Arizona boy, 11, recruits his dad, community for pickup-truck project

Friends, neighbors, Sun Devil Auto pros step up to move restoration forward

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Hugo Caballero and his son, Venicio, discuss their progress on the pickup project | Bob Golfen photos

When 11-year-old Venicio Caballero found his driving passion, it didn’t take long for him to bring his dad, his family and even his local community on an unexpected journey, and involve them in quite an unusual project for a sixth-grader – rebuilding a 53-year-old Chevrolet pickup truck.

It’s been an instructive and inspiring experience for all involved.

While most kids his age are focused on sports or skateboards, Venicio had his mind set on classic cars and trucks, and was determined to have one of his own. And he finally got what he wanted, using his own money.  

Hugo and Venicio Caballero have accomplished quite a bit on the truck

“I picked up dog poop, mowed lawns and did chores for money,” he said, explaining how he and his dad searched online until finding the perfect project truck in California. “I took my money out of my bank account and bought it.  

“It’s a 1967 Chevy C-10,” he added with some measure of pride.

Venicio’s father, Hugo Caballero, admits that he was never really a car guy previous to this vintage-truck experience, but his son’s abiding interest has quickly turned him into one.

“He really likes classic trucks, so we got one,” Hugo said, summing up in simple terms what has become a complex undertaking. “As a father, it’s made me so happy to see my boy so excited and engaged.”

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Venicio says he loves the patina of his truck

Hugo Caballero is an Air Force airman, now settled with his family in Surprise, Arizona, northwest of Phoenix and near the Luke Air Force base.  And although he enjoys working on home projects, the truck resto has been a real left turn in his plans.

“I had no prior experience in cars, so I’m learning as we go,” he said.

They’ve had the truck just three months, but during that time, they have worked long hours and have accomplished quite a bit in making it a drivable machine once again. Venicio has done much of the hands-on labor, his dad noted, sanding and grinding, even helping to install new parts, with some of his buddies assisting with the dirty work during the hot Arizona summer.   

“I’m surprised at his stamina,” Hugo said.

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Venicio and his pals spent hours grinding, sanding and painting the bed frame

But the truck also has become a community project, Hugo added, with friends and neighbors pitching in – such as Bill Tuttle, a trucker and experienced mechanic, who recently moved in across the street and often has his head under the hood of the Chevy.

“Neighbors helping neighbors,” Hugo said. “The whole community’s come together to work on this truck. That makes it even more special for Venicio.”

One of those neighbors that has been instrumental in moving the Chevy project forward is the local Sun Devil Auto shop, which has essentially adopted Venicio’s truck.  The pros at Sun Devil have provided much-needed help in planning and research, sourcing parts and supplies, and even performing service and installation at no cost to the Caballeros.

“This is something we saw as a real opportunity,” said Montgomery Miller, area manager for Sun Devil Auto, which has 23 stores in the Phoenix area. “We always try to stay involved with the community. When we see these family projects that really stand out, we want to jump up and take the opportunity, and this is a great opportunity for us to do this.”

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Hugo and Venicio Caballero with Sun Devil Auto mechanic Edgar Mendez (center) and manager Mike Arana | Sun Devil photo

Mike Arana, who manages the Sun Devil Auto shop in Surprise, said that when Hugo Caballero, a regular customer, approached him for advice, they latched onto the project as something very special.

“We quickly noticed the passion that Venicio had and understood how important this father-son project was going to be, so helping them in every possible way was an easy decision for us,” Arana said.

Venicio’s enthusiasm for the truck and the mechanical work is impressive, Miller added, especially in someone so young.

“Watching him get interested this early on, and for an 11-year-old kid in the year 2020 to pick a ‘67 pickup truck, that’s great, too,” Miller said. “You don’t see that much anymore. Kids are more into the flashy cars, the sports cars, the supercars, and he picks a ‘67 pickup truck, just a classic.

“Venicio had really been looking for that niche, that passion, something to really keep him driven and motivated, and this is what he’s picked up.  And that’s now sparked that in Hugo.

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“Even the neighbors getting involved in the whole thing, it’s really a community project at this point. We’re going to try and keep it a community project.”

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Venicio is still too young to drive

Parked at the curb in the Surprise neighborhood, the Chevy stands with its history in full view, originally white, then painted blue, and now sanded down into a rough but attractive piece of road art.  The vintage Arizona license plate says it all: RELIC.

“All this patina we want to keep, for the most part, because if you erase that, you’re erasing history, and we don’t want to do that,” Hugo said, noting where some dents have been banged out and the worn-away area of paint on the window sill where the former owner rested his arm while driving. “Everyone who sees it says, don’t paint the truck.  Leave it the way it is.”

The truck’s mottled appearance was part of what attracted Venicio to this particular Chevy, he said. “I like how they scraped off the paint and how it looked.”

But sometime down the road, maybe after he comes of age and has been driving it a few years, Venicio said, he plans to fully restore its body and paint it.

“Black, with a white top,” he said.

The Chevy’s patina is being maintained

The Chevy has its original 327cid V8 under the hood, now fitted with an Edelbrock 4-barrel carb and manifold, linked with its original 4-speed manual transmission shifted on the floor.  The entire brake system is new, with updated hydraulics and disc brakes replacing the drums up front.

The front suspension has 2½-inch drop spindles, with a 4-inch drop in back, the windshield and all the window and door gaskets are new, there’s a new bench seat, new carpet and a new Bluetooth radio that looks like a vintage AM unit.

The old wooden floor of the truck bed has been removed, and the home crew has scraped, sanded and repainted the framework that goes underneath before the new wood is put on, Hugo said.  There’s still much to do, but the Chevy is now at least drivable.

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“We’ve done a number of projects on it for having it just three months,” Hugo said. “And of course, Sun Devil has helped us quite a bit.  They installed the rear springs, the new shocks in the back, the track bar, they aligned it for us and they popped the emergency brake back in position.

“We can only do so much here, in Venicio’s garage, if you will.”  

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The interior has been freshened up, though not too much

Venicio’s mom, Alyssa Caballero, takes it all in with pleasure and appreciation for what her boys are accomplishing.

“I grew up with my dad always working on cars, I grew up around these kinds of trucks,” she said.  “So for me, it’s how it should be.  It’s awesome. 

“They’re both in this together, this is unfamiliar territory, and they’re learning a lot.”

They also just ran into the old-car lesson that every hobbyist experiences at some point.  On a recent drive with Venicio is the passenger seat, the truck quit at a stop sign, then kept stalling.  After coaxing the Chevy back home, Hugo opened the hood, removed the air cleaner and pondered what might have gone wrong.  Bill Tuttle from across the street came over to take a look.

“This is the first time we’ve had engine trouble,” Hugo said.  “That’s OK, it just gives us another project to work on.”

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The vintage Arizona license plate says it all

It turned out to be a simple fix; moisture had gotten under the distributor cap when the engine bay had been cleaned out. After drying it, the truck ran again.

“What makes the car special is that everybody’s helping. We have Bill, my supervisor’s helping out, we have people down the street, we have Sun Devil,” Hugo said.

All of which has created a priceless life experience for Venicio.

“We wanted a way to focus his attention, and we knew that coupled with his love and his creativity, that we’d get somewhere,” Hugo said.  “In three months, we’ve done quite a bit.

“The number of projects that have taken place, all of it because of a boy, right?”

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Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

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