A 1975 K-5 Blazer’s Patient Restoration

Aug. 1, 2011
It took Jessie Hale two decades to purchase the Chevy Blazer he yearned for since high school, and another 15 years to make it the head turner it is today.

It’s common for car enthusiasts to form a special bond with vehicles from their earliest years behind the wheel.

Whether it’s a first car, mom’s station wagon, or in Jessie Hale’s case, a buddy’s 1975 Chevy K5 Blazer, that early impression can be hard to shake. Hale, a 55-year-old Texas shop manager, couldn’t pony up the roughly $5,000 to buy a new Blazer back in high school, but he was determined to own one eventually.

He was drawn to the unusual looks of the early SUV. Its removable top made it look like a chopped-up truck. But bucking the trend of jacked-up four-wheel drives, Hale envisioned one lowered, with rear-wheel drive—a rare option for the off-road vehicle.

Years passed. Hale spent 13 of them working at a paper mill while fine-tuning his automotive restoration skills on the side. From his first days behind the wheel, cars were a hobby for him, and he discovered a talent for paint application while spraying cabinets and horse trailers in a high school shop class. When Hale wasn’t working at the mill, he restored cars for friends and acquaintances, building up enough business to make restoration his sole occupation.

Hale made a name for himself with that work, and that led to a job offer from Al Meyer Ford in Lufkin, Texas. For the past decade, Hale has been the body shop manager there.

“I never thought I’d be able to get a job at a dealership body shop,” Hale says.

Shortly before making that transition, a friend pointed him to the vehicle he’d been searching for all the while: a straight, nearly rust-free K5 Blazer with rear-wheel drive.

“[My friend] found it and persuaded the guy to sell it,” Hale says. “The guy was not interested in selling it [because] he thought no one would appreciate it. My friend said, ‘I promise you if you sell that Blazer, you can call him up and look at it whenever you want.’”

The K5 owner relented, and Hale snatched the truck for a modest $1,200. He drove it for several years before starting a thorough restoration.

After 20 years of dreaming about the Blazer’s transformation, Hale was determined to make his vision a reality if it took another 10 years—and it did. He was picky about parts, indecisive about the color and obsessed with getting every detail correct.

“I wanted everything the way I wanted it to be and I know if I hadn’t waited, it wouldn’t be right,” Hale said.

Thousands of hours and $20,000 were poured into the project, which Hale completed this year. The Blazer boasts a hopped-up 400-cubic-inch engine that makes more than 500 horsepower, a rebuilt TH400 transmission, a Belltech lowering kit, 20-inch wheels, a new black vinyl interior, a black sprayed-on bed liner and many more new parts including chrome bumpers.

The Blazer’s jaw-dropping feature is its paint. Hale applied a coat of grey sealer, three coats of medium-gold metallic, five coats of House of Kolor’s Brandywine Kandy basecoat and five coats of clear. He and a friend took turns buffing it for about 200 hours, he says.

Hale has since put more than 1,600 miles on the truck, which has also served as a shop marketing tool.

“People say, ‘If you can restore a car like that, you can fix any kind of collision’,” he says.

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