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Is this the Ultimate 454 OBS Build?

Hritik Godara March 29, 2023 Cover

C/K Syndicate Likes to Party

 We all know that OBS trucks (’88-’98 GM full sizes) are the new popular kids on the block as far as trucks to customize—a fact that is certainly supported by the rising prices we’ve seen lately. Just open up your favorite classifieds app, and you’ll see that a nice OBS (and even not-so-nice ones) will cost you a lot more than they did just a couple of years ago. So, if you’re planning to build one for yourself, you’d better really love them because you’ll probably pay a premium up front!

Chris went to great lengths to keep the soul of the truck intact, but he brought everything up to 21st century standards.  

454 OBS rolling shot

Some people have had these trucks on the brain from the get-go. Take Chris Stafford, for example. He’s been a fan of this body style for as long as he can remember—so much so that he’s the dude behind C/K Syndicate, purveyor of OBS-specific swag and one of the more prevalent social media accounts on the subject.

Chris took the most iconic factory OBS GM truck of them all, the 454SS, and improved it in every way that the original was lacking. While the 454SS was touted as a modern day muscle truck, the truth is that, aside from the big-block under the hood (which was lifted directly from the 3500-series trucks), a beefier cooling system, and a mild suspension upgrade, it wasn’t especially impressive. With 230 horsepower for the 1990 models, the truck had just 20 horsepower more than a regular ol’ C/K equipped with a 350. And it certainly didn’t help things that the GMC Syclone was on the horizon—an all-wheel-drive monster with 280 horsepower and almost 1,000 fewer pounds to push around. OK, so the Syclone wasn’t actually meant to be used as a truck. Point taken.


But the 454 obs did have one thing in its favor: torque! With 385 lb-ft of it to be exact, that was more than enough to break the tires loose at the blip of the throttle. So, while it walked the walk, it didn’t totally talk the talk, which is where Chris’ truck comes in and we get back to our story.

Staffords Garage

454 Engine in an OBS
The original 454 engine is still present, but it now sports a lopey Comp Cams camshaft stuffed in between a pair of Air Flow Research 305cc aluminum cylinder heads, custom stainless headers, and a FiTech Ultra Ram fuel injection system.

He went to great lengths to keep the soul of the truck intact, but he brought everything up to 21st century standards. For example, the original 454 engine is still present, but it now sports a lopey Comp Cams camshaft stuffed in between a pair of Air Flow Research 305cc aluminum cylinder heads, custom stainless headers, and a FiTech Ultra Ram fuel injection system to extract every last ounce of power from the big-block.

QA1 suspension on a 1990 454 obs

And while the 1990-spec Turbo 400 was certainly reliable and robust enough for some abuse, Chris wasn’t feeling the whole “slushbox” thing for this build, so he did what GM should have done with this truck in the first place: installed a manual transmission, which in this case doubled the number of available forward gears. Yup, Chris bolted up a Tremec T-56 6-speed using a Silver Sport Transmissions install kit with a Silver Sport STX shifter kit to move the shifter to a more ideal position. As you can imagine, this swap added a whole new level of fun, especially with the Eaton Positraction unit installed in the original (but narrowed) 14-bolt semi-floater rearend!


But, of course, there are bound to be complications when building a rare truck such as Chris’ 454SS, and in this case it was that beefy 14-bolt that necessitated the use of custom differential brackets to install the rear portion of the QA1 Level III handling kit. With a set of 20- and 22-inch staggered US Mags Bastille wheels and meaty Dunlop Direzza tires bolted up in front of 16-inch Little Shop MFG brakes all around, the truck was now ready to boogie and move onto the next stage—the interior.

1990 Oob with Red leather and suede upholstery

Again, the only plan was to make things better without killing the original vibe of the truck, so red leather and suede were used throughout the cab to mimic the original red velour interior, with all of the plastic panels dyed to match. A stereo setup was installed by Chris, with custom kick panels (built by Joe Magnolia) a Sony head unit, and a Power Bass amp and speakers completing the system.

A beefy 14-bolt rearend along with a QA1 Level III handling kit lets this OBS ride as good as it looks.

1990 454 Obs

454 OBS

1990 Chevy C1500 454SS

So, mission accomplished—a classic 454SS that’s better than when it came from the factory. Chris’ 454SS is among the finest we’ve seen, and he’s quick to point out that the build wouldn’t have been possible without the help of lots of family and friends, including his wife, Morgan, Jeff Sharpe, Doug Turnage, Joe Gerbitz, Joe Vincent, Jacob Brooks, Joe Magnolia, and Jamie Thomas, who all pitched in to get the truck completed just in time for SEMA. Since then, Chris has enjoyed taking it to every show he can—which is how it should be!



Chris Stafford & C/K Syndicate

  • Tylertown, MS
  • 1990 Chevy C1500 454SS
  • Severed Ties

Chassis & Suspension

  • Work performed by TJ Maples and Chris Stafford at C/K Syndicate
  • QA1 Level III Handling Kit
  • Modified rear differential brackets to fit 14-bolt rear end
  • 14-bolt semi-floater rearend, narrowed 3 inches by BH Fabrication
  • Little Shop MFG front and rear 16-inch billet brake kits
  • RedHead Steering Gears quick ratio steering box

Wheels & Tires

  • 20×8.5 and 22×10.5 US Mags Bastille wheels
  • 245/40ZR20 and 265/35ZR22 Dunlop Direzza tires

Engine & Drivetrain

  • Original 454 engine
  • Comp Cams 292H camshaft
  • Air Flow Research 305cc aluminum heads
  • FiTech Ultra Ram fuel injection system
  • FiTech Go Spark ignition
  • Upgraded fuel pump in factory fuel tank
  • Custom stainless headers and 3-inch exhaust by BH Fabrication
  • Champion aluminum radiator and electric fans
  • Tremec T-56 6-speed manual transmission
  • Silver Sport Transmissions installation kit
  • Silver Sport Transmissions STX shifter relocator kit
  • Silver Sport Transmissions clutch
  • 3.73 rear gears
  • Eaton limited slip differential

Body & Paint

  • Repainted by TJ Maples, Jeff Sharpe, and Joe Vincent
  • Replacement grille and bumpers from Classic Parts of America
  • Audi-style headlights from RZ Custom Lightz
  • Slosh Tubz front wheel tubs and fender filler panels

Interior & Stereo

  • Red leather and suede upholstery by Lawrence Bergeron at LB Upholstery
  • Interior plastic dyed red
  • Dakota Digital VHX gauges
  • Billet Specialties steering wheel
  • Custom kick panels by Joe Magnolia
  • Sony head unit
  • Power Bass amplifier
  • Power Bass component speakers
  • Power Bass subwoofers




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