Feature Feb3 20 McGillivray

What is an automobile enthusiast – Norm McGillivray

If I asked the readers of Old Autos to draw a picture of an automobile enthusiast, I am sure the variation of pictures would be almost endless. Their only common trait would be an interest in all things automotive related. They would range from female to male, young to elderly, short to tall, still employed to retired, professionals to trades people and all people in many different levels of society and jobs.

In the last year I had the pleasure of starting to communicate with a long time subscriber by the name of Tom Harmes, from Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia. Tom contacted me through Old Autos to discuss his collection of mainly 1958 vehicles and in a short time we became “Pen Pals” through email communications. I have no idea what the electronics generation would call a pen pal in today’s world.

Tom comes from the generation of being a teenager during the mid 1950’s and in his later years became a boxer, raced stock cars and was a runner, completing 36 marathons. Over the years Tom has remained involved in running events and is a director for “Run Nova Scotia”. During this time Tom became a welder, owned a couple of welding shops and retired after 30 years of teaching Welding Metallurgy at Akerley Community College in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Tom has always been a vintage vehicle enthusiast with a liking for mainly 1958 vehicles and took part in the Cross Canada Tour 2000 with his 1958 Chevrolet Impala 2 door hardtop. Tom not only attends cruise nights and car shows in his area, but helps organize them.

At this time, Tom owns eleven collectibles consisting of a 1958 Chevrolet Impala, 1958 Cadillac 62 series, 1958 Buick Special sedan, 1958 Oldsmobile 98, 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup, 1958 Chevrolet Apache short box stepside, 1958 Chevrolet long box Fleetside, 1958 GMC 100 pickup and a 1967 Chevrolet CST Fleetside long box pickup. The only non-GM vehicle in his collection is a 1949 Ford F47 pickup.

One day I was looking at the photos that Tom sent me and upon seeing the photo of his 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup it suddenly struck me that I had seen that truck before. Calling up the photos I had taken at the 2019 Atlantic Nationals in Moncton, New Brunswick, there was the photo of Tom’s Cameo. I sent an email to Tom with the photo attached and found he had parked his truck near the grandstand to attend Gene Winfield’s metal shaping seminar and we were within yards of each other, but didn’t know it.

Tom lives in a rural area with room for his assorted vehicles that included a 1958 GMC 550 heavy duty series truck cab which he bought in British Columbia and had it trucked home. I asked Tom to send me some photos, which he immediately did and the 1958 GMC 550 cab photo piqued my interest. I always thought GM produced trucks with rear cab corner windows only from 1948 to 1954, but Tom showed me something new. His photos showed a 1958 GMC 550 heavy duty truck cab with rear corner cab windows. Upon further research, I discovered that GM produced these cabs on their 550 to 900 series heavy duty trucks until the end of the 1950’s. Tom had contacted the GM Heritage Centre for production information on the GMC 550 truck, but because of the very limited production of this model, they did not have any records they could share.

What a lot of people do not realize is that some of the North American car manufacturers used their pickup truck cabs on the heavy duty series to help cut production costs. What made these heavy duty trucks look massive was mounting the basic cab on a far heavier chassis that had larger suspension components with 20” to 24” tires and rims, larger rear differentials and front axles, side mounted fuel tanks, steps and sheet metal extensions. If you study the ad for a 1958 GMC 550 truck, it will start to become apparent how they merged the pickup cab with other parts to get the massive look.

If someone is of a mind to build a 1958 Chevrolet or GMC pickup with a 5 window cab they now have the third option along with the standard and deluxe cabs, if they can locate a very rare GMC 550 heavy duty series cab.

Just before Christmas 2019, I emailed Tom to ask if he had any projects in mind for 2020. When Tom responded with some photos I nearly fell off my chair. He has already moved two 1958 GMC 550 five window cabs from his yard and is in the process of installing them on two 1958 Chevrolet chassis’.

Tom is building them as 1958 Chevrolet Apache’s, using only the GMC 550 five window cabs and 1958 Chevrolet sheet metal. One will be a short box, stepside, with a 1981 Chevrolet C10 front clip welded to the 1958 chassis and has the 1981 Chevrolet C10 rear axle and springs mounted where the 1958 rear axle used to be. To keep the truck as true to original looking as possible, Tom has installed a 1958 – 348 cubic inch engine with the three carburetor intake manifold.

The other 1958 Chevrolet Apache is a long box Fleetside using only the GMC 550 cab mounted on a stock 1958 Chevrolet chassis with all stock 1958 Chevrolet suspension, steering and driveline. The engine will be a stock 1958 Chevrolet 235 cubic inch 6 cylinder with a 3 speed standard transmission.

Tom will finish with two, one of a kind, 1958 Chevrolet Apache pickup trucks in existence, with 5 window cabs, as far as is known at this time. He also owns a rare 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup of which only 1,405 were made that year and his is one of the prototypes with a fibreglass bed. Some people have the ability to “see outside the box” and Tom certainly is one of them.

Future correspondence with Tom will be interesting to see and hear how these two projects are progressing.