Project Big Bad Chevy: Rebuilding the Bed of our Chevy Pickup

Jul. 18, 2008 By Mike Lyon
The original wood of our bed had rotted away leaving us not much to work with.

When we bought our 1983 Chevy step side, code-named Project Big Bad Chevy, we knew we would have to rebuild the original wood floor of the bed. It was in sad shape and we were afraid to even step into it for fear of falling through!

The original bed was rotted and falling apart and the metal slats between the wood planks were rusted and corroded. The previous owner covered it all up with a very thin piece of plywood, which was also rotted, warped, and moldy!

We looked at the prices to buy new pre-cut bed kits which consist of oak wood planks and new metal slats but decided we didn’t want to spend over $600 on a bed that was going to get beat up, scuffed, and scratched.

Our goal was to make it stronger, more durable, and a third of the cost of pre-cut bed kits by using metal for our bed rebuild. Armed with a big hammer and a sawz-all we tore the rotted bed out and began planning for the new metal bed. We quickly realized we had a few minor obstacles to overcome.

The first issue was where the previous owner had installed a Ford van fuel tank in the center of the chassis and routed the filler neck through a cut out in the bed just below the tailgate. The issue was that the old bed floor was ¾ of an inch thick which provided the perfect spacing to eliminate pinching the fuel tank filler neck. With the old bed floor removed, the body of the bed has nothing supporting it and it had sunk down resulting in pinching of the filler neck. Our new bed frame had to be ¾ of an inch thick.

The second minor issue was the ‘bed wear strips’ which appeared to be simply bolted to the bed sides but were actually spot welded which made removal difficult. The bed wear strips are ‘L’ shaped metal strips that connect the bedsides to the original wood floor. There are three of these with one on each bedside and one on the front section of the bed body. This made rebuilding the floor with the bed still installed on the truck chassis difficult. We needed to rebuild the bed from underneath so we removed the entire bed and set it on a few 55 gallon barrels. Then we cleaned the rust off the bed wear strips with a wire wheel and a drill and coated them with silver paint.

The last issue was the overall bed width was about 1.5 inches wider than a standard sheet of aluminum, which we were going to use for our new floor. We could have ordered a custom sheet of aluminum but the cost almost doubled. A standard sheet of aluminum is 48 inches wide, which allowed us around ¼ inch of over lap on the bed wear strips. We decided we would center it as best we could and use large fender washers on each bolt for extra surface area.

For the new bed frame we found 1.5 X ¾ inch rectangle tubing at our local metal supply house. We had pre-measured the lengths we would need and had the supply house cut the tubing for us. Next we placed the tubing at evenly spaced intervals along the length of the bed and used clamps to hold the original cross members in place so we could drill new holes for the bolts, which would hold it all together.

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It was simpler just to pull the whole bed off the truck and lay it on barrels to begin the rebuild process. Rectangular tubing was used to construct the new frame of the bed floor.

After drilling our holes we disassembled everything to prep it for a coat of silver paint. We spent a few hours removing rust from the original cross member supports with a wire wheel and cleaning the new metal tubing. Once everything was prepped we shot it with a couple of layers of paint. When the paint was dry we sprayed WD-40 into the tubing to try and prevent rust in the future.

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Once the tubing was cut, we coated it with a layer of silver paint to prevent rust. From the bottom it is easy to see the new frame in place.

With the new bed frame painted, it was time for final installation. We installed the new tubing and cross members, again with clamps, and laid the 1/8-inch thick sheet of aluminum over the top and centered it on the bed wear strips. Using our previously drilled holes, we drilled a hole through the aluminum floor in each corner of the bed and installed our bolts and fender washers to hold the floor in place.

Once the floor was secured we drilled the rest of our holes through the floor and installed stainless hex head bolts with large washers to hold it all together. Since there were no tie-down points we added eyebolts in each corner to secure our gear we will be carrying in the future. With the floor finished we installed the bed back onto the truck chassis and bolted it into place.

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To create the floor of the bed, 1/8-inch aluminum was mounted to the frame. Heavy-duty eye bolts were used to create tie-down points to secure loads.

The new bed floor came out very well and looks great. We tried to save cost and weight with the 1/8-inch aluminum floor which will be strong enough for our needs of carrying off-road gear and supplies. If we had to do it over we would probably use a ¼-inch thick sheet of aluminum for extra strength. Stay tuned for more upgrades on project Big Bad Chevy as we are just getting started! Newsletter
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