Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy Suburban

The Gaither Family’s Papa Smurf 1965 Chevy Suburban

Couples who build hot rods together, stay together, and they also have a lot more fun cruising together with their family to car shows and events! At least that’s the case for Shannon and Kate Gaither with their 1965 Chevy Suburban, appropriately referred to as Papa Smurf.
Shannon and Kate have built and owned a list of cool vehicles, including a ’65 Chevy II, ’87 K5 Blazer, and a couple later-model Camaros, but the Suburban is their latest addition and the only one that can comfortably and safely haul their three daughters. Better yet, they bought the Sub from Kate’s father, who purchased it to use as a work and fishing rig.

Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy Suburban

Thanks to many brainstorming sessions with longtime friends Jon Henson and Chris Decker, Shannon’s vision for the Suburban was quite a bit different than his father in-law’s fishing truck plan. He knew it was going to be a long-term project for the family when they started to take it apart in 2014. It had a decent body with limited rust and the original inline-six was still ticking when they tore it down to the frame with the help of the girls digging out dirt and grime.

Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy Suburban

The stock chassis was retained but received a C-notch in the rear, along with Ridetech rear trailing arms and an AZ Pro Performance kit to stiffen things up. The front consists of Choppin’ Block control arms and CPP drop spindles with a set of ShockWaves at each corner. CPP’s big brake kit and quick-ratio steering box were added along with a set of Muscle Bar sway bars and an adjustable Panhard bar from Ridetech. A set of American Racing El Gordo 22-inch wheels was wrapped in Milestar MS933XP+ tires to complete the chassis.

It would have been easy to drop an LS or even a small block between the fenders, but Shannon liked the vibe of the original 292c.i. L6 so he took the engine to Silveira’s Machine Shop where they discovered a crack in the number five cylinder. Fortunately, a sleeve was sourced and each cylinder received an extra 0.060-inch bore. The assembly was blueprinted and balanced while the head received new valves and a little port and polish work – every little bit helps!

Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy Suburban

The engine would make plenty of torque down low, but Shannon wanted a bit more power which comes in the way of a T4 CX Racing turbo with the boost and fuel being managed through a pair of FiTech two-barrel throttle bodies. A Clifford intake manifold directs the fuel charge into the cylinders while a custom stainless header flows through a 3-inch pipe and out a Gibson muffler. Shannon also stuck with a vintage SM420 four-speed transmission and rebuilt the original GM 12-bolt axle.

The sheet metal was left largely stock, though Shannon and his friend Chris grafted a set of ’67–’72 rear fender wells to the inner front fenders. The firewall was reworked by Chris and Al Hernandez and a set of Switch Suspension hood hinges was added. AC AutoCustoms was charged with straightening the sheet metal before laying down the Porsche Gentian Blue with Chevy Ermine White for a classic two-tone look.

With the plan to haul the family around, Shannon and Kate wanted the interior to be functional and comfy, so they opted for a set of seats from TMI wrapped in caramel vinyl and parchment suede along with saddle loop carpet. Robert De Leon helped wrap the custom kick panels that Shannon developed and the one-piece headliner. Much of the stainless trim and many distinctive features were designed by Shannon and then machined by his pals at Evans CNC. The dash houses a Vintage Air system, Dakota Digital gauges, and the AccuAir controls, along with a RetroSound/Kicker audio system.

Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy Suburban

It took a few years, and even a few starts and stops including a non-running showing at the 2019 SEMA Show primarily sponsored by Milestar Tires, but the Gaither family finally has their Papa Smurf 1965 Chevy Suburban on the road. Shannon and Kate are thankful to all their friends that spent late nights in their garage and lent an extra hand when they really needed it.

When you see the Sub at a show, ask the girls for a decal or have them show off some of the Easter egg logos and Smurfs that their dad hid throughout the build!

Shannon Gaither 1965 Chevy SuburbanPhotos by Todd Ryden

Todd Ryden is first and foremost a car guy and admits to how lucky he is to have been able to build a career out of a hobby that he enjoys so much. He’s owned muscle cars and classics, raced a bit and has cruised across the country. With over 25 years in the industry from the manufacturing and marketing side to writing books and articles, he just gets it.