Jack Fillers’ 1971 GMC Stepside has the Perfect Mix of Patina and Practicality

By Tommy Lee Byrd   –    Photography by the Author

When it comes to building a classic truck, there are many avenues you can take. Some go all-out for a show truck with customized details on every square inch of the body and chassis, others gravitate to the budget-friendly side with the goal of just getting it on the road. Many of us find ourselves somewhere in the middle, which is why the popularity of shop trucks and patina paint continues to grow. When Jack Fillers decided he wanted to jump into the truck world in February 2022, he wanted a truck he could jump in and use on a regular basis but with a nice stance and some practical upgrades. For this, he worked out a plan with his nephew Bryan Harrison at Harrison’s Rod and Custom, and together they found the ideal truck to fit his build plan: an aged ’71 GMC Stepside.

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04 Custom Front End 1971 GMC

Read More About this Truck: UNCLE JACK’S JIMMY

Ultimately, the two decided on a build that would provide Jack and his wife, Carmen, with a safe and reliable truck without the expense and upkeep of a high-end build. When Jack bought the truck, it was a nice survivor, with its original inline six-cylinder engine. The truck had some typical issues, but the overall condition was great for a practical project. The aged paint had some rust hiding underneath, and of course the suspension, steering, and brakes needed attention. The six-cylinder didn’t quite have enough grunt for highway cruising, so the to-do list for the seemingly simple truck grew quickly.

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03 Driver Side 1971 GMC

Classic Performance Products (CPP) got the call for a complete suspension system, which replaced the crusty original components with tubular control arms, coilovers, and a hefty sway bar. Drop spindles bring the truck even closer to the pavement, but still leave plenty of room for ground clearance. The steering system was also addressed with a CPP steering box that is now assisted by a power steering pump. A CPP tilt column and steering linkage ties it all together. Out back, more CPP components, including a drop center crossmember, C-notch, tubular trailing arms, and another pair of coilovers bring the ride height down several inches.

Braking power starts up top with a polished master cylinder and proportioning valve with custom lines that lead to a four-wheel disc brake setup from CPP. Drilled-and-slotted rotors on all four corners offer excellent performance and look great behind the spokes of American Racing wheels. Jack went with 18×7 and 20×8 wheels for a staggered hot rod look with gray spokes and machined lips. Vercelli tires are sized at 225/50R18 and 255/50R20 to enhance the stance.

07 Custom Interior 1971 GMC

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Horsepower wasn’t a major concern, but Jack replaced the inline six-cylinder engine with a traditional small-block Chevy, which still grow on trees in Greeneville, Tennessee. He plucked a ripe 305 off the vine and gave it a stock refresh, with the only internal modifications being Comp Cams pushrods and roller tip rocker arms. Externally, the small-block has a clean look with a gray paintjob and a host of polished aluminum parts up top. The Edelbrock Performer EPS intake manifold features a 570-cfm Brawler four-barrel carburetor fed by a mechanical pump. Ignition is controlled with an MSD Street Fire HEI distributor and the mild 305 is kept cool with a Cold Case aluminum radiator with dual electric fans. While the engine was out, the firewall was smoothed and painted in Medium Olive paint to match the exterior. New inner fenders were given the Satin Black treatment from Black Label Coatings.

09 Custom Speedo Cluster 1971 GMC

Alan Grove accessory brackets and pulleys keep the front of the engine simple with old school V-belts. An American Autowire wiring harness powers all of the accessories, while an Optima RedTop battery and Powermaster one-wire alternator keep the juice flowing. The truck’s mellow exhaust note comes from coated Sanderson headers, 2-1/2-inch pipes, and MagnaFlow mufflers. Putting power to the ground is a tried-and-true TH350 automatic transmission, connected to the original 12-bolt rearend with 3.73:1 gears.

10 Custom Dash 1971 GMC

Read More: Twisted 1976 GMC Jimmy

Cosmetically, the truck’s Medium Olive paint was far from perfect but it was good enough to preserve. Instead of stripping it to the bare metal and starting over, Harrison’s Rod and Custom replaced the rusty panels and color-matched the paint on the affected panels. Auto Metal Direct (AMD) provided the necessary sheetmetal and trim parts to bring the body back into shape. New cab corners, rocker panels, and outer floorpans repaired the cab, while a new grille, bumpers, windshield, and trim pieces finished off the aged body. Smaller mirrors take the place of the originals and small color-matched plugs fill the holes that were left behind. Careful buffing and paint correction brought the old paint up to a nice sheen, but there is still plenty of character to tell this old truck’s story. Jack finished off the bed by cutting and staining the wood himself and using stainless steel strips to set off the subdued stain. A flush-mounted gas cap allows easy access to the relocated gas tank out back.

12 Fully Built Small Block 1971 GMC

A peek inside reveals a nicely finished interior, with fresh carpeting and dashpad. The green houndstooth inserts in the seat upholstery brings the interior to life and ties into the Medium Olive paint on the steel panels. The dash is freshened with Classic Instruments gauges and Vintage Air control panel. Jack added a Vintage Air A/C system and used Old Air Products vents as a template to cut the proper holes in the dash to give it a factory look. A radio-delete plate rides on the dash, but Jack has a hidden stereo system, complete with Bluetooth capability, a Kicker amplifier, Memphis speakers, and Kicker subwoofer. A tilt steering column positions the GM Comfort Grip steering wheel perfectly. Jack finished it off with a GMC horn button.

16 Custom Forged Wheels 1971 GMC

Now that the truck is complete, Jack and Carmen are planning to drive the well-equipped GMC regularly. Thanks to a host of great parts and help from Bryan Harrison, Gene Harrison, and Victor Stuart, the truck is reliable and turns heads wherever it goes. Although this truck has already logged away more than 50 years of history, Uncle Jack is just getting started with a new chapter of its story.

Click on this issue’s cover to see the enhanced digital version of Jack Fillers’ 1971 GMC Stepside has the Perfect Mix of Patina and Practicality.

ctp january 2024

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