Blue Angel – Rick and Michele Kiel’s Retro-Themed ’63 GMC is Like a Slice of Heaven
Many car guys know exactly what they want to build, and then seek out a worthy starting point through swap meets, web searches, and a network of like-minded friends. Then there are those projects that just pop up out of nowhere and fall into your lap at just the right time. This is exactly what happened to Rick Kiel and his “Blue Angel” ’63 GMC pickup.
Rick’s a lifelong hot rodder and has owned several cool cars and trucks over the years. He happened to be selling some bead-lock Jeep wheels when he was approached with the idea of trading for a ’63 GMC. Of course he was interested! A deal was struck, and Rick became the proud owner of a GMC body with the fenders, hood, grille, radiator, and other parts stacked in the bed.
Since the pickup was nearly all apart, Rick decided to lift the cab and bed off to get busy on the chassis and work his way from the bottom to top. The stock frame was retained but updated with the crossmember and control arms from an ’83 Suburban, plus a new Borgeson steering box. For a better stance, CPP drop spindles and rear leaf springs were installed along with that company’s shocks and sway bars. Wide whites from Coker on a set of chrome reversed wheels from Wheelsmith were the only choice Rick considered when it came to rolling stock.
For a driveline, Rick retained the original Dana 60 axle and its Posi-equipped 3.90 gears but made sure to fit a 700R4 transmission in front of it to keep the rpm at a comfortable level. Rick didn’t want to go with an LS and was even hesitant about a standard small block, but as luck would have it, a 348 became available which seemed just right. The standard-bore W-engine had been freshly rebuilt and fitted with an old-school Clay Smith reground cam which sounds perfect through a custom exhaust built by Mike Boerma from Gas Axe Garage. Rick scored a factory tri-power setup, rebuilt the carbs, and topped them with finned air cleaner tops to match the classic Offenhauser valve covers.
As the project gained speed, Rick began envisioning the truck as a work pickup for a custom shop in the 1960s. Rick has a soft spot for customs, especially when it comes to their candy, metallic, and otherwise showy paint work. He didn’t want any wild changes to the truck’s body, but his friend Ron Grothe added a big back window, deleted the tailgate chains, and smoothed the firewall, and then Ed Minkler finished the bed floor in beautiful maple wood. Rick whipped up his own tasty custom blend of PPG pale blue paint and sprayed the GMC himself. He used chrome bullets to embellish the grille with a nod toward ’60s customs. The icing on the paint work is the vintage-style pinstriping and subtle scallops created by Scott Montgerard of Letters, Lines & Designs.
The interior is perfectly suited for a vintage custom truck, starting with a ’59 Impala dash framed through the rim of Rick’s favorite steering wheel from a ’61 Impala. His buddy Dave Wagner of Get Wired rewired the entire truck and recessed the Vintage Air up into the cowl. Tim’s Custom Upholstery reworked the stock seat by adding bolstering and thinning the back cushion to give a little more leg room for Rick and his wife Michele before wrapping it in a leather and cloth design with neat details like the buttons from a ’63 Impala seat (for those keeping track, that’s three different years of Impala represented inside the cab). Rick dove back in to install sound deadener and fresh ACC carpet. Note the in-dash A/C vents, the vintage Sun tach and gauges, and the Ludwig bass drum accelerator pedal! Cool touches for a vintage feel.
Rick and his friends really shared a common vision on the GMC, which is absolutely clear when you see the truck roll by. One of the best things about hot rodding that Rick explained is how all your buddies are there to help, and how you make new friends in the process. He credits and thanks Ron Grothe for his metalworking skills, Ed Minkler for the bed wood, Tim Case for the Impala-inspired interior mods, Dave Wagner with his wiring skills, and Scott Montgerard for his art. The build process is a huge part of the enjoyment of owning a cool vehicle, and having a helping hand from friends makes it that much better!
Photos by Todd Ryden