February 2008 On the Floor - Give Me Your Reo Speed Wagon
Needles and haystacks, needles and haystacks. That's what going to a truck show as a magazine editor is all about. Finding trucks to photograph that don't look like the rest is the job,and I thank God I spent a lot of years under trucks working on them and not just writing and photographing them. It's because I've had grease under my fingernails for most of my adult life that I can appreciate the sweat that goes into dropping a fullsize Chevy flat on the ground, even if I see 20 others that look pretty much the same at truck shows. If I couldn't see the difference between a '67 Chevy that's had the firewall cut off and a flat piece of steel welded in it's place and another sameyear Chevy that the owner spent hours painstakingly welding every hole shut in the stock firewall and then fabbing sheetmetal to make the passenger-side corner rounded like the driver side, I might think the first truck was more custom. The truth is the second truck required much more effort to smooth out the stock parts, while keeping them straight. Adding that rounded corner is a subtle but effective touch, while the first truck only required cutting off the old firewall with a plasma cutter and then MIG-welding in a fresh, flat piece of metal. It's the little things that can set one truck apart from another,and you really can't judge the work of one truck against another, unless you've been locked in a garage for days,weeks, or months on end doing the work yourself.
After years spent combing show-fields and picking through masses of trucks, looking for just the right ones to feature in magazines, I've come to realize that the best way to distance your truck from the masses is to make a hard left turn and build a truck that no one wants to customize. If you're looking for hero status, then don't build nother Chevy that you know is going o be judged against a ton of others.Build a Dodge, build a Ford, or for God's sake, build a freakin' International Harvester. Don't get me wrong. I love Chevys, and that's my first ride of choice to build, but we've all seen a hundred ways to skin the proverbial Chevy cat.How many times have we seen a Dodge Ramcharger laid flat on the ground with a snarling exhaust note? Hell,you wouldn't have to put an adjustable suspension on a Ramcharger to get my attention at a truck show, and just think about how much money you'd save by building a truck like that, a truck that no one else is rockin'?
Build a new Chevy and you'll be forced to one-up your buddy's 26-inch wheels with a ridiculously expensive set of 28s. We all know that is fast approaching the dreaded Donk look.But, if you build that Ramcharger, you can put any size wheels on it you want because you're guaranteed to not be parked anywhere near another one at a show. You can build a Chevy, but you're going to have to one-up the hundreds of others that are under construction this year. Or you could dare to be different and build something that your friends would call you nuts for. You could be a hero for showing the world that a '68 IH Travelette crew cab truck would look absolutely gonzo with a set of 20s and flames and that the brand-new Chevy with the same mods pales by comparison. You know what I really want to photograph next year? I want to see an '80 Plymouth Arrow mini-truck all done up. Show me your REO Speedwagon-yes, that's the truck, not the band. Bring me your Ford Courier, your Subaru Brat, your unibody Ford F-100, and I'll probably fall in love with all of them. But, you'd better come correct, because it has already become trendy to find an old classic or an outcast truck and simply drop it over a set of huge rollers. The cruise spots are already filling up with old iron in stock or faded paint that guys quickly threw a set of 'bags and billets on, and you don't want to go out like that.
Take that Travelette and show us what it could look like when a creative mind and a 10-pound spool of MIG wire get together. Does it look better with a long-travel suspension and a phat set of knobbies, or does the body lend itself to the old Pro Street vibe? I don't know,and I sure as hell don't have the bucks to find out. But, I'm sure many of you do and you probably have one of these unmolested beauties rotting away in a field near your house or stashed away behind grandpa's garage. Remember,if you can't mail-order a set of drop spindles for that potential project truck, then it has all the potential in the world to be the coolest thing since Colt Seavers jumped his two-tone GMC Sierra Classic over a freeway guardrail.See ya next month.