You probably won’t see many Studebaker trucks cruising the streets of your neighborhood on any given day, and odds are you definitely won’t ever come across many Studes as nice as this brilliantly painted, custom ’49 pictured here. Then again, you probably don’t know a lot of guys like Dennis Cataldo, the lucky designer, builder, and owner of this super sweet, hot rodded pick up.
You see, Dennis has lived his entire life in and around cars and trucks of all types, having been in the body shop trade for 47 of his 57 years of life on this earth. Yes, you did the math right! At the age of 10, a very wet behind the ears Dennis started his career in the automotive repair business by becoming the go-fer at a local body shop, which was located right down the street from his boyhood home back in Brooklyn.
As a young lad, Dennis admits to be drawn to the shop by the sight and sound of the work being done by the body technicians. “The grinding of body panels and the welding of fresh metal shot sparks in the air, which was a very mesmerizing sight to a young, impressionable boy… and especially to a kid like me”, states Dennis.
While at the shop, Dennis soon moved up the ranks to become a mechanic’s assistant and shop cleaner. After seeing how enthusiastic he was, the owner eventually started training Dennis in the art of body repair and showed him the ropes of basic auto mechanics.
Dennis then went on to study more advanced auto mechanics and soon landed a job with the City of New York as an auto serviceman for the Department of Parks. However, during the fiscal crisis of the late ‘70s, he was laid off from his job by the city. Dennis hit the pavement and rebounded quickly, finding a job with the U.S. Postal Service, joining the crew as a body and fender repairman.
It was there that Dennis met Robert Latuso, a fellow car fanatic who was his partner at the USPS shop. The two hit it off immediately, becoming lifelong friends. And it was during this 11 year stay with the postal service that Dennis opened his own body repair shop. For 10 years he worked nights with the USPS and spent his days building up his own business in Brooklyn.
His shop, Dentz Unlimited has been established since 1980 and has thrived in the New York borough. And not only has Dennis worked as a body crafter, he also has served as President of the Auto Body Craftsmen’s Guild of New York City for four years and as one of its Directors for 22 years. Additionally, he was also a member of the A.B.C.G.’s legislative team for eight years, working in Albany for the rights of all the members of our trades in New York State.
Dennis purchased the ’49 from his buddy Robert, his partner at the USPS shop. At the time, the truck had a stock body built on a chassis which was restored and modified by Marts Chassis in Bedford, Pennsylvania. Under the hood was an LT1 Corvette engine, a 700R-4 trans, and a Ford 9-inch rear. It also had creature comforts like air conditioning…something that comes in handy in the humid, hot Metro New York-area summers.
Dennis decided to change things up, and started modifying the truck immediately. First off, the engine was pulled and tossed aside, and an LS6 engine, along with a 4L60E overdrive transmission were acquired for the rebuild. The rear was also updated to a Ford 9-inch Positraction unit, which was stuffed with 3.80 gears and pushing heavy duty Moser axles.
Over winters, Dennis would spend his free time doing custom modifications to the body. Suicide doors were added to the cab, frenched headlights were crafted up front, custom molded rear fenders were added to the flanks, and custom ’94 Cadillac Deville taillights were placed out back, complete with integrated LED lighting inside the stock units.