By Laura Roesch
Photography by Bonnie Brant
Father and son team Tim and Josh Despard work side-by-side and hands-on, whether it is custom designing, building, and repairing mechanical parts for the U.S. Navy’s undersea vehicles, or at home in the family, garage tending to their car collection. They spend almost every waking hour together, doing what gearheads do. With a passion for Corvettes, their collection includes a 1963 Stingray split-window coupe, a 1968 big block 427 coupe, a 1972 Stingray, a 2015 Z51 supercharged coupe and a 2016 C7 Z06 coupe. But it is a bright red 1936 Chevy Low Cab pickup truck that holds a special place in their hearts. The truck has been in the Despard family more than 50 years. Just six years old at the time, Tim clearly remembers the day his father hauled it home to their tiny New Hampshire garage. He recalls standing well inside the truck’s fender, cleaning old truck parts under his dad’s watchful eye. He followed his dad around the garage for years, learning all the while. At the age of 16, the truck became his, and he has lovingly tended to it ever since. The car-centric tradition of father-and-son-garage-time continued when Josh came along. Josh has his own memories of toddling along behind his dad, learning about whatever car or truck was under repair or restoration; playing with wrenches or bondo, standing on his tiptoes watching his dad work. Throughout the years, the three generations of Despard men have owned and restored a good number of interesting and fast cars and trucks, but the 1936 pickup truck will always remain their favorite.
Tim, that little red pickup is quite a looker! It must have been a unique ride for a 16-year-old high school student? When my father gave it to me as I started high school, I was thrilled. My very own wheels! The pickup has become kind of a family heirloom now; even my five-year-old grandson, Reese, thinks it’s cool! So maybe there is a fourth generation who will love this truck as much as Josh and I do! My dad is now in his 80s, and he is still into cars, but he spends his time building a wooden steamboat for one of his grandkids. The truck is so special to our family, it even played a role in my daughter’s wedding recently.
Josh, it looks like the family gearhead tradition continues with you. What has that been like? It has been a way of life for us, and the pickup has been a major part of it. I have always hung out in the garage with my dad, then I began working with him after high school. We are building things, we solve problems, and figure out how to make a car, or the pickup, run better or faster. I have learned, and am still learning, so much from my dad. He is better at everything, compared to me; I’ve never seen any problem that he couldn’t solve or anything he couldn’t fix. I am so lucky to have him as my dad. I get to learn from the best and have tons of fun along the way!
Who does what when you work together or do you share all projects and work evenly?
Josh: We usually work together on everything. I do a lot of the bodywork on fiberglass or the steel bodies. I especially like setting up ride height and suspension, basically the way a car sits and looks. I also select the engine setup on cams, cranks, heads, and intakes.
Tim: I do all of the wiring, as that is Josh’s least favorite things to do. And I do all the painting and welding and whatever else comes along. The pickup truck is over 80 years old.
How much of it remains original?
Tim: The all-steel frame and body, dash and grill are original, as well as the wood floor in the truck bed. But we’ve restored various parts of the truck in some form or fashion two or three times over the 50- plus years it has been a part of the family. But it is the look of it that appeals to me; it’s not big and bulky like trucks of that era, it’s small. And the fenders are rolled like a coupe’s fenders. Its profile is low. We often are asked if it has been chopped. It hasn’t. It is simply a “low cab” model, rather than the high cab model also available at the time.
What kind of upgrades have you made, to improve its driving experience? I imagine automotive improvements have come a long way since 1936?
Tim: It originally drove just like an old truck; the suspension was minimalistic and it was incredibly difficult to steer, especially compared to modern vehicles. We replaced the original drop axle and leaf springs with a 4:11 posi track rear end and 4-link suspension, and 4-way disc brakes, and a 2-inch drop front end with rack and pinion steering. It’s not only a looker, it’s a driver!
Has there been any particular aspect of working on projects that stumped you, or on the truck that was difficult or challenging?
Tim: Perhaps the most challenging on the ’63 Corvette was when Josh redid the headliner. It was difficult to find, and install; it has a crazy compound bow contour in the roof. Drilling into a steel body with little screws and drill bits is a nightmare while holding it in place overhead at the same time.
Josh: I also cut out all the floor pans out and lowered them three inches, to fit the racing seats I installed. Now that was challenging!
Looking around the Despard garage, I see five powerful Corvettes. Surely you have added a little “get up and go” to the truck’s performance?
Josh [laughs]: Absolutely! We installed a small block Chevy 355 engine, with a turbo 350 automatic transmission. We also added an electronic ignition and a quick fuel EFI fuel injection throttle body. We won’t be adding air conditioning; the windshield tilts outward. That’s all the cooling we need! Both Tim and Josh chuckle when asked whats next on the list of things to be done on the older model Corvettes or the truck. Their answer; “Let’s just say we are on a first name basis with the UPS guy!”
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