1941 Chevrolet – Rat Rod – James Lapp

Retired and ready to build! That described James Lapp as he set off to build a machine that would amaze those who looked upon it. Scroll down and read what he did and how he did it to this 1941 Chevrolet Rat Rod!

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What type of vehicle is this?: Rat Rod

Make, Model, Year of Project

1941 Chevrolet

What stage is this in?

Completed Project

When did you purchase it and for how much?

I purchased it for $500

Why did you choose this vehicle? (Any history like, it was my dad’s, like my dads, reminded me of when I was 11, etc.):

After 40 + years in the HVACR industry, I chose to retire.

For a while, I did volunteer work in a vintage aircraft restoration shop where there was sheet metal working tools, welders and machine tools.

I wanted to build a 1934-36 Chevrolet “high-top” open wheel truck. I found that they were quite rare and usually too far away. High shipping costs and also wanted to see what I was buying were my concerns.

I located a 1941 Cab for $500 in Buford Georgia, bare cab sold with a bill of sale and Vin plate attached.

What sort of condition was it in when you started the project, what was wrong with it, etc.

It was a bare cab and had been media blasted and epoxy primed.

Rust holes were present everywhere with minor dents mostly on the roof and back panel.

The rocker panels looked like Swiss cheese.

I also bought from the seller an S10 rear end 3:08 for $100, a new Bell type tubular front axle for $900 and two TCI coil over shocks for $200.

Rented a U-haul trailer and the cab was too wide to fit the trailer. Drove 90 miles home and picked up a bigger trailer.

Can you list any and all parts that you have put in?

SBC 350, BW T5, S10 rear, heating and cooling, flush fit windshield, electrical

The first part that I actually bought was a Borg Warner T5 at a swap meet for $175. Was told that is was from 1995 S10 v6, but soon found out it was from a 1993 S10 4-cylinder.There is a website that lists every t5 that was ever made and what it was used on.

The next bad news is that it was a World Class t5 with the Ford style bolt pattern. Oops! BTW the 6 cylinder S10’s use the New Venture gear transmission.

Now for the resolution: Astro van bell housing, probably rare. Camaro WC bell housing but it is tilted towards the driver 15 degrees. I bought a used Lake wood bell housing at a swap meet for $150 and re-drilled it to fit the transmission. Shifts well and works well in light duty applications if you don’t pound it. I got over that years ago.

I bought an aluminum S10 driveshaft from Pic N Pull for $12 and shortened it at the rear and TIG welded it up. Runs smooth, no balancing, no vibrations.

The rear end is supported by coil over shocks and a Speedway 4 bar suspension. Handles and rides pretty well. I installed Pan-hard bars front and rear fabricated from Geo Prism rear suspension bars. The rear is adjustable and also mandatory for a 4 bar suspension.

I used a 10 gallon gas tank (boat style) from eBay and it accepts a gm 0-90 ohm sender. It is filled through the truck bed and I get over 20 mpg on the interstate.

Also the battery is located under the bed and welding cable for power and power disconnect is used. I also installed a gas shutoff.

The engine is an Autozone re-manufactured SBC 350 0.10 block 2 bolt main that had about 4000 miles on it. Cost:$350, Took a chance because it would not start. Installed a new ProComp distributor and also replaced the Edlebrock 750 with a 600cfm unit. Runs strong.

The Griffin radiator came from eBay, but I had to fab the mounting brackets. I cut up an old rowing exercise machine for the mount and also made a rubber lined tray to support the radiator bottom. Works well and there is a flex fan and an electric fan in front. The heating and cooling is from Southern Rods and it works great.

The under dash unit is the 1960″s retro style. The cowl vent opens and closes, but the original handle was missing and the fan coil unit is in the way. I then hooked up a garage door latch to open and close the vent. The vent has Mooneyes on the inside and shows when opened.

The exhaust system is Speedway block huggers, with wrap and J pipes to Cherry bombs. The exhaust pipes (2″ EMT from Lowes) under the rear axle to C3 Corvette tips, that I traded for welding a guys lawnmower. Sound is great and I also installed 1960’s style cutouts that have never been opened.

The frame: I mocked up the from wooden 2×4’s as they are easier to cut than steel. 2×4 structural steel .120 wall was welded up with a 13″ Z at the rear. I put backer plate (fish-plates) inside and welded it up on a hard wood solid core door, that I got out of a dumpster.

I was told that a 2×3 frame is prone to flexing, but one guy used 2×3 with 1/4″ wall and it was strong. Wheelbase is about 140″. Materials cost $140. I also fabricated the front shock mounts, cab mounts, rear suspension mounts, front perch and shock mounts and plenty of other mounts. Also gussets were installed.

The front end is a Bell type tube axle with transverse spring and hair pins. 11″ GM disc brakes, Vega repop box and cross steer and Heim rod ends finish off the front end. I had a problem with a couple of Nyloks loosening up and could not source any Castle bolts, so I used refrigerant Locktite to almost “weld” them on. The steering is a little slow but light.

A Monte Carlo dual manual master cylinder was used, along with an adjustable proportioning valve, though I had trouble getting it adjusted so that the rear wheels lock up first. Could be an issue with 11″ discs in the front with narrow tires and 9 1/2″ rear drums and wide tires. I does stop quickly.

The pedal unit came from Bob’s Rat Rods and the clutch master and clutch cylinder from Speedway.

All new tubing was used and was “piped”, NOT plumbed. We are not installing sinks or toilets in this project.

CarrierWheels and tires: The fronts are Wheel Vintiques rally wheel 15×7 new ($50 each) and tires used on Craigslist. The rear are 15×10 rallies and tires from Craigslist ($160 for the pair) with 200 miles on them. The hub caps are “police cap” dog dish repops sans the logo for $12 each at a swap meet.

The grill shell was supposed to be temporary until I could source a real one but it turned out so well that I decided keep it. It is supposed to look like a ’34 Chevrolet or something close to it. I made it out of scraps of sheet metal and emt and it is cantilevered over the axle to hide the “junk” underneath. The grill is made from 1/4″ rod and rebar and took a better part of a month to finish. The “spider” is made from an 8 ball shifter ball that I melted with a lead light, by mistake. Just could not throw it out.

The “flamed hood” was a result of my wife wanting flames on the truck. It is made from rebar. flat stock, and 1/4″ rod. It is easily removable.

I get a lot compliments from the visor. I took me 3 times to get that right. 16 ga sheet metal and rod and the holes were punched with an electricians’ knockout punch. Studs bolt through the roof with a rubber gasket, it will never fall off.

The box is made from 16 ga cold rolled steel and square and rectangular tubing, that I got for free. Free is such a nice word. The cover is plywood and is supported by gas struts from a utility cap and the latch is too. There is room inside for small items and is lockable. I wanted to put a checkered flag on top, but couldn’t find one. so I used a Zebra table cloth from the internet. I helped a neighbor change out his ac unit and used the louvered panel and parts of a bed frame to make the tail gate.

The Cadillac tail lights came from eBay, but there is more to the story. I found a bell housing at the local scrap yard and bought it cheap and later sold it on eBay, and payed for the taillights. So they were free. The “cans” are oxygen bottles that I found at the scrap yard and turned down on a lathe. I also used another one for my radiator catch can. The third stop light is a marker light mounted on a Carrier aluminum connecting rod that, of course I got free.

Now for the cab. I must have welded about 50 holes in the firewall. I fabricated and installed new door bottoms, lower door skins, rocker panels, cab corners and metal patched rust holes, especially the rear reveal area. I also welded up pinholes in the dash.

The cab is channeled about 5 1/2 inches and a new floor installed. Also had to repair one cab mount that was rusted out. A VW parking brake handle was installed and was free, of course. Works well.

I also had to pie cut two areas and weld that were stretched by some kind of damage. Welded up the gas filler hole and Frenched in the antenna. The radio is in the glove box, but you can hardly hear it. There is one wiper motor from Speedway and the passenger side hole is welded up. The door hinges were re-pinned with aircraft grade bolts and machined to fit. The doors open, close and latch reasonably well.

So I painted the truck with TSC paint, sat back and looked at it. Not that good, Those “bubble top” cabs look pretty good with their art deco style and with full fenders.

So, time to chop the top 3″.

I had already purchased the rear window, so that stayed the same size, just lowered. Later I put a frame around it to reduce the size a little. The difficult part was welding the seam across the top to stretch it a little. Too much metal on one side and not enough on the other. I would recommend laying the windshield post back thus eliminating the seam on the top.

All the interior garnish moldings and window frames were cut accordingly. I purchased a replacement driver side window regulator on eBay for $45. The old one was stripped, as a lot of those were. Lucky to find that one.

Next challenge. I really wanted to have a hinged out windshield as they seem so cool. Mine was in pretty rough shape and the cab was not really that square. Probably not built that well when new and the years of abuse have not helped, so I abandoned that idea and went with the flush fit glued in glass. The dude at the glass shop was really cool and gave some really good advice. With the new windshield in hand, the correct adhesive, fit and “S10” trim, here I go. That adhesive is so thick that you really need a pneumatic gun to squeeze it out. Struggled and got it in and later the rear window after I riveted a flange in. Next time, I would us RTV. The side windows went in fairly easy and roll up and down well.

I used Equis gauges from O’reilly’s, cheap and seem to work well enough. This guy gave me a SW hour meter and I put that in. Free is good. I bought a used GPS from eBay for $26, built a bracket and that is my speedometer.

Gm tilt wheel ($25) topped with a metal flake gold wheel ($100) from Speedway. How cool is that? The wiring harness is from speedway ($160). I am pretty good at electrical and wanted to make my own wiring harness, but could not find a wiring diagram for the tilt wheel.

The seats are “bomber seats” that I fabricated from free street signs. If you check eBay for bomber seats, there is a seller that states the dimensions. The signs I found in a dumpster and heated them to remove the paint and also to anneal the metal. Then I beat them over a work bench to bend the angles. The bases are plywood, The foam is 2″ medium density furniture foam and is covered with Mexican blanket. The Mexican blanket is not all the durable, but sure looks cool. Then I put in aircraft rivets with an aircraft rivet squeezer, but you can also “buck” those. Rivets came from an internet seller.

The header panel, door panels and kick panels are covered with Mexican blanket. The seat belts are aircraft seat belts, free of course. The head liner is some green material that my wife had that matches the Mexican blanket. It is glued to foam rubber, which is glued to the inside of roof. The rear interior metal panel had 3″ cut off the bottom and dropped into place. The carpet is some ratty carpet that I bought from Lowe’s.

The truck is registered as a 1941 Chevrolet Truck in Georgia and is insured by Hagerty. Georgia does not issue titles for any vehicle over 25 years old, just bill of sale. The local sheriff has to inspect the vehicle for any issues with ownership and signs off on a state form. The bill of sale, that form and insurance will get you a license plate (or as they say, tag). If the VIN plate is missing, they will issue a Vin plate.

What about you?

74 years old, did all the work. Working on the next one.

Any stories regarding this project?

Drove 200 mile round trip from North Georgia to the Syracuse Nationals this past summer.

Our first interesting experience was when we participated in a local parade. It was raining on and off, very hard at times, and soon after that, a Corvette in front of me, quit running. Even during hard rain, the truck kept running, however, I did put a cover over the HEI distributor. It was a bottom of a milk jug wire tied to the distributor and is still there. Now for the best part, we were handed a trophy, that was for best vehicle entry.

At a car show in Blue Ridge, Disney’s Dreamworks was looking for vehicles and participants for a movie shoot. At the encouragement of my wife, we signed up and a while later, I got a phone call. They only wanted me and the truck, but that was OK because it was two very long nights. I earned $500 and that is the only time that I got paid for working after retirement. That’s the way I want it, as being in HVAC, people will drive you nuts looking for cheap work. We were right next to the filming at the Swan Drive In theater (renamed Mt. Kisco, NY Drive in). One of the workers offered me $10 grand, with cash in hand, for my truck. Said he was taking it back to California to resell for $15G, but I turned him down. The movie name is Need For Speed and don’t blink your eyes or you will miss us.

Have been to Coker Tire/ Honest Charlies cruise in twice. They have a great museum and shop tour there, well worth the trip.

Also have been to numerous cruise ins and car shows locally. I like the cruise ins the best, as some people seem to look down on vehicles that have not had $50-80 grand invested.

Now for the big one: We decided to go to the Syracuse Street Rod Nationals last summer. I met up with two guys from NC in Kingsport, TN and took three days sight seeing and driving. My starter starting acting up in Va. due to a faulty sticking ignition switch, but seemed OK. We split up in Gettysburg and then I got to the NYS welcome center alone. People came “out of the wood work” to look at the truck, ask questions and take pictures. Truck drivers were honking, thumbs up and people taking pictures from their cars. At the welcome center, a visitor from India even came over and talked to me.
Truck would not start as the starter drive was torn up. Two guys help push me down the road, after taking pictures and I was on may way. Stopped in Tully, NY for gas and almost shut the engine off. Oops! Made it to Syracuse and at my friend’s house where I was staying, put the truck on the lift and in 1 1/2 hours the starter was changed out. Autozone new $65.
The show was great with 8000 vehicles at the NYS fairgrounds. At Sparky’s Round up, that I entered in, I got the long distance award (2000 mile round trip from Ellijay, Ga) and the dirty dozen award. The other two also each received awards.

I wanted to stop in Cortland NY, as that was the area that I grew up in and to visit a relative that is in assisted care. Later that night, I stopped at a convenience store in Va. where a local cop approached me asking me questions and looking at the truck. Soon, two more showed up doing the same. The next morning, engine misfire. I picked up a new set of plug wires at Autozone (best set $30). Still misfiring, I drove to a fast food restaurant, next to a NAPA and a guy and his wife, coming back from Savannah, followed me in. We changed the spark plugs and the problem was solved.
He said that he had a street rod restoration shop in Pa., building high end street rods for about $80 G and said: “They won’t drive them”! I love yours because you drive it. I offered to buy them lunch for helping me, but they declined. I made it back home about 6:00 am, and missed my turns about three time due to the rain and fog. I wore ear plugs all the way. Some of the roads are rough as hell in Knoxville and Scranton and bridges in Va. Thanks to a good Chiropractor, my TENS unit and two well place pillows, my back survived. The truck is hard to take a nap in.

In conclusion, I did all the work, including the ac, welding, flush fit the wind shield and electrical. I did things that I thought that I couldn’t ever do. My first real project as a kid was to put an antique washing machine motor on my bicycle. A local farmer gave it to me and yes, it was gas powered. The motor was so gutless that the bike would barely go on level ground, but it was fun trying.

I would recommend to anyone building a project to read: Chassis and Suspension Handbook.

Get the Book mentioned above here.

Other useful resources are Speedway catalogs, magazines, the internet, cruises and car shows. Parts sources are NAPA, O’reilly, Autozone, eBay, Craigslist, Offerup and a multitude of suppliers on the internet. Swap meets are OK, but they will sell you any thing, so beware and know what you are buying.

Any garages, parts stores, fabrication shops, etc you want to call out specifically?

O’reillys seemed to be the most helpful.

Check out the pictures below, make sure to click on the picture to see the full version.

Before you go, check out these articles. Restoration and I’m going to fix it someday

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