Sometimes I dream of building a kit car that is stomach crushingly fast, can pull over a g-force around a sharp corner, and can stop so fast that your tongue sticks out. I need a car (or truck?) so disturbingly fast that I get sick when I drive it. I want to reach the end of a road before it even begins. If I were to stuff about 900 horsepower into an AWD “kit” car that weighed around 2000 lbs, it would likely plaster me in the drivers seat pretty well. I know what you are saying. “AWD!? Blasphemy!” I too am the type of guy that loves breaking the rear tires loose and getting the car sideways at every possible opportunity, but launching an AWD car at high rpm is really quite impressive. “The feeling of 4 tires vigorously ripping away at the pavement during extreme acceleration” really should be the definition of “Excitement”. I should contact Websters Dictionary on that.
Ok, so back to “reality”. Locost? GTM? MK4 Roadster? Factory Five 33 Hotrod? Porsche 356 Kit? There are so many more options, what would you guys & gals build if you have the space, time, motivation, and funding??
Yesterday we reviewed the riveting tale of the triumphant rise and epic fall of my first truck. Today I am presenting you with what I am calling “The Reincarnation”. With my first truck solemnly resting in a junkyard far beyond the point of no return, I found myself in desperate need of that missing flame that my Dodge Ram 50 and I once had. I needed to have the heart and soul of my first truck, but with heaping gobs of horsepower, more interior space, and a clutch pedal. To me, that would be pure perfection.
Being a fairly typical gearhead, I get a thrill when I open my hood for people and surprise them with a power plant that they don’t expect. I’m not talking about Chevy engines in Fords though, that is still bizarre to me… I am talking more about upgrades within the same genre. Like a Dodge minitruck with the same make fuel injected, turbocharged, DOHC engine where a carbureted loaf once puttered. Doubling or tripling the factory horsepower and getting more than 1 horsepower per cubic inch intrigues me. It’s even better when it appears like the vehicle came that way. Onlookers begin to question their own eyes.
As you may or may not know, a Dodge Ram 50 truck is really the same as a Mitsubishi Mightymax truck so most parts are interchangeable. Mitsubishi built them for Dodge in the 1980’s and early 1990’s using all Mitsubishi parts, and Dodge decals. So, I figured that if Dodge equals Mitsubishi and Mitsubishi built 220 horsepower turbocharged Mitsubishi Eclipses, then I could potentially get a 4G63 turbo Mitsubishi Eclipse (DSM) engine swapped into a Dodge Ram 50. Simple! With some bolt on upgrades, I could be in the neighborhood of 250+ horsepower, and I liked that thought, a lot.
One day, many years ago, I was hanging out on some local automotive internet forums when a kid asked if anybody needed parts from a 1989 Dodge Ram 50 Extended cab. I wasn’t actually looking to buy a truck at that time but I sent him a message anyway asking if he had the whole truck and what was wrong with it. He quickly responded letting me know that he had the whole truck, it was in great shape, but had a hole in the engine block. It was currently sitting in a parking lot and it needed to be gone ASAP. Could this be my new Ram 50? I thought. “Oh and 1 more thing” he said, “it’s free and has a clean title”. Yes, everything had officially fallen into place.
I picked up the truck the following weekend, and it was exactly what I had been dreaming about for years. Clean original paint, macro (extended) cab, low mileage, straight body, very little rust, it was perfect in my eyes. Within days, I had ripped the junk engine out and grabbed an engine from a 1991 Mitsubishi Eclipse. I dropped the 4G63 into it’s new home with custom motor mounts, and a variety of other custom accessories. Wiring, plumbing, cutting & welding was intense for a couple months, and at the 3 month mark, the truck was drivable.
Driving it brings back all the happiness and memories that I had in my first truck, but now with more tire burning gross displays of horsepower, and 5 gears to shift through. I have been driving it for several years now, and it never lets me down (unless I deserve it). It starts every time, runs smooth, and generally loves to be a usable truck again.
I would expect the editor of any automotive blog to have owned and driven a massive number of vehicles to give some kind of legitimacy to the blog itself. For that reason, I feel that it is my duty to the readers to own and drive as many vehicles as possible, and for that, I thank you. Between my own personal automotive obsessions and working as a technician, I have driven hundreds of cars, each with it’s own intricacies, oddities, and personality. How trustworthy are my gearhead opinions though? Why continue on this automotive journey with me if you don’t even know where I have been? I think at this point in our internet relationship, it’s time that you learned about the triumphant rise and epic fall of my first daily driven vehicle. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really loved that truck more than I can explain. Something about it was special to me, though I am still unsure of what.
When I was 15, I had about $500 to my name from dogs chasing me my newspaper route days, and I knew that the pinnacle of life was knocking on my door. I was getting my license soon. Sure I already owned 1 car, which will undoubtedly come up in future musings, but I needed a car that I could actually drive daily. A car that moved under its own power, maybe something with wheels and a running engine. After harassing my parents for a while, they finally agreed to let me get a second car a little early. (Thanks Mom and Dad). I immediately ripped through the “Vehicles for Parts”, and “Antique Autos” sections of the local Want Advertiser searching for the perfect older car to drive daily. A Dart would be cool, I thought aloud… or maybe an Iroc, OH how about a 1939 Studebaker, that would be really cool too..
The weeks steadily passed and my parents shot down every dumb idea I had, thankfully. Then my mom came home one day and said that a person that she knew had a 1987 Dodge Ram 50 for $500 that needed some work. Initially, I wasn’t so sure, but within a day or two I had found pictures of some Ram 50’s in MiniTruckin magazine that made me fall in love. I scrounged up every last penny I could find, and I bought it. It was the beginning of a very special relationship.
The first thing I did when I got it home was to rebuild the carburetor. That’s what you’re supposed to do right? It took a few tries, but I got the carburetor back on the truck and got it running again, albeit only slightly better than before I had touched it. Nevertheless, I pressed on. I changed fluids, fixed exhaust, and even fixed the leaky power steering. After an eternity (a few weeks) had passed, I got my license and began driving my newly improved Ram 50. We quickly became great friends, and each weekend, I would spend endless time improving different areas of her:
– Removed rust and rot
– Straightened all the metal
– Added bucket seats
– Lowered 3 inches
– New tires, polished chrome wheels
– Absurdly loud stereo system
– Tinted window
– Bug guard (they were cool then)
– Tonneau cover
– Custom frenched license plate in the tailgate
– Painted neon green brake drums and calipers
The Epic Fall:
It was beautiful on so many levels, and perfect for cruising the beaches. Rust free, dent free, and just a really astonishingly clean truck. Although the local law enforcement were not fans of my tailgate, it really did set my truck apart from the rest. Mine was special. After about a year of driving the truck, I began thinking irrationally. For some unknown reason, I decided that I could not handle the slowness of the truck any longer, and I needed a faster vehicle. What an idiot! I put the truck on the front lawn for sale for $1000 obo, and a guy I knew gave me $800 cash for it. He then drove away my original $500 purchase price, about $1000 in upgrades, and thousands of hours of making it perfect. All because I was an idiot.
Years pass, and the truck vanishes from sight and everyone’s memory but my own. It was only a year after selling it that I had realized the mistake that I had made. I constantly dreamed about turning back time, but without a Delorean, I just couldn’t. I jumped from one car to the next to the next, desperately trying to find the magic that my little Ram 50 and I once had, but the magic just couldn’t be found. It was gone for good.
Months turned to years, and my brother and I needed something to do one hot summer day. We decided to challenge the junkyards in a game of mud, oil, and grease. It was always a great time and would have been again, but destiny had other plans. There she sat, my beloved 1987 Dodge Ram 50. Smashed on every corner, missing wheels, and another truck sitting on her roof. I felt sickened. Something I had worked so very hard on was now crushed right before my eyes. It was truly an awful feeling that I would not want any other gearhead to go through. I reluctantly approached the truck knowing full well that I had done her wrong. A silent heart felt apology was in order as I slowly meandered my way around the back of the truck. My custom tailgate, the green drums, the lowering blocks, the interior, the tint. It was all still there, just horrified in every sense of the word…. I spent a few minutes thinking about all the great times we had, snapped off some pictures for memories, and then shamefully walked away.
Amazingly, this saga didn’t end that day in the junkyard, but “The Reincarnation” is a story best left for another day. Anybody interested?
For a little fun today, I decided to test out your automotive skills. The game is as simple as it sounds, all you have to do is Name That Car! Naturally, I am trying to make it challenging, so all you get is a picture of a stripped out floor pan. Good Luck!
UPDATE: The first person to determine the make, model, and engine size of this pictured vehicle, I will send you a free t-shirt.
Last year I finally bought myself a TIG welder so that I could weld aluminum, stainless steel, roll cages, and overall, step up my welding game. I figured since I had been MIG welding for 10+ years, TIG would be a piece of cake, but boy was I wrong. TIG welding is an absolute art, but not everybody is an artist. It takes a boat load of practice and dexterity to be good at it, which is why professionals make the big bucks. As I mentioned in this blog that I wrote a few weeks ago, MIG welding can be done with 1 hand (blind folded, tango dancing, while on fire). TIG on the other hand requires holding filler rod with the left hand, a torch in the right hand (at the correct angle), and it has a foot pedal to control the heat. Once you get all three limbs to work in unison, metal begins to melt, and the learning curve really begins.
Faster than I could say “this is hard to do!“, I had burned through 2 tanks of argon, countless filler rods, several pieces of tungsten, and a few layers of skin. As I quickly learned, aluminum retains heat really well, and doesn’t look hot even when it is. Note to readers: WEAR GLOVES when TIG’n!
Here are a few “finished” pieces from my last practice session. Like I said, TIG welding is an art, and not everybody is an artist, yet.
Every car in Massachusetts is rusty. Whether you have a 1955 Lincoln Capri or a 2010 Chevy Camaro, in the North East, your car’s destiny is rust. Now, if the nice cars are rusty, just imagine what the vehicles in our junkyards look like. They are absolutely horrifying at best. In the time that it takes to remove a junkyard fender, it often erodes itself back into dirt right before your eyes. Bolts? HA! After 1 year (so… 2009 models at this point), all bolts become permanent. At the 2 year mark, the bolts don’t even look like bolts anymore. They become round rusty buttons that can only be removed by breaking the head off with Vise-Grips. It is truly an awful experience. Thank goodness for torches, Sawzalls, sharp drill bits, and tetanus shots.
Arizona cars on the other hand, are better in every possible way. Rusty cars (New England style) just don’t exist out there. What they consider a junkyard car is usually “flawless” in my opinion. The nicest cars I personally own aren’t as clean as what is found in their junkyards. It’s quite sad really. Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of working on several classic cars from the South West, and I laugh like the village idiot the entire time I work on them because I can’t believe that the bolts come out. Underneath the AZ cars, the original hydraulic brake lines and parking brakes cables are often still there and working. It is a gearhead fairytale.
Let’s do a comparison, to see who the real winner is. Massachusetts on the left, and Arizona on the right. Ding Ding Ding. FIGHT!
Sure enough, Arizona wins with a KO, as expected. If you want to restore an old car, just buy a rust free body from someplace dry. It will save you thousands of dollars, trillions of hours, and a Tetanus shot.
Like any car enthusiast, I often find myself scouring eBay Motors for cars and trucks that I can’t have. While doing so, I stumbled onto a fleet of Jaguars that looked noteworthy. Apparently they were collected between 15-25 years ago, and haven’t really been touched since. The thing that I find most impressive is that a bunch of them are “racked” up high in a warehouse of some sort. You need to be a truly dedicated & motivated gearhead for those kinds of shenanigans. I mean how cool would it be to be able to look up at project cars while you work on others? Anyway, the starting bid is $200,000, so get out your wallets.
Here is what the auction includes along with misc parts: