An Art Deco ’37 International, Re Imagined for the New Millennium
Although everyone likes to be behind the wheel of something unique. If your goal is to attend a car show and not see another vehicle like yours however, some genuine out-of-the-box creativity is required. Adding a few bolt ons to a vintage Mustang or spraying some custom paint on a ’57 Chevy might work for some but for Elvis Kerns, a car builder from Mulberry Florida, the plan was considerably more elaborate. He always builds unusual vehicles, like his previous rides, a’59 Rambler, ’38 Willys, and a ’49 Divco milk truck. This time, to boost the creativity bar even higher, he decided his latest creation would be diesel-powered and essentially one-of-a-kind.
He investigated several project vehicles but none made the cut until he found this 1937 International Cab Over in California, previously used as a Coca-Cola delivery truck. “I’ve always been an old school guy. When I found that cab, I said that’s me and I’ve got to have it. I was already building the project 100% in my head before I even started so I know what the outcome would be.”
Elvis traveled to California, retrieved the cab, then returned to Florida, enlisting the aid of several friends to begin the project. From the outset, the weight of the proposed diesel power plant meant that everything on the chassis had to be heavy-duty. Addressing those strength issues with modern upgrades, Elvis began with a front end from a 2013 GMC 2500. The rear of the truck uses a hand built four-link to hold the 14-bolt Dana rear from the GMC. Rigid 3X6 rectangular steel frame rails connect front and rear. To create the appropriate ground-hugging profile, the truck was bagged using four Viair compressors and two reserve tanks along with standard bags up front and semi bags in the rear, all designed to handle the weight of the engine. A 75-gallon fuel tank gives bladder-challenging range.
Motive power was next. The original flat six-cylinder motor under the bench seat was scrapped in favor of a mid-mounted, low mileage 12V Cummins from a 1997 Dodge 2500 pickup. While the six hard-working cylinders were already quick in stock form, we all know more is always better. Upgrades began with a compound turbo setup using the factory 56 mm Holset turbo to feed a new 72 mm Borg Warner. The two are connected to a dual intake and plenum from Deviant Race Parts, ported and polished before it was installed. Fuel delivery is assured with a full AirDog electric pump, filter, and water separator kit that energizes aftermarket injectors from BD Diesel Performance. Friends at Talent Fabrication and Performance in Lakeland Florida created the custom 5-inch exhaust system. Wrapped and routed along both sides of the body, it looks good and the mellow rumble clearly announces the truck’s arrival. Temperature control for the Cummins began with a modern radiator located behind the factory grille that uses stainless steel piping to duct coolant to the motor. Additional benefits come from a custom intercooler mounted on the front of the engine to ensure a dense charge and create additional horsepower. Elvis mated the Cummins to a 2006 Alison 1000 Series 5-speed transmission, upgraded with a Trans-Man Conversion and EFI Live Wire programming. It’s controlled by a Sidewinder floor shift. Put it in here, hit the gas and watch the grins begin!
“The motor installation came out so nice” Elvis told us “that I didn’t want to cover it up. I decided to leave both sides open and put it on display, making it a unique design element.” The rugged chassis became a roller with the addition of Mob Steel rims from Detroit Steel Wheel Company, 20X12s in the rear and 18X8s up front. Diamond Back rubber connects horsepower to asphalt.
Once the cab was in place, the engine mounted, and the bagged suspension ready to roll, fabricating the one-of-a-kind body became the next challenge. Elvis recalls “I only had the cab and had to come up with the rest of the design in order to complete the truck. I’m a stickler about what I call flow. The whole vehicle must look right from front to back.” Designed with a subtle rake, the body is supported by a series of metal frame members welded to the chassis. The sheet metal cladding was shaped by Chris Jeske using a Multiroll metal forming brake and then riveted to the framework. As a result, the truck has loads of storage space inside the newly created man cave. Functional as well as beautiful, the cavernous box features wood floors designed for rugged use since Elvis drives the truck at every opportunity. In addition to cleaning supplies, tools, air suspension components, and spares, the rear compartment also holds a custom built, Art Deco bicycle that Elvis and Chris Burke teamed up to create for Elvis’s wife, Misti.
Body mods to the exterior of the old soda truck began with a careful plan. The intelligent approach to customizing means you don’t disturb the identity of the truck. Rather, you refine and maybe amplify those elements that identify it as a classic. You can see that idea in action with those flowing rear fenders that came from a 1941 Chevrolet coupe. Hand formed and widened a whopping 16 inches to accommodate the fat rear rubber, they complement the round factory front fenders. Classic 1939 Chevy taillights and a touch latch gas filler cap were subtle additions to the rear. Moving up front, the International cab is fairly stock, retaining its factory fenders and grille, now accented with ultra modern Axial LED Halo headlights. Look closely and you will see that the driver side door opens conventionally while the passenger door opens suicide-style. That’s not a custom touch. Rather, that’s the way it left the factory. The finishing touch on the exterior was the gloss black sprayed by paint specialists Steve Servis, Nelson Rivera, and Billy the Paint Guy, all of whom had the singular goal of creating an old school vibe.
The gorgeous interior begins with bright red Katzkins leather with Houndstooth inserts fitted to 1970 Econoline seats and door panels. The color choice was a perfect contrast for the black carpet and exterior. Derek Lebough from Dade City, Florida did the stitch work. The reworked dash sports a Dakota Digital analog gauge package along with controls for the air suspension. Interesting aviation-style guards protect the rest of the accessory switches. Mounted above the windshield, the small monitor is a rear view camera, an essential element for backing the big truck. Vintage Air keeps the cockpit cool on sunny Florida days but driver and passenger have the option of opening the hinged windshield, a feature that came with the truck when new. The Sidewinder floor shifter from Winters is positioned just right, chosen because it was originally designed for monster trucks and strong enough for the diesel. One of the bigger challenges Elvis dealt with was modifying the original COE steering. To make it work, he adapting two separate 90° gear boxes to connect the old column to the modern GMC front end. As one of the final styling touches, the real Elvis added Elvis the skeleton shift knob just for fun.
The truck will always be a work in progress and the future is calling for gold leaf and pin up art upgrades on the doors along with the truck’s name ‘BOMBSHELL’. The ‘almost completed’ rig was a hit at SEMA this past November and Elvis plans on becoming a regular rider on future Power Tours around the country.
“Great trucks are always created with a combination of talent and hard work.”
Great trucks are always created with a combination of talent and hard work. Special thanks goes to Elvis’s wife Misti, son Jordan, Kurt Sudduth, Scott Lawson, Chris Jeske, Christian Stefko, Derek Lebeouf, Mike Longworth, Anthony Wall, Tony Bolin, Andy Mayes, Freddie Roberts, Billy the Paint Guy, Devan Norris and many other friends who helped create his amazing one-of-a-kind ride.