INTERNATIONAL TRUCK STOP - ‘Gypsy Airstream’ house truck

Thursday, September 19, 2019

For decades Chevrolet was synonymous with mass-produced commercial vehicles – a good product but lacking any frills. Harry Stock’s ‘Gypsy Airstream’ is the opposite.

Photo: The lavishly decorated ‘Gypsy Airstream’ is a rolling attraction.

USA-born Harry Stock lives in the Netherlands and at 71 he’s not shy of a bit of show. Harry is a real handyman and has over the years built a good number of unique custom cars and pickups. His newest creation is the ‘Gypsy Airstream’, a Chevrolet 7-tonner from 1949 transformed into a streamlined house truck. The classic commercial now shines with chrome and is lavishly coloured, yet in many respects it’s extremely functional. For the purists among ‘oldtimer’ enthusiasts the Chev may be a nightmare, but the supporters of show cars love it. The story behind the exceptional truck begins about 10 years ago during an Oldtimer Festival in Belgium. “I attended that show with my Ford F100 panel truck from 1955, and 1964 Airstream caravan. This combination proved a big hit among custom car enthusiasts. One man offered me a price for it that I could not resist. Because I enjoy working on classic vehicles as much as driving them, I sold the wagon and drag again,” said Harry.

Maybe because of his roots that lie in Cleveland, Ohio, Harry has always showed an interest in American cars and trucks. “I have owned several big cars and pickups from across the pond. Some I brought back to original condition, other vehicles I completely modified. Over the years I crossed the ocean many times to visit my father and go with him to classic and custom car shows, such as the famous Sema Show in Las Vegas. There you see really outrageous contraptions. They inspired me to build and beautify my own wagons. In Europe, these attracted a lot of attention too, and that led to the construction of the ‘Gypsy Airstream’, which is a cross between a vintage truck and an Airstream caravan. It had to become something with a ‘wow’ factor. It was quite a challenge to build it, but I loved doing so.”

Photo: The ‘Gypsy Airstream’ is a cross between a Chevrolet truck and an Airstream caravan.

Photo: Here Harry is seen working on the custom-built metal and wood superstructure.

Photo: Splendid 1950’s colours and lots of unique gadgets! The custom wooden steering wheel took dozens of hours to build.

Harry tracked down the Chevrolet Roadmaster SX6708 in 2011 in Wetteren, Belgium. The 1949 chassis was equipped with a tipper body and had been used by a local coal merchant. It seemed in fair condition. But as often happens with old vehicles, after more thorough inspection, the driveline and sheet metal badly needed refurbishing. “I had to replace the floorboards, door posts and part of the fenders. Luckily, I can do a lot myself, having a background as a fitter and welder. The driveline was typical American with a big 6-cylinder gasoline engine and a 3-stage auto box. This did not have many secrets for me. I dismantled the PTO, and removed one of the two sets of leaf springs because I do not have to carry a load.”

Not satisfied with the performance of the 6-cylinder fuel burner, Harry replaced it with a 5.7-litre V8 gasoline engine from a 1991 Chevy van. He also used the 4-speed automatic transmission, steering house and steering column, plus several other parts from the donor vehicle. “I did have the V8 reconditioned first, though. And to save fuel costs an LPG tank was fitted. But to be honest, it is still an expensive truck to run. It is part Airstream, but only from the side.” The unique camper body was almost completely homebuilt. The skeletal is of metal, but the front and rear are wood. And so is most of the living quarters. Part of the outside panelling is stainless steel. Not everything was homemade though. “The wooden rear doors and cabinets plus some other furniture came from an old gypsy cart. But part of the kitchen is genuine Airstream again. It is the best of both worlds.” That Harry did something right was proved last summer when he and his wife Lilly captured first place with the ‘Gypsy Airstream’ at a large meeting of pimped RV vehicles. The placing in part down to the many unique features of wood and metal that Harry added to the exterior and interior, virtually all designed and handmade by himself. Despite the unusual superstructure, the Chev looks almost modest in contrast, but appearances are deceptive. Under the skin a lot has been changed.

Photo: The Dutch- American couple is justifiably proud of their unique house truck.

Photo: The old 6-pot was replaced by a potent gasoline V8 engine.

“In the five years that the restoration took, a lot of hours went in the fabrication of unique details. These not only have to be fun to look at but also functional and improve the comfort. I fitted electrically operated windows and power steering. I also changed or altered nearly all instruments and switches in the cab and dashboard. The steering wheel is a story apart. I made it from a wooden wheel that was in an old Ursus tractor. I pulled it completely apart and rebuilt it spoke by spoke. That alone was good for many, many hours of work. The large central console is also fully custom-built. And much of the upholstery and seating I made myself using aluminium sheet, hardboard and skai [imitation leather]. Also the standard front bench was exchanged for two luxurious captains chairs from a Chevy campervan.”

It looks just fabulous and because the interior is done in classic red and ivory it matches the exterior. The custom car enthusiast is certainly not lacking creativity. And it is not only a feast on the eyes seeing the streamlined house truck in day; at night it is illuminated like a Christmas tree. “All LED lights,” says Harry proudly. The couple have covered over 5000kms with it throughout Europe. One of the more noteworthy moments of the travels was meeting up with the former owner in Belgium. “The man was really flabbergasted and could not believe this was his old coal tipper!

Photo: The 1949 coal tipper as it arrived from Belgium eight years ago.