Jesse Manriquez Crusin’ the California Coast

We don’t know if you’ve heard of Santa Maria, California, but it’s known for its excellent weather year-round. During the hot August months around the country, it’s a scorching 90 degrees, sometimes reaching into the 100s, but not in Santa Maria. It’s like mid-50s in the morning and, if they’re lucky, it will top out at 74 degrees. Yes sir, that’s what we said—74 degrees. 

Santa Maria is nestled on the Central Coast of California, just down the road from Pismo Beach.

So, what does all this mean? Just a short trip inland, California’s Central Valley is the state’s agriculture hub, producing more than 360 products. California is the sole producer of more than 13 fruits, vegetables and nuts, including walnuts, olives, clingstone peaches and sweet rice. California is also the nation’s largest dairy producer with over one-fifth of the nation’s dairy.

And you thought we only knew about trucks, wheel bearings and grease.

Jesse Manriquez is the owner of Rancho Harvest Inc. in Santa Maria. Jesse knows agriculture, custom trucks and cars because he has a lot of them. Jesse has been in the agriculture business for 36 years. He started out doing back-breaking work in the fields and eventually built one of the largest harvesting companies in California and Arizona.

Jesse’s personal fleet of custom rods is rivaled only by his fleet of commercial trucks, tractors and 18-wheelers. So, yeah, Jesse knows trucks. Which brings us to Jesse’s very clean ’55 Chevy Cameo pickup. Between 1955 and 1959, there were only 10,000 units made and 5,200 were made in 1955. Why, you ask? Well, Chevrolet wanted to bring luxury to their trucks, but the public still viewed the pickup as a work vehicle in a time when the car market was booming. You can’t have a pickup and make it cool and drive it like a car. So, Chevrolet kept production low.

Well, those days are over and it’s Street Trucks time, baby! Yeah, we build them to perform and look cool these days! Jesse had always wanted one, and he found this classic in a for-sale ad in an Oxnard, California, newspaper. The truck had the original six banger and three-speed tranny and pretty much needed a complete restoration. Jesse is not a guy who wastes time when he wants something done, so he enlisted the help of Tim Graves, owner of Indy Classics in Fresno, California. Now, these trucks were the top of the line in their day, but in today’s world the suspension is, let’s just say, not that great. Jesse likes to drive his custom vehicles, so the first mod was a complete Mustang II front suspension with power assist rack-and-pinion with tubular upper and lower A arms.

The rear got a four-link setup with a 12-bolt equipped with 3:73 gears so it can cruise the freeways with ease. Stopping power comes in the way of 13-inch drilled and slotted four-wheel disc brakes. You know when you have that kind of trick suspension that tired six-cylinder is probably not as appealing as it was in 1955. So out with the old and in with the new in the form of a Genuine GM 350 Hi-Performance Crate motor coupled to a GM 700 R4 automatic trans with a Stage 2 shift kit. Exhaust comes from a custom set of headers that dump into a Magnaflow exhaust system. The body needed some attention, mostly smoothing out minor flaws and dings, and doing something about the not-so-attractive faded brown paint (yes, someone painted this classic beauty brown!). Jesse’s daughter Jessica was responsible for choosing the original GM SeaFoam and White color scheme that gives this rare Chevy its classic looks again.

The interior got some upgrades too. Power windows handle the custom smoked glass and Vintage Air provides the coolness in the cab. Wes Graves of Fresno stitched up the beautiful interior that completes this clean ride. Wheels and tires weren’t overlooked either as the Cameo rolls on 18×9 Eagle Brand wheels in the front and 18×10 in the rear. To complete that fat-fendered look, they’re wrapped in 245/40/ZR18 low-profile tires, which are perfect for cruisin’ the streets of Santa Maria or the open freeways of California.

Jesse’s projects are never ending, both on the street and on the acres of produce fields that his crews harvest every year. We also heard through the grapevine that there might be a custom 18-wheeler in the works, in the form of a vintage Peterbilt. That’s definitely a truck we would like to check out. Twin turbos, slammed, air ride, super ridiculous chrome stacks? Car hauler?

Keeping America fed with fruits and vegetables is Jesse’s lifelong work, but building custom trucks is his passion. Keep on truckin’, man!