Travis Chrystal has a saying when it comes to how he built his '71 Chevy K10: "stupid-simple." Examples: After selling his '06 GMC 1-ton dualie and completing a restoration on his '69 Chevy Camaro, he was bored and wanted a new project. "It needed to be something stupid-simple with parts easily obtained, which for me was pre-1978 iron." On buying his K10 off Craigslist: "Small-block Chevy, SM465/205 with a 12-bolt rear, and Dana 44 front equals stupid-simple and pretty tough. We negotiated a price and I drove it home." One more: "I wanted to go with fuel injection versus carb, even though it adds some unnecessary complexity and deviates from the stupid-simple objective some." There was plenty of stupid-brilliance in these decisions, which contributed to why it took only 2 months to build the durable truck.
How to define Travis's "stupid-simple" concept for building the K10? Modify to be a reliable truck that's simple to work on and easy to find parts for.
We met Travis on the 2019 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure, and he was definitely not new to four-wheeling and overlanding. "I spent my early years bouncing around Colorado in my dad's '78 Toyota FJ40 and have owned Jeeps, pickups, and Blazers—even an AMC Eagle for a short period of time. The only real difference between those vehicles and the K10 is the rooftop tent." The outdoors continued to call as he adulted. "I have always been about getting away and exploring. My wife and I have been off-roading and camping for as long as we have been married, 26 years. First, without the kids, then with the kids, and now we have just become empty-nesters, so we really want to turn it up a notch on getting out and exploring new places."
His brother and dad had previously owned '67-'72 C/Ks, "so I had a pretty good idea of what to look for and where the trouble spots are, and this truck was pretty clean and original. It had the typical cab corner and rocker problems, but not bad and easy to fix. It leaked from everywhere but ran fine, and everything worked." Since he was used to driving "old junk," he was able to do the buildup himself, including the engine swap and axle rebuild.
If "stupid-simple" speaks to you in terms of building your own vehicle, Travis suggests doing the work in stages—suspension, then drivetrain, and so on—not building it specifically for overlanding and then finally going overlanding. "Instead, get out and go places and add the things you think you need/want as you go, so the truck fits your real needs in the end," Travis says.
At the heart of the K10 is a BluePrint Engines small-block Chevy that Travis got from Summit Racing. "I wanted more horsepower and torque than the original engine provided, but I didn't need so much that I would easily break other things." The 355ci crate engine is worth about 390 horses and 413 lb-ft of torque. It's been bored 0.040 inch and has a 9.3:1 compression ratio. There are later-model Vortec heads, hypereutectic pistons, Edelbrock Performer 2116 intake manifold, and Holley Sniper fuel injection and HyperSpark ignition. "The Holley ignition and fuel injection came out better than expected. Very simple install and self-learning process, but with a laptop you can really get into the weeds and fine-tune it." The headers are cast manifolds that meet up with dual 2 1/4-inch exhaust with glasspacks.
"I just wanted something that would run great from sea level to 13,000-foot elevation in temps from -30 to 100-plus without having to rejet," says Travis. More "stupid-simple." He has a spare fuel pump, "but if the throttle-body or any of its electronics fail while on a trip, I could easily swap in an HEI distributor and carb from a parts store and be back up and running." He might install a second fuel tank with in-tank pumps for more range and to eliminate fuel cans and a backup pump.
Travis has already replaced the diff in the 12-bolt with a Detroit Truetrac and swapped to 4.11s. He had experience with a Truetrac from his Camaro. "I beat on it pretty hard and it's never failed and is dead quiet and smooth, so it seemed like a logical choice for the K10."
Underneath are Tom Wood's driveshafts, factory discs and drums, Dana 44 up front, and GM 12-bolt at the rear. The gearing "is perfect 90 percent of the time, but the Rubicon is a bucket-list item, so when I get around to pulling the transfer case for a reseal, I may put an ORD Magnum Box in and twin-stick the transfer case while I'm at it."
Offroad Design (ORD) guided Travis on the suspension and he ended up with Tuff Country springs combined with ORD shackles and Bilstein 5125 shocks at both ends. Tuff Country is also on pitman-arm duty, and there's a Rancho steering stabilizer plus longer brake lines. Ride quality was an important consideration for Travis, since the truck will go on "extended winter excursions to Baja and wheel everywhere in the U.S. that looks interesting. It will also serve as a daily driver and hunting rig." He said the K10 now rides smoother than his '15 Ram.
Travis built a rack out of scrap 1x2 steel tube. "'Hacked' or 'scabbed together' are more appropriate words." He wanted the rack to support the Smittybilt tent and hold the bridging ladders/traction mats. He built it to sit atop the bedrails and it is held in place with four topper clamps, as removal needs to be quick and easy.
"My son is a welder by trade, so he criticizes everything I weld and is genuinely embarrassed to share a surname when anyone sees my welding skills, but nothing has broken or failed."
"I knew the truck needed a lift, but nothing extreme—I wasn't going to run 40s." His combo of choice was 33-inch Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 rubber with 16-inch Wheel Vintiques wheels.
"It's a '71 K10 with a bench seat, power nothing, and no A/C, so comfort by today's standards eludes this rig." However, the truck is likely to gain Vintage Air A/C, a Class III receiver for towing, and a Dometic fridge. Other future changes could be ones inspired by his fellow Four Wheeler Overland Adventure attendees—like Scott Lewis ("Overlanding in Luxury," Nov. '19), who added solar panels to his Lexus, and Dan Cressall, whose Dodge ("DIY Overlanding," Dec. '19) had steal-worthy ways to improve the storage within the K10's rack setup.
"We used to pack a wall tent around, but I hate bears, so the rooftop tent concept always interested me—the higher off the ground the better." Travis's initial thought was to build a trailer with a rack and the tent would go on that, but a trailer would mean having more tires, bearings, and so on that would need to be maintained. He also didn't want anything that could hang him up on the trail.
At a Glance
Vehicle: '71 Chevy K10
Owner: Travis Chrystal
Stomping grounds: Pine Bluffs, Wyoming
Build time: 2 months
Engine: Chevy small-block V-8
Transfer case: NP205
Low range ratio (:1): 1.96
Crawl ratio (:1): 40.0
Front axle/differential: Dana 44/Spartan Locker
Rear axle/differential: GM 12-bolt/Detroit Truetrac
Front: 4-in-lift Tuff Country leaf springs, Offroad Design shackles, Bilstein shocks, Rancho steering stabilizer, Tuff Country pitman arm
Rear: 4-in-lift Tuff Country leaf springs, Bilstein shocks
Tires: 285/75R16 Pro Comp Xtreme MT2
Wheels: Wheel Vintiques 16x8 steel
Cool stuff: Vortec cylinder heads, hypereutectic pistons, Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, Holley Sniper fuel injection Holley HyperSpark ignition, BluePrint Engines flywheel, Optima YellowTop battery, Champion 13 spark plugs, MSD wires, LuK 12-inch torque converter, Tom Wood's driveshafts, RotopaX and Scepter MFC auxiliary fuel, Garmin GPS, Canyon Cooler, Warn M8000 winch, Hi-Lift jack, and Bubba Rope recovery equipment