for a look, made a deal, and bought all the bits home in a trailer the following week.”
That was mid 2008. Aaron’s purchase was far from perfect. “It had the usual rust in the usual spots, but was fairly straight though,” he recalls. “It was on a long C-channel chassis, an I-beam front end, 20'' steelies, 18 leaves in the rear pack and all twisted up. The chassis was discarded and the cab and panels sent for sand blasting, not much of the bottom ten inches of the cab came back!”
Aaron set to work, spending time working alongside his father and gradually bringing the body up to scratch. “The bottoms of the doors and front guards had the rust cut out, we put on replacement panels for rear cab corners and outer cowl panels and the rust in the floor and firewall meant that it was cut out in its entirety. With the decision made to replace the full size farm truck chassis, a Holden rodeo chassis was used as it fitted inside the lower doors and floor panels of the Chev. We used a more modern suspension set up as it was always intended to be more than just a Sunday driver,” he explains.
Aaron’s fabrication and design smarts came in handy engineering the truck. “It was smart to slot the rodeo floor and firewall into the rodeo cab (as it was rusted out anyway),” he says, “That way we could retain bench seat mounts, seat belt points, the collapsible steering column, pedals and brake booster and cab mounts. The engineer loved it!”
The Chev never came with inner fenders or radiator support so Aaron built these from scratch around a carby-fed Holden V8. His fabrication work didn’t stop there. “Being a full size flatbed truck meant it didn’t have the pickup style stepside bed I was after,” he explains. “So I fabbed it from scratch, but it was never going to be the standard small box. By bringing the running boards up to the bottom of the doors and cutting off the bottom rear edge of the front guards, it meant the rear guards came up higher (and having 100mm added to them horizontally to cover the 20" rear wheels), and gave me the opportunity to build the top of tray sides as a continuation of the body line in the cab. I’d love a Nomad and a '32 roadster, but can’t afford them right now, so a mix of the two combine to finish off the taildragger rear end, which really is a love/hate area for spectators,” he laughs. It is indeed. With XP Falcon taillights and an FC Holden license plate surround, it’s a unique look. A hinged timber floor covers the triangulated four-link, airbag gear and fuel tank.
In true custom style, the doors have been shaved, the bonnet de-seamed and welded together and the scratch built running boards complete the look.
The build took four years all up. Aaron recalls “I spent a couple of slow years on it while living in Ocean Grove with Dad. I moved to Sydney chasing my now fiancé in 2010, so the truck sat for another year before hauling it up to Sydney to finish. I had the opportunity to finish it while working with Laurie Starling at The Chop Shop. Finishing this thing was our first real step out of the minitruck game and a way to show people what we could do in terms of a high end finish. Months of working 7 to 5 on customers cars then 5pm to 4am sometimes every night to get it finished, sleeping on the couch upstairs at the shop with Laurie will always remain some of my fondest memories, even though they were highly stressful and tiring at the time.”
The car was completed just in time for Motorex in 2012. Since then, it’s been no trailer queen. “I sometimes use it as a daily for weeks at a time when the feeling is right,” says Aaron. “It’s done the Sydney to Melbourne run a few times, been up and down the coast and out into the country for hours on end for numerous car runs. It’s been on the road for three years now, so it’s showing a few battle scars. It also made the Summernats Top 60 twice.”
The Chev will be forever tied to Aaron’s friendship with Laurie. Besides the invaluable help in building and finishing the car, the Chev was Laurie’s last ride, carrying his Joe Webb airbrushed coffin to the funeral, after his tragic death in 2014.
Aaron has no plans to retire the Chev, or treat it as a bubble wrapped memorial. “I’ll always drive the wheels off it, that’s what it was built for, first and foremost!” he grins. We’re sure Laurie would be proud.
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 21.
Follow Aaron: @maximus_memphishell.