That's NAPCO as in Northwestern Auto Parts Company, a Minneapolis firm established in 1918 and well known for supplying four-wheel-drive components during World War II. With the war over, and at a time when most OEMs weren't yet building their own 4x4 pickups, the company put its expertise into building conversions. Most famously, NAPCO was selling kits that upgraded a Chevy or GMC half-ton truck to four-wheel drive. When GM introduced its own factory-built 4x4 pickups for 1960, NAPCO's conversion business dried up. Throw in a few rounds of corporate shenanigans, and eventually NAPCO was absorbed into the Dana Corporation and the brand died.
"I called Dana about the brand," sighs Legacy founder and owner Winslow Bent. "No one there seemed to know." Such is the fate of all things to fade into obscurity. Well, not that obscure.
There's a cult that has arisen around those NAPCO conversions. First because they're mechanically interesting and second because jacked-up GM "Advance Design" (1947–1955) and "Task Force" (1955–1960) trucks are spectacular-looking pieces of mid-century industrial design. For Legacy's Bent, whose company made its truck bones re-imagining and re-engineering early Dodge Power Wagons, reviving the NAPCO legacy would be, from a legacy point of view and legacy-wise, a good business for Legacy's expansion of its legacy.
In the foothills that climb out of Southern California's Ojai Valley, the Legacy NAPCO looks as if it sprang naturally from the landscape. At least putatively a 1957 Chevrolet 3100 stepside pickup, the gloss of its paint, athleticism of its stance, and 33-inch-tall Toyo tires all belie that there's some magic at work. Impressions matter, and this truck is so gorgeous you can practically hear your pupils dilating at first sight.
But there are some visual nitpicks worth making. First, the lack of chrome badges leaves the truck looking a bit stark and anonymous. It's missing the subdued jewelry that distinguished the Task Force design as both a part of its and one of the best truck designs of that time. Also, Legacy equipped this truck with a Borla Corvette-style, center-mounted, four-outlet exhaust system that awkwardly overwhelms the entire rear view. It simply destroys the illusion that this truck is a serious tool and not a rich man's toy.
Stock 1957 truck chassis aren't robust structures. So Legacy has had TCI build a whole new one for its NAPCO-ish beasty. Mandrel bent and full-boxed with its steel coated in epoxy, the frame is so pretty it's a shame there's a truck covering most of it. The suspension looks tough enough to take photon torpedo hits and couldn't be simpler in concept: solid axles on leaf springs.
Those axles are Dynatrac "ProRock" parts based on classic Dana 60 and 40 designs. Warn locking hubs make the power go where it should go. The brakes are four-wheel discs squeezed by dual-piston calipers and pressurized by a GM Hydroboost master cylinder.
But the best mechanical improvement is the GM LS-Series 5.3-liter V8. The LS engine is small, powerful, economical, and has a torque curve friendlier than a Fruehauf full of puppies. Legacy claims that the one used in this truck makes 350 horsepower alongside 350 pound-feet of peak torque. If that's not enough, GM's LS3 "E-Rod" crate engine is also available, rated at 430 hp.
Lashed to an Aisin AX15 five-speed manual transmission, the 5.3 is a happy camper in this NAPCO. Compared to a modern truck, old trucks aren't that heavy and 350 horses are plenty to scoot this one around. Especially since it's sort of tippy-toeing on its tall tires and the Saginaw recirculating-ball steering gear can be hazy. It's a blast crawling up trails, though it's less sure-footed on-road.
The interior is trimmed in elegant leather and stuffed full of everything the modern aftermarket can provide. That includes a Glide Industries bench seat, a Nardo wood steering wheel, and instrumentation from Classic Industries. The Vintage Air air conditioning blows so cold it's practically disdainful. But the cockpit is also the Legacy NAPCO's Achilles instep.
The major problem with the Legacy NAPCO isn't anything Legacy has done, but the limitations baked into the truck way back in the early 1950s when GM was designing it. Even compared to trucks built only a few years later, the cab is narrow and short. There's not a lot of leg or shoulder room, the atrocious aerodynamics lead to plenty of wind noise, and old hinge and latch designs mean the doors don't always like to close tight. My legs were practically cramping up against the pedals because they're too closely positioned for my six-foot-one-inch frame. Almost anything about an old vehicle can be improved upon with the application of cubic dollars. But almost anything isn't everything. And at some point the only way to get a better truck is to buy a newer one.
Ultimately, the same things that make an old classic truck so ridiculously charming are what hold it back from ever being as comfortable and efficient as a new pickup. And that alone marginalizes the Legacy NAPCO as something of a plaything rather than an everyday driver. That's before considering cost. And with prices starting at $120,000, the Legacy NAPCO demands a lot of consideration.
With the aftermarket now moving into areas it has never dared consider before – chassis, suspension, air conditioning, and whole new bodies, for instance – it's possible to indulge yourself if you have the wallet mighty enough to back up your whimsy. The Legacy NAPCO is a nice tribute to a bygone product, but it's not a necessary tribute. How much do you value paying tribute?