If there was ever an automotive equivalent of Camelot, the mythical 12th century King Arthur court associated with romance and optimism, it would be GM Design after World War II. From the walled, hexagon-tiled courtyards of GM’s Warren Technical Center, some of the coolest automotive designs the world has ever seen were effortlessly produced. This was a golden moment at General Motors, and trucks were not immune to the magic going on in the hallowed halls.
The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo paved the way for El Caminos, Rancheros, Aussie Sport utes, and today’s luxury-laden trucks, and while it hogged the spotlight that year, the truck from the bed forward was all new. GM’s new “Task Force” design, spearheaded by stylist Chuck Jordan, featured jutting, browed headlamps, a wrap-around windshield, and a single grille opening that rewrote the rules in truck design. The Cameo was built from 1955 to 1958, and more than 10,000 were produced. The trucks are highly coveted today.
Prior to WWII, trucks were workaday conveyances with step-side fenders, austere interiors, and dowdy color choices. That all changed with the intro of the Chevrolet Cameo in the fall of 1954. This new for 1955 Cameo not only sported a flush-mounted bed, but it also borrowed a chapter out of Corvette’s space-age materials playbook and offered it in a new-fangled fiberglass outer skin. The Cameo was dashing, svelte, and at home at either the construction site or for a night on the town.
Today, many Cameos have been hot-rodded and customized. Like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa, updating a Cameo can be a tricky equation. How do you retain the vintage coolness of the truck while adding a sizeable skosh of modernity?
We bring you a textbook example of navigating both worlds with the end result better than the original. Dig this 1957 Cameo built by Ronnie Payan Kustomz and his team out of Bloomington, California. This build retains all the factory trim and jewelry but drops it on a modern chassis and wheels without messing with the integrity of the truck.
Ronnie has been building award-winning rides for almost 30 years, with celebrity clients including Kobe Bryant, Mister Cartoon, and Michael Chacon. He’s married with two kids and started his career building cars in his parent’s two-car garage. Over the years, he gradually grew his business to the big kahuna West Coast shop it is today. He’ll take on almost any build from an authentic OEM muscle car restoration to a slammed California Kustom with all the latest resto gear. His shop can handle paint, bodywork, interior, suspension, engine, electrical work, and air ride conversions.
Last year, owner Carlos Ulloa brought his Cameo to Ronnie and the transformation began. The truck was wearing maroon and black paint (probably not original) and running a 283 V8, a Powerglide, and drum brakes at all four corners. The body was in fair condition but suffered from rot in the usual places.
The first thing Ronnie did was pull the cab and bed. The body’s sheetmetal was blasted and repaired, and the fiberglass bed’s stress cracks were massaged and repaired after decades of use. All fiberglass and woodwork were performed in-house by Ronnie Payan’s crew with parts from Brother’s Trucks. Then the painstaking tasks of tightening up gaps and panel alignment were performed to specs better than any GM factory from the 1950s.
The original ancient chassis was rolled away and replaced with a modified frame from a 1996 Chevy Tahoe SUV. Ronnie cut 6 inches off the rear of the framerails and 2 inches from upfront and the body dropped right on. From there, Ronnies’ team test fit the engine, cab, and bed before taking it apart again. With the hard part of fitting the body to the new frame out of the way, Ronnie got to work on the Cameo’s mill.
This Cameo is powered by a murdered-out, old-school 350 cubic-inch Chevy with an Edlebrock intake, Taylor Cable wiring, and a CVF Racing serpentine belt. The mill exhales out of Hooker Headers and a MagnaFlow exhaust system. Power is delivered to the ground by a Turbo 350 via an early El Camino rearend.
The engine nestles into the aforementioned, tweaked and powdercoated Tahoe chassis running drop spindles and 14-inch Wilwood brakes up front and drums in the rear. Ronnie fitted a set of custom, one-off 20-inch Forgiato rims by Topo from Widebody King in Paramount, California. Nitto Tires handled the rubber all the way around.
Ronnie retained the factory roof height of the cab and preserved all the killer period exterior jewelry and factory chrome. All the windows were swapped out and replaced by Mark from Dead Eyes glass. New weatherstripping and power windows from Brother’s Trucks were installed as well. He also deleted the wing windows for a smoother look. New billet door handles and modern hinges from Eddie Motorsport add some bling as well.
Next up, he shaved the wipers and cowl panel and got busy modifying the interior. He filled in the radio, ashtray, and center gauge cutouts, and added an early ’70s GM steering column with a Momo steering wheel. The seat frame was cut down, and the entire interior was swathed in crimson red leather from top to bottom, by Joe at California Auto Upholstery in Bellgarden, California. Be sure and check out the killer 3D printed kick panels and speaker grilles with the Cameo logo – Awesome! Dakota Digital made the electronic gauges that fit the dash perfectly. The stereo system is seamlessly installed and thumps hard, courtesy of Pacific Stereo of Riverside, California.
We saw the ’57 Cameo at the Greater Ontario Downtown Convention Center’s Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion show last summer in Ontario, California, and were drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The build quality is impeccable, and Ronnies’ paint chops are impressive indeed. The truck has found a new owner so we were lucky to capture it for you when we did. If you’re in Ontario, California, next year at the Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion, check out what Ronnie has up his sleeve next.