It's the same old story with a different twist. If you own an old Ford or Chevy pickup and want to customize it, dropping in a little more horsepower or just flat whacking its stopping distance in half is really not such a big deal. All you have to do is check out the latest offerings from one of the aftermarket parts manufacturers advertised in your favorite custom classic truck magazine and break out the old checkbook.
For a Mopar fanatic like Mark Mittelstaedt of Kernersville, North Carolina, and his '81 Dodge shortbed Crew Cab, life isn't quite all that simple. You see, Mark likes his trucks on the customized side, with an extra large helping of horsepower thrown in. Unfortunately, there just are not enough guys building Dodge trucks for aftermarket companies to justify manufacturing Dodge specialty parts when there's such high demand for Ford and Chevy stuff.
This is where Mark's profession as a test engineer for Volvo's big truck division comes in handy. Mark is in charge of developing new technology for Volvo trucks. So when the time came for him to blow his pickup all the way down to the bare frame and reinvent it as a cross between a new Ford Harley-Davidson and a '69 Dodge Charger R/T, things weren't going to be quite as tough as they might be for the average vintage truck guy. Since he has the ability to take on just about anything he can get his hands on, Mark figured the '81 Dodge Crew Cab would be an interesting build. If you're having a hard time remembering the last time you saw a Dodge Crew Cab shortbed, don't feel bad-they're pretty rare.
Mark's Dodge was originally ordered from the factory by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, then put out to pasture after they ran the wheels off of it. Mark discovered it sitting in a field, acquired it for $200, and hauled it home. When Mark's wife and kids first got a look at the bright yellow beast, they called it the "banana truck." Already on shaky ground with his wife regarding his sanity after buying the '81, Mark pushed things completely to the limit when he located a nice '93 Dodge Club Cab for $4,000 and proceeded to disassemble it into a million pieces. The average person would probably agree Mark had absolutely lost his mind. But for someone in the know, the '93 Club Cab was an absolute goldmine, providing Mark's '81 with a proverbial crapper full of great goodies such as a 5.9 Magnum motor, a five-speed stick tranny, and a 91/4-inch Sure Grip differential with 3.55:1 gears bringing up the rear.
For the amenities in life, Mark transplanted the air conditioning, cruise control, power steering, power brakes, and '93 dashboard to enjoy its deluxe array of gauges and miraculous gadgets. Like a Plains Indian gutting a buffalo, not one item went to waste. Everything from the donor '93 was put to good use, including the fuel system, suspension, brakes, and steering. Interestingly enough, the only parts Mark reused from the '81's original carcass were the frame, cab, rear doors, fenders, and hood. From start to almost finish (Mark says he still has some things he wants to do to the Dodge), the process of building his truck utilizing his own labor took almost five years.
Once Mark dialed in the chassis using a clever assortment of aftermarket parts intended for other trucks-including modified Belltech rear shackles for a Chevrolet pickup and custom-fabricated front hangers-it was time to get down to the custom bodywork. Trick mechanical parts aren't available for '81-93 Dodges, and the same holds true for custom body parts, so Mark located a replacement tailgate, grafted a Dodge Dakota tailgate latch, and modified it to fit. Mark reinstalled the '81 rear bumper beneath the transplanted Dakota tailgate after he whacked it into a custom rear roll pan of sorts. Up front, Mark customized the Crew Cab's looks by whacking the front bumper into a roll pan and tracking down a brand-new grille intended for Mexican Dodges.
With all the major customizing work done, including shaving all four door handles, Mark's next move was to repaint his truck. Since the base color for Mark's Dodge is the same pure black used on such Mopar greats as the '70 340 Duster and Hemi 'Cuda, Mark made sure the bodywork on his pickup was dead straight. Even with everything guide-coated and block-sanded, Mark made three separate trips to the spray booth until he was satisfied his truck was ready for graphics. Again, the obvious color choice for Mark was a selection from a Chrysler Corporation color chart. Mark used "Go-Mango" to cast his Moparesque graphics.
Although the inspiration for Mark's interior was a '05 Ford Harley-Davidson F-150 Super-Crew with four black leather bucket seats with front and rear consoles, Mark once again sourced replacement parts from a Chrysler Corporation vehicle. The four bucket seats that fit so nicely into place (after a bunch of extra work, Mark told us) were robbed from a Dodge minivan with a quad-back and recovered with black leather upholstery kits from Katzkin.
As is often the case with the trucks we feature in Custom Classic Trucks, the photographs of Mark's Dodge really don't do it justice. It's kind of like listening to live music or viewing an oil painting in person-it's just a lot better that way. On the other hand, since you can't take live music or a rare oil painting with you to the restroom or the dentist's office, it looks like a magazine is still king. CCT
Mark wanted to make sure Ron...
Mark wanted to make sure Ron at Madden Auto Body in Jamestown, New York, as well as Jim Frank at West End Auto Parts in Youngsville, Pennsylvania, were given credit for all their help. Ditto for Bryon Ramsey, David Tilley, and Joe Odom at Volvo Truck.
Replacing the stock '81 dashboard...
Replacing the stock '81 dashboard with a '93 provided a deluxe quadrant of gauges and more synthetic wood veneer than three Radio Shack CB radios put together.
The pistol-grip shifter in...
The pistol-grip shifter in Mark's '81 represents $300 that didn't get applied toward a new washer and dryer "we really needed. Thanks, Rhonda." (That's Mark's wife.)
Thanks to a '93 Dodge 5.9...
Thanks to a '93 Dodge 5.9 (360 cubic inches) Magnum motor backed up with an NV 4500 5-speed gearbox and a set of 3.55:1 rearend gears, Mark's Crew Cab gets on down the road.
20-inch wheels from Boss Motorsports...
20-inch wheels from Boss Motorsports shod with 275/45/20 Goodyear tires in the front and 285/50/20 in the rear provide a hot-rod stance and a whole bunch of bite.