Rob Kastoun’s LSA-powered 1949 Chev 3100 pick-up

Rob Kastoun's first build is a certified trophy-hauler

Photographers: Ben Hosking

Strength coaching and car-building may be worlds apart on a surface level, but as Robert Kastoun found with his showstopping ’49 Chev pick-up, dedication, expert help and a shitload of time will get you far in both disciplines.

First published in the May 2024 issue of Street Machine

While Rob’s an accomplished Strength Coach on the gym scene, he went into this project with little more than a lofty goal. “This was my first build – after watching hundreds of episodes of Fast N’ Loud, Iron Resurrection and other American car-building shows. I thought I’d give building my dream truck a go, and gift it to myself for my 40th birthday,” he says. “These guys could do it in a week or two and for under $30k, so I thought I’d be realistic and give myself a year and a budget of $70k.”

It’s safe to say those shows aren’t the best things to hang your expectations on, especially when you’re a novice trying to build an American truck on the other side of the world, and Rob learned this the hard way over the eight-year build that followed. “I’m now turning 46 and just getting it done,” he laughs.

Scouting out the right canvas was an early challenge. “Originally, I found one in the US which would’ve been perfect, already complete and ready to go,” Rob says. “But it was extremely modified, and when I found out how hard it’d be to get it to Australia and get it engineered and registered, I started looking here.” After a false start with a Chev cab on an HQ chassis, Ian Cornel at American Steel offered up a 3100 chassis.

“After a day of driving around to different barns in the Victorian countryside looking at his inventory, I found the one,” Rob says. “It was just a rusted chassis, but he had a sheet metal package to go with it.”

The starting point, which Rob describes as a pile of rotten metal, was a far cry from the import job he’d been searching for, and finding the right people to fix everything blew his original timeline out considerably.

“My OCD coupled with building a truck isn’t a good mix,” he admits. “Thankfully, I found great people, and was fortunate enough to have worked side-by-side with them on the build. So not only did I build the truck of my dreams, but I also finished an eight-year apprenticeship in car-building: from metal fab to engine and mechanicals, electrical, paint, body and trim.”

Dean Finch stepped up early in the piece to sort out the chassis and preliminary engineering work, teaching Rob the ins and outs as he worked. The MotoRRetro crew in Northmead furthered his crash-course in metalworking and helped wherever possible, while MKAL Automotive led the mechanical and electrical sides. Top billing, however, goes to Michael and Matthew Ellard of Image Conversions. “They took ownership of the truck, and their passion and innovation came through,” Rob enthuses. “Nothing was too hard or unachievable with them – they committed to finishing the truck, and they did.”

We’d argue the cab fit-out is better than any you’ll see on the American resto shows

While the whole thing is glass-smooth, the Image boys have particularly outdone themselves in the engine bay department. “Mick spent weeks sheeting the engine bay, did the custom finish on the valve covers, and fabbed a monster rad support to hold all the components,” Rob says. There’s a 6.2-litre LSA hiding under the futuristic engine cover (another Ellard artwork), wearing Higgins heads and a blower ported to match. Beyond a speccy cam from MKAL Automotive and a custom sump, it’s otherwise stock. Its preferred juice is 98, which sends it to 711rwhp through a 6L90E six-speed auto and four-linked nine-inch. Slam Specialties ’bags on both ends get the Chev down in the weeds, paired with a Jaguar independent front end and steering rack.

While the bodywork isn’t a major departure from original ’49 Chev stuff, Mick and Matt fabricated the sidesteps, door skins and inner wheel tubs, which flank a gorgeous carbonfibre cover. It tilts up to reveal the rear ’bag system, tool storage and even a colour-matched extinguisher, all in Bentley Newmarket Tan to continue the interior theme.

On that note, we’d argue the cab fit-out is better than any you’ll see on the American resto shows, thanks to Image Conversions and Blackneedle Automotive Upholstery. “Mick moulded the A-Class Mercedes door trims to match up with the dash, and took a fibreglass mould of the roof to create the smooth suede headlining with the Maserati roof console,” Rob explains. “Mark from Blackneedle was given creative freedom with the trim and knocked it out of the park. He personally hand-wove all the inserts for the seats and door trims and created a one-of-a-kind masterpiece.”

The comfy bench seat is an ex-HiLux piece with handmade padding, and Rob can manage the 6L90E by way of either a dash-mounted PCS electronic shifter, or the Mercedes paddles. It’s all incredibly well-thought-out, right down to an analogue clock accentuating the 3100’s peaked windscreen, and suitably teched-up, with Inifnitybox’s inTOUCH NET control system running most of the cab’s functions via an integrated iPad.

Debuting at the Sydney Hot Rod & Custom show last year, the Chev claimed wins in Standard Paint, Bodywork, and Interior in the Full Modified Street Machine category. Rob then did a proper clean-up job at Killer Rides Live, taking home Top Bodywork, Display, Paint, Interior, Australia’s Most Beautiful Custom, and People’s Choice.

Rob’s wife, Victoria, backed him through every step of the learning, spending and building odyssey. “I’m one lucky man; I’m married to a saint,” he grins. “We used to watch the car shows together, but I don’t think she knew what we were getting into! It’s one of those things where once you start you can’t stop, as you get in so deep that it’d be a shame and a great loss not to see it through; now that it’s finished, we can possibly take a holiday again!”

That said, Rob’s not done yet – he’d like to flex his newfound skills on another truck. “This time a Chevy COE so I can tow this one around,” he says. “I’d like to build it as a family project with my two boys.”

1949 CHEVROLET 3100

Paint:PPG gloss black
Brand:6.2-litre GM LSA
Induction:Ported LSA blower
Camshaft:MKAL 222/252
Fuel system:VF GTS pump
Cooling:VZ Commodore
Exhaust:Custom 3.5in system
Gearbox:GM 6L90E
Diff:9in, Truetrac, 3.5 gears
Front:Slam Specialties airbags, Pedders shocks
Rear:Slam Specialties airbags, Pedders shocks
Brakes:Jaguar calipers and discs (f), Wilwood calipers and discs (r)
Master cylinder:VT Commodore
Rims:Detroit Steel; 20×10 (f), 20×12 (r)
Rubber:Michelin; 245/35R20 (f), 295/35R20 (r)

Andy at Andy’s Restorations; Ian Cornel at American Steel; Dean Finch; Vaughan, Georgio, and Frank at MotoRRetro; Steve Kalfat at MKAL Automotive Melbourne; Peter Lamb at Melomotive; Mark at Blackneedle Automotive Upholstery; Paul, Burnsie, and Frank; most of all, Image Conversions.