Text by Matt Criswell
Photos by Eddie Maloney
Laurie Melen was an automotive enthusiast—she dated a car guy, loved to cruise in old cars and trucks, and planned vacations around events like Run to the Sun, Cruisin’ the Coast, and Shades of the Past. She wanted to build a truck to stand out from the crowd that she could cruise in and show off at these events, and she wanted to design and build it herself. Any true builder knows that it’s the little details that complete a vehicle. So when Laurie decided to build a 1948 Chevy 3100, she knew right away a few of the details that her truck just had to have. It had to have wide white walls. It had to have a chrome and almond grille, it had to have a mix of classic styling with a modern touch, and it had to have sideboards in the stake pockets.
So, with help from her boyfriend Stephen Coggins, Laurie picked up a couple of rusty Chevrolet Advance Design trucks to get her project started. The Advance Design trucks were the first significant redesign of Chevy’s pickup line after World War II and were built from 1947–’55.
Stephen, an accomplished builder and the owner of Southern Muscle & Classic Restorations, agreed to teach her as they built the truck together. Laurie was excited to learn how to weld, wrench on, and fabricate the truck of her dreams. She proudly showed off pictures of her rusty trucks to everyone she knew.
Then, Laurie received a Stage II breast cancer diagnosis. To make things worse, she had to have a double mastectomy, and later a PET scan revealed cancerous spots on her liver and a few of her bones. This finding meant a Stage IV diagnosis rather than the Stage II diagnosis she had received previously, and quickly changed the situation. Most people might let a serious medical diagnosis slow down or even stop a project like building a custom truck, but for the true hot rodder that she’d become, Laurie saw it as a need to speed things up.
Knowing that her time could be limited, she decided not to waste any of it learning how to weld and repair rust, and instead, she opted to use a Premier Street Rods body and Mar-K bed. She had plans to drive this truck, so she ordered a flat top Rockabilly Fabrication chassis complete with independent C4 Corvette suspension, rack-and-pinion steering, RideTech Shockwave dampers, and Accuair’s e-Level system for air management.
She left the drivetrain decisions in Stephen’s capable hands, and he sourced a 2016 L86 6.2-liter engine and 8-speed, 8L90 transmission. A US Radiator was used for cooling, and Laurie restored the stock heater box. Soon, all of the major pieces were in place, and the rush to complete the truck before Laurie’s health deteriorated was on.
From start to finish, Laurie meticulously researched each part used on the build of her Chevy 3100. Stephen swears that she spent three hours in the Diamond Back Classic Tires booth at Run to the Sun, learning about their wide whitewall tires. She liked what she heard, and she ordered a set of 17-inch wide whitewalls to go with US Wheel smoothies and dog dish hubcaps.
Laurie and Stephen worked side by side in his shop for months. She worked body panels and turned wrenches, all while undergoing chemotherapy treatments and making regular trips to see cancer specialists all over the southeast.
It seemed that building her truck got her mind off things and focused on a goal. She also became quite an advocate for the American Cancer Society, helping to raise money and awareness at every opportunity she encountered.
When it came time for paint, Laurie chose Slate Gray Metallic pigment—plucked from a 2016 Tahoe—to cover the ‘48’s flanks. Stephen questioned her choice, but she was adamant that the colors that she had selected would be perfect for the truck. For the record, she was right.
When it came time to choose the wood for the bed and ever-so-important side boards for the stake pockets, Stephen’s grandfather had a surprise for them. He had saved several rough cut mahogany boards in his shop for more than 30 years—for just the right project—and he felt that they were perfect for Laurie’s truck. It turns out they had just enough boards to complete the bed.
Stephen’s father worked with Laurie to find the perfect stain for the wood. It only took 20 different stain and finish combinations to find the exact match she wanted. Again, her meticulous nature paid off.
For the interior, Laurie chose a Forever Sharp steering wheel and Kenwood double-DIN head unit that they ended up hiding behind the grill in the dash. Stephen modified a Snowden seat foam to fit on the modified stock ’48 seat frame. She chose mahogany ultra-leather for the seat material and insisted on sewing the cover herself. She finished part of the seat, but unfortunately, she developed back pain from her treatments before she could finish. With Laurie teaching him as he went, Stephen jumped right in and finished the seat. The student had become the teacher.
The two of them spent countless hours, and the truck was coming together in the fall of 2019. Unfortunately, Laurie’s health took a turn for the worse in late September, and she passed away rather suddenly on September 29, 2019. The truck wasn’t quite finished before she died, but she did get to see it nearly completed.
After Laurie was laid to rest, Stephen went back to finish the truck that the two of them had been working on so tirelessly. He unveiled it at the Upstate South Carolina GM Truck Club Fall Picnic for the club that they had both been part of for several years. Laurie had been looking forward to the event and registered her truck just a few days before she passed away.
In a nod to her perseverance and joyful spirit, Laurie’s ’48 Chevy 3100 took the top prize at a tear-filled awards ceremony. The completion of the truck is a fitting tribute to Laurie’s dedication in the face of adversity, and we hope Stephen gets to enjoy it for years to come.