So, you have found your donor truck (preferably below the rust belt from the Midwest or southwest) and you are ready to get started on your build. A couple things to consider making your ride roadworthy. Typically, a 50’s or 60’s truck was built for utility not comfort. Trucks back then had manual steering, manual brakes, solid front axles, drum brakes, 3 speed transmissions and 95 horsepower engines. Since these trucks were typically used around the farm and for doing hard work, the owners were not concerned about creature comforts. Today’s classic truck owner typically wants one for the looks not because it was a great riding or driving vehicle. The ideal first step after you secure the truck is deciding upon how you are going to upgrade the suspension and drivetrain system so it can safely and enjoyably be driven on the road today. One of the easiest and most economical ways to do this is taking the entire chassis and drivetrain from a newer truck and setting it underneath the old truck body. Luckily because of all the forums online there are plenty of people that have done the swap and there are even aftermarket companies that make swap kits so the average person can do a swap with little to no fabrication expertise. These kits are basically bolt on in most instances and all you need to do is supply the old truck body with the new truck chassis.
The advantage of the new chassis right off the bat would be Independent front suspension, power disc brakes, power steering, better ride quality, newer chassis technology, and the ability to go to the local parts store to find any part you may need to purchase (try doing that with a 1950 chevy truck). In addition to a chassis swap some people take it one step further and swap in the newer truck motor and transmission. The benefit of this is typically fuel injection, overdrive transmission, better fuel economy and most importantly horsepower. The typical 6-cylinder truck in 1950 put our 95 horsepower, the typical 8-cylinder truck in 2020 puts out 350 horsepower. The typical truck in 1950 had a 3-speed column shift, the typical truck in 2020 has an 8 speed auto. So, while you are going through the trouble of upgrading your chassis might as well go all in and swap the drivetrain from the donor vehicle as well.
Wheelbase of your current classic truck and track width are the two biggest measurements to keep in mind when selecting your donor swap. Even then if you find something to short or two long, it’s a simple process of shortening of lengthening the donor frame. Luckily for us we have found that a regular cab long bed chevy S10 truck from 1982-1998 has a wheelbase that is identical to a 1947-1955 chevy 3100 pickup. This is the frame of choice for us when swapping over and modernizing these old trucks. You also have people that will just take the front end of the frame from the S10, a Camaro, a Nova, a Monte Carlo etc. and graft it to their existing front end so they get all the steering, handling, and breaking advantages of the newer car but on their original frame. We used to do that but decided in the end is just as easy swap a whole frame with newer components than just half of one.
The good news is there is a ton of resources online to find people that have already done a frame swap and are willing to share their tips and tricks. This is not something you are going to have to figure out on your own, join the forums and start your research before you jump right in. The good news is that in the end you will have a truck that will have classic looks and be a dream to drive in. At the end it will be 100% worth the time and money invested in swapping the chassis.