by John Niolon



Installing a bed on our vintage trucks isn't necessarily a difficult job, but it does take some time and attention to detail.  Some guys build them on the floor, some use the truck frame as a building platform and some (me) use a frame that is dimensionally the same as the truck frame.  Here's the steps I used.

I'm not gonna comment on where to buy... vendor vs vendor.  The truck magazines are full of vendors offering various bed and accessories for you to choose from... do your homework and pick your poison.  They all go together about the same way. But, the builder (you) have some options to choose from.

First, make sure you have all the parts... 4 bed cross Members, two side panels, one front panel, a tailgate and a small sack full of hardware. If you don't have all the correct hardware, I'd suggest a call or visit to for the "I need it all" package... it will save you time and money. There are also some tools you could use to make the job easier.  Assorted wrenches, vice grip clamps, welding magnets, levels...both small and large...magnetic is a plus, bungee cords or ratchet clamps and perhaps some wood for spacers.  A helper is a good addition to the job but not absolutely necessary.




There are several ways to do this and your available help might determine the right course. You first need to set up the cross members. There are 4 cross members on a 53-56 bed in the shapes shown below


The front cross member is the  "Z" shaped one.  It goes next to the bed and attaches to the cross member mounts on the outside of the frame rails... The bolt holes are on the back side (toward the rear) when mounted.  Just tighten hardware finger tight.

The next two are the middle cross members.  They mount on the slope of the frame rail and need to be positioned so that the tops are level


Then to the rear cross member which bolts to the frame rails on each side.   The open side goes down     



that makes up the 'base for the bed. Don't forget the rubber spacers between the cross members and the frame rails,  they prevent squeaks.




Depending on the amount of room you have for assembly and available 'holders' I would assemble the bed on a flat floor, bolting the front panel to the sides.  The bed is approximately 4 x 6 but you'll need twice that much room to maneuver.  If you're an old fat guy like me, maybe a little more.  If you are cramped for room you can build it on the truck doing one panel at a time starting with the front then the two sides. Large welding clamps will help with the 'holding' if working alone..

A point to consider here.  There are two options for attaching the bed sides to the front panel.  You can drill and bolt them with pretty button head cap screws or rosette weld them together... your choice, your work.

Don't worry about plumb and square till you get it set on the truck, it's gonna be flexible and wobbly . I fabbed up a 'bed dolly' to build my bed on.  It was built to frame dimensions. It put it at a decent working level. I'm old and don't do floor level work very well. I had to work alone and when I had the bed assembled I used ratchet straps suspended from the ceiling to lift my assembled bed off the dolly and rolled the truck under it. I just suspended it from each corner hole in the bed side flange so I'd have an even pull on all sides.


When you set the bed on the frame cross members, don't forget to put in spacers to replicate the bed wood... 3/4" 1x2 lumber is perfect and do one at each bolting point on the cross member.


Now is a good time to snug up all the bolts and nuts, make sure your rubber pads and bed wood spacers are in place.  When everything is snugged up.  you can start plumbing and squaring the bed before tightening the bolts. Magnetic levels help with plumbing.

I also used some 1x2 pieces cut the the inside dimension of the bed and a strap to keep the bed sides from leaning in or out. this helps with the squaring. Vice grip clamps will hold it in place while working.

The magnets will give you a rough idea if it's square but you need to pull diagonal dimensions to get it right. Of course this is all preliminary if you are building on a dolly and will have to be checked and adjusted once its on the truck.


The rear of the bed sides is a little 'wigglly" so I used a spreader bar cut to the same dimension as the inside dimension at the front of the bed.  I set it level on magnets and used a ratchet strap to hold it all tight


Next start squaring the bed by pulling diagonal dimensions from each bed corner and adjusting the corners to get it square. Using welding clamps holding the lower bed flange to the cross members  will help here to hold it in place.  Dimensions should be within 1/8" or so



note: ignore the tailgate in above picture, it's the only one that would show diagonal measurements well...  the tailgate goes last.


Once you get it plumb and square... you're done. Tighten things down and check your measurements again... add your tailgate now if you want.  You might have to play with the rear dimensions a little to get the tailgate to fit with the proper gaps between the bed sides

hope this helps