Dodge / Ram
by Ned Carl
My name is Ned Carl. I was born in Harlan Iowa in 1962. When I was 6 months old my family moved to Beatrice Nebraska. This is where I grew up and went to school, getting interested early on in any class that was "hands on:" Arts, Crafts, Foods, Electronics, Small Engines, and finally Automotive. I graduated from Beatrice Senior High in 1980. Shortly after High School, I joined the US Army, did basic training in Fort Bliss Texas, Advanced Individual Training at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville Alabama, then on to my first duty station in Buedingen, West Germany, in the days before the wall came down. Even though I was an electronic technician for the Chaparral missile system, I spent just as much time tinkering around the motor pool, working on my assigned military vehicle, an old Dodge M-880 truck. Good ole "MSL38," I learned a lot about Dodges on that ole girl.
My last duty station for Uncle Sam was back at Redstone Arsenal, and after I receiving my discharge in 1984, I decided to stay in Huntsville. My two greatest loves, fishing and electronics were both here, so why leave?
Around Christmas time in 1986, I was sitting in the break room at Bonanza Steakhouse, waiting for my wife to get off work. As I sat there, a yellow 1950s model pickup rolled by on US 231, and I made the comment that I would sure like to have an old truck, cause then I'd have a reason to get a boat.
From the back of the room, came an unexpected response to my comment, “I have two I'll let you have for $500!” After a brief conversation with the lady that made the offer, I found out she had two older Dodge trucks, one from the 1970s, and another, much older, truck. Later that evening I was telling Tom, a friend of mine the story, and it turned out he was looking for a pickup too, as he was getting ready to move. We called her up and told her we'd be there after Christmas.
Around the middle of January, 1987 we drove the 30 miles out into the country to see these vehicles for ourselves. What a sight! Both trucks had the entire rear axle assembly removed (and by removed, I mean with a torch), so neither was drivable. The older truck had a come-along winch connected to the back bumper, and the rear of the truck was suspended from a tree with it.
There was a set of push buttons on the dash to change gears, which were obviously not factory, and on the passenger side of the dash was a cheap cassette player was bolted to a piece of plywood, which was screwed into the dash. The entire interior of the truck, steering wheel, instruments, headliner, seat, and all were covered in blue overspray where someone had tried to paint the metal dash, and just let 'er fly.
The carburetor, stamped 1964, was in the front seat. A quick look under the hood determined the engine wasn't original, as it was a huge V-8. There were no interior door handles, only rope holding the doors shut, and no door window glass, or even window cranks for that matter. Only hand cut plastic bubble domes from an old pickup camper shell that were stuck in the door frames trying desperately to pass themselves off as tinted windows. It was quite a sight.
The newer truck was propped up on cement blocks. The gearshift (three on the floor) was bent to one side, as was the distributor from where the engine and transmission had apparently fallen loose and slammed against the firewall during rear end removal.
We talked to lady's husband, and gathered what information we could. From him we discovered the older truck was a 1958 model (or what was left of it), the newer one a 1972. Their son, who recently got his driver's license, had bought the older pickup from a farmer down the road to drive to school. After just two weeks, the read end had blown an oil seal, and before he got home from school, it seized up, and shattered the pinion gear. They got the idea to swap rear ends with their farm truck, but after cutting out the rear end from the 1958, a step side, and the rear end of the 1972, a sweptside, they made the discovery that one rear end was about a foot too wide, and that even a great welder couldn't make it work. So, they gave in and decided to sell both trucks to try and get the boy enough cash to buy a car. Tom decided $500 was a good price and he wrote them a check on the spot.
We spent a week gathering up the parts needed to get the 1972 back on the road, and the next weekend we rode back out to their farm. After getting the '72 running again, I began gathering up stuff from the '58. We grabbed up the carburetor, the drive shaft and the entire rear end of the '58 and headed home again. For weeks, I bounced back and forth between a Dodge speed shop, and several junk yards.
Even back in the 1980s it was nearly impossible to find a 1958 Dodge pickup in a junk yard. I managed to find what was left of a '57, two 58's and two '59's within 200 miles, and I was happy about that. I searched junk yards in Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia. At one junk yard in Georgia, I found a factory turn signal switch and its wiring, and nearly all the chrome parts that are on my truck today. The hood ornament is actually a leaping ram off of a 1948 Dodge truck. When I saw that, I knew I had to have it. I sent all of my chrome pieces to a company in Florida called Potmetal Restorations to have them restored and re-chromed while I was rebuilding the drive train.
One of the guys in the local speed shop had told me that Dodge pickup rear end gear "chunks" were mostly the same from the 40s through the late 60s, just make sure you match up the ratio. Luckily I found a '68 with the same ratio, upside down on the back lot of one junk yard. This made removal pretty easy. I took the '68 chunk to the speed shop, and had it rebuilt, and the axle thrust spacer removed (the '58 didn't use the spacer). At the same time, I had to have the original rear housing welded in a few places where the shattered parts of the rear gears tried to escape their captivity.
When I got it back, I decided to see if the speed shop guy knew what he was talking about. Well, for the most part he did. The '68 chunk bolted right up to the '58 housing, and the axles splines actually fit into the chunk too. However, the axles now extended out of the housing too far, and the bearings (old cone and roller style), would no longer seat up. Back to the speed shop I went.
Well, they set me right up. First they shortened each axle by 1/8" to get them to match the '68 chunk. Then they set me up with after-market sealed ball bearing axle bearings, and new style rubber axle oil seals to replace the original leather seals that were still in there. (These leather seals are what failed, and caused the rear end to disintegrate in the first place). So, technically, I have a narrowed rear end. After that project was complete, I went to a local parts house, and got new axle U bolts. At this point I was ready to put the rear end back under the truck.
We made it back out to the farm several times during all this mess, and in the process, I pulled the engine apart piece by piece and brought it home. By tracking the engine numbers on the block, and the original part numbers on the motor mounts, I discovered the entire drive train, wiring harness and all, came out of a 1964 Dodge Polara. The engine was the old "wedge" block 318, coupled to a 727 torqueflight transmission. So now at least I knew what to order parts for! What parts of the engine were beyond my capability to repair went to a local machine shop, Howard's, where Howard, my machinist guru, took care of me.
After I got the rear end completed, and actually put together properly, Tom and I tossed it in the back of his truck, and went to bring the '58 home. The transmission was still in the '58, and the cross-member under it was homemade. We didn't want to chance removing it, and cause another month long setback, so we got creative. We took a few coat hangers, and made a yoke with an old aluminum baseball bat to hang the tranny from, then laid the baseball bat across the cowl and closed the hood. It worked rather well, all things considered. We spent the rest of the day getting the rear end lined up and bolted back in place, then getting the towing bar set up.
We pulled out of their driveway in the late afternoon. It was but about a hundred yards before we noticed the rims were all bent, and the brake drums they were bolted to were just as bad! The truck was shaking like it had a bit too much coffee for breakfast. On the 40 mile trip home, we got stopped twice by two concerned citizens that actually thought the tires were falling off. Even so, we made it home in one piece.
I stripped the truck all the way down to the frame, and started over. For the entire summer I stripped down the truck one piece at a time, sanding and repainting every piece as I went. By the end of the year, I had nearly the entire truck inside our small 3 room apartment!
The only thing that didn't come off was the cab. Somewhere, at some time, someone had removed all the original wood slats in the bed, and replaced the whole thing with a 1/4" thick slab of plate steel! That added quite a lot of weight to the bed, and since it was welded, we had to pull the entire bed at one time. It took 5 guys to lift it.
I repainted the entire truck using store bought spray paint: Engine enamel on the frame, inside the bed, floorboard, inside of the cab, under the hood, the brake drums and backing plates, axles and leaf springs. Acrylic lacquer was used on all of the blue body parts and the dash. After putting about 8 coats on every single panel, I actually wet sanded and hand polished the entire truck.
At the same time the engine boring and head work was being finished up in the machine shop, a friend of mine was going to an auto/diesel college out of town. When he got to the Dodge transmissions section, he would come home on the weekends and share what he had learned with me. So armed with his new knowledge, he and I rebuilt my 727 Torqueflight one weekend at a time! That was my first (and so far only) transmission rebuild.
Knowing that I was going to use this truck to pull a boat with, I had decided that the factory original 1964 two barrel carb probably wasn't going to give that old 318 enough "oomph", so I decided I wanted a better setup. After searching around, I was directed to the granddaddy of all carburetor folks, The Carburetor Shop in Eldon Missouri. They were kind enough to look at my situation, and determined the best route for me was to get rid of the factory carburetor, and go with an aftermarket Carter 9511. However... There was no spread bore intake manifold available to fit my motor so I had to go in search of something that would work. After several weeks I found a guy in Chattanooga, TN that had an original 1952 WCFB type intake that came off a smaller bore V8, but the same block/head style. After telling the carburetor shop about my find, they set me up with an aluminum adapter to go from the AFB type carburetor base, down to the WCFB style intake manifold. I now had all the drivetrain parts I needed.
I finally had everything I needed to make it whole again. It took several months to get the entire thing back together and actually looking like a truck again. During the entire parts finding and re-assembly process, city employees kept harassing my about having a non working vehicle that was visible from the city streets (one of those wonderful city ordinances). They were less than 1 week from having it towed away when I finally got it running. They showed up, ready to hand me a hefty fine, but when I started it up, and drove it down the street, they left very disappointed.
After getting the engine and transmission put back in, I discovered that the weight of these two monster pieces of the drivetrain were more than the truck was originally designed to handle. I noticed the front leaf springs were squashed flat, there was no arch left in them at all. I pulled them off and sent them to Birmingham Leafs & Springs (Birmingham, Alabama), where they determined my best option was to add two extra leaves to each side. After getting the front springs done, and put back on the truck, I found out I had extra lift, and the front end of the truck was now higher than the back! SO, I had to pull the back springs, and have an extra leaf added to them too. When those returned, the truck was finally sitting level, but it was high enough everybody thought it was a 4X4!!
Well, as my luck would have it, with the added height of the new springs, the original shocks no longer fit. A technician at Monroe shocks did a little research with the measurements I gave him and found some shocks that would fit. Now here's the funny part- Shocks for the front come from the rear of a 1964 Lincoln Continental, while the shocks for the rear of the truck came from a 1972 Toyota 1/2 ton!
The truck was finally ready for the road! When I first began working on the truck I thought it would be nice to have some original parts left, so I decided to restore the original brakes. This was not a good move. The original brakes had the single reservoir master cylinder under the cab (fluid had to be added thru a cap in the floor board), and the rear brakes were still the old dual cylinder style. After two years on the road pulling my boat, I learned the factory brakes just couldn't supply enough power to stop the truck with all its added weight (V8 engine, transmission, plate steel bed and a boat). On three different occasions when I had to apply the brakes hard, a front brake drum shattered! After destroying two NOS antique brake drums at $130 each, I decided it was time for a change.
I searched high and low for someone that was willing to help me, and Butch's Rod Shop in Dayton Ohio came to my rescue. They were the only shop at the time (1992) that was willing to work with Chrysler vehicles, and not just build you an entire front axle from scratch. I had a long discussion over the phone with one of their technicians, and he told me they made spindle step down kits for early Dodge and Plymouth cars that would allow you to convert the front brakes to a 1969 Chevrolet Camaro front disc brake system. They said they had chosen the Chevy system because it was so grossly over sized that it could stop a tank. This is just what I needed! (Sorry to all you die hard "Keep it Dodge" fans- I tried, really I did, but at the time this the only option I could afford that would stop this truck with a boat behind it). Their technician said if I could send him a front spindle from my truck, that they could try and match it up to one of their kits.
Well, as it turned out, the spindle was nearly identical to a 1937 Plymouth car! The only difference was my bolt holes were a size to big. So I bought the 1937 Plymouth kit, had it installed by my local machine shop, and heli-coiled my bolt holes. As I was assembling the entire system a thought occurred to me: I just bought new rims, and I really didn't want a Chevy bolt pattern on the front, and a Dodge bolt pattern on the rear, because I'd need two spare tires! After another call to Butch's, these amazing guys figured out that I could get a rotor from a 1978 Ford Granada, change the inside bearing to a different size, make a 1/8" thick backing plate for the inside brake pad (the Granada rotor was 1/8" thinner than the Camaro rotor), and I'd have the same bolt pattern all around!
Well, my luck continued in its usual way- After getting the front brake system built up, and making a mess of modifications to put a Chevy Camaro dual reservoir master cylinder under the cab, I found out that the newer master cylinder didn't move enough fluid to operate the dual wheel cylinders on the original back brakes! Back to the drawing board. After several trips to junk yards, I found a 1970 Dodge 1/2 ton long bed that had a big set of 2-1/4" brakes on the rear. I bought the entire set from the junk yard, replaced the shoes and shoe hardware, then went to work.
More modifications had to be done. Turns out my original rear axle housing had round flanges on each end, but the 1970 truck had half round flanges because of the newer single wheel cylinder design. So, I had to get a side grinder, and grind off the top part of the flanges on my housing until the backing plates from the 1970 fit! Eventually I got the whole thing together.
As an added bonus, with the 1970 rear brakes I was able to add on an emergency brake system, something I didn't have before! I went back to the junk yard and saw a 1982 Chevy truck that had been side-swiped and the entire drivers side of the truck was tore off. This made getting the parts for the emergency brake system way to easy, so again I opted for the Chevy parts.
This braking system actually worked great for 90% of my driving/towing, but several times over the next 5 years I came into situations where I had to use both feet on the brake pedal to avoid hitting someone. I finally gave in and decided on one last modification, I needed power brakes. Back to the junk yard, tools in hand. Again, since the bulk of my front brakes were Chevy, I looked for a power booster system that would use the Camaro master cylinder I already had. I found it on a 1974 Chevy C10 pickup. After several more weeks of down time, and a LOT more modifications to the firewall, and under the dash to support the added weight, I finally had a power brake system,
I haven't made any major changes to the truck since 1998, so I guess you could say it's been complete for 10 years. Over the years I've cussed at it a lot, but after each modification it got a bit better, and I got a bit happier. I wouldn't change what I've been thru for the world! In high school I always said I wanted a one of a kind vehicle, well I've got it.
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