Pete Rappoccio’s ’54 Chevy 3100 Swag Custom Ride

By Scotty Lachenauer   –   Photography by the Author

Glenn Richards of Swag Custom Rides is a man on a mission. His New Britain, Connecticut, shop is a bustling pot of energy, as his ever-expanding and diverse crew works on its latest restoration piece. “Swag is the only non-profit automotive restoration shop in the country. Our mission here is not only to restore and customize cars and trucks, but to help transform lives in the process,” Richards states.

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02 1954 Chevy highlighting the seamless blending of the two tone paint job and polished chrome accents

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Swag employs individuals who have suffered from life-controlling issues and provides them with guidance, job training, education, and tutoring in basic life skills. “We also work closely with schools that have students with special education needs. We seek out young individuals who might be interested in a hands-on career in the automotive hobby. From there we build dream cars for individuals, corporations, and local charities,” Richards continues.

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Over the years this formula has worked on all levels. “We’ve had a positive effect in the community, having past crew members move on and have successful careers in auto restoration. We’ve also seen our restorations garner high acclaim across the country. It’s a win-win situation and I feel proud that I can continue moving forward with Swag. John Muratori of Stitches Custom Upholstery started this company, and I’m proud to continue with his vision while adding some of my own.”

07 Close up of the dashboard gauges with red backlighting adding a modern touch to the vintage interior

Garage Fresh

Cars and trucks of all varieties come through the doors at Swag looking for complete makeovers, and Richards is always prepared for what’s next down the road. A few years back, a needy ’54 Chevy 3100 made its way to the shop looking for a total transformation into a Pro Touring ride; one with plenty of power and wanting several custom aesthetic touches.

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06 Interior shot featuring red leather seats custom dashboard with modern gauges and a black steering wheel

The truck had lived a typical life out in the woods of Connecticut. “An older gentleman had owned it. He died suddenly and his sister was the executor of the estate. Pete Rappoccio was looking for a project-bedded Chevy to build his dream truck from and he knew this sister. Pete inquired about the truck and after a quick look-over, a deal was struck between the parties, and the truck was now in Pete’s possession.”

However, the truck then sat for years while Pete attended to other matters. After deciding the truck’s fate, he then brought the Chevy to Swag for its metamorphosis. Plans were drawn up, and Swag made a bullet point list of everything the owner wanted in his new ride. Once approved, the truck entered the garage for its transformation.

08 View of the 1954 Chevy pickup's rear showcasing the polished black tailgate with embossed Chevrolet lettering and the license plate

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Heavy Chevy

The build started off with the crew tearing down the needy ’54. Once the body and frame were separated, the guys got down to brass tacks. The rails on this truck were tossed in favor of a Roadster Shop Revo chassis, complete with a Ford 9-inch rear stuffed with 3.55 gears and Fox RS SV adjustable coilover shocks. “We also sprayed the chassis with Cerakote titanium charcoal ceramic paint with red accents to work with the future body color and give it a little more corrosion and wear resistance,” Richards states.

09 Overhead view of the Chevy revealing the clean lines and matte finish of the bodywork with a focus on the custom bed and wheel setup

A parallel four-bar suspension setup was included out back, along with a rack-and-pinion up front. For stopping power, the crew added a quartet of Wilwood disc brakes at the corners. It starts with massive 14-inch drilled-and-slotted rotors with six-piston calipers up front and 4-inch pinchers out back. It’s all pushed by a Wilwood master and booster.

Once the chassis was set up, the guys moved onto the motorvation of this ride. “Pete wanted plenty of power in his new hot rod and of course the dependability that comes with modern technology. So, we went with a 383ci stroker small-block with FiTech fuel injection added for reliability. Out of the box this mill is rated at 350 hp and 425 lb-ft of torque and boasts 9.6:1 compression. We added a CVF Racing “Raptor” serpentine system up front and the mill runs on an MSD ignition,” Richards says.

10 Close up of a 1954 Chevy truck's red dashboard with custom gauges

All that horsepower is backed by a stout 700-R4 transmission and run through the gears by a Lokar shifter. To finish off the corners, Pete chose Hot Rods By Boyd (HRBB) Chinook two-piece billet wheels. They are 20×9 up front with massive 22×12 wheels out back, shod in Pirelli P Zero rubber, 255/35R20 and 325/35R22 respectively. These ginormous rims gave Pete the look and stance he was after.

13 Modern multimedia system integrated into the red dashboard of a 1954 Chevy truck

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Satin Worshiper

Once the chassis was nearly complete, the crew was already elbows-deep on the truck’s body, getting it up to snuff for its future paintjob. The cab was in need of some serious metalwork, so a new floor was added, along with the rear cabin wall being replaced. The wheelwells were closed in 1 inch and the fenders were widened 2 inches and dropped 2 inches to make them appear that they were one continuous piece going through the bed wall. “It took four fenders to make that work,” he states.

12 Central console and manual shifter of a 1954 Chevy truck's red interior

The front fenders were also reworked to get them back into original condition. The Swag crew added new bedrails and gapped the tailgate for the look Pete was after. “We also added a lower rear tail panel and added custom lights and the rear bumper was flipped and fabricated so that the license plate was on the bottom. Lastly, rear exhaust tips are hand made and fabricated to fit exactly in the cutouts that were fabbed in the rear bumper.

After the bodywork was finished, the crew then went to great lengths to get everything laser straight, as the owner was going with black as the main color. “We shot the truck in black base, then added PPG Global satin clear to achieve Pete’s ‘velvet’ vision.” To accent the look of the truck, the front grille and trim were sprayed once again in black base but then finished off in PPG gloss clear. “It makes the trim stand out while giving the truck a slightly “murdered-out” appearance,” Richards says.

11 Interior view of a 1954 Chevy truck with red seats and matching dashboard

Once the crew got to the interior, they knew they needed a skilled specialist to handle the work. So, Swag went ahead and sent the truck to their founder John Muratori, of Stitches Custom Upholstery in New Britain. The interior was done up to perfection by Stitches, using a mix of leather and vinyl on the seats and door panels. A suede headliner was added next along with a carpet sourced from Mercedes. An iPad Mini “head unit” was used as a controller for the cockpit, seeing over the stereo system and HVAC for the truck.

14 Detailed view of a 1954 Chevy truck's engine with red accents and chrome air filter

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Sound is supplied by CT Sounds amplifiers, running MB Quart midrange speakers and CT Sounds 2×10 subwoofers. The fabricated console houses lighted cupholders that glow red with LEDs. Restomod Air Haymaker billet vents get the air out and are run by Vapor touch controls located on the custom-fabbed lower dash. Both the controls and vents are once again lit with red LED backlights. A Dakota Digital dash and HDX instruments keep track of the vitals on this truck.

One other interesting part of the interior is the steering wheel. The NASCAR-inspired removable wheel is just that: it’s from an actual race-driven car. “One of Pete’s friends gifted the wheel to him. It’s from one of Joe Logano’s race cars. It’s the real deal, emblazed with Joey’s car #22 on the back. The empty hole just off the rim is for the talkback button,” he says.

15 Wooden bed of a 1954 Chevy truck with polished strips and stainless hardware

Other add-ons on this truck include the spotless exhaust system, featuring in-house–fabricated headers and a custom 3-inch stainless steel exhaust. From there the spent gases are sent to a pair of Black Widow “Neighbor Hater” mufflers to get the tone Pete desired. Out back, the bed on this Chevy is thing of beauty. “We sourced Bird’s Eye curly maple wood planks and colored them with gray stain. From there we finished them off with six coats of PPG gloss clear. It’s the perfect accent to this 3100,” Richards says

16 Low angle view of a 1954 Chevy truck's shiny wheel and fender

Back to Black

Once this blackened, bedded hot rod was completed, Pete then got the chance to see what Swag had created from his project truck.

“It all started with a vision of a sleek, lowered vintage pickup truck … Swag Customs made my concept a reality. Every detail was thought through—a huge shout-out to the Swag team for their attention detail. I can tell you that the vehicle is just so fun to drive as it sits on a race chassis; more for an asphalt racetrack than the city streets but it’s more about the handling than the speed that makes it so enjoyable,”“ Pete states.

17 Tailgate of a 1954 Chevy truck featuring the classic Chevrolet emblem

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He continues: “[Richards] and the team thought I was a bit crazy with my vision for this Chevy 3100, but it receives so many compliments and wins awards every time it’s out. No doubt, the exterior looks beautiful, but for those who build, the underside is most impressive. I mean it’s in every single detail.”

Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Glenn Richards’ ’54 Chevy 3100 Swag Custom Ride.ctp april 2024

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