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Showcase cover image for '56 2drwgn150's 1956 Chevrolet 150 Handyman Wagon

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150 Handyman Wagon
Member #4606

We've had this car since 1974, It's been garaged since then. (36 years) It was acquired from a guy who had disassembled it, he was going to build a j/stock dragster but lost interest (he got married) . Although most of the stainless trim was in the back of the wagon, the original motor, 3 speed, the front seat, two of the side windows, the left front inner wheel well, and a lot of small parts were missing. The car was the original Nassau blue/white color scheme, badly weathered lacquer, . The body and frame was generally (cancer) rust-free, he had already paint stripped and rattle-can primed most of the passenger side, and later forensics revealed it had once sideswiped something low, with a long hidden crease across the passenger fender, door, and rear quarter-panel. The frame did turn out to be one of those rare "pain-in-the-a$$ "California seamless".

First made it street-able for a while in 1979. Back then, it was powered by a '68-327, 461-fuelie heads, 650 Holley, on a Z28 aluminum Hi-rise, ArDun 30-30 solid lifter cam, Hookers, Zoom 11 inch clutch, M-21 4 speed, with a Hurst floor shifter. As far as brakes, rear, and suspension, mostly stock, it already had a set of ultra stiff (gasser style) 409 springs on the front and Gabriel air-shocks with 2 extra leaf springs on the back. Did my own first paint job, covering up the original lacquer with an " Imron" "coffee and cream two-tone... Came out nice, but just "OK" by today's standards. Also did a homemade interior job, using '65 Impala SS buckets and smooth vinyl door panels. It was driven hard, put away wet for 5 years, and then garaged, up on blocks from 1984-2005 while I took the time to hand build our house.

It was always in the back of my mind to get to re-doing that car and do it the right way as soon as I had a nice garage. I Had lots of time while working alone, to consider updating the inadequate '50's technology, such as the manual steering, handling and mainly stopping. One day my brother sent a guy over who was interested in buying it as is... I told him what I thought it was worth, after hearing his low-ball offer and attitude...I sort of got offended, so I showed him where the exit was. That's the day I decided, it's time for the second rebuild. The next night after work, I started unbolting the front end sheet metal, then I pulled the engine and transmission.

It took a while to consider the style, color, and interior pattern I was going to follow, but there was a lot of work to be done. We were at the Carlisle, PA fall swapmeet. We were walking around the vendor area and came across a vintage Chevrolet Dealer's, advertising postcard, showing a picture of the wagon! as it should look in it's stock color scheme. I was instantly inspired. The plan of action became... Total "frame off" restored stock appearance, correct color paint outside, restored upholstery with the stock pattern inside, modern brakes, and steering, as well as updated "power" everything! I bought that postcard, and the rest is history.

Most of all I have to thank Al Picarello, owner of Hideaway StreetRods in Copake NY for handing me a key to his shop, trusting me with the use of his tools.... For generously sharing his over a half centuries' worth of experience. He provided expert advice on these wonderful time travelers. If it wasn't for his old-school metalworking talent, tips, tricks, help, friendship, encouragement, and time spent planning the next procedure over lunch at "Dad's Diner", this car would have never attained the level of craftsmanship, or gotten anywhere near as complete as it has at this stage.

In addition to the finished product, I served an amazing apprenticeship...

This project turned into a 2-year, part-time training course, that included, first stripping the interior, squaring the body with the porta-power, and perfecting the hood, fender fit, and door lines. Then, installing the temporary bracing in preparation for the rotisserie' After that was accomplished, dis-assembling every thing else that could be removed, .

Where we found (ANY) even the smallest point of rust. we replaced the whole panel or fabricated what we couldn't buy, Plasma cutting, pinchweld drilling, MIG, TIG, DC-stick welding, heat stretching, oilcan shrinking, dent pulling with the stud puller, tap tap tapping forever, with the body hammer and dolly, Everything was sanded, or wire wheel stripped bare, then metal prepped, inside and out.

As each section of the metalwork was completed.. it was quickly shot with PPG DP50LF 2-part epoxy primer. We even got primer up underneath the hidden inner wheel wells in the back, The floor pans got new panels. New inner and outer rockers, were primed on all surfaces. We welded patches for the insides of the cowl and fresh air ducts, we even primed the interior inner body, under the dash, and insides of the the door skins which were replaced along with the rear quarters that have been primed inside and out. Well under a gallon of mud, for the entire car, and almost all of that ended up as dust on the shop floor. A couple shots of hi-fill primer, and blocking, prepped it for the final sealer.

When the time finally came, that I thought Al was ready to lay on the last undercoat primer/sealer before color... we purged the airlines, changed out the dessicant and filters, and somehow... the new primer gun and the best paint-gun in the cabinet ended up in my hands... The Master took off for the West Coast, on a well deserved 2 weeks vacation, and left me and the wagon to our own fate.

I cleaned the shop out, vacuumed as much as I could, and went home for the night to let the dust settle. The next day I soaked the floors with water. I started the seal coat. First the underside, then the topside of the car to practice with the gun and the results were definitely encouraging. The next day I started on the final color with PPG single stage "Concept Colors" India Ivory/Nassau Blue (chosen from the cowl tag's code 707E). The Concept Colors are very glossy and the shop was a little cold. Again I started on the underneath. I used the lower temp reducer, a little extra hardener and the paint smoothed out to a beautiful gloss that needed no polishing. I laid it on kind of thick. Because of all the different contours of the floor-pan, there were a few places with small runs . I flipped the body back and forth on the rotisserie' as the paint hardened, and eliminated all of them by gravity. The next day I proceeded to shoot the rest of the upper body and panels.

With two colors to paint and the large wagon body, it took two very long days on each color to complete the job. I shot the Ivory color first, Then masked the paint lines,which are mostly behind trim pieces. The only white on the actual car body, is the cowl, and firewall, and the small triangles behind the door pillar openings, and on this model, the lower face of the two tone dash, glove box, ashtray, etc.. In an earlier step, the top of the dash had been painted Onyx gloss black and masked off. All the rest of the India Ivory is on the roll pan, the top half of the fenders, and doors, and the entire hood. I did those on their own separate painting stands. The third and fourth days were used up doing the Nassau blue, and that was where the rotisserie' really came in handy. The rooftop alone on this car, is about as big as a billboard. I never would have been able to get such an even coat if I had to be standing on scaffold painting down, holding the gun at an arms length, the way I had to do the first time I painted this car.

I let it sit for 2 days or so after the last coat of blue, and then got to color sanding. About 50 hours total of 1000, then 2000 wet sanding and machine polishing. There are still two more stages of polish to go but that will have to wait 'till final assembly, just before I re-install the stainless trim. Took another whole day afterwards to clean out the entire shop again, and replace supplies before the owner returned from vacation.

When Al got back he didn't have anything to say about my work, he walked around looking at the hi-gloss single stage finish and finally proclaimed "I knew you could do it". Anyone who has seen this car, thinks that it was painted by a pro, but we all know... "it ain't the paint, it's the prep!" I'm totally satisfied with the job.

Meanwhile, the frame had gotten steam cleaned and sandblasted, we lifted one end, of the bare frame, up to the shop ceiling and rubber hammered it to knock out the blasting sand, then repeated for the other end. New Heidt's Rod Shop A-arms and bushings, and "Ol' 55" stock height new coils were bolted in with Heidt's 2" dropped spindles . New disc brakes and calipers, inner and outer tie-rod ends and sleeves, with a new Delphi power steering box were installed on front . The new rear cross-member shock mount was welded to the frame. During the body prep, we had already deleted the shock holes in the body floor with welded in patches. The reverse eye, 2" dropped leaf springs on the rear were completed as well. We set up a plastic dummy block on the original motor mounts and used that position to locate the new modern style side mounts. The transmission frame horns were cut back, and re-sectioned then a new square-tube cross-member installed to accept the TCI 700R4 transmission. The whole chassis and every piece of the suspension, the inner fenders, radiator saddle and small pieces were epoxy-primed with PPG, DP50LF and painted PPG Concept, GM in America, semi-gloss black. We measured the driveshaft length, and sent the driveshaft and new yoke to "Universal Auto Parts Corp. 900 Broadway, Albany, NY. 12207 (518) 465 3471" in Albany, NY to be shortened and balanced.

The old 327 block was sent out to a local (dirt-track racer's) motor shop, square checked and straight milled, bored .030 over, and fitted with new Keith Black, flat top pistons,. I decided to change out the crank to a 350, so now the motor is approx 355ci. balanced and blueprinted. The 461 casting, 1.98" heads that were on the motor for years, got a three angle cut and new stainless valves. A Lunati 60201 Voodoo Hydraulic kit with lifters and springs, and CompCams, 1.5 roller-tip rockers were chosen for the (conservative) 350 HP rating. The old vintage Z/28 aluminum hi-rise was hot tanked then port-matched and bolted on. The 4 barrel is one of those Edelbrock Performer series AFB clones. A Holley hi flow mechanical pump was hooked up to the new gas tank by way of 3/8" pickup and 3/8" fuel line moved to the outside frame position. I adapted a '56 2-barrel oil bath air cleaner with a dry element to fit the bigger carb. The new Corvette style 2-1/2" Ram's horn exhaust manifolds are now connected to the biggest, quietest, mufflers I could fit, and continue via a 2 1/2" +2" SCR stainless steel dual pipe system, turned out, right under the rear bumper corners.

Two years of free time and around 10 grand. I figure about half done. By now, the driver and passengers' side doors, as well as the tailgate and lift window have been re-installed, All the green tinted glass and rubber gaskets are new. Still to come, is the dual booster power brake system, (installed). AAW wiring, (in progress 99% finished) Rain Gear wipers, (installed). A/C ( installed). The power windows, (planned) and all the rest of the mechanical details need to be finished. I'll be copying the two tone B/W stock interior pattern, (not produced by Cars INC, or anyone else) as well as a complete rear axle rebuild.

Decided to go with 225R15 American Classic wide line tires on 15"X 8" rear/ 15"X 7" front stock appearing wheels from Vintique Wheels, painted Nassau Blue (done), with the '56 "dog dish" style hub caps that were stock on the 150's. One neat little detail, mentioned in the 1956 paint code book we referenced, is the 1/8" onyx-black, stripes around each wheel. Since I've been driving around, I've gotten a lot of compliments on how nice the car looks with the painted wheels, stock caps and white walls, as opposed to mags.

This 54 year young wagon, is well on it's way to being a smooth riding, nice handling, adequately powered, quick stopping, comfortably appointed long range cruiser. SWEET!

(Update) April 20, 2010 was the first motor fire up. Put in 5 quarts of Brad-Penn straight 30W and a can of zinc-Phosphorous additive, we primed the oil pump, adjusted the valves made a few last minute checks for fuel leaks, and set the ignition timing. Believe me, there is nothing like, primin' the carb, turning the key, and havin' the engine start and run, totally quiet and smooth on the first try. Did the recommended Lunati break in and then changed the oil and filter to Brad-Penn 10w-30. It seems to run best @ 8˚ initial BTDC. Special thanks to Jim Pitcher in Ghent NY, for the great machine work.

Even though the time and trouble spent, modifying the steering column to fit the power steering box, as well as retaining the column's stock arm to shift the 700R4 was a major pain, the choice of going with the 4 speed automatic is one of the best decisions I made. The car will break loose when you nail it at low speed already rolling, chirp the tires in second at 3/4 throttle, and still cruises along at 65-70mph in overdrive about 2000rpm with the motor noise at a minimum....exactly what I wanted. The quiet mufflers don't attract much attention and you can still hear the secondaries kicking in. The only major complaint is the temp sender AAW/ 56 temp-gauge mismatched ohms, but I see I am not the only one with those problems. The neutral safety switch is another little annoyance. Originally made for the 4 speed turbo, even after carefully following the installation directions provided with the unit, and adjusted to correctly start in only park and neutral, it's travel arc limits being able to drop the column's stock gear selector into L1 without breaking the switch. I found this out when I ended up spending another $28 for a new switch, but if that's all, I can learn to live with it, anyways the transmission works just fine shifting automatically from the "O"verdrive slot.

(Update) May 20, 2010; The first 500 miles of break in are complete, and it runs just fine. The last hundred miles were out on I-87/90 and that's where the OD really makes a difference. I'm changing out the oil to a new 5 quarts and a new Wix. The brakes and steering are as nice as I could ever want. The guys that did the State-Inspection pulled out their phone cameras and took some shots of the underneath of the car when it was on the lift! Time to hook up the air conditioning and work that out, it's gonna be a long hot summer.

(Update Dec,10 2010; Snowed here this week, that's it for this year, but with 1500 miles on the odometer, looks like things are gonna work out. Never got the A/C charged yet, but the heater, fan controls and switches are all functioning as they're supposed to. I'm trying to save up for the headliner, the interior side panels, seat covers and carpets. With the spacious size of the interior the "Hushmat" alone is gonna be a major expense! Then I'm doin' somethin' about the lack of "TUNES", probably one of those repro-radios with the I-pod option, and some hidden power amps. Next spring, it's gonna be fun opening up the garage door.

(Update Nov, 16 2016; almost 6 years later, been to a lot of shows all over the northeast. 28,864 miles on the clock, 19 mpg. This car is constantly being photographed, and complimented by thousands of people.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you enjoyed it, or even if you didn't, feel free to leave a comment. There's no other way to know who has stopped in for a visit. :)



· Registered
1,129 Posts
nice car! can't wait to see her when complete.

· RIP: 06-04-2012
1,063 Posts
My 56 150 wagon was painted Nassau Blue when it left the factory. I was really torned between between Nassau Blue, India Ivory and Matador Red...all single colors...I'd sure like to see pictures of your car to see what I missed. Please post more pictures I'd like to see it finished.

· RIP 11/24/2021
68,222 Posts
great story. its going to be beautiful when done.