It was a hot August night. Actually, it was Reno, Calif.’s, annual Hot August Nights event back in 2001, when Casey Kellar spotted what she thought was the old Chevy pickup she had been searching for. On closer inspection, she learned it wasn’t a Chevy at all but a 1951 GMC, its close relative. So close in fact, that the two makes share most body parts. When Casey and husband Byron inspected the vehicle, it was obvious that this wasn’t grandpa’s farm truck. Gone was the old straight six; in its place was a 350 cubic inch small block Chevy engine. And look, the front suspension is an updated Chevy Nova unit. Interesting, very interesting.
So interesting, in fact, that the Kellars wasted little time in finalizing the purchase of the blue GMC from the owner, a college student in need of money. The student’s grandfather had purchased the GMC brand new, which means the Kellars are only the third owners of this 50-year-old vehicle. The rumble of the engine and the sweetness of the ride made the new owners feel very good about the purchase.
GMC, in case you wondered, stands for General Motors Corporation, the automobile manufacturing giant formed in 1908 by William C. Durant. In 1909, GM purchased the Rapid Motor Vehicle Company, which evolved into the General Motors Truck Company. The company’s product was appropriately called a General Motors Truck until 1912, when the GMC Truck name was first used.
The most obvious difference between Chevrolet and GMC trucks is the grille. Chevrolet trucks were sold only at Chevrolet dealerships, while the GMC could be purchased at Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac dealerships. GMC often had a slightly bigger straight six engine, and even a V-6 as early as the ‘60s. When the trucks were eventually offered with an optional V-8, Chevy trucks came with a Chevy engine, while GMC trucks were powered by Pontiac. As the years went by, the difference between the two makes became increasingly less significant, amounting to little more than the name badge and trim variations.
The GMC has enjoyed a pretty easy existence in the 11 years it has been under the Kellar’s care. Most of the time it has been stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. In the past 11 years, the Kellars have continued to upgrade the truck with power steering, power disc brakes, a tilt wheel, a top-of-the-line bed liner and a host of other improvements and upgrades—to the tune of almost $21,000 spent at quality shops in Oregon. To quote Casey, “It is now a street rod … a beauty of a driver.” Since moving to Kaua‘i from Portland, Ore., year ago, the truck has been in a few Kaua‘i Classic Car Shows and in a parade.
“People love her; she gets a lot of attention,” says Casey. These trucks were very common in their day, and so well built, there are still a lot of them on the road. The street-rodded GMC maintains the original style body and interior.
“Many times people just come up to us and tell us their ‘I remember when’ stories,” he said, “but it’s a lot more fun to drive now.”
Now that the owners have retired (Casey was the chief formulations specialist for a skin care and toiletry manufacturer; Byron was general manager for two companies), Casey is a published author. With the change in location and lifestyle, garage space is limited. Although it would be difficult to part with their beloved truck, the owners are open to the possibility, if they can find “Old Glory” a suitable home.
One thing about driving a ‘51 GMC: It’s easy to find your vehicle in a parking lot!
• Wheels in Motion is a weekly feature showcasing interesting island vehicles and the people who own them. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest a vehicle that should be featured.