James Stewart’s Method of Chevy Therapy
Sometimes we need to pause and reflect on the people and things that make life worth living. Our daily routines can get so hectic and our outlooks become too cloudy to sometimes see all the good that is right in front of our faces. Although that is much easier said than done at times, there is plenty to be thankful for in the way of family, friends, and favorite hobbies.
Recently, we had the pleasure of meeting James Stewart of Salisbury, North Carolina, who shared a story with us that was as heartbreaking as it was inspiring. Within a five-year span, he lost his mother and his mother- and father-in-law to illness, as well as two friends to suicide. With so much tragedy striking in such a short amount of time, James and his wife, Kristi, really had to lean on each other for the support they needed to get through that trying period in both of their lives with a healthy, positive view of the future.
GOING TO THERAPY
Everyone deals with grief in his or her own way, and James chose to dive deep into a pastime that he has always had an interest in throughout his life—custom cars and trucks.
“After all that loss, I needed something to distract me,” he says. “I wanted something that I could focus on to keep my mind clear day or night, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to build my high-school dream truck—an old-school Chevy K5 Blazer.”
James locked his sights on the truck he was after, and then it came time to put some ideas together for what exactly to do with it. He began to pay close attention to his own personal taste in classic, custom Blazers and not necessarily what the mainstream trends were. Given James’ interest in both lifted and lowered pickups alike, he began to dream up a suspension package that could give his truck the exact stance and demeanor he was after.
’Bags and air-ride systems are the ultimate in the slammed truck segment, but while he wasn’t interested in dropping his Blazer to the ground, James figured out a way to incorporate the on-the-fly adjustability of air suspension within a rugged, lifted truck setup. To start with the transformation, James teamed up with friend Wally Meador to design and mock up a truly custom one-off suspension lift, while still utilizing the factory frame that has since been fully smoothed, boxed, and peppered with dimple die accents and unique upgrades such as a hidden Watt’s link. This type of fabrication required a ton of design work that meant they had to think outside the “box”—and create life-sized cardboard mock-up components assembled with wooden dowels and bolts.
CAD software is useful with jobs like this, but James took great pride in his plan and had a great time practicing this old-school approach instead. ‘’Bags and Rough Country shocks give the Blazer an adjustable ride height with premium ride quality, and two Accuair five-gallon ENDO CVT tanks have been incorporated into the project for the baked-in ease of adaptability to the Blazer’s already heavily upgraded suspension setup.
Wilwood braking components now grace the Blazer’s chassis for performance stopping power. A truck with a stature as big as this requires the ability to properly slow and come to a controllable halt, especially with the set of plus-sized wheels and tires that were on the way. James selected Fuel Off-Road’s FF09 aluminum wheels for their clean, multi-spoke design and their ability to be custom-tailored to fit a dramatically altered application such as his Blazer. To further add to the Chevy’s off-road-inspired style, Fuel’s Gripper M/T tires were also added to the lineup thanks to their aggressive good looks and superior all-conditions traction.
READY FOR PAINT
With the Blazer’s suspension well taken care of, James then moved on to cleaning up and rebuilding the ’74 SBC 388. Brad Green, another of James’ talented friends, joined the project at this point to not only whip the vintage power plant back into tip-top shape, but to level it up with top shelf performance add-ons to boot. James brought together high-end internals and other parts from Edelbrock and Summit Racing, as well as Hedman headers to create an exciting driving experience, as well as a show-worthy appearance underneath the hood. Also keeping the driving experience at the forefront of the project is a GM TH350 automatic transmission with a B&M shift kit. The engine and trans now work in tandem to show James and his passengers a real good time on the road.
To keep the project rolling, James then reached out to Lanny Freeman to lend a hand in getting the K5’s body ready for paint. Staying true to his vow to build this truck to meet his own standards, James planned for a handful of custom touches to give it the exact look he had been envisioning for a few years already. First, the Blazer was turned into a roadster; the windshield and doors were chopped approximately 3 inches, and the indicator lights and taillights were shaved clean off of the surface. While those are all big jobs to jump into, the final results are subtle enough to qualify the work as a sophisticated restyling. The front and rear bumpers were also modified substantially to achieve a unique look all their own. A two-tone red and white House of Kolor paint job seemed like the perfect colorway as it would provide classic GM packaging on a truck that has been radically redesigned.
In addition to all the custom touches that required the attention of a seasoned professional, James added a few bolt-on exterior parts to give the Blazer a slightly updated appearance. New headlights from United Pacific, a ton of rock lights from Driven Customs placed underneath the body and frame, and AMP Research PowerStep retractable running boards all modernize the truck’s appearance and functionality without going overboard.
Before James knew it, work on the Blazer was nearing completion, and it soon became time to discuss seat and interior-panel upholstery options with Steven Karman. Factory front GM buckets would do the trick, but for the rear, an Impala-inspired bench was built to fit the space between the wheel tubs. James and Steven settled on a black and gray leather and cloth upholstery combo to offset the abundant red paint that had been sprayed throughout the interior landscape. From the Chevy Apache dash to the custom center console, from the lid for the rear storage compartment to the custom roll cage built by Wally Meador—there are plenty of one-off pieces that blend right into place. Aside from specially fabricated parts and pieces that were still needed, James moved on to wiring in 12-volt accessories such as the Dakota Digital gauge cluster, the integrated iPad unit, speakers and hidden 15-inch subwoofers, a push-button ignition start, and a panel of other buttons to control the heated seats and other electrical features. There is definitely no shortage of onboard creature comforts here.
A DREAM COME TRUE
James was in no hurry to complete his Blazer project, as it provided him a creative outlet that promoted the inclusion of family and friends throughout its duration.
“Building my high-school dream truck with my own hands, my son, and a great group of friends by my side, is a priceless experience I will never forget,” he says. “Also, having my understanding and supportive wife by my side allowed for this whole build to come together as great as it did.”
While budgets get blown at every turn during an endeavor such as this, James always made it a point to stay calm, be patient, and stay focused on the real reason for starting the project in the first place. This build was his personal method of navigating through life’s most challenging times, and we couldn’t think of a more productive and exciting way to go about it.
1974 Chevy K5 Blazer
Engine & Drivetrain
Shop: Brad Green, Salisbury, NC
1974 SBC V-8 388
Balanced and blueprinted
SCAT connecting rods
Comp Cams camshaft
Edelbrock Performer intake, and 650 carburetor
Summit Racing exhaust system
MSD HEI ignition
GM TH350 transmission
B&M shift kit and torque converter
NP203 transfer case
Dana 44 front drive axle, GM 12-bolt rear limited slip
Shop: Owner Wally Meador, Kannapolis, NC
Factory 1974 GM frame shaved smooth and boxed with dimple die accents
Custom lift featuring airbags
Accuair air management, (2) 5-gallon ENDO CVT tanks
Custom “Y” link
Rough Country front and rear shocks
PSC Engineering hydraulic assist power steering box and RAM stabilizer
GM 30-gallon fuel tank
Wheels, Tires & Brakes
24×16 Fuel FF09 wheels
40×15.50R24 Fuel Gripper MT tires
Warn premium locking hubs
Wilwood braking system including master cylinder
Body & Paint
Shop: Painted by Lanny Freeman, Salisbury, NC
House of Kolor crimson red and white paint
3-inch chopped/raked windshield
Roadster doors chopped 3 inches, capped and shaved
Chopper gas cap
8 shaved indicator lights and taillights
C10 pickup truck tailgate
GM factory bumpers, heavily modified
Factory K-5/C10 grille
United Pacific 7-inch round headlights
Driven Customs rock lights under body and frame
Amp Research PowerStep
Interior & Stereo
Shop: Steven Kurzman, Charlotte, NC
GM front bucket seats, custom “Impala-style” rear bench seat
Black and gray leather/cloth upholstery
Heated seats function
1958 Chevy Apache dash
Dakota Digital VHX gauges
Forever Sharp 4-spoke steering wheel
Custom interior panels
Custom roll cage by Wally Meador
JL Audio head unit with integrated iPad
Hidden 15-inch subwoofers