From 1973 through 1987, GM made about a bazillion (that’s a rough estimate) of the classic C/K truck. The square body was one of the most popular models for the General, and the fact that this is the truck that allowed Chevy to use “The longest lasting truck on the road” slogan means that there are still a ton of these trucks out there. For the most part, the 73-87 C/K truck held up quite well over the years; there are only a couple of rust-prone areas and they are easily fixed, making these great resto-mod projects. Such as this one here, the Red Dirt Rodz shop truck.
This particular truck is a 1981 C10 short-wide bed, by far the most popular style. Explosion-prone (with the appropriate incendiary device) saddle tanks aside, the truck has been a good truck, though a little neglected. The owner, Chris Franklin received the truck from his father after the motor blew up. The truck had been prepped for fresh paint and interior, only to sit for the next 10 years, being driven off and on. Our involvement with the build came about 13 years ago with a quickie stereo install and some shaved door handles. Both of those mods have since been reversed, a basic 350 crate motor was installed, and the truck runs great, but it looks a bit hammered.
The truck will be getting a full restoration, with help from Summit Racing, LMC Truck and BF Goodrich, that will bring it back from being a ratty, noisy, barely functional truck to a clean, sharp looking ride that will be the envy of neighborhood. Or at least they won’t complain about it anymore.
01. We pulled the truck in the shop, supported the front end with jackstands (NEVER work under a vehicle without quality jackstands!) and then pulled the wheels.
02. Next, we used our HammerHead right-angle impact wrench to remove the brake calipers.
03. We soaked all of the nuts and bolts with JB80 penetrating lubricant for ease of removal. The shocks came off next.
04. Then rotors. We will be reusing these, so they were inspected for cracks and damage, all good.
05. There are three ways to remove a tie-rod: a pickle fork, a hammer or a puller tool. The only way to remove them safely and be able to reuse them is with a puller like this. Don’t lean over the top though, sometimes they pop off with some force.
06. Next, the ball joint nuts were removed. Before doing anything, you need to support the lower A-arm with a floor jack, compressing the spring.
07. The upper joint is first. Here we used a pickle fork to separate it since we are not reusing the ball joint.
08. The next step is to slowly lower the jack, taking the pressure off the spring. Once the spring is fully decompressed, it will fall out safely. Then the lower ball joint was removed. The jack MUST support the arm at the ball joint for safety.
09. The ball joints had never been changed, another testament to the longevity of these trucks. Using a sawzall, the rivets were cut. You can also use an air-hammer or a grinder. This is faster.
10. These joints fought us the whole way. It required a chisel and a 3lb sledge managed to convince them to come out of their home.
11. The new joints that we got form SummitRacing.com slipped right into place. No more rivets, the new joints are bolt-in.
12. The lower joints have to be pressed in, which requires removing the lower arm from the truck. Two U-bolts, nice and easy.
13. We discovered that the lower arm cross-shafts were pretty roached, so we replaced those as well. Note the small dimple in the shaft; this is for locating the arm on the crossmember.
14. The lower arm was reinstalled in the truck, with the shaft located on the pins.
15. The factory coil spring sits inside a pocket in the frame. The top of the spring must sit over the alignment ring, shown here in the center of the spring.
16. The stock spindle has the rotor shaft at the bottom of the spindle, just above the ball joint.
17. The new spindle places the shaft 2” above the lower joint. This gives you the 2” drop.
18. We raised the lower control arm, compressing the spring. This is the dangerous part, make sure you support the control arm under the ball joint; otherwise it could slip out, letting the spring fly out under pressure- that is a bad day for everybody. The new spindle was placed on the lower joint, and the jack was raised until the upper joint was through the hole.
19. We torqued the nuts using our digital torque wrench from Gearwrench. 50 ft lbs for the uppers, 90 for the lower, and 30 for the tie-rod ends.
20. Here is a quick tip—the proper method of seating wheel bearings is to rotate the rotor back and forth while slowly tightening the nut until there is drag on the bearings. Then you back it off a touch and set it with the cotter pin.
21. The stock brake line is in the way with the new spindles. It hits the upper ball joint nut. This must be bent.
22. This is what it looked like after we got done. You have to be careful bending this line, it will kink easily.
23. Moving to the back of the truck, we sprayed some more JB80 on the nuts and bolts. Then we supported the rear frame with a jackstand and the rear end with a jack. Then the rear shackle bolts were blasted off with an impact gun.
24. The stock shackle is about 1.5” shorter than the new drop shackle. The kit we picked up from Summit Racing is a 4.5” drop; we decided to try just the shackles first to see if we liked it. We can always add the front hangers for more drop.
25. The new shackles come with rubber bushings which you have to knock in with a hammer.
26. On fleetside (wide-bed) trucks, there is a support beam that runs over the rear shackle. This must be cut out for clearance. We marked the beam at 18” and 11” from the side of the bed.
27. Then we used the sawzall to cut out the offending material. We had some trouble at the top, so we ended up using the plasma torch to finish the top cut. We could have managed with the saw, but we got impatient. Keep in mind it was 112° F the day we did this job!
28. The new shackle was bolted in using the original bolts. This part of the job took about an hour with the cutting.
29. Next, the big wheels and tires were mounted to the back of the truck.
30. We also replaced the shocks, part of the SummitRacing.com lowering kit. The old shocks had to be cut off, as the bolts had seized to the inner bushing shaft. To prevent that in the future, we added some grease.
31. The new shocks are shorter than original shocks, made specifically for this kit. They yield a better ride and won’t bottom out like the factory shocks would.
32. The suspension is done, and the truck already has a much more aggressive appearance. Are those tires too big? A race-style tire just wouldn’t look right, these BF Goodrich All-Terrain TAs are perfect. That’s how we like it.
A life-long gearhead, Street Tech Magazine founder and editor Jefferson Bryant spends more time in the shop than anywhere else. His career began in the car audio industry as a shop manager, eventually working his way into a position at Rockford Fosgate as a product designer. In 2003, he began writing tech articles for magazines, and has been working as an automotive journalist ever since. His work has been featured in Car Craft, Hot Rod, Rod & Custom, Truckin’, Mopar Muscle, and many more. Jefferson has also written 5 books and produced countless videos. Jefferson operates Red Dirt Rodz, his personal garage studio, where all of his magazine articles and tech videos are produced. You can follow Jefferson on Facebook (Jefferson Bryant), Twitter (71Buickfreak), and YouTube (RedDirtRodz).