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Rat Rod Heaven

Steve Darnell’s Wild Diesel Creations

Jason Sands
Jul 1, 2013
Photographers: Jason Sands
Photo 2/25   |   Rat Rod Heaven Three Custom Rat Rods
Love him or hate him, Steve Darnell is just one of those people you have to share with the world. You see, Steve builds rods for a living in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he has produced some of the wildest creations the planet has ever seen. “There are only so many ways you can build a stock-bodied street rod,” Steve says. “With these rat rods, the possibilities for being creative are endless. What people don’t realize is that I also own a totally normal street rod. It’s got killer paint, shiny chrome everywhere, and a mild engine in it. I never drive the thing…in fact, it’s for sale. These rat rods are just way too much fun!”
The Diesel Connection
“I get an endless amount of garbage from people about building rat rods, but I get just as much about them being diesel powered,” Steve says. “I grew up in the steel industry, so I was used to watching these huge, diesel-powered machines perform feats of strength. It didn’t take me long to realize what one of those powerplants could do in something light.”
"Hey, make sure to tell your readers none of this stuff just sits…I drive the crap out of my junk all the time! —Steve Darnell"
Perhaps the best thing about Steve is he’s willing to fight for the cause of diesel power. “People tell me all the time that my vehicles are abominations and not real hot rods,” he says. “I tell them, ‘Listen, a Cummins diesel-powered car won the pole position in the Indy 500 in 1952, so how is that not a hot rod?’” He also has a standing challenge: “I tell people to go get the trailer they brought their shiny little toy on, we’ll hook it to my 5.9L Cummins-powered ’28, and we’ll race. Then we’ll see who has the real hot rod.” So far, there have been no takers on that bet, and we have a feeling there won’t be any time soon.
Rat House
When we say Steve is into rat rods and diesels, we mean it. The theme extends to all parts of his life, including his house. His backyard consists of a bunch of parked rods, sunken stockers, farm implements, and miscellaneous junk. The ’57 Nomad’s headlights light up the pool, which is complete with a cave and cliff hot tub. We’d live here.
Photo 3/25   |   Rat Rod Heaven Rat Rod In Back Yard
The ’32 Truck
While Steve’s ’28 Dodge Brothers sedan was his first creation, there’s a pretty good story behind the little Cummins 4BT-powered truck as well. “I built it as part of a promotional deal for Red Rock Harley-Davidson,” Steve explains. “I hired some helpers, and we built the entire thing in five weeks, in a tent in front of the shop. We even used tools off of Craigslist!” Steve also reported that a lot of people started following the build and would stop by every day. “That big plumber’s wrench I used as my steering arm was a donation from an old, retired dude. As soon as I saw that big, funky thing I knew I had to use it.” Steve said that during the weeks he would build the truck, that’s all he would think about. “I’d come up with ideas at night, and when I woke up in the morning, I was fired up and had to make my vision come to life. I thought about the truck all the time—when I was driving, eating, on the toilet—everywhere!” Once the truck was completed, it was a riot to drive. “It’s only about 2,500 pounds, so it hauls some serious a--,” he reports. “That’s why it has the toilet seat in it, in case it literally scares the crap out of ya!”
Photo 4/25   |   ’32 Ford Model A Truck
Diamond T Hauler
“With all the crap I have around here, and all my rods, I needed a hauler in the worst way,” Steve says. “I found an ’06 Dodge Ram Mega Cab that was wrecked and had a shot engine, so I got it for almost nothing. After that, I found a ’47 Diamond T truck that was just a cab and front end in Montana, and got to work. I picked it up for only $1,200 and got a bit knocked off the price because it had an entire beehive in it.” Since Steve had a leftover ’93 Cummins engine from another project, he already had motivation for his Dodge/Diamond creation. “I haul the little truck on the back and usually tow the ’28,” he says. “Best of all, if something breaks on the tow rig, I can just rob parts off one of the rats and keep on going!”
Photo 14/25   |   ’47 Diamond T Hauler
Model A Sedan
The story of the ’31 sedan was a connect-the-dots-type deal. “Sometimes you just have to roll with what comes your way,” Steve muses. “I found a deal I couldn’t pass up on a ’31 Model A, had the original Allison transmission out of the donor bread truck that gave its engine to the ’32 pickup, and a buddy of mine told me I could have the engine out of his forklift if I cut it up for scrap for him.”
Photo 20/25   |   ’31 Model A Ford
With everything he had to make it work, it was simply a matter of cutting and hacking the 3.9L Cummins into the stock frame. “It’s a neat little rig,” he says. “It will only go about 50 mph, but you wouldn’t want to go any faster than that in it, either. What it will do is get 43 mpg—and how are you going to beat that?”
Photo 21/25   |   A 3.9L Cummins four-cylinder out of a forklift powers the Model A. “It has no turbo, a rotary pump, and doesn’t make much horsepower,” Steve admits. “But it does get 43 mpg, so you can putter along virtually forever.”
The TV Show
With the creativity and skills Steve possesses, he was bound to be noticed. As we’re writing this, Steve is filming a yet-to-be-named show for the Discovery Channel that will be broadcast worldwide. “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” he remarks. “We got more wild rat rods coming, and yeah, some will have diesels!” With the success he’s had so far, we look forward to Steve expanding some minds with his coal-rolling rides.
The Car That Started It All
If you’re wondering why we’ve ignored the wildest car on the first page of this article—a ’28 Dodge Brothers Sedan with a compound-turbo Cummins—it’s because we’ve already featured it. Actually, we were the first to feature it back in our August ’09 issue. With 90 psi of boost, 11-second time slips, and a hoard of media attention, it’s the car that started all the craziness for Steve. “I’ve got offers of up to $250,000 for it…but I could never sell it. Besides, then what would I drive?” he laughs. Check out all the details on the original diesel rat at: www.dieselpowermag.com/28_brothers_sedan.
Photo 25/25   |   Rat Rod Heaven 1928 Dodge Brothers Sedan Rat Rod Front Three Quarter