Ben Huggins' 1972 Chevy K5 Blazer: BFGoodrich's WHAT ARE YOU BUILDING FOR? Contest Winner
Three generations of the Huggins Family’s ’72 K5 Blazer
Most of us can’t remember what inspired our passion. Ben Huggins will never forget. “Ever since I was old enough to have a good memory, I was drawn to my uncle’s Blazer,” he says. “Some of my earliest memories are when Hurricane Hugo came through in 1989. It was a second vehicle for him and I remember helping him to get it running one day just in case he had to use it.” It was also the day Ben offered to buy it if his uncle ever sold it. “That’s pretty profound for a 6-year-old, you know.” He finally got the opportunity when he was 15. “It was my first vehicle.”
But vehicle may actually be an unfair description; CW Spears’ Blazer was basically a member of the family. “All three of their kids grew up driving it. He was an avid outdoorsman so it’s been from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, to Grandfather Mountain. These are opposite ends of the state so you’re talking like 12 hours’ driving time. He bear hunted in it, surf-fished out on the coast, hunted deer—you name it and the guy did it in this Blazer.” It has the Custom Sport Truck package, and CW joked that the CST door badges stood for Charles Spears’ Truck. “So it’s got tremendous value in the family.”
Ben drove the Blazer for a few years before he dove into rust repair and restoration work, ultimately parking it when he left for Nashville Auto Diesel College in 2001. “Then I started a career, started a family, you know how life goes.” But in 2011 he got the Blazer back on the road. “I figured as a running project we could have some fun with it. At that time the kids were like 5 or 6 years old. It was in primer and rough around the edges but it was fun to just jump in and bounce around in. We took it camping and fishing, that sort of thing.”
But this past summer Ben tore down the Blazer completely to give it the restoration that it deserved. “It’s been mostly my two sons Payton (14) and Tanner (12) helping,” Ben says. “(It’s) an opportunity for them to learn new skills and make great memories.” Beyond disassembly, they made a bracket that bolts to the bed to hoist the body off and made a dolly to set the body on. “I haven’t got them welding on anything yet but that’s coming.”
For the time being they removed the body and had it mediablasted and laid up in epoxy primer. They’re working on aligning panels before sending everything to the body shop. It was originally more of a grapefruit yellow, but Ben says he’s going with Medium Blue. “It’s a factory ’72 color so it’s still going to have that seventies feel but in a color that I like better.” A collision long ago tweaked the frame, so Ben found another K5 chassis that he stripped down for rebuilding.
The truck originally came with Chevrolet’s venerable 350ci engine and Turbo-Hydramatic 350, but Uncle CW swapped the engine out for a succession of 327s. Pulling the heads on the one in the truck revealed a good bit of cylinder wear on a block that was on its last bore, so he built up another 350.
“But something I’ve been rolling around in my mind to go along with the theme of the history is doing a late-model 5.3,” he says. Though distinctly modern (the 4.8 and 5.3 truck variants of the revolutionary LS platform came out in 1999), it brings a number of features to the table, including fuel economy and torque beyond any small-block that preceded it. It also touches on the Blazer’s history. “The 5.3 works out to about a 325, which would kind of be a little nod to the 327s that my uncle ran.” Ben also has a ’99 Silverado Z-71 that’s ripe for harvesting.
The drivetrain swap has a secondary bonus: an overdrive fourth gear in the 4L60E transmission. “My idea for the final product is an updated restoration, kind of like a restomod—the classic looks with new-car performance. I want to be able to take it to the coast or out to the mountains. This isn’t anything I’m going to go thrashing up the side of a mountain, you know. I’m just going for that nice balance between the classic utilitarian four-wheel drive with modern reliability.”
A 2 1/2-inch Rough Country lift and re-gearing the Dana 44 front and 12-bolt rear make it the ideal candidate for 33x12.50s. “I’ve done the math, and if I want this thing to have the acceleration and feel of a stock GM truck, then 33s put me there. My ’99 Z71 has good takeoff and still does real well on the interstate—it has the sweet spot.” Though 35s beckon: “…to be honest this thing is probably going to turn out to the nicer side than the typical trail truck, so I probably won’t go anywhere that I’d need them.” If nothing else, the 33s let him keep the 15x8 rally wheels that came with the rig. The rear already has a clutch-type limited-slip, but Ben says he dreams of an Eaton TrueTrac in the front axle.
Uncle CW’s Blazer still has the power to bring the family together. Along with Ben’s sons, his brother Barry and CW’s son Scott Spears play essential roles in the restoration of his dad’s old Blazer. “(Scott’s) been a tremendous source of information and just flat-out good stories,” Ben says. “Because he probably spent more time in it than any of the other kids.” And the Blazer still has the power to inspire passions: “Tanner and Payton are looking at other 4x4 builds online, talking about ‘What if I did this?’ or ‘I’d like to do that,’” Ben says. “They’re getting the bug too.”