A Viper-powered ’41 Chevy, or the best wedding present ever
Every August, the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville experiences a different sort of thunder. Thousands of street rods descend from all over the country and across the globe for the annual National Street Rod Association Street Rod Nationals. From prewar street fighters to 1980s malaise given new life via the aftermarket, there’s more horsepower than nearby Churchill Downs sees in a year. You just never know what’ll turn up at the Nationals.
A couple of Nationals ago, I happened upon a 1941 Chevrolet AK Series truck parked under a shade tree. The low stance, faded black paint with matching black wheels, and patina’d chrome made it stand apart from the various polished and brightly painted rides dotted around.
Then I noticed something in the engine bay.
No, not an LS or a Chevy 350 V-8, nor even the truck’s original 3.5-liter inline-six. Instead, tucked neatly under that folding hood, was an 8.0-liter V-10 from a 1995 Dodge Viper RT/10. The merger of Dodge’s 1990s return to greatness with the Chevy’s art deco lines was the work of Louisville’s James and Bridgette Morris, and they had quite the story to tell.
“Before we got married, I called my dad,” Bridgette told the Classic Car Corner Podcast in March of 2022. “I said, ‘I would like to gift James a truck for our wedding, and I want it to be dramatic. I want you to drop me off at the end of the aisle with the truck keys in the hand, first time he’s ever seen it, and hand over the keys. Also: Here’s my daughter; you can marry her, as well.’”
Bridgette’s late father, Jim, knew exactly what she was looking for. As James told Hagerty via email, Jim found an old farm truck from Louisville that made its way to a photo studio in northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati. The front half of the truck was repurposed for glamour shots, and the rear half lived in the photographer’s barn. Over a year and a half of work by Jim later, the truck, with its original straight-six and three-speed manual, made it to the wedding. It wouldn’t be long, though, until a bit of snake venom entered the picture.
“We wanted to modernize the truck, with power steering, [better] brakes, and [increased] reliability, so we could take it on longer road trips and go more than 45 mph,” James said. “Our plans for an iron-block LS swap seemed like they needed to be more exciting.” The two kept searching, he said, then “stumbled upon a turn-key drivetrain pallet from Cleveland Power & Performance.”
Out went the old powertrain, in went the Viper V-10 and six-speed manual, with the help of Louisville’s Tachyon Performance, the shop the Morrises had originally called upon for that planned LS swap. Though Jim passed away before the V-10 swap was completed, James wrote that his father-in-law “was always excited to hear our progress and see pictures of it along the way.”
Bridgette and James picked up their truck from Tachyon on Jim’s birthday in 2020. The miles since have included repeat visits to the Street Rod Nationals, a trip to Beatersville, multiple Hot Rod Magazine Power Tours, plus drives through bourbon country and cruises in the city of Somerset, Kentucky. Those summertime events have necessitated a future upgrade: air-conditioning.
“Unfortunately, the truck still does not have A/C,” said Bridgette. “Last summer, we took it on the Power Tour, and I think it was 120 degrees in the cab the whole time. Despite the sweat, it was still a great time.”
James adds that the truck “is definitely a sleeper,” and that they prefer it that way, as they daily the Viper-powered rig for everything from groceries to Sunday drives. Once the hood’s open, though, everyone does more than a few double takes and head turns at this snake-bitten Chevy.
Special thanks to Louisville’s Bernheim Car Club for allowing Hagerty to photograph the Chevrolet in their facility.