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story and photos by Gene Yetter
Acquiring an old motor vehicle to restore can be an open-ended risk. The project will require an owner's hard work and resources. Whatever the difficulties, they'll be found and fixed. But what if there are hidden frame defects caused by age and rust? If the frame is a terminal case, if it can't be made safe, it has to be replaced.
Charlie and Janet Loss of Preston, Connecticut, were in that situation after they purchased a 1941 Dodge WC (Civilian) half-ton pickup. When the truck was stripped down, Charlie came to the conclusion that they could not go ahead with the restoration on the original frame. It had to go. The overall project took eight years, but it produced a prize-winning show and cruise truck that Mr. and Mrs. Loss can be proud of.
"We bought the truck seeing it advertised in the Oct. 1993 issue of Truck Trader magazine," Charlie says. "It was for sale in Plymouth, Massachusetts. We drove up to see it. It was rough but we decided to buy it. Price about $250. Once we got it taken apart at home we found much more rust than I expected."
Looking into his options, Charlie considered hunting for a Durango frame to put under the '41 body. Finding another '41 was not in the cards at the time. "The Durangos came out in the late Eighties, and they weren't showing up in the salvage yards, at least not with straight frames," he says.
One solution was to consider a non-Mopar frame and that is how the project got going. "I went for a later model frame and suspension. Everything on that original truck was pretty bad. I think we finally only used 15 or 20 percent of its original parts. I found another truck, a '46, which didn't match the '41 body. So I just looked for what was available in the salvage yards. That's the way street rodding was in the early Nineties, before you could hunt down parts on the Internet. You had to take parts of any brand that worked!"
Charley found a non-Mopar frame that would fit but it had to be lengthened, he says. The non-Mopar frame was from a 1982 Toyota. "I stretched that frame out using a section from a second one. In other words, I married together the two frames to make one, totaling a 116-inch wheelbase. Most of the work was done by a friend, Kevin Shaffer. We had to make new body and radiator mounts. I went to a 360 Mopar small block motor so we had to make motor mounts. Other than that the width of the non-Mopar axles, 82 inches up front and 86 in the rear, was like made for the Dodge."
The restoration/modification had gotten off to a slow start. Charlie and Janet spent about 4 years just accumulating replacement parts. And the work took another four years. But by the year 2000, Charlie says, "We were ready to show the truck. In that first year every show we entered we took a first or second prize -- in whatever class they put us in. 'Trucks' or 'Street Rods,' usually."
Final tab in the project, about $35,000, including all work: the paint, the interior, the body and frame. Four-wheel drive was added to the drivetrain using 1988 Dodge Powertrain components.
Charlie did the engine work himself, rebuilding a motor which he purchased for $50 that had come out of an old fire truck. It was an '86 "smog" engine (had a pump for forcing cold air through the heads to cool them). He had to replace two cracked heads, a common problem in the '86s, a mechanic told him. But the block and crank were sound.
The new heads included the complete valvetrain. He also added a new intake, 4-bbl carburetor, cam and headers, for estimated output around 300 hp. A local shop, Superior Auto Center in Norwich fabbed custom dual exhausts. The exhaust tips are hidden under a rollpan that was fabricated to eliminate the rear bumper. Gas mileage in the truck is around 12-15 mpg. The transmission is a Mopar 727 Torqueflite, with Lokar shifter.
Power braking is stock Toyota, disc in the front, drum in the rear. "I rebuilt the whole front end," Charlie adds. "I upgraded the front discs to slotted, and put in larger discs to better stop the weight of this truck and the engine I put into it."
In talking about the project, Charlie is quick to credit Janet with patience and solid contributions to the work. "My wife and I did the oak pickup bed. I cut it out and she did all the finishing. She helped assemble everything when we got the parts back from the paint shop: the doors, the fenders, the whole front end, the radiator, the wiring. She has smaller fingers and could do a lot the detail work that I couldn't get at. Like the windshield wipers. There's a rod that runs from under the cab to the wipers. She was able to get in and tighten down the wiper assembly which I couldn't have managed myself."
The Loss pickup is painted in two Mopar colors: the body is Radiant Red of the 1994 Dodge pickup palette, and the color of the darker red fenders is from the Chrysler minivan palette. "I left the exterior about 90% original, including the crank hole at the bottom of the front grille. The Dodge nameplate on the front is all original. We had it straightened out and repolished. A few things aren't original. The hood ornament is after-market, from Roberts Motor Parts. The rollpan under the tailgate was fabricated. I frenched in the taillights and license-plate holder on the rollpan; the taillights were originally mounted on the corners of the bed side panels. Two small panels between the cab and rear fender, above the running board, had to be fabricated.
“With the later-model suspension I was able to eliminate a grease nipple showing a few inches above the running board. Also we added a Hagan fuel door to the left side, to service a 25-gal. custom-made fuel cell installed near the front of the pickup bed. And we replaced the tailgate chain with stainless steel boat hardware, a hatch-brace and latch combination on two sides of the tailgate. Headlight bulbs, in OEM buckets, are for a motorcycle "
Not much of the original interior remains. The steering column and wheel are from a Buick LaSalle. New gauges are aftermarket products (VDO brand) purchased from Juliano's Hot Road Parts [www.julianos.com] in Ellington, CT. Seats came out of an Eddie Bauer Ford Explorer. Console is for a Jeep CJ7. All upholstery was done by a shop in Warwick, Rhode Island. Laminated safety glass, tinted on the sides and rear, is all new, cut to match the original windows and windshield by a Tolland, CT, shop, Vintage Glass. And a major upgrade, Vintage Air air conditioning: Charlie cut openings for the vents and ran ducting behind the dash.
Not a professional automotive technician, Charlie picked up shop know-how from a brother who ran a garage. He has owned musclecars, he says, but the Dodge pickup is his first restoration. What has he learned? "If I had it to do over, we'd start with a better project truck!" he says with a slight ironic laugh. There is something of a "do-over" in progress, as Charlie and Janet have already started working on a 1948 Plymouth convertible that they plan to street rod.
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