Story and photos by Brian Earnest
Nick Dassow didn’t give a whole lot of thought to the rarity of his “basket case” 1968 Chevrolet pickup when he bought it 20 years ago. He was just a teenage car guy looking for something to do.
“I was in tech school and I was always into old cars and trucks. The price was right. They were asking $1200, and I decided it was something I could do. I bit,” chuckles Dassow, a resident of Port Edwards, Wis. “I went out and looked and it and said, ‘Yup, I gotta have that truck!’”
This disassembled Chevy was actually a pretty unusual bird — a four-wheel-drive K10 model built with a step-side box on the short chassis. Only 1706 such examples were built for the 1968 model year — a time when four-wheel-drive light-duty trucks were still a bit of an oddity. By comparison, Chevrolet built more than 46,000 two-wheel-drive versions of both its Step-Side and Fleetside shortbox trucks for ’68. Dassow wasn’t really looking for a scarce collector truck, though. He was just looking for a truck to do teenager things — bang around and get dirty.
“At first I just wanted something to go run through the mud. I wanted to put bucket seats in it and do all this stuff … But I had some friends who said, ‘Well, this is a pretty nice truck, you should keep the bench seats in it and keep it pretty much stock,” recalls Dassow. “So I thought, ‘Well, that’s an idea, too. And that was a little more practical, too, for something I was going to drive. So that’s what I tried to do. I tried to keep it pretty much stock, or at least period correct, with a couple twists on some things.”
Regardless of which direction he took the truck — stock, mud buggy or something in between — Dassow was going to be in for a challenge. The K10 hadn’t run in years and was nowhere near ready to drive.
“It was kind of an abandoned project. The guy I bought it from had it in boxes and he had a couple of kids and was just never going to get to it,” Dassow says. “He didn’t have the time to see through the vision of what he wanted to do with the truck. I was 19-ish and this was all before social media or Craigslist and you had to look in the Buyer’s Guide to find stuff for sale. This truck came up and I had just sold a car, so I had some extra cash. This would have been in early 2000. The ad said it was a ’68 Chevy ‘project’ truck. It said it had a western body and it was apart, but it was mostly there. I had to convince my dad to help me tow it home, with another pickup truck load full of parts in the back. And we got it all home and I started in on it.
“It’s an original four-wheel-drive shortbox step-side truck. It started out life in Madison [Wis.] as a DNR truck. Underneath the original ashtray, if you flip that upside-down it’s got a stamp on there that says Department of Natural Resources and a fleet number. The body he had acquired from somewhere out west. The original body was pretty used up, being from Wisconsin and the rust and everything. The frame and running gear is still all-original to the truck. It had some miles on it, a lot of wear and tear, so it pretty much had to all come apart.”
THE C/K SERIES TURNS A CORNER
Chevrolet’s wildly popular C/K Series light-duty trucks were entering their eighth season when they were given their first big overhaul. The 1967 conventional trucks were described by Chevrolet as possessing “the most significant cab and sheet metal styling changes in Chevrolet history.” The new styling reflected the importance of an attractive appearance in the light-duty truck field, as more and more trucks were purchased for personal transportation and camper use.
The major styling themes on the pickup combined an inner slant above the beltline with a side body feature line evenly dividing the wheel wells. The new cab was lower with increased glass area featuring a new rigid roof designed for extra strength. The front end had single headlamps recessed into square bezels at the end of a single wide center bar. The front sheet metal also featured greatly improved protection against corrosion. The use of smooth-surfaced, undercoated full fender skirts protected the fenders and other sheet metal from mud, water and salt.
Standard equipment included: safety belts; two padded sun visors; two-speed electric wipers; rubber floor mat; dome light; new padded dash; left-hand outside mirror (right hand mirror on chassis and stake models); backup lights; turn signals; and hazard flashers. There was a new Fleetside box with double-wall side panels, flat-topped wheel wells and a one-hand quick release tailgate. ID plates were mounted high on the sides of the cowl.
The standard interior featured color-keyed vinyl upholstery, foam cushions and steel spring seats. White bumpers and a white grille background were standard. Chrome bumpers were part of the Custom Chrome Package. Custom equipment included a full-wide foam-padded seat; color keyed-woven fabric and door trim; two door armrests; cigar lighter; cowl insulation; undercoating; and embossed vinyl door panels. There was also a Custom Sport Truck (CST) option that included exterior plaques, bucket seats, console, chrome bumpers, more brightwork and other goodies.
This year’s panel and Suburban models were switched to a 127-inch wheelbase and had new longer bodies. Step-side (with bolt-on fenders) and Fleetside (slab side) pickups were again offered, as were chassis-and-cab, chassis-and-cowl and chassis-and-windshield models.
For 1968, safety side marker lights were added to the front fenders of the pickups, panels and Suburbans. Pickups on the short wheelbase had 6-1/2-foot boxes. Those on the longer chassis had 8-foot boxes.
The standard “pie plate” hubcaps had a wide color stripe and Chevrolet bow tie in the center. Custom wheel covers had a “gear sprocket” look with color-keyed finish and a bowtie in center. The Custom Chrome option included chrome trim on or grille, window frames, interior and steering wheel. The Custom Comfort & Appearance option added more bright work, fancier seats and floor mats, some chrome knobs, cigarette lighter and full-length armrests. Colors for 1968 included Black, Light Green, Dark Green, Medium Blue Poly, Clematis Blue; Dark Blue; Red; Metallic Vermillion Poly; Orange; Dark Yellow; Light Yellow; White; Silver Poly; Saddle Poly and Ivory. Two-tone was done using off-white as the upper color.
Of course, almost no automaker sold cars or trucks in the 1960s without multiple engine choices, and Chevy truck buyers had decisions to make. The standard power plant was the 250-cid inline six, which produced a modest 155 hp. From there buyers could go up the food chain to the 292-cid six rated at 170 gross hp; the 307 V-8 at 200 gross hp, the 327 V-8 with 240 horses (gross) or the 396 V-8 with 325 gross hp. (The latter was not available in four-wheel-drive pickups in 1968.)
1968 also marked the 50th anniversary for Chevrolet trucks and a special Anniversary Package with gold and off-white two-tone was available for $49.50 on Fleetside pickups and $31.25 on Step-Sides.
THE 10-YEAR FIX
The good news for Dassow when it came to piecing his ’68 K10 back together was that he had some good bones to work with. The body that the previous owner had acquired didn’t have any real rust issues, and the truck had its original transmission, rear end and transfer case. The bad news was the truck hadn’t run in years, and there would be plenty of parts chasing if Dassow was going to try to keep it a stock hauler.
“The cab was sitting on there. The front clip was off. The engine and transmission and transfer case and driveline was set up. The box was in pieces. It was petty much a bare frame with an engine and a cab on it,” Dassow noted. “I learned a lot about the specifics of it being a four-wheel drive and being a limited production. They aren’t all the same from ’67-’72. They might look the same, but in ’67 and ’68 the four-wheel-drive stuff was all different, so there was a lot of hard-to-find parts that I had to acquire.
“Then with school and work and getting a new job, it took a back burner for a while. Then getting married and having kids it took a little bit further back of burner! I had it at my parents’ house, but as soon as I bought a house in Port Edwards in 2005, I moved it into my garage and that’s kind of when I picked up on the project again. Every little bit of time I had. When they took a nap I’d say, ‘Well, I’m going to go outside and see if I can get this thing running.’ It had never ran since I had it.”
Dassow got a nice bit of good fortune when he eventually came across a donor truck that he was able to drag home. It was an old Illinois plow truck that had rotted out, but still carried a lot of smaller items that Dassow needed. “It had a lot of hard-to-find parts. The simple things like the transfer case shift knob, I didn’t have that, and this truck had it. And it had some other little trinkets that I needed.” There were plenty of other trips around the Midwest over the years tracking down parts, and plenty of hours surfing online. “Yeah, there was a lot of chasing. Like the transfer case is a Rockwell T-221. They are pretty hard to come by and they only made them up through ’69,” Dassow pointed out. “So I went up to Minnesota just to pick up a little aluminum cover off of that. And I went down to Northern Illinois, to McHenry, to get a transfer case just to have the coupler and some of the other really hard-to-find parts. There was a lot of stuff like that.”
The K10 had a base 250 inline six when Dassow bought it. He got it running fine eventually, but made the decision the engine had to go when he struggled getting over the top of some hills heading to a car show in the area. The parts truck he had acquired had the 292-cid six, and that made for a relatively easy swap. “It was originally a V-8 truck — which V-8 I have no idea. It could have been a 307 or a 327, whatever the DNR state-type vehicles would spec out,” he says. “The 292 is a better engine, in my opinion. It’s got more cubic-inch displacement and more horsepower, so I put that engine in there, and yeah, it’s night and day. Power-wise, it’s much better.”
The sheet metal for the box, he said, was in good shape and didn’t need much attention. He found a bed kit that proved to be pretty simple to install and still looks great 10-plus years later. “It’s an oak kit, and then the stainless strips is not a factory option, but it’s something they make nowadays that looks a little flashier. I put hooks in there because I do use it for hauling. I put an old motorcycle or something in there when I go to a car show. People kind of get a kick out of that.”
Dassow says he found a bunch of Deluxe interior options to brighten up the inside of the cab. The fancier door panels with chrome strips and chrome four-speed shifter are not original to the truck, but they look right at home. The AM/FM radio came from a later truck. “That didn’t come out until ’69, but I figured it would be nice to have some FM tunes if you are going to be doing some driving.
“The interior, I looked at a lot of pictures of custom options that were available. A lot of stuff I found on eBay when eBay was first coming out. I bought a lot of parts on there. The dash pad came from … an old-timer junkyard. Some of it is original OEM stuff — as much as I could find. The seat is just a re-upholstery kit. And there are still a few things I have to finish yet.
The truck was painted primer gray when he got it, and Dassow says he mulled over a lot of color choices before deciding on a paint color. His father, Jeff, worked for NAPA Auto Parts years ago and still had some point code charts. Eventually, Nick decided on a bold red. “It’s kind of a fleet bright red. And I thought, ‘Well, that looks pretty nice. There is no metallic or nothin’ in it, so we went with that.”
Jeff actually painted the truck’s interior for his son. Later, Nick decided since he was doing almost everything else himself, he’d paint the rest of the truck, too. “We got it covered up and outside … and then a couple years later I went to Carquest and got the paint matched with DuPont base coat-clear coat system, and I tried my hand at it. I thought, ‘How hard could it be?’ I bought a cheap spray gun from Home Depot, a little HVLP gun, and we had a spot at work that I could use after hours that would keep the mess down.
“I just went at it one piece at a time… until I had a huge pile of parts in my basement that were all covered in blankets that we all painted and ready to put back together.”
Dassow’s goal was to make the truck as original as he could while still making it a practical driver. Two decidedly non-original touches that he couldn’t resist are the truck’s unusual rear bumper, and it’s equally unusual intake setup.
“The back bumper I found at Iola in the swap meets probably 10 years ago. It’s actually off a ’60-’62 Fleetside C10 … I was looking for a bumper and I know you could buy like a Sport chrome bumper … you could buy all that stuff brand new. But I saw this thing laying in the swap meet and it had these cool stampings from the dealership in Alabama and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool. I bet I could adapt that and fit that on the back of a ’68. There was a little bit of trimming … Having that dealership stamp was something they did back in the ’60s and you don’t see a lot of.”
Dassow said the old Edelbrock intake was an unexpected find when he was looking into a four-barrel carburetor setup to feed the inline six. “I was looking at the old hot rod magazines for the old ‘six-equals-eight’ where the guys were hot-rodding inline sixes and making them put out the same horsepower as the V-8s. I came across this one and I’d never seen one before. It’s an Edelbrock and it’s a single carburetor aluminum intake. It was on eBay. It’s definitely unique. I’ve never seen another one. I don’t know how many they made, but not a big pile of them.”
The Chevy’s tall stance comes from the 16-inch tires — 15-inchers were standard, but 16’s were optional in ’69 — and the 85 series blackwall tires that Dassow mounted. “People always ask, ‘Oh, do you have a lift in there?’ No, that’s all stock suspension. What’s unique about ’68 is there was only two leaf springs in the rear, so that’s kind of an oddity. In ’69 they went to a multiple stack, even on the half-ton. The tires are just from Fleet Farm, but they have that original bias-ply kind of look, like the tires that would have originally been on it.
“It’s a blast to drive. It kind of rides like a baby buggy over the bumps. With that short wheelbase, it’s kind of bouncy with that leaf spring suspension. Turning, it’s fine if you are moving fast enough, but if you’re parked it’s just arm-strong steering. There’s no power assist. Cruising speed is around 65. First gear, you don’t really use at all! It’s pretty much 2nd, 3rd, 4th. You can put it in first gear, which is like granny-low, and if you had it in four-wheel drive you could just dump the clutch in idle and it will just putt along. You don’t even really have to need to know how to drive stick. Just let the pedal off, it’s not going to [kill the engine], it’s so low.”
Dassow is now tackling a second pickup resurrection. “Yeah, I’ve got a ’65 that I’m working on right now. It’s a two-wheel-drive C-10. My daughter is showing interest in that. That’s my next project.”
He’s hoping it doesn’t take 10 years to conquer, like the ’68 did. But he’d be happy with similar results.
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