Ralph Amezcua’s Fateful 1971 GMC Pickup Find

By Fuelish Media

For some folks, owning a customized vehicle of any sort can serve as the ultimate form of self-expression. Cultivating the overall aesthetic becomes a very personalized way to transform a production-built car or truck into a truly one-of-a-kind motorized art piece. Ralph Amezcua, a scaffolding contractor out of San Diego, California, learned the value and sense of accomplishment that comes with building a custom vehicle from his father who was an established builder himself. “All my life my dad always had classics,” Ralph says. “It wasn’t until I was a little older in 2016 when I followed his lead and started building cars that were tailored to my specific tastes.”

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02 1971 red GMC truck cruising on a bridge

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With an impressive lineup of previous custom projects to Ralph’s credit, such as a ’65 Chevelle Malibu, a ’64 Nova, a ’73 GMC Sierra, and an ’83 C10, he felt the need to add yet another classic GM pickup to his ownership portfolio after he saw one for sale that he just couldn’t pass up. “I’ve always really been a truck guy,” Ralph admits. “My dad owned two GMC Squarebody pickups while I was growing up, so I wanted to carry on the tradition by securing a modern classic for myself.”

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12 Rear view of 1971 red GMC truck driving on a bridge

With the help of longtime friend Ken Johnson, Ralph found a gem of a ’71 GMC truck placed for sale not too far from home. This is what most people would call a “sign,” and Ralph recognized it right away. “I bought it within a week of it being advertised,” he says. “The truck had been started by one shop then sold and completed by another shop. It had been finished but the gentleman who owned it lives on a farm/ranch property and he soon realized he wouldn’t be able to keep it for the long run due to the uneven gravel roads and all the semitrucks and tractors that use them. He was too afraid of it being damaged in that environment, so he felt the best decision was to let it go.”

08 Close up of 1971 GMC truck dashboard gauges

This lucky turn of events was a great surprise for Ralph, and thankfully the previous owner was able to fill him in on a great deal of the details of what was done to the truck and where. This allowed him to not feel like he was going in completely blind on the deal. Ralph found out that the chassis was outfitted with a front coilover setup by Choppin’ Block that featured Classic Performance Products spindles and Aldan American coilovers. The rear was ’bagged and equipped with Aldan shocks for a low yet comfortable ride. Wilwood front six-piston and rear four-piston brake kits along with a master cylinder were put into place to bring the ’71 to a quick and reliable halt. The rolling stock consists of 22×9 and 24×12 NewGen wheels and Falken Ziex S/TZ rubber to promote all season easy cruising, which Ralph would soon be partaking in.

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10 Retro radio and cup holders in the 1971 GMC truck

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Ralph was also looking into taking full advantage of the 6.2L LS3 that was lurking underneath the hood, which probably wasn’t even fully broken in yet when he took ownership of it. The high-performance powerplant had been upgraded with components, including a Brian Tooley Racing Stage 3 camshaft, FiTech Ultra Ram EFI system, K&N air cleaner, 2.5-inch Hooker Headers, Race Venom exhaust, mufflers from Black Widow, as well as a Derale fan, Holley high-output alternator, Powermaster ultrahigh torque starter, and an Optima YellowTop battery for a reliable start each and every time.

07 Open hood showing the engine of the 1971 GMC truck

The ’17 GM 4L80 auto transmission was also beefed up in the way of a Circle D 3200 stall torque converter, a Derale transmission cooler, as well as a Strange Engineering 3-1/2-inch seamless driveshaft, ring-and-pinion gearset, a 9-inch rearend, and alloy axles. The overall horsepower count hovers right around the 500 mark, with 474 lb-ft of torque to go along with it—much more than Ralph would ever need, but he is quite happy to have access to every bit of it.

16 Wood paneled truck bed of the 1971 GMC pickup

The exterior had been designed to keep the truck’s original styling at the forefront, although some modest custom alterations are present. The Heritage Red paint and white roof, along with fresh body trim maintain the GMC’s nostalgic appeal, while the raised bed floor has been enhanced with a wood plank kit from Mar-K and capped off with a one-off GMC panel behind the tailgate. With some extra metalwork completed within the engine bay, the efforts to hold onto its largely OEM appearance were well rewarded as the trick additions only complement the truck’s original character.

01 1971 red and white GMC pickup truck top view

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The same “less is more” approach as the exterior commenced inside of the cab with the use of matching red paint on the dash and panels, as well as minimal yet quality upgrades peppered throughout the space to create a streamlined overhaul. Tan-colored leatherwork can be found on the bench seat, door panels, dashpad, as well as around the Evans CNC steering wheel. With the interior looking good, the cab space was then updated with Dakota Digital gauges, a renewed receiver from R&B Vintage Radio, and a Vintage Air climate-control system that will keep Ralph chillin’ all year long.

13 1971 red and white GMC truck parked by shipping containers

You just don’t see trucks like this posted for sale on local resale sites. While this GMC couldn’t have come cheap, it did come heavily customized to an extent that would please even the most selective classic truck builders. While the truck’s previous owner wasn’t too keen on taking many chances with it, Ralph has made it a point to drive his new ride as much as he can. From bigger local shows like Goodguys Del Mar along with a string of cruises and cars and coffee hangouts in the San Diego area, plus the Quarantine Cruise and Dino’s Git Down, Ralph and his GMC are native regulars. For a guy who has grown up with custom vehicles all around him and has had a great selection of personal builds of his own, having a truck in this condition is a treat that Ralph makes sure to show his appreciation for every chance he gets.

06 Front view of 1971 red GMC truck by the docks

“Before the opportunity passes, I’d like to give the folks who have contributed to this project a shout,” Ralph says. “Dan Nic, Jon Henson from NewGen Wheels, Michael Wahl from FiTech, Jason McEntire of JM Garage, and Customs By Lopez were essential in the creation of such a quality build that I am lucky to now have the pleasure of taking care of and enjoying now and in the future.”


Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Ralph Amezcua’s Fateful 1971 GMC Pickup Find.ctp may 2024

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