When Chastin and Reed Brand decided they were going to run the Retreat From Moscow Lemons Rally, they had tentatively planned to fly from their homes in Georgia to the rally’s start in Moscow, Pennsylvania, where they would buy their rally vehicle. It was a fine Roadkill-style idea, but the father-son duo decided instead to follow a better Roadkill-caliber plan: With little more than a month before the rally’s start, they would thrash on the 1959 International Metro delivery van they’d pulled from the Georgia woods around Christmas. We’re happy to report that not only did they make the rally’s start, they also made the rally’s finish.
The story of the Brands’ Metro started more than a decade earlier, when Reed and Chastin had pulled some parts from a field-parked Lincoln Continental for Chastin’s suicide-door Continental project. Both of the Brands are old-school hot rodders—Reed runs a body shop and Chastin does pinstriping— and they spend a lot of time picking through fields to find great stuff. While picking over the Continental parts car, they saw the Metro back in the woods but didn’t think much of it and its existence slipped from memory.
Fast-forward a few years to when Reed started to think he might like to have a Metro and when Chastin was also talking his dad into running the LeMons Rally with him. Chastin had recently completed a 10,000-mile trek with his wife in their flat-nose 1970 Chevy Van and has an itch for long road trips. There was just one problem: They didn’t have a vehicle they thought was suitable for the rally. In a creative slump, they headed out to the field where they’d found the old Continental and Reed had a “Eureka!” moment upon finding the Metro van with perfect patina.
There wasn’t much left worth saving from the van’s guts, so with less than a month, Reed set to work at his body shop draping the Metro over the frame of a crashed 2006 Chevy Tahoe. That work started December 20 and despite the rally’s January 31 start date looming, everything came together pretty smoothly. The body fit on the chassis with minimal alteration of the frame and some adaptation of the body mounts.
The rest of the work included things like plumbing fuel and brake lines, fitting the Tahoe gauges into the International dashboard, and adapting the steering linkage (and using the original IH steering wheel).
Among the most fantastic details was the firewall the Brands built for the Tahoe’s 4.8-liter V8. They had originally intended to use sheet metal from a refrigerator in a house scheduled for demolition, but upon getting it home, they found out the fridge still worked and they didn’t want to waste a perfectly good appliance. Instead, they picked an old-school ice box from a field and fit it behind the grille to wrap around the engine. Packaging all the ancillaries in the ice box was a bit of a challenge, clearly, but the Brands thought vertically when putting it inside the ice box.
Iron steps into the van were also picked from the scrap heap, having formerly existed as part of a 20-step staircase in an old school that a friend was demolishing. The seats were old swiveling salon chairs. “They were intended to be temporary, but they’re pretty comfy,” Chastin said. “We wanted to use what we had laying around without being too rat-roddy.” We think they succeeded.
The top-heavy body on the chassis proved cumbersome at high speeds when they first drove it, so Chastin borrowed the torsion bars from this wife’s Z71 Suburban to improve stability. On the rally, they still found the Metro was unhappy above 55 mph and downright scary at more than 60. That made for a leisurely approach to the rally, but the 4.8-liter Vortec V8 from the Tahoe was more than happy to cruise at 50 mph all day.
The biggest drawback, aside from the handling, was the Metro’s leaky sheet metal in the front. “It’s like not even having a windshield because it lets so much air come through,” Reed said. On the drive to the rally’s start, they emptied several cans of spray foam trying to insulate the van enough that their propane heater could keep up. They still spent most of the first day from Moscow to Buffalo to Pittsburgh shivering.
The rushed preparation also created some hazards when negotiating the lake-effect snow that fell between Buffalo and Pittsburgh after dark. One of the two windshield wipers failed and the tail lights worked intermittently, two conditions that were not helped by occasional crosswind gusts. But the Metro and its seldom-snow-seeing crew survived the troubling weather conditions.
In warmer temperatures, Chastin and Reed spent the nights camping in the back of the van on army cots. While the van was plenty roomy for the cots, they gave themselves a bit of extra space by carrying their tools on the rear rack.
Not only did the Reed and Chastin complete the rally in a vehicle that drew admiration from many of the LeMons Rally folks, their Metro also would fit in just about anywhere. It could just as easily fit in at a Billetproof show or on HOT ROD Power Tour™ as it did on the Retreat From Moscow rally. Check out the gallery below for more photos and Chastin Brand’s Instagram page for more on the build process.