Words and photos by Mark Williams for PickupTrucks.com
It was just last November when on the floor of the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. In fact, we picked the PT-57 as one of the top trucks of the show and knew we had to get a closer look.
Based in Luling, Texas (about an hour east of San Antonio), Hot Rod Jim’s builds late-model Corvette chassis to order for any hot rod-loving car nut who wants to build a Cobra-killer for the racetrack. Builder and owner Russell Alexander said the idea for the PT-57— named for the Pro Touring race class and 1957 Chevy pickup — came from an old bomber jacket his grandfather gave him years ago. He started working on the pickup about three months before the SEMA Show.
Without question, the most eye-catching aspect of the truck is the war bird theme as interpreted by its builder. With olive drab green as the base coat, both the yellow and black highlights make for a dramatic visual one-two punch. Clearly borrowing from the famous Curtiss P-40 Warhawk designs of the early ‘40s, the PT-57 screams World War II fighter, with the most pronounced detail being the signature “shark mouth” face boldly emblazoned on its snout.
Astute P-40 experts will notice the eyes (actually stickers) on this PT-57 fender were inadvertently mounted upside down, changing the overall effect ever so subtly from fierce to mildly upset. Still, the look on the front end of the truck looks striking and perfectly keeps with the project’s theme. And it’s cool. Russell credits his brother with all the painting, which includes the mock rivet and panel lines. But this truck isn’t just about looking good.
From the outset, with a clean ’57 Chevy body in hand, the team tailored the signature Corvette chassis to fit the truck’s narrow front stance. Russell and his crew also had to widen the rear bed fender wells to more closely align with the Z06 rear-end geometry. To keep the center of gravity as low as possible, Russell heavily modified the floor pan and firewall to give it a menacing low-slung stance. And he decided to keep the bed floor open to highlight all the suspension and performance components. For those looking for more rear-end grip, any number of bed floor designs could be accommodated.
Under the hood is a 6.0-liter GM V-8 taken from a 2500 Silverado HD and bolted to a Borg Warner T56 six-speed manual transmission. After a few modifications to the engine block, Russell mounted a pair of STS turbos behind the rear axle so they stay cool. Two K&N air intake filters are tucked behind the bed quarter panels with air inlets in the side panels designed to pull as much cool air as possible into the system. It’s worth noting the side pipes on the PT-57 (one of our favorite touches) are functional, working as an external wastegate, dumping unneeded exhaust gases when pressure builds. Although it hasn’t been on the dyno yet, Russell estimates it’ll put out almost 570 horsepower and close to 600 pounds-feet of torque at the rear wheels. And, he says, all the emissions from the tailpipe are completely legal, which may not be a surprise because in the state of Texas, it just needs to be as clean as a factory ’57 small-block pickup.
The finished truck weighs about 3,400 pounds and has a better distribution (closer to a 50/50 weight split) than a brand-new C6 Corvette, Russell says. With the heavier-duty rear axle bracing — complete with a custom-cut “PT-57” nameplate — and roll bar attachments, we’d guess the front-to-rear ratio is closer to 53/47, making it a strong and confident tight-track racer.
Our visit to the shop was supposed to include a thorough test drive of the rig, but we were pounded with ugly weather and nasty rain. (That’s why many of the photos are a little messy.) Although the roads were slick — and muddy in some cases — we were still impressed with how balanced and sure-footed the truck handled cornering and acceleration. No doubt the massive Michelin Pilot Sports helped provide tremendous grip. A quick spin around the Lockhart Municipal Airport convinced us that the chassis is about as dialed in as any pickup we’ve ever driven. And Russell says the payload to the truck is more than 1,000 pounds. Seems like a performance pickup truck with an independent rear suspension could make a lot of sense.
Perhaps our favorite part of the truck was on the inside — specifically, the PT-57’s fuselage-like interior, with its Spartan use of sound-deadening materials or basic amenities. (It looked more stripped than bare bones.) Like many SEMA project trucks, the interior is likely to remain a work in progress for quite some time. For now, we’d describe it as “rough,” not unlike the P-40 Warhawk’s interior — all that you need, nothing you don’t. No luxury or high-dollar details here, just gauges, levers and a steering wheel — ready for combat.
When asked how much it would cost to order one of these custom trucks, Russell was reluctant to give a definitive answer because his shop can offer so many options, including a Stage I or Stage II or Stage III configuration, depending on how much racing the owner wants to do. With that said, he figures the starting price is somewhere around $90,000. That’s interesting, because that turns out to be about twice what a brand-new P-40 cost when the Curtiss-Wright Corp. built them in 1944. How times (and prices) have changed.
Still, the PT-57 is craveable. Just imagine all the Japanese and German sports cars you’ll be able to notch on your belt or paint on the PT-57's flanks.