WILDFIRE! A 1959 Chevy Apache Pulled From the Ashes

If you watched any bit of live television and/or online coverage of northern California’s Camp Fire in 2018, chances are you might have witnessed this exact truck burning up in real time. To date, the specific fire (also referred to as the Paradise Fire due to the name of one of the incorporated towns that was largely affected by the damage) was the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history. It also stands as one of the most expensive natural disasters in the world the year it happened in terms of insured loses including homes, businesses personal properties, and lives, unfortunately.

While there are countless horror stories from those who were directly touched by the Camp Fire, we were intrigued to hear about a gentleman who lost a field full of classic cars and trucks to the flames, as well as a ton of other irreplaceable, sentimental items that reduced to piles of ash.

“This particular 1959 Chevy Apache pickup seen here was just one of the vehicles belonging to that man who was burned to a crisp during the Camp Fire,” says the truck’s current owner, Jason Fonte—field marketing manager at Chemical Guys. “As soon it was deemed safe to return to his fire-stricken property, that gentleman salvaged what he could and sold off a good deal of his damaged vehicles that were somewhat usable. A friend of mine found it on Craigslist, purchased it, but didn’t do anything with it right away due to the amount of work that would be required to bring it back from the dead.”

FIRE SALE

At this time, Jason was actually looking for a project truck to buy and wrench on. Knowing this, his friend offered the smoldering Chevy truck carcass to him at an appealing price.

“My knee-jerk reaction was a respectful ‘hell no,’ but my answer soon softened once he filled me in on the truck’s history,” Jason admits. “After he showed the photos on the Craigslist ad and I read the description, I was 100% committed. Even though the truck was a complete mess of twisted, burned, and rusted metal, I knew that I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to give the Chevy a new lease on life while preserving its story through glamorizing its obvious charred condition. The turnaround wouldn’t be easy, but I was ready to do my best to make it happen.”

While Jason’s commitment to restoring such a dilapidated old pickup was commendable, not everyone was able to see the potential and significance of the truck as he did.

The patina on the truck is unbeatable, and the story behind it is sad yet amazing at the same time.

“When the truck finally showed up to our house, my wife Dina and our son Rocco along with some friends were in the front yard having a picnic when the flatbed carrying the truck arrived,” Jason remembers. “My son’s first response was to call the truck ‘Mater’ from the Disney movie ‘Cars.’ My wife simply thought I was absolutely crazy to spend real money on that ‘piece of sh*t,’ as she referred to it, but I was lucky enough that she gave me a chance with it. The truck was dropped during the first week of the COVID lockdown here in Los Angeles, so it came at the right time to give me something to do with all the downtime we experienced.”

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

Over the next few months, Jason took his time designing the build on paper first. When he wasn’t sketching out ideas, he was hoarding as many OE and NOS parts he could track down. What he couldn’t find organically through calling in favors from pals and scavenging around he ordered online and stashed aside for the day the parts would be needed.

“After a few more months, I was able to source a motor and transmission from SoCal Auto Salon in Costa Mesa, California,” Jason says. “Nick of SoCal then helped me finalize my decision of ordering with a full Roadster Shop SPEC Slammed Series chassis, but that wouldn’t come in for a little while longer.”

Once the entire drivetrain was ready to go and the chassis system was on-hand, Jason reached out to his good friend Jeff Davey of Devious Customs in Riverside, California, to roll out the next and most exciting phase of the Apache’s revitalization process.

“All I had to say to Jeff was ‘it’s go time,’ and he showed up the very next day with two flatbeds to grab the truck and all the parts and components I was able to secure,” Jason says.

The engine Jason ended up scoring for the Apache was a peppy and clean late 2000’s-era LQ9 6.0L that was beefed up with an impressive lineup of go-fast accessory additions.

“Jeff and crew hid all the wiring during installation, including all the restored AC lines,” Jason adds. “I wanted the engine bay to be as sterile as possible while placing the crazy motor and patina-clad metal at center stage. The entire engine, transmission, and driveshaft were also painted a classic hot-rod gold color with heavy metal flake to give it all that old-school vibe. Jeff also fabricated a bead-rolled firewall to further create a much more interesting environment underneath the hood.”

NATURALLY ROASTED FINISH

When it came time to assess the condition of the Apache’s exterior, what Jason discovered was shocking.

“I’ve never seen the true damage that fire can do to an old vehicle, and what we found on the truck was that the support posts under the bed had melted, which resulted in the bedsides curling under,” he says. “Pushing them back out enough to build a new bed was challenging, but the results ended up creating the appearance of a side-to-side body kit that is nicely proportioned as-is—so much so that I get asked quite often where I bought the kit.”

Aside from that damage, the driver-side door isn’t perfectly gapped and melted glass is stuck to it. Since little to no bodywork was slated except where truly necessary, all Jason felt was required to meet his vision was to scrub the entire surface down with red Scotch-Brite pads dipped in a diluted CLR formula before shooting it all with three coats of matte clear to seal in the naturally roasted finish.

“This particular truck was optioned with reverse lights, and they amazingly survived the fire to a degree along with the turn-signal bezels,” Jason says. “The colors that are in the bezels are shades of oxidized green, copper, gold, and brown, which directly inspired the entire color palette for finished state of this project.”

Jeff of Devious then cooked up a bed for the Apache that was designed to look old and weathered with an exposed center section that showcases the rear chassis peeking through from below. The wood floor and strips were distressed, beat up, and stained multiple times to achieve the desired end result. The entire floor was raised to house the air compressors and allow the massive exhaust slide by. The OE wheeltubs were then widened 5 inches and have been left untreated to gain a natural layer or rust that will soon blend right in. OE footholds were then utilized to port the exhaust with a killer teardrop reveal that were finished off in trim rings with copper rivets, which were also left raw to promote true patina over time.

TRULY ONE OF A KIND

The interior space was also overhauled with a leather and suede-wrapped Snowden bench seat and headliner, custom door panels, as well as new plush carpeting and a Budnik steering wheel for a refreshed old-school feel. A Classic Industries gauge cluster was wired into the dash that was coated in flat black paint and peppered with naturally weathered accents and top portion for continuity’s sake. To liven things up inside the cab, a full audio system was also put into place to make cruising that much more enjoyable.

‘The patina on the truck is unbeatable, and the story behind it is sad yet amazing at the same time,” Jason comments. “There isn’t a truck like this on the planet, and I am very grateful that I have been able to help tell its story, as well as the stories of those who were also adversely affected by the Camp Fire.”

This once-burned-down old ranch truck is now an award winner that debuted at SEMA 2021 and has made its rounds at Dino’s Git Down, C10 Intervention, and Good Guys Del Mar, among other high profile events. Those who were watching the play-by-play as the truck was being built and had something to say about the likelihood of its completion or the style Jason was gunning for hopefully have been silenced for good.

“It feels good to have successfully resurrected this truck and to have been able to help people in any way possible,” Jason adds. “I am humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to properly reinstate the dignity this Chevy deserved while still being able to build it the I way I envisioned.”


TRUCK SPECS

OWNER

  • Jason Fonte
  • 1959 Chevy Apache 3100 PU
  • Culver City, CA
  • Relaxed Atmosphere SoCal

ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN

  • Shop: SoCal Auto Salon, Costa Mesa, CA
  • LQ9 6.0L from late 2000s Suburban
  • 4L80 transmission
  • Engine, trans and driveshaft all painted a hot-rod gold color by Devious Customs
  • Custom bead-rolled firewall
  • Holley mid-mount serpentine kit in satin black, Terminator-X powertrain control system, Sniper kit, throttle body, intake manifold, and oil pan
  • FAST EV1 48-pound fuel injectors
  • BTR Stage 3 camshaft
  • Ultimate Headers 1 7/8-inch headers
  • High torque starter
  • Two-piece valve covers in satin black
  • Aluminum radiator w/ 16-inch fan and shroud
  • Melling oil pump
  • MSD ignition
  • Custom driveshaft
  • Two Borla Sportsman racing mufflers
  • Stainless 3-inch flexible exhaust bellows
  • Custom teardrop revels
  • Custom steel trim rings w/ copper rivets

CHASSIS/SUSPENSION

  • Roadster Shop SPEC chassis, Slammed Series ordered in 2020
  • Wilwood Pro Spindles
  • QA1 adjustable shocks
  • RS front upper and lower arms
  • ‘Bagged all around
  • Parallel 4-link w/ billet Watt’s link
  • Accuair eLevel air management system
  • Viair 485 Black Widow compressors
  • Two FLO 5-gallon air tanks
  • Ididit steering column
  • Lokar column shift linkage
  • Ford 9-inch rear w/ 31-spline axles
  • Pro Iron case w/ TrueTrac post traction

WHEELS, TIRES & BRAKES

  • 20×9 and 20×12 Detroit Steel Ambassador wheels
  • 245/35ZR20 and 345/25ZR20 Lexani LX Twenty tires
  • Wilwood front 14-inch AERO 6 big brake kit w/ slotted, cross-drilled rotors and 6-piston calipers, rear AERO kit w/ 4-piston calipers
  • Aluminum tandem master cylinder and 8-inch booster

BODY/PAINT

  • Custom designed bed w/ custom wood floor
  • Fire-roasted exterior altered and powdercoated in matte clear

INTERIOR/STEREO

  • Snowden custom low profile bench w/ black and suede leather
  • Custom door panels
  • Classic Industries “Task Force” gauge cluster
  • Black suede headliner
  • Power windows w/ OE crank handles
  • Restored Restomod TruMOD AC unit with Stealth AC controllers
  • Cab heavily layered in Dynomat and padding
  • High-end black carpeting
  • Stealth Bluetooth head unit
  • Custom fiberglass box that house two JL Audio Pro Series flat 10-inch subs
  • JL HD900/5 amp
  • Custom kick panels
  • Budnik Tungsten steering wheel wrapped in black leather

 

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