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Gils Auto Body Works GMC




In 1952 Gil and Al Ayala create a stunning looking 1949 GMC Pick Up to be used as the Gils Auto Body Works Shop Truck. The Pick Up is still around today.

Gil Ayala started building his 1949 GMC 3/4 ton pick up shop truck around 1952. In November ’52 most of the hard work was done. According to Joe Bailon interviewed for the Rodder’s Journal Ayala article by Pat Ganahl, He drove the GMC when it was already chopped but still with the glass missing while visiting Los Angeles for the Petersen Motorama Show at the Pan Pacific Motorame. In May 1953 the Shop Truck was was featured for the first time in the Hop Up magazine with a full spread article. This means that the car was finished somewhere between November’52 and February/March ’53. (at least one month was needed for the magazine to get published, so the photos would have been taken at least one month before the magazine hit the newsstands.)

Gil realized that the shop truck used by they guys at the Gil’s Auto Body Shop was picking up and dropping off parts all over town. These show trucks were driven a lot, so when it was time for a new Shop Truck, and the 1949 GMC 3/4 ton pick up was picked he decided that it might be a good idea to make it a really good looking truck that would be a rolling advertisement for the Gil’s Auto Body Works shop skills.

Nice low angle view shows how good the forward rake looks on Gil’s Shop Pick Up.

Beautifully balanced custom work give Gil’s Shop Truck the perfect proportions. This photo shows the row of louvers down in the center of the hood, which was a lot of extra work.

The car was first lowered to get the right stance. Now most of the customs created by the Ayala’s at this time would have a more tail dragging stance, ore sit level for the best looks. Not in the case of this GMC. For practical reasons the rear of the truck needed to sit high, so that there could be some load in the bed. It was after all a Shop Truck, and hauling parts etc was the cars main goal. The rear was still dropped 3.5 inches using lowering block. The front however was dropped considerably more using a dropped axle, resulting in a more Hot rod froward rake. The stance looks really great on the car, especially with keeping in mind that this truck was built to be used.

With the stance figured out the next step was to show off the body working skills of the Ayala shop. The top was chopped tree inches at the windshield, and one inch more at the back to get the perfect balance of the cab shape. In the process the drip rails were shaved for a cleaner look. All emblem and handles were removed and holes filled. Solenoid’s and door poppers were installed. The two piece hood was welded solid, and since Gil wanted to have the hood louvred with one of the louver strip in the center, Al Ayala had to graft in a new center section that allowed for the louvres to be punched in. A lot of work, but I guess it was a nice conversation piece for possible customers of the shop, showing the skills of the Ayala Shop. The tailgate was paneled over the get rid of the GMC script embossed in the stock unit.

1950 Mercury taillights mounted low on the rear fenders. The pick up tailgate was panneled over to remove the GMC embossed script before the hand made chrome plated metal Gil’s Auto Body Works sign was added.

Interior was done in dark green and ivory by Chavez. The dash and garnish moldings look to be chrome plated.

Chrome plated running boards as well as the filler panel from the trunk to the running boards.

The headlights were frenched, and at the rear the stock pick up bed mounted taillights were removed and replaced with 1950 Mercury taillights mounted low on the rear fenders. The grille surround was smoothed, the GMC letters removed and the whole unit send out to be chrome plated. The complete running boards and filler panels on the truck were also completely chrome plated. Perhaps both were done to help promote the House of Chrome shop that was located in the small office Building at Gil’s shop. When all the work was done Gill painted the car in Emerald green and masked off a set of stylistic flames which were painted in Sarasota green. the flames were possibly inspired by those Gil had painted on the Evan’s Belly Tank Racer which Gil had painted a few years earlier.

Low mounted ’50 Mercury taillight makes the truck look more sophisticated.

Al Ayala chopped the top on the GMC 3 inches in the front and 4 inches in the rear. This side view shows he nailed the proportions doing so.

Close up of the hand made heavy metal cut sign used as grille.

A set of Appleton Spotlight was added to the A-Pillars, the stock front bumper was dressed up with a set of Chevy pick Up  bumper guards, and all the window glass was cut to fit the new smaller openings. The rear quarter window glass could not be cut, so replacement units were shaped from Plexiglass. Gil mounted a set of wide white wall tires and added four Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps to give the car the just perfect custom look. For the grille opening and for the tailgate Gil decided that he wanted to have the shop name in heavy metal all polished to perfection and chrome plated. The ultimate piece for this rolling piece of Custom Shop advertising.

The interior of the car was upholstered in Dark green and Ivory by Chavez, who did a lot of upholstery work for Gil’s Auto Body Works. Possibly the complete dashboard in the truck was also chrome plated, but we have not been able to locate any photos confirming this. Being a designated “work car” Gil decided to keep the engine (straight 6) all stock and reliable, as we can see in the photos it had only one exhaust during the time it was the Gil’s Auto Body Works shop truck. The ’53 Hop Up article mentioned that if the truck had been built for a customer, they would have charged $500 for the chopped top, $ 65 for the freching and $200 for the paint job.

Smoothed hood with the center peak removed, added louvres, frenched headlights and smoothed and chrome plated grille surround. The addition of the Chevy bumper guards looks good, but as this one being a work truck as well, this was most likely also practical.

We are very fortunate that at least two color photos of the truck have survaced. This one is the nicest, showing the truck from the rear quarters from a low angle. The forward rake was unusual for a Custom back in the early 1950’s, but makes total sense on this custom Shop Truck. The ’51 California License plate has a ’52 tag on is when this photo was taken.

The Color

The ’53 Hop Up magazine article mentioned that the car was painted in Emerald green and the scallops in Sarasota Green. We asked Memo Ortega if he remembered anything about the color on Gil’s Shop Truck.  Memo remembered that when he visited Gil’s shop in 1951-52, at the time the chop truck was built he drove his ’37 Chevy four door sedan custom. Memo had the Kolbert body shop paint his Chevy in a pecial mixed paint based on 1951 Oldsmobile Palm Green metallic.  To the Oldsmobile base color Memo had Kolbert add more green toner and some bright silver powder. The color came out really beautiful with the extra sparkle from the silver powder it really stood out. Gil really loved the color and Gill and Memo talked about the color often when he visited Gil’s Shop. Memo had painted the fire wall on his chevy off white, and that combination really popped. Although it was never mentioned anywhere, Memo feels that the color on his Chevy might have inspired Gil to paint his Chop Truck a similar shade of green, and the flames in an off white Sarasota Green.

1951 Olds Palm Green was the base on Memo Ortega’s 1937 Chevy Four Door mild Custom. Possibly Gil used the same base color on his GMC Shop Truck.

Al Ayala working on the extension of a rear fender on a ’53 Lincoln. In the back ground we can see a small portion of the GMC truck sitting in the parking lot of the shop. (Hot Rod Magazine May 1953).

Gil’s Shop trunk shows in the background of a photo taken around 1954-55. I cropped out just the car and it looks like by now the flames are missing from the hood, possibly  the hood was in primer, perhaps it got damage being used for the past two years as shop truck.

The May 1953 issue of Hop Up magazine was a big issue for the Ayala’s, The Al Glickman ’49 Mercury was in color on the cover, plus a full feature inside, and so was Gil’s Auto Body Works Shop Truck with a two page feature. On the right is the December 1957 issue of Hot Rod magazine which showed the fresh new Geisler version of the car.

Bruce Geisler new owner

Gil and other shop employees used the pickup truck like this for a number of years. Somewhere in 1954, perhaps ’55, Gil sold the truck to Bruce Geisler. Bruce made a few changes to the pick up. He hopped up the Jimmy 6 engine adding a new manifold with 5 carburetors and many other speed goodies. While dressing up the engine Bruce also had a stet of pick up bed side flowing large diameter exhaust tubing’s made. The exhaust tubes were shaped in such a way they exited just below the front of the pick up bed, the the chrome plated filler panel. The follow the cab to the top of the pick up bed and then follow the pick up bed all the way to the rear of the car, on both sides.

Bruce also re-installed the stock GMC grille, most likely Gil kept the chrome plated custom made Gil’s Auto Body Works piece for the grille and trunk. By now the hood most likely had been replaced and a new one with GMC scripts was added again. Not sure why this was done, perhaps the original hood got damaged along the way, and a new hood had been added to the car, still with the original scripts on the hood sides. When all the work was done Bruce had the car painted in a soft pink color. We do not know which color, but a few years later when the car was owned by Dwayne Grotewold the car was repainted in 1956 Lincoln Amathist pink. (perhaps to match the pink Bruce added to the car?)

From a full page in the 1958 Custom Cars Annual. (The annual mentioned that the car was painted white!)

A good look at the fully dressed up Jimmy 6 cylinder engine in the GMC while Bruce Geisler owned it.

Bruce also had the logo of his company “Geisler Construction Co.” painted on both door sides of the car. Bruce replaced the Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps with ’53 Cadillac units and the Chevy bumper guards on the front bumper were replaced with a Chevy license plate guard overrider. And at the rear an unidentified, most likely home made two bar rear bumper was added. The car was featured like this in the May 1958 issue of Rod & Custom magazine as well as in the 1958 edition of the Custom Car annual.

Family cleaning of the truck for an outdoor car show in 1957.

1957 photo taken at the Sears parking lot on Long Beach Boulevard in Compton is the earliest color photo showing the truck painted pink by Bruce Geisler.

Later in 1958 Bruce sold the car to Dwayne Grotewold who owned Grotewold Motors in Le Mars, Iowa. At the time the car had a chrome dash and chrome garnish moldings. The car was now painted ’56 Lincoln Amathist paint and the Geisler logo’s on the doors were removed. After that the car changed hands a few times, was named a Chevy and the 6 cylinder enging was replaced by a  Chevy V8 engine. During this time the car was also advertised for Sale as a Car that was build by the Barris Shop!

Dwayne Grotewold had Gil’s Shop truck repainted in Lincoln Amethyst pink.

 Hemmings Motor News For Sale Ad from the 1970’s – 80’s showing the car in what looks like dark gray primer. The ad mentioned that the pick up was built by Barris Kustoms. Not sure if this was done by mistake, or done to see if this could raise a bit more money. (Thanks Cory Vaughn)

In the 1980’s, Bruce Geisler found his old truck “just happened to locate it” in a wrecking yard in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He bought the truck and took it home. In the early 1990’s he started to work on the truck restoring what needed to be restored and making a few changes along the way. He added a Nova front clip, new power seats, for more comfort, and a a 6-71 blown small block Chevy, a TH350 transmission and a Ford 9-inch rear end. To fit the blower and scoop it was needed to cut a hole in the welded hood! Once again Bruce painted the car pink, but this time a toned primer, since this car was a driver, not meant to be a show car this time. The chrome stock front bumper was replaced with a custom ordered ribbed aluminum Briz bumper. Bruce enjoyed the car for many years, traveling to many events.

Rod & Custom news item by Pat Ganahl on how Bruce found his old pick up back.


The GMC in 2009 at the Art Chrismans Christmas Party show the hole in the hood for the scoop, the thin briz bumper up front, the stock grille surround.

From the rear we can see that the large diameter exhaust tubing’s are still in place, the covers just above the running boards are now painted body color, and no longer chrome plated. Bruce added a aluminum Auto Butchers ELA plaque, and this photo shows the rear bumper well that Bruce added in the mid 1950’s.

In 2010 some minor body repairs were done and here we can see the car with primer spots, awaiting for a matching coat of pink primer. The black wall tires change the look of the car completely.

Now in New Jersey

In 2011 the car was sold once again and is now owned by Jim Bobowski in New Jersey. In 2012 the plan was still to restore it back to how it was originally built by Gil Ayala. In 2016 they were working on the suspension, backdating to how it used to be when Gil Ayala owned the car. The car can be seen at some local New Jersey shows from time to time. The original chrome grille surround is now replaced with a pink primer painted stock unit with GMC script, and the front bumper has been replaced with a smaller Briz unit. In July 2017 the car is getting redone in the original Gil’s Auto Body Works version, green with flames!. Very exiting to see it back together how it used to look.

The most recent photo of the pick up, now in New Jersey. The scoop on the engine is now gone, hood filled and the original Appleton Spotlights have been replace by Dummy Spots.

The Signs

The all metal heavy metal cut signs used on Gil’s Shop truck must have been quite a bit of work. They must have been hand cut and smoothed before they could have been chrome plated. Most likely Al Ayala was responsible for this work, and since they were going to used on the Shop Truck aka driving advertising, they had to be as perfect as possible.
What ever happened with the two hand made metal cut and chrome plated Gil’s Auto Body Works signs that weer used on the GMC Shop Truck. Most likely there were removed by Gil before he sold the car to Bruce Geisler, perhaps they hung on the wall of Gil’s Shop, or stored at home? Is there anybody who ever saw these pieces again after they were removed from the car in the mid 1950’s?

The tailgate sign, where is it now?

(This article is made possible by)


Rik Hoving

Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)

6 thoughts on “Gils Auto Body Works GMC

  • Great article Rik. You know I love custom trucks. 🙂
    I find it interesting that a 3/4 ton truck was used instead of the more common 1/2 ton. Plus it looks to have had the longer (8 foot) bed as well.
    Again fairly unusual.
    Also the fact that it was a GMC vs a Chevrolet.which was the more common of the two.
    As always with customs that have had multiple owners and still survive, it is interesting to see the changes.
    It would be great to see it returned to it’s former glory complete with the hopped up JImmy.

  • p.s. Also interesting to note how many of these customs seem to switch back and forth from West coast to East coast.
    Maybe some day an article on strictly East coast based customs. And the difference in styles between the two???????? 🙂

  • Gosh all the awesome trucks are being found, To think that Ed Roths pick up was still out there and could of been found is amazing after all the years….


  • Brian Martin

    This truck was a big part of my childhood as I bought one of these AD’s when I was 15 in 1973. I chopped the top on it a few months later and still have it today. When I chopped that truck, the Geisler truck and the Dream Truck were the ONLY chopped AD trucks I had ever seen! Mine was the third of these chopped in my mind, and still to this day I don’t know of another that was chopped prior to 1974. If you know of any don’t tell me. LOL I want that memory to stay that way. But yes, I had the magazines with the Geisler and Dream trucks in them (still do!) as they were a BIG part of my memories from a great time in my life.

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