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Old 03-30-2014, 11:05 AM   #1
Tx Firefighter
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My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

A lot of folks have asked me to give some details of my daily driver and how I came to build it.

I have to say right up front, I'm not really a square body guy. Ironic I know, since I have two of them currently. My favorite trucks are 67-72 and 88-94 body styles. That said, here is how I came to build a 78 model square body.

My stepson screwed me over on a deal and took my 89 model truck. The very afternoon we transferred the title, he got in the truck and drove off and never returned (joined the Army). He never held up his end of the bargain. He got the truck and I got nothing.



So, I got mad. Raging, horrible mad. That lasted for months.

In an effort to make peace, my wife gave me the title to his old torn up 78 model truck that he had abandoned and encouraged me to do something with it to try and salvage some of my losses on the deal. It was just a junk pickup and in no way worth a fraction of what I had lost, but it was the best she could do.

Here is what I had to begin with.





Notice he had kicked in the door and ripped the sport mirror off in fury because the door wouldn't latch well (striker bushing was gone).





He's a slob. The rotted food inside of the cab made me wretch, and I'm a paramedic who sees some bad stuff often. Maggots and flies. It was overwhelming.



But the main heartbreaker of the truck was the engine. We had gotten it from our neighbor who is a GM dealership mechanic. He had just put a new Vortec 350 crate engine in the truck. Within a few thousand miles, my stepson had overheated it badly enough to crack both heads. A nice valuable roller cam engine wasted.





It even had the valuable 400 dollar GM Performance Parts brand Vortec carbureted intake manifold.

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Old 03-30-2014, 11:18 AM   #2
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

So, there I was, screwed out of a bad ass little 89 SWB and left with a crappy old longbed, no money to speak of, and no real desire to spend what money I did have on messing with it. I planned to part it out best I could and sell the rest for scrap.

Valerie asked me why I didn't build the truck into something cool. I don't build longbeds. She said "can't you do something to make it a short bed like you like ?".

So I kicked around a few more months, still pissed off and thought about it.

Then, my buddy Shane (Shaneschevys) sent me a text with a Craigslist link.

75 bucks later, I had what I needed. A 73-75 model stepside bed.



Now I was seeing a vision. I could shorten the truck, drop on the stepside bed, and do a clone of a 73 model truck.

To start off, I dug around in the attic of my shop and found the grille I needed.



Now, we were off and running with my idea. Keep in mind, I was still dead broke though.

I went to Decatur swap meet soon after, armed with 50 bucks that I could spare.

Used bezel (pictured next to the broken original from the truck). Shane's wife found it for me at the swap meet and dickered the guy down to 5 bucks. I had the block off plate in my parts stash at the shop.



Getting better.



My PRNDL was broke. Those things are expensive.



A nozzle off of an empty can of carb spray. Heated and bent.



Epoxy.



A set of 5 dollar used lenses from the swap meet. Blasted and painted the housings. New bulbs, dielectric grease for corrosion prevention.







And my last 5 dollar swap meet score, a set of dog dishes. I got a vision here...



I used stripper to remove the old factory anodizing. They looked much better.



Still junk, but 5 bucks don't buy much when it comes to a set of hubcaps.

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Old 03-30-2014, 11:24 AM   #3
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

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Old 03-30-2014, 11:27 AM   #4
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Now for the hard part.

There isn't much good information on the interwebs about how to shorten a 73-87, compared to the amount of info on 67-72 trucks. It's 14 inches. Make your own way from there. Best of luck.

I don't have a tractor with a loader or a tall shade tree, and I work by myself, so I had to get creative about removing the bed.



Just disassemble into pieces that one man can handle moving.



Then pressure wash to get a clean basis to start with.





The first step I took on the shorten job was to move the rear crossmember forward. Fortunately, GM punched the proper holes into the frame so it's an easy, no measure job.

You can just see the factory longbed location in the bottom of the picture with the rivets and the shortbed position with the empty holes I'm pointing to. It's a simple matter of removing the old rivets, sliding it forward, and bolting it in.







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Old 03-30-2014, 11:37 AM   #5
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Now to tackle the frame. This was before I owned a plasma cutter, so I used a circular "Skill" saw with a metal cutting blade. Worked fantastic. Laser straight cuts.

Please, let's not debate my method of shortening. I've done it this way for a long time. I was taught by some damn saavy old men who had done it even longer. It works for me. There are several dump trucks running around here that I did it this way on and they've been carrying the weight for over 20 years without cracks. I cut it straight, welded it straight, and added a diamond fish plate to the insides.





I cut the doubler plates out of the frame section I took out.





And, since I was working outside where it's breezy, I used old faithful rather than my Millermatic 250. God I love my old tombstone welder. It's 20 years older than I am, and I'm middle aged.





Welding the doubler plates to the inside visible through the burned paint on the outside of the rails.



Plug welded up all of the holes.



Not shown is a pair of small doubler plates I welded inside the bottom flange of the frame too.

Relax, it's not gonna break. Bolting the bed on even further strengthens the joint since it acts as a truss above the frame. My truck isn't going to break in half and cause me to veer into a bus full of nuns.
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Old 03-30-2014, 11:44 AM   #6
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Remember, the idea here was to build a truck for no cash outlay.

Now, I needed to shorten the park brake cables. Tractor Supply cable clamps are under a dollar each. Works great. Just overlap and lash them together.



The stepside bed, being a Craiglsist score for 75 bucks had rotted wood in the bed floor of course. New wood is expensive. New flat plate steel is expensive.

Old long bed floor was just laying in my scrap pile. A little measuring and layout and some more metal cutting blades in my circular saw and we had something I could work with for no money invested.





Since I like low trucks, I did a hillbilly flip kit. These spring saddles were 13 dollars per pair from Summit. After setting the pinion angle, I burned them permanently in place with the trusty old Lincoln stick welder.



Looks horrible doesn't it ? It officially looks worse than when I started and it was bad then.

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Old 03-30-2014, 11:58 AM   #7
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

About that time, I was trying to figure out what to do about shortening my driveshaft. Again, it was Shane to the rescue with a text message picture and the words "bring 10 dollars to my house".



I had to run conversion u joints front and rear since the driveshaft was from an 87 model and my earlier truck uses different ones (I'm not saavy on the series of u joint part numbering. One is bigger than the other. These conversion u joints allow you to connect the two). The conversion joints are stocking item at any parts store for 10 dollars each or so. No real big deal since I'd do new u joints regardless when putting it together.



So now I had a short bed truck but no engine. Years ago I had parted out an old truck with what sounded like a decent 350 in it. I had saved the engine hoping for a good home for it someday.



New mounts when I installed the engine. They're 7 bucks each.







Repair broken off studs in old manifolds. That's penetrant on the manifolds from the work that's making it look shiny like that.



Resealed the power steering box. I wrote an FAQ article about this. It's in the Suspension section. Helpful if you have a leaky box and would rather invest 15 dollars worth of seals and some labor instead of just replacing it.



Before installing the engine, I tuned up the transmission with a shift kit and all new seals. I won't own a truck that leaks. Random pictures of the process, showing part numbers for reference. Don't think I'm blowing the budget like a Rockafeller here either. These seals and such are just a couple of bucks each from Rockauto. Minus the shift kit, you could do the job for like 30 dollars.

















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Old 03-30-2014, 12:06 PM   #8
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Front pump seal.







Fix leaky dipstick tube.













Re-seal speedo bullet.





Press in fully.







O rings are from Tractor Supply. About two bucks per baggie.



Shift shaft seal.



Tap the new one in place with a deep socket.

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Old 03-30-2014, 12:13 PM   #9
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Shift linkage was worn and sloppy.



Clean and weld up worn spots.



Grind it smooth and make it pretty.



About this time I was able to scrounge up a couple hundred dollars to spare so I went ahead and got my new gas tank and sending unit. When you shorten a long bed with the 20 gallon gas tank, you have to replace it with a 16 gallon short gas tank. Rockauto for all of it. Cheap really.



And bought some new rear shocks to finish off the rear flip kit.



Old junky window handles. New ones were cheap from Classic Parts. Door lock knobs too.







Powdercoated the original 6 inch wide steel wheels and installed the 5 dollar swap meet hubcaps. The rear tires were already on the truck. I just turned them around to be white letter in. The fronts are from Discount Tire and were 140 dollars per pair out the door. Remember this has to be cheap.





At the same time, I did new upper and lower ball joints, rebuilt the brake calipers, cut one coil from the front springs, and installed 3" DJM drop spindles from Summit (239 dollars delivered).
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:14 PM   #10
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Nothing like a good Tx Firefighter build thread, subscribed.
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:21 PM   #11
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

I still needed an exhaust. Yet again, Shane hooked me up. These were from an 87 longbed.

Price was free. I can afford to do some work for the money saved.





87 model exhaust used larger flanges than the 78 model did so I had to cut the ends off and replace them with the original 78 era parts. Not pretty, but free.





The rear tips were all wrong for this truck and bed so I just cut them off into shorter dumps. Built a little frame crossmember from an old scrap stepside bed cross sill and some hangers from Rockauto.





Total investment in the exhaust is probably 30 dollar including the clamps, hangers, and donut gaskets.
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:30 PM   #12
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Subbed. For what it's worth, I've seen an old Peterbilt converted from single axle to tandem axle with straight cuts and welds, it drug up to 46 or 47,000 loads (80,000 gross) all over the country. It did eventually burn down from an electrical fire, but the frame never broke.
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:32 PM   #13
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Now for some interior work.

A reminder of the putrid maggot infested mess I started with.



So I took it all out. I had to pop out the body plugs and use oven cleaner, a garden hose and a putty knife to dig the one full inch worth of hardened slime off the floor boards. One inch thick funk. I'm not exaggerating.





The old seat belts.





I got a freebie red seat, again from Shane. Lots of cleaning and needing a cover of some sort to make it match the blue interior.

Free seatbelts too. Again, wrong color. Right price, wrong color. Price > color.



And a saddle blanket seat cover that I laid over the fence and pressure washed the funk out of. All put together. Look closely at the driver's door panel in the picture. The arm rests had been ripped off by the stepson so I used short lengths of nylon strap and screws in their place. Ghetto looking but works damn good for pulling the door shut. Shane's wife makes fun of me and my hillbilly ways every time she sees that.







Then I got a freebie fender. The original had nearly an inch thick bondo. Rebuilt door hinges too.















Also scored a 30 dollar hood from the swap meet. It ain't pretty but it's not got a hole rusted in it like the original. You can see in the last picture that I pushed out the giant dent in the door somewhat.
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Old 03-30-2014, 12:39 PM   #14
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

And, finally where we are today.

Random pictures.















Nowadays, my Honda mainly sits in the garage and I drive the truck most everywhere.



All total, I'm about 2000 dollars into this truck. That includes a whole lot of hard parts that I didn't detail. All new brakes front and rear, brake hoses, cooling system, water pump, fuel pump, belts, battery and cables, gear reduction starter, wiring, door rubbers, window rubbers and more. It's right and tight where it matters most. There are no leaks, seeps or drips of any kind. That's a priority to me. I get so frustrated at people who think these old trucks have to leak. I commute 85 miles round trip from home to the fire station and I can't afford to own a vehicle that I can't depend on to carry me back and forth without fail.

And finally, my wife made me a decal for the tailgate that describes the theme of this project.

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Old 03-30-2014, 12:47 PM   #15
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Definitely some nice work so far
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Old 03-30-2014, 01:00 PM   #16
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Quote:
Originally Posted by BRUISER View Post
Subbed. For what it's worth, I've seen an old Peterbilt converted from single axle to tandem axle with straight cuts and welds, it drug up to 46 or 47,000 loads (80,000 gross) all over the country. It did eventually burn down from an electrical fire, but the frame never broke.
I hear you. Back when I was right out of high school I helped my then future father in law shorten a frame on one of his LTL-9000 ten yard dump trucks. I later saw the driver bind that truck pulling a stuck tractor and yank the front wheel about 18 inches off the ground. The truck flexed so much the driver's door popped open. That frame is still doing stupid stuff like that to this day and it's still not fallen apart. Our method obviously worked.

It does sound like I need to be wary of electrical fires when doing it this way though.
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Old 03-30-2014, 01:02 PM   #17
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

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Definitely some nice work so far
Thank you for the kind words. I wish this were nice work. It's really just cheap work using what I could scrounge. Definitely not one of the trucks I've built that I'm very proud of.
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Old 03-30-2014, 02:05 PM   #18
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Finally a build thread on this old cheap truck.! I know others have been waiting as well. Thanks for posting it up. Also how do you like the steering wheel in your truck? It looks like it would be close to you. I like these steering wheels but comfort is a must really.
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Old 03-30-2014, 02:17 PM   #19
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Thank you Rusty. I need to update the interior pictures a bit more. I had installed that 67 model steering wheel on a whim since the original was sticky and gooey.



And, you're correct, it was way too close and very uncomfortable. I have since replaced it with a four spoke out of an 88-94 style truck. Much more comfortable.

Future plans for this truck are kind of a 70's vibe....

-I have a set of 8 and 6.5 rally wheels for it. I'm feeling it needs wider tires and rallys.
-Possibly chrome steps for the bed. I remember them from the 80's when lots of guys did that.
-C notch the rear frame with a homemade kit. It needs to go lower front and rear.
-Possibly try my hand at air suspension front and rear with a simple setup.
-Fresh roller cam 350 (already have the block standing by). This engine is tired and has some worrisome lifter tick at times.
-Some kind of paint and body to make it look better. Primer, flat paint, Rustoleum roll on, something.
-Smooth the firewall box off and do a Vintage Air setup. The entire HVAC system is a mess.
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Old 03-30-2014, 02:23 PM   #20
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Very nice ,I have a 74 short step I drive daily .My plan was to sell it when my 72 comes home from the bodyshop (that may happen tomorrow) but I have decided to keep it .Its getting hard to find one with just 60,000 miles and in good shape .You made a nice looking truck out of that once ugly one.
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Old 03-30-2014, 04:33 PM   #21
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Awesome! I love the way this truck looks!
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Old 03-30-2014, 05:23 PM   #22
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

I really like the build of your truck!!!!! Build on a budget an doing it right an looks awesome really! I enjoyed reading the build on your blue an white 90 short bed that was a cool truck!!!! Was it a 90? Just cause 88-89 had the 4 single lights an 90 was composite which yours has. Either way I miss seeing that truck just awesome stance!

But this new truck I look forward to seeing what you do with it. Its the same way kinda I'm going with my 65. I'm a broke college kid an just as your build says hopefully next payday! My 89 is my baby an has had all the pampering (an dough) thrown at it. Need to make a new build thread on it soon and change the user picture I have cause it doesn't loom like that anymore.

I have to ask did you do anything at all to the engine you put into the truck for the time being? How's it sound?
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Old 03-30-2014, 05:25 PM   #23
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Wow Kevin, what a transformation! Even being "Cheap" as you say, it is VERY COOL! You gave me new inspiration for my '77!
Thanks for sharing!
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Old 03-30-2014, 05:31 PM   #24
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

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I really like the build of your truck!!!!! Build on a budget an doing it right an looks awesome really! I enjoyed reading the build on your blue an white 90 short bed that was a cool truck!!!! Was it a 90? Just cause 88-89 had the 4 single lights an 90 was composite which yours has. Either way I miss seeing that truck just awesome stance!

But this new truck I look forward to seeing what you do with it. Its the same way kinda I'm going with my 65. I'm a broke college kid an just as your build says hopefully next payday! My 89 is my baby an has had all the pampering (an dough) thrown at it. Need to make a new build thread on it soon and change the user picture I have cause it doesn't loom like that anymore.

I have to ask did you do anything at all to the engine you put into the truck for the time being? How's it sound?
The blue/white truck was an 89. Powertrain was 350/5 speed. I converted the headlights to the later type with a pair of freebies a buddy gave me.

The engine in the stepside doesn't really sound very inspiring. It's a 350 4-bolt out of a 78 dually. Feels and sounds like it's got a little cam in it. I've got an Edelbrock Performer (25 dollar swap meet special that had a broke off bolt), Holley 600 vac secondary, exhaust manifolds and 2 inch dual exhaust with long glasspacks. It's very mild. Just pressure washed and resealed it before installing.

Quote:
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Wow Kevin, what a transformation! Even being "Cheap" as you say, it is VERY COOL! You gave me new inspiration for my '77!
Thanks for sharing!
I appreciate the kind words man. You guys keep me motivated to keep working on old trucks.
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Old 03-30-2014, 06:31 PM   #25
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Re: My daily driver/beater : How I turned lemons in lemonade

Glad you put together a build for the little stepside. As always enjoy the heck out of your builds. All this reminds me I got to quit yard wrok and get back onto Jr.
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