Derick Samson was 19 years old when he started getting national attention with his homebuilt customs, but he had already been working on cars for seven years.
It was a ’62 Chevy wagon that first made people notice the young designer/builder from Marshall, Missouri, but that wasn’t his first car. The first was a ’51 Chevy he bought when he was 12 years old. It was a bottom-shelf 1951 Chevy Business Coupe, bought and built with help from his dad, Ken. “I learned how to do bodywork on it,” he told us. He must have learned well, because the work Derick’s done on the dozen or more cars he’s built since (mostly ’50s- and ’60s-era Chevys) is earning him a rep as one of the best young builders out there.
In 2010, Derick decided to crank it up a notch by building a car to compete for the Ridler award at the 2011 Detroit Autorama. It didn’t take him long to decide what to build. “What better car to do it with than my first car?” Typically, builders spend many months, even years, building cars to compete at this level. Derick transformed the ’51 into an elite level contender in a short five months (and a lot of long days and nights). Most of the work was done at his shop, Samson Design. Most of the rest was done in partnership with other shops in Marshall.
These General Motors valve covers were custom built for the ’51, along with the oil fill a
He says the design theme all started with the trim piece on the center of the custom dash. The rib pattern and shield shape are repeated throughout the entire car. The circular gauge pod was created by McGraw Designs in Marshall and built by Derick. The two-seat design reflects the stock interior, but at a much higher level of class and detail. Rod Rogers at Stitches Interiors in Hillsdale, Kansas, upholstered the custom seats in “pretzel”-colored vintage vinyl with nostalgic-looking inserts, which are carried over to the custom door panels and center console. Behind the bench, a pair of luggage compartments combines coachbuilt class with Business Coupe function. The style continues in the trunk where a similar console to the one inside hides the gas filler.
The 355ci Chevy small-block is snug between the custom smooth inner fenders and firewall.
The first thing you notice under the hood is the one-off dual air-cleaner setup and alternator shroud (there’s the dash trim design again). The Chevy 355 was machined and assembled at Rick Darling Performance in Marshall, which has built the engines for other Samson projects. Derick ground the block and heads smooth and polished and chromed the bolts. The air cleaner feeds a single Edelbrock EnduraShine carburetor and manifold. The entirely custom exhaust includes polished headers and stainless exhaust pipes and mufflers. Derick kept the rest of the drivetrain mechanically straightforward with a Lokar-shifted TH350 transmission paired with a driveshaft built for the car by Heinzler Brothers in Marshall. The ’57 Chevy limited-slip rear gears have a ratio of 3.73:1.
The modified ’50 Chevy steering wheel is mounted on a tilt column.
When modifying the suspension, Derick kept the factory frame, but he didn’t keep it stock. The ’51 ’rails were smoothed, and seams were welded and molded, color-sanded, and polished until perfect. He strengthened the whole thing further with a custom crossmember that fits around the engine and transmission. The front A-arms were retained but the frontend was upgraded with Fatman 2-inch dropped spindles and disc brakes. Ken Samson built the four-link system for the rear and discs were added at that end too. Derick has been putting RideTech suspensions on many of his cars, and the ’51 is the latest to use them. All fuel and brake line plumbing was done with polished copper, which looks great against the paint.
Whatever bodywork skills Derick learned on the Chevy when he was 12 really paid off. His design goal was to combine “elegant” and “simple.” He left the top the stock height, but lengthened the hood, rockers, and decklid 3/4 inch each. The grille was smoothed, custom parking lights added, and all the panels were molded and shaved of trim pieces. The exceptions to all that clean sheetmetal is the trim where the body meets the top and the smoothed driprails. Derick finished the ’51 with DuPont Premium Brown with bumpers and trim done in Sepaug Silver, a BMW color. He saved a little silver for the spokes of the Boss Motorsports wheels and added “Business Edition,” custom caps, which match the center cap on the steering wheel. The 18- and 20-inch five-spokes are wrapped with low-profile Toyo rubber.
The Chevy was a success at the Detroit Autorama, winning a spot among the Great 8 finalists for the Ridler award, and winning even more attention for its designer/builder. At the age of 26, Derick is still a young gun. Expect to hear his name more, and see many more remarkable customs rolling out of Samson Design in the years to come.