001 Custom tailights on a 1959 Chevy

By “Rotten” Rodney Bauman

“It’s all been done before!” Yes, we’ve heard that said, but let’s be open-minded here. Granted, walking through a custom car show won’t likely trigger novel notions, but walking through a wrecking yard still can. For Colten Hart, of Kalispell, Montana’s Vintage Soul Garage, that’s exactly how his custom taillight treatment came to mind—by walking 40 acres of vintage cars and trucks. We’ll circle back around to that, in just a bit or two.

002 Old 1958 Chevy Fleetside truck at a junkyard
Here in the weeds at a favored Montana honey hole sits the initial inspiration for what’s to follow—Fleetside taillights for Stepside fenders.

For now, before we go much further, know this about Colten Hart: At age 28, he’s a builder, with a full bag of tricks. Custom body- and paintwork are his specialties, and he’s helped a good number of other builders over some humps. Lately, Hart has been assisting Kalispell collector, Bob King, with a restomod style 1959 Chevy ice cream truck build.

At the same time one of his own projects is on the lift in King’s shop. Long story short, Hart has purchased an unfinished 1959 Chevy Apache Stepside shorty that he’ll rethink as necessary, see through, play with, and perhaps peddle one day down the road. (At the time of this typewriting, Hart’s personal pickup truck project is receiving some needed attention, as he’s pulling off a good save. From here, however, let’s focus only on the aforementioned custom taillight treatment.)

003 Prepping the 1959 Chevy Apache Stepside for custom truck modifications
Back at the shop, the OE fenders seem worth working with. Below the white paint, substrate primers are pretty thick. There’s also B-side undercoating, so we’ll see.

Read More Chevy Stepsides: Door Seals Install on a ’59 Chevy Stepside

Through the existing white paint job, the old Chevrolet stepside fenders appear to be decent, for used OE parts, anyway. In its current stage of incompletion, the project’s taillights have not yet been thought out. The easy way would be to order up some new reproduction stepside tail lights from Brothers Trucks. For Hart, however, choosing the easy way doesn’t come so naturally.

So, back to the boneyard. During a routine visit to Cut Bank, Montana’s “Rustless in Montana,” Hart came upon the shell of a 1958 Chevy Fleetside pickup. Recognizing shapes, as well as their potential, he then birthed the notion to graft a pair of Fleetside-type custom taillights to his good-enough used Stepside fenders.

004 Vintage Soul Garage rear fenders being modified on a 1959 Chevy Truck
As exploratory grinding gets underway, Colten Hart is optimistically exposing the area to be modified—with a ridged disc affixed to an electric grinder.

At the shop the next day, it was first things first, as a parts order was placed. From that point on, Hart’s custom truck modifications would be based on a shiny new pair of LED taillight assemblies, available through Brothers Truck, which outwardly appear to be exact reproductions of the 1958-1959 Chevy Apache Fleetside units. When those parts arrived, Hart commissioned the local sheet metal shop to roll out a pair of 18-gauge steel tubular tunnels to match the od of the shiny new led taillights.

Read More: How to Build a 1955 Ford F-100 in 300 Days

005 Measuring up modifications on this custom taillight set up for new led taillights
With a sharp straightedge and a dull Sharpie, Hart lays out preliminary guidelines. To accommodate tubular taillight tunnels, the cutaway area must taper toward the front.

Skipping ahead, we’ll end up with a one-off custom taillight treatment, all in compatible, same-vintage, old Chevy pickup truck style. On that note, you’re invited to stick around as Hart openly divulges the step-by-step procedure for the replication of his own boneyard brainchild. Somewhere between Stepside’ing Fleetside?! The end result deserves a clever name of its own … we’ll leave that open for suggestions.

006 Test fitting New 1959 Fleetside LED taillights for a 1959 Chevy Apache Stepside
Using only the bezel of the new Brothers LED taillight assembly, Hart traces around the outside to roughly establish another guideline. This can still be adjusted as need-be.
007 Creating a custom taillight housing set up for a restomod taillight install on a vintage chevy pick up
By now there have been many side-to-side measurements taken. For these compound-curvaceous areas, however, there’s still some eyeball engineering required.
008 Cutting the OE fenders from the 1959 Chevy Apache Sidestep
Moving to the grinding room floor, Hart makes his initial incisions. As it turns out, he’s deadly accurate with a plasma cutter.
009 1959 Chevy Fender custom taillight housing for LED taillights
Rather than cutting away the entire unwanted expanse at one time, Hart proceeds in short increments, checking his work as he goes.
010 Cutting up Chevy Sidestep fenders for custom truck modifications
Again, using a ridged disc, the rounded-end incision receives some fine-tune grinding. You’ll notice as we go that Hart uses electric grinders exclusively throughout this job.
011 Test fitting housing component for custom welding and mocked Chevy Fender for a 1959 Chevy
So far there’s only been that bit of grinding that we’ve just seen. The cuts we see here were done with the plasma cutter. For the stage we’re in, we have a tight fit.
012 Vintage Soul Garage Custom fender mock up for a vintage pick up truck
The 18-gauge steel tunnels won’t remain tubular much longer. At the forward end it’s now time for a trim. For this, a poster board template is useful as a guide.
013 Grinding custom taillight housing for a Classic Chevy Pickup truck
Again, with the same type of electric grinder, this time outfitted with a cutoff disc, Hart slices away the first unwanted section of this tubular tunnel.
014 Marking up custom taillight housing for new Fleetside style led taillights
To create a tapered point for the forward end of the tunnel, pie slices are required. There’s no fancy math going on here, but Hart’s educated guesswork should be good.
015 Grinding custom taillight housing for restomod custom truck modifications
Cutting along the lines, Hart removes small pie slices. You might recognize the Berger-brand welding magnets. Yes, there’s a brand-new Harbor Freight store in Kalispell.
016 Grafting custom fender for a classic hot rod
This is just an initial test-fit. Here testing confirms that the remaining pointy fingers could still use a bit more relief for correctly tight gaps and easy shaping.
017 grinding off excess on custom taillight housing for a classic hot rod
So, here the tube’s forward-end pointy fingers receive a second shave. For this type of trimming, too little is better than too much. That’s why Hart takes this in steps.
018 Welding together custom taillight housing
Hart’s got his MIG triggered. Providing you’ve brought your helmet, take a look just below the arc. See the nice tapered point now?
019 Cutting OE Fender for a 1959 Chevy Apache Stepside
This far along, it’s safe enough to go actual size with the opening. Once again, the plasma cutter comes into play.
020 Restomodded 1959 Chevy Apache Stepside
Held in place by hand, we can see a pretty decent fit. We can also better visualize what this’ll actually look like with abbreviated Fleetside body lines.
021 Welding custom fenders on a classic truck
Again, making use of the shop’s MIG machine, Hart tack welds the new section to the used fender. The bulk of this welding will be done on the fender’s inner side.
022 Vintage Soul Garage welding up fender on 1959 Chevy
By now you’ve likely noticed that Hart doesn’t baby his knees. He’s young and able to work that way now, but someday that hard concrete won’t feel so comfy.
023 stand used for welding custom fender taillights
All the while, there’s been a fleet of portable work stands right within reach—and I’m fixing to ask him to use this one here.
024 Welding the inside of the fender for new custom taillight housing
Now on his feet, with his work at a comfortable level, Hart begins stitch welding. To prevent any possible distortion, he’s cooling with compressed air as he goes.
025 Last bit of cutting of imperfections of this custom fender install on a restomodded hotrod
Next, he’ll grind his stitch welds smooth for a factory appearance, even though this work will be hidden on the fender’s inner side.
026 new led lights for a fleetside chevy
Here’s the backside, or business end, of the new Brothers LED taillight assembly, complete with Hart’s own fabricated mounting tabs.
027 Last mock up of custom led lights for a chevy pick up
Providing he works quickly, masking tape will locate the assembly so the mounting tabs can be tack welded into place.
028 Making sure the led lights for this classic truck work perfectly
Three quick MIG zaps later, the taillight assembly must be removed and rushed to safety—pretty much anywhere away from the next bit of welding.
029 Mounting brackets for LED taillights in a 1959 Chevy stepside
With the taillight assembly back on the bench we get a clear view of tack welded mounting tabs.
030 Final welds on a custom fender for a classic chevy restomod style
Now satisfied with fitment, Hart proceeds with the final welding of his taillight mounting tabs. At this stage the metalworking part of this job is just about complete.
031 bare custom taillight in fender custom for a classic chevy pick up
Of course there’ll be some filler work to follow, as well as the usual priming, blocking, and so on.
032 Custom taillight set up for 1959 Chevy truck restomod style
By the way, we’re still open for suggestions, but for now, Stepside’ing Fleetside will have to do!

Brothers Truck Parts
(800) 977-2767
brotherstrucks.com

Harbor Freight Tools
(800) 423-2567
harborfreight.com

Vintage Soul Garage
vintagesoulgarage@hotmail.com

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