Dodging the Norm
A Classic Created With Originality in Mind
As automotive editors, there is nothing the staff of Truckin' enjoys more than hearing tales of how enthusiasts found their classic pickup projects, rescued them from years of neglect, and used them as a canvas to paint their vision of the perfect custom hauler. Some have discovered their classic treasures in fields with weeds growing up through the cab, while others have found their trucks tucked away in barns with years of dust resting on the surface. Usually a classic truck enthusiast's dream is hauled away on a trailer with four flat tires and a dead battery, and after years of hard work, patience, and commitment, that rusted-out old workhorse becomes a thing of true beauty. Whatever the scenario may be, one of the most interesting things about purchasing a classic project truck is learning the vehicle's history.
Michael Steele of Chandler, Arizona, is the proud owner of the '35 Dodge pickup spread across these pages, and like many, his automotive enthusiasm was shaped at an early age. As a young boy, Michael would tool around town with his father Jim in his '30 Chrysler coupe, and ever since then he has been hooked. Once Michael got to an age where finances would allow for a frame-up project, the hunt began. At the time the search began, Michael was living in North Carolina and spotted an ad in the paper for a classic '35 Dodge pickup in need of restoration. Arriving at the owner's house in Vernon, Connecticut, with cash in hand and trailer in tow, the father and son duo immediately noticed the current owner's attempts to create a street-rod-styled pickup and were very impressed with all the extra stuff the $1,100 purchase price included. Michael purchased the truck along with a fresh 305ci V-8, a Turbo 350 transmission, and a complete Mustang II front suspension; not to mention the original straight-six still sitting between the 'rails.
Once the truck was unloaded off of the trailer, Michael began analyzing the title and started turning the pages to unravel the truck's past. After a little research, it was determined that the man Michael bought the truck from had bought it from the original owner, who had used it for several years on his farm. Now that a clear history of the truck was established, the four-year-long customizing journey began to transform the truck from a clapped-out classic to the stunning showpiece seen here. Desiring to motivate the classic with the appropriate brand-matched power, Michael chose to unload the 305ci V-8 engine and Turbo 350 transmission that came with the truck, and search for a Chrysler 440ci motor and TorqueFlite 727 transmission. As luck would have it, Michael was able to trade the 305 motor for a Ford 9-inch rearend, which he needed to replace the stock differential. The Turbo 350 was sold for a C-note and the truck's original drivetrain was unloaded for $500. After all of the wheeling and dealing was complete, a Chrysler 440 motor, with a 727 TorqueFlite transmission hooked to it, was acquired for a meager $125.
Michael immediately jumped on this screaming deal and after running the block-casting numbers, determined the package had come out of an old Plymouth Fury police car. Typically, engines installed in police vehicles were a bit more stout than those shoehorned into production vehicles, so Michael was thrilled with his rare find and immediately delivered the mill to Performance Engines in Cornelius, North Carolina, for some massaging. The folks at Performance Engines cleaned up the power source by first porting and polishing a set of Edelbrock Performer aluminum heads and installing a Competition Cams bumpstick. A set of Sanderson Jet-Hot-coated headers sends fumes to Flowmaster mufflers, while an Edelbrock Torker II intake manifold, topped by a Holley 750 vacuum secondary carburetor, allows the mill to drink high-octane liquid when Michael's foot feathers the throttle. The mill is sparked and brought to a low rumble using a Mallory electronic ignition.
Shifting the gears of the 727 TorqueFlite transmission was made easier with a Lokar shift-improvement kit and TCI 2,400-stall converter. Linking the tailshaft of the transmission up with the Ford 9-inch differential is a custom-built driveshaft by the professionals at R&B Motors in South Glen Falls, New York. Polished Mopar Performance valve covers and a B&M polished air cleaner helped the Mopar powerplant gleam as well as perform. After the truck had an adequate powerplant to push it down the road, attention was turned toward getting the chassis cleaned, detailed, and dropped, to bring the old Dodge metal a bit closer to the tarmac once the body was back on the frame. The truck's original skeleton was updated with the installation of a Mustang II independent front suspension, complete with 2-inch drop spindles, to get the nose down to a more appropriate cruising height. Out back, the Lincoln Versailles Ford 9-inch rearend was graced with adjustable Alden coilovers, to provide the appropriate drop and a supreme ride. After the suspension tweaks were finished, the 'rails and suspension were smoothed and coated in PPG Rosewood paint for contrast and detail.
Setting off the four corners of the suspension are American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels, measuring 15x6 inches up front and 17x7 inches out back. The big and little look is even more apparent with the narrow BFGoodrich P215/60HR15 Comp T/A rubber up front, compared to the massive P275/60HR17 BFGoodrich Comp T/A skins out back. Completion of the chassis work led Michael to address the body and paint portion of the truck's building process.
Upon purchase, it was obvious that the truck's original rear fenders and running boards were shot, so an aftermarket replacement would need to be located. To solve this dilemma, Michael got ahold of Coach and Chassis in Pennsylvania, which fabricated new fenders and running boards to replace the OEM units. Michael's truck originally came with an 8-foot longbox, so when he learned that Coach and Chassis made a 6-foot replacement bed, he could not order one fast enough.
The truck was then delivered to Bob Barry of Preston, Connecticut, where the body went under the knife and received a clean shave. The door handles were shaved clean off the outer door skins, and the replacement rear fenders were widened 2 inches for a beefier look. The running boards were flared at the rear to meet the widened rear fenders, and a custom roll pan was built to smooth the truck's backside with custom-cut Mopar symbol taillights. A custom third brake light was also mounted in the bottom of the tailgate.
After the metal was arrow-straight and smoothed to Michael's liking, the raw steel panels were smothered in PPG Teal Pearl by Bob Barry, and the truck was color-sanded and buffed from top to bottom for a deep and gleaming shine. The truck was then delivered to Mac the Knife in Queensbury, New York, where PPG chrome illusion ghost flames were applied. The exterior was finished off with a polished stainless grille insert and Dietz headlights. Once the paint was dry, the truck was enhanced with some mild sound components and a simple custom interior to finish it off.
In order to crank his favorite tunes, Michael installed a Sony head unit, complete with Pioneer separate speakers. The wood dash and the center console were custom-made by Michael. Fred Carello of Warwick, Rhode Island, upholstered a set of cut-down bucket seats in gray tweed. The door panels and headliner were also covered in gray tweed to tie the whole inside ensemble together. Cleaning up the dash region further are VDO gauges and an ididit steering column topped by a polished LeCarra steering wheel. Modern conveniences including power windows, remote keyless entry, and a B&M floor-mounted shifter help make the '35 a pleasure for Michael to own and drive.
Since the truck's completion, Michael and his wife Amy have attended several shows and turned a lot of heads with their unusual classic. Michael says that building the truck with his father Jim was a great experience. He is also quick to mention that the truck would not be a show-stopping reality without the help of his friend Eddie Pierce of Superior Paint & Body in Charlotte, North Carolina. We imagine this Mopar will remain in the Steele household for many years to come.