For the uninitiated, Pete Chapouris was a legend in the world of hot rodding. Being one of the founders of Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Shop, the landmark ‘1970/80s-era hot rod aftermarket parts and chassis business, Chapouris was among the best when combining professional-level promotion and showmanship with a high-quality parts business.
Throughout his 50-year career, Chapouris not only had a knack for developing and manufacturing hot rod parts that people needed but, along the way, he also opened up many new avenues for car enthusiasts to express themselves.
His history includes building hot rods for rock stars (with multiple vehicles for ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons), restorations of iconic hot rods (including the Doane Spencer roadster), and vintage race cars, such as Alex Xydias’ So-Cal Speed Shop belly-tank racer from the January 1949 cover of HOT ROD.
It was through working with Xydias on the belly-tank restoration the next phase of Chapouris’ life would begin with the re-creation of the SO-CAL Speed Shop (located in Pomona, California), which included partnerships with GM on their Bonneville salt flat racers as well as multiple SO-CAL Shops franchises located across the United States. Cars built under Chapouris have been regularly featured for their design in museums and in retrospectives of the hobby, and one recently won the America’s Most Beautiful Roadster (AMBR) award at the 2012 Grand National Roadster Show, one of the highest honors for design and workmanship there is in the custom car world.
Looking at things in a new way was standard operating procedure for Chapouris, so when Sean Devine, a writer in his mid-30s, wanted Pete and the SO-CAL crew to rework his recent purchase, it opened up yet another avenue for Chapouris to become immersed.
Sean is the offspring of John Devine, a GM executive as well as a former customer of Pete’s (which included a ’66 Chevelle), and cars were always in Sean’s life one way or another. Looking for something a bit different, Sean wanted to upgrade a first-generation (1966-1977) Bronco in a way no one else had done- a job tailor-made for Chapouris. Under Pete’s guidance, Sean’s 1972 Bronco would become a hybrid of both the off-road and hot rod worlds.
Devine bought the truck online and, though worn out and under powered, its bones were pretty good, with straight metal and no rust to speak of. The build would encompass every aspect of the Bronco, from the suspension and drivetrain to body modifications, custom paint, and one-off upholstery.
Work began by boxing the frame with 3/16-inch plate and re-welding factory welds on the chassis. A new factory rearend went in, augmented with a limited slip differential, 31-spline axles, and a Hellwig anti-sway bar. Pro-Comp shocks and the rear brakes remain at stock specification, but the fronts are a retrofit using pieces from Tom’s Bronco Parts.
The spindles and steering are OEM (the box is a rebuilt ABS unit), though the brake master cylinder is upgraded with a CPP Hydra Stop unit, used in conjunction with Wilwood’s adjustable proportioning valve and an OEM pedal assembly. The gas tank is a 25-gallon unit from Tom’s Bronco Parts, and the hot rod steering column comes via Flaming River. It is topped with a factory steering wheel refurbished and redesigned by Gabe’s Custom Upholstery. The truck rolls on black Robby Gordon XD Series 17×9 wheels, wrapped in Toyo MP295/70R17 rubber.
For the powerplant, John Beck, a record-setting Bonneville and dry lakes racer who works at Vintage Hot Rod Design & Fabrication in Chico, California, started with a 5.0 block, and set it up for a displacement of 347 cubes using a 3.400-inch Eagle crank and 4.030-inch KB Performance pistons with Mahle rings. Comp Cams provided the timing set, ARP handled the main and head bolts, and the V-8 was topped with an Edlebrock intake, an MSD Atomic EFI, Spectre’s cold air intake tubing, a K&N air filter, MSD ignition and wires, Ford Motorsport valve covers, and a 100-amp alternator.
SO-CAL Speed Shop fab’d the exhaust system, and this Bronco’s exhaust note sounds like no other. The transmission is a C4 outfitted with a Dana transfer case, assembled by Remac Transmission in San Dimas using a B&M Pro-Ratchet shifter, a Tom’s Bronco Parts twin-stick, and a driveshaft from Reel Driveline.
One of the tricks Chapouris designed into the body was using a second set of front fender wheel openings that were sectioned into the opposite rear quarters (using the driver’s front on the passenger rear, and the passenger’s front on the driver’s rear). It stretches up the wheel openings just enough without being overtly noticeable, and SO-CAL’s Evin Veazie performed the meticulous metalwork. Other tricks include narrowing the bumpers, so the ends don’t extend beyond the edge of the body, and relocating the mounts so the bumpers now tuck in tight to the body.
After the body work was done, the Bronco was rolled next door to Mick’s Paint in Pomona, California, and several coats of PPG Mercedes Iridium Silver was applied. Once finished, a subtle goldenrod pinstripe was added by Murietta’s Dr. Design down the side just above the top reveal line, as well as some classic hot rod lines added to the glovebox door.
More hot rod influences can be found in the interior, with the aircraft gauges mounted on top of the dash’s face (rather than behind it), the light bar and Vintage Air AC controls hidden inside the glovebox, and nine more toggle switches mounted in three panels above the driver attached to the SO-CAL fab’d six-point roll cage.
Chapouris designed the interior, and the dash pad is covered in the same Ultra brown leather as used by Gabe’s Custom Upholstery on the outboard portion of the custom bucket seats. The inboard seat material is vintage Vietnam-era US Army canvas, with its minor color flaws intentional in their placement. Gabe’s also created the soft top for the Ford, though there is also a removable hardtop that Sean can use at his discretion.
Diamond Rubber Products made the Bronco’s floor covering and a ‘197 Chevy’s rear mirror was utilized, too. SO-CAL’s Justin Veazie wired up the ride, which included the Marshall amp converted into the bluetooth-based stereo’s speaker box that’s mounted under the dash. Before its final delivery, the Ford was turned over to Jon Ciauri, who added an external oil cooler to the transmission to help it run cool. He aldo did the final “tuning” on the truck’s wiring to get everything running as good as possible.
Once finished, Sean says “It was worth the wait.” Hoping to get it up on some Park City off-road trails near his home in Utah, Sean is aware of the truck’s historic pedigree because of Chapouris’ involvement, and the Bronco is something he’d like to give to his son one day as a fitting family heirloom.
The Bronco also proved to be the last project Chapouris would complete, as he passed away just three weeks after these photos were taken. But Pete’s legacy burns as bright as was his talent, and it’s vehicles like Sean’s that will be a perfect way to remember him for many years to come.