Suburban Splendor – David Pilgrim’s ’52 Chevy is Crowned Goodguys 2023 BASF America’s Most Beautiful
When Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop set out to build this ’52 Chevy Suburban for longtime hot rodder and Bonneville racer David Pilgrim, the goal was to craft something bitchin’, black, and beautiful. They succeeded on all fronts and were rewarded this weekend when the trick vintage SUV was crowned the 2023 BASF America’s Most Beautiful during the Goodguys 30th Summit Racing Lone Star Nationals in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Suburban is the latest collaboration between Pilgrim and the talented car-building team headed up by Alan Johnson at Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop in Gadsden, Alabama. JHRS previously built Pilgrim a ’54 Chevy pickup with Duramax diesel power to go land speed racing– a truck that ultimately went on to set a record at Bonneville. This Suburban is like a sleek and sexy sister to that race truck.
The foundation is a Roadster Shop Fast Track chassis with a performance-based independent front suspension, a four-bar rear suspension, Ridetech coil-over shocks at all four corners, and 14-inch C6 Corvette disc brakes. The sophisticated chassis rolls on a classic-looking set of Heritage Series wheels from Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop. The 18×10- and 19×12-inch wheels are wrapped in Pirelli rubber.
There’s plenty of beauty under the hood thanks to a distinctive engine choice – a Chevy 250c.i. inline six built by Automotive Specialists Racing Engines using a combination of vintage speed parts and contemporary performance components. A vintage Wayne head tops the block and is fed by Borla IDF-style EFI throttle bodies on a custom intake, with an extra power boost coming from a pair of Garrett turbochargers. With a conservative amount of boost, the combination is good for 540 horsepower. There are many one-off pieces from Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop found in and on the engine, with cooling coming from a Johnson’s Radiator Works radiator. The engine is backed by a Bowler-prepped T56 Magnum six-speed transmission.
The big Suburban body remains largely stock, though the Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop team did plenty of nipping, tucking, and massaging to achieve a refined level of fit and finish. This is especially true inside, where many interior panels were well massaged so they could be finished with paint instead of upholstery. A pair of ’39 Chevy passenger car taillights was mounted high on the rear of the body before final prep was done and the gorgeous Axalta black finish applied.
Modified 2003 Tahoe seats were used inside and look right at home thanks to beautiful brown Garrett Leather skillfully stitched in-house at Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop. They complement a modified stock dash filled with Classic Instruments, Vintage Air, and a touch screen for the audio and navigation system. An Ididit tilt column and resized original steering wheel finish off the front of the cabin, while a custom wood floor completes the rear.
The end result is a subtle and stylish SUV that showcases its beauty with simple, classic style and refined craftsmanship. And it marks the second year in a row that a vintage Suburban has claimed the BASF America’s Most Beautiful title! Goodguys extends a heartfelt congratulations to owner David Pilgrim and the entire team at Johnson’s Hot Rod Shop for crafting an extremely fine SUV that’s worthy of the America’s Most Beautiful crown.
Photos by John Jackson & Todd Ryden