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1957 Cameo truck restoration left no part untouched


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Wednesday, July 9, 2014 - 6:49 am

For Leland Helmuth and his 1957 Chevrolet Cameo truck, the journey really was the destination.

Not that Helmuth spent much time behind the wheel. You could say it was more a long journey spent on the restoration. It was in 1990 when he found the truck in a garage down on Pontiac Street. The truck was in bad shape. Before it came to the garage it had sat out in the woods near Huntington for over 20 years. He bought the truck and then had second thoughts.

“I took the title back, because it was going to be such a huge restoration,” Helmuth said.

But the man at the garage told him how much fun he would have doing the restoration and Helmuth was hooked. The project started long before the days of Ebay, Helmuth went from the East Coast clear out to the West Coast to find and purchase parts. He had help along the way: a Cameo owner in Oklahoma and one in Texas gave him advice on the restoration. Everything is original. He traded the back end of the truck for one in better condition out in California. It took a lot of hard work and patience, Helmuth said. Tracking down the parts was a challenge, but also entertaining.

“That was probably the most fun,” Helmuth said.

He did all the painting and restoration by himself, even the refitting of old parts.

“It was a good experience, but I wouldn't want to do it again,” Helmuth said.

All his life he had wanted a Cameo, and they are hard to find. There were fewer than 4,000 of the trucks made. Back then, you could buy a regular pickup for $1,500; the Cameo cost $2,500. Most farmers didn't want the truck because of the cost. The same company that made the fiberglass sides for Corvettes made the sides for the Cameo. It gave the truck the same streamlined type of look and was supposed to help the sales, but it didn't work out so well for the Cameo.

“But the sales for the Corvette took off and they didn't have to worry about it,” Helmuth said.

Because there were so few trucks made, and there are even fewer in good condition, Helmuth figured the only way he was ever going to get one he liked was to build it himself; he couldn't afford to buy one. Halfway through the restoration, his daughter, Heidi Helmuth, told her dad she wanted to use the restored truck for her wedding. Once she got engaged, Helmuth was on a timeline to complete the restoration in a year.

“I put everything aside, and I got it done,” Helmuth said.

The truck is white with orange accents. The back bed is the only element Helmuth changed from the original finish. It is polished hickory with a natural glossy stain instead of black. The engine is original; nothing has been added that wasn't on the original truck.

He has entered the truck in a couple of shows and won first place. Every year he drives the truck in the Grabill parade.

“My main enjoyment is going through the parade with the grandkids in the back. That's the fun part, and they throw candy out,” Helmuth said with a smile.