On the Road: 1955 Chevrolet Cameo pickup
At the end of his four-plus decades career as a liceneced mechanic, Bob Spragg was in charge of looking after 640 Canada Post delivery vehicles. By his own admission, that’s a big operation.
Although Spragg spent his working life servicing trucks, he’s not tired of them. He’s still got a soft spot for haulers, including his 1955 Chevrolet Cameo pickup.
“I’ve been a hot rod guy for years,” the Airdire man says, adding, “The first rod run I went on was in 1980, and I’ve built a couple of Fords, including a 1933 glass-bodied cabriolet that I had on the road for 18 years before I sold it.
“But, I’ve always been a truck guy, and during that time with the ’33 I also bought, built and sold a couple of 1955 Chevy trucks.”
That meant keeping his eye out for projects, and before online listing sites became as popular as they are now, the Calgary Bargain Finder was the go-to source. In 2005, that’s where Spragg found the 1955 Cameo listed for sale.
“The truck was in Thorncliffe,” he explains. “When I went to look at it, the story was the seller had bought it out of Spokane and driven it home. Then, it sat for the next 22 years. He’d collected many extra parts over that time, but eventually decided to sell it.
“I told him I was a hot rod guy, and that it wouldn’t be built as a stock truck – he said he was OK with that, and the project came home with me.”
Chevrolet’s Cameo is an interesting truck, in that it was one of the first to offer what became known as a fleetside box style. Before 1955, the first year of the Cameo, most trucks featured a stepside pickup bed. The Cameo was designed by Chuck Jordan, and he originally envisioned a one-piece body for the vehicle – as in, no gap between the cab and truck box.
According to a Hemmings Motor News article, however, Chevrolet engineers were concerned that amount of sheetmetal would deform with frame flex. To offer a solution, Jordan’s design featured chrome trim at the leading edges of the box sides, thereby defining the gap between cab and box. Speaking of the box, it’s not an all-steel pressing. In fact, it was simply a stepside box with glass fibre panels covering the sides. These were produced by Ashtabula, Ohio’s Molded Glass Fiber company, makers of the Corvette’s glass fibre body.
“You gain no more cargo space in the box,” Spragg says of the fleetside glass fiber covers. “It’s still the narrow, stepside box inside.”
The Cameo was produced between 1955 and 1958, with the largest number, approximately 6,000, built in the first year of production.
Spragg waited about five years before he started working on his Cameo, but he got started in 2010 by fully boxing the original chassis. He cut the steel plates and had them welded in place by Al Kerrison. To the modified frame, Spragg added front suspension components and a rear four-link system from TCI Engineering. With brake lines plumbed and a gas tank mounted where the under box spare tire once sat, Spragg turned his attention the body. For this, he entrusted the project to Lyle Vass of Rods n Restos in Strathmore. While at first glance the cab looked to be in good condition, media blasting proved otherwise. Vass repaired cab corners, built a new floor and firewall and fixed many other smaller problems before ensuring all panel gaps were even. After the metal work was completed, the glass fibre box sides required much preparation before everything could be sprayed black by Dale Ross of Calgary.
“It doesn’t have a lot of body modifications, but we did shave the door handles and cleaned up a couple of other areas,” Spragg says, and adds, “After it was painted, I reassembled it all myself and wired it up making my own harness.”
For an engine, Spragg installed a GM 350 cubic-inch Ram Jet crate motor with vintage-era Rochester-style fuel injection. He says he wasn’t looking for big power, just a nice, reliable smooth-running engine.
Once the Cameo was able to be driven, Spragg had the inside trimmed in custom red leather by Cascade Vans & Interiors.
“We’ve got three seasons on it now with more than 5,000 miles on everything with no problems,” Spragg says.
Although his Cameo is finished, he’s not done with trucks.
“I’m helping my son, Chad, build a 1965 Chevrolet shortbox – the Cameo is tucked away for the winter in his garage, so we can work on his truck over here.”
Greg Williams is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). Have a column tip? Contact him at 403-287-1067 or email@example.com