Jesse Nelson's After-Hours Chevy
There are more than a few full-time fabricators who don't have well-built trucks of their own. Like cobblers who go barefoot, they spend their best hours building the dreams of paying customers while personal projects get pushed by the wayside unless perseverance and outright stubbornness prevail. "If I don't work, I don't get paid," comments Jesse Nelson. Jesse is the owner, fabricator, and driver of the '96 Chevy 1500 on these pages. "Once you commit to a project like this, it gets done during evenings and weekends. It can take years."
Jesse is half the staff at JD Fabrication, a business he shares with fellow fabricator Dave Dinsmore. If you haven't guessed, JD stands for Jesse and Dave. A typical workday at JD Fabrication usually starts at about 6 a.m. and winds down at 4 p.m. Personal time starts around 5 o'clock.
Jesse bought the '96 on the cheap from a friend. "I wasn't planning to go crazy with this one," he reveals. "I was going to build a new front suspension and put long-travel leaf springs in the rear. Partway through, I decided that it really needed a 'cage. When I got to the rear suspension, I decided that the stock frame didn't have the right shape, so I was going to cut it off behind the cab and put some box tubing in place instead. At that point, it made the most sense just to link the backend instead of sticking with leaf springs."
While much of the stock chassis was ditched during the build, Jesse retained quite a few stock parts when it came to the amenities and the drivetrain. The stock brake booster, windshield wiper system, defroster, and even the factory underhood work light are still there. The hood is part of a Trailer Products Avalanche conversion clip, but it pivots on factory hinges so one person can lift it. Under that hood lurks a 5.7L Vortec V-8 that feeds into a 4L60E transmission. Both powertrain pieces were salvaged from a wrecked Tahoe. A factory steering box with a modified ratio handles steering chores, but more on that later.
Using stock parts to keep the truck easy to live with was part of the overall strategy. Another facet was keeping the interior as quiet and comfortable as possible. To that end, Jesse retained the factory heating and air conditioning system, albeit with aftermarket vents that are built into the custom dashboard and center console. The roof has thick foam insulation, and the floor is coated with sound-deadening material. Ingress and egress are easy, too, thanks to door bars that snake along the floor.
It's got a smart selection of stock parts and a comfortable interior, but make no mistake: There's some hardcore hardware on board. What's left of the stock framerails has been boxed in, and the complete chassis was reinforced with a front-to-rear rollcage using 1.75-inch tubing. Even though he's an expert MIG welder, Jesse went to the trouble of TIG-welding everything on this truck. The front suspension is completely custom, right down to the fabricated steering knuckles, A-arms, and steering system. Front wheel travel is a long-legged 19 inches. At the aft end, you'll find a gusseted 9-Inch rearend with full-floating hubs. The 9-Inch is part of a four-link suspension that cycles through 28 inches of wheel travel. "It rides like a big marshmallow," comments the owner.
While sitting in the driver seat of the big Bow Tie marshmallow, Jesse often checks the vital signs via Auto Meter gauges. At the far left is a clock. "I could have hooked it up and made it work," he confesses, "but it made the most sense to leave it set at 5. This truck is a lot of fun, so it can be any time of the day or night outside, but once you get in here, it's always 5 o'clock."
Vehicle: 1996 Chevy 1500 2WD
Owner/Hometown: Jesse Nelson/ Escondido, California
Engine: 5.7 Vortec V-8
Induction: Stock EFI, but with dual UMP air filters and custom ducting
Frontend: JD custom A-arm system, King shocks, 19-inch wheel travel
Rearend: JD four-link, King coilover and bypass shocks, 28-inch wheel travel
Ring and Pinion: 5:00 to 1
Rear Differential: Detroit Locker
Rollcage: TIG-welded 1.75-inch chromoly, both .120- and .095-wall thicknesses were mixed and matched as required
Wheels/Tires: 17-inch TrailReady beadlocks/BFGoodrich Baja T/A 37x12.50R17