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.
Power windows were added for comfort, a multi-function stereo/GPS/DVD console system was placed in the dash for modern flash, and custom LED lighting was added to the engine compartment to light up the big modern motor. The windshield was also customized by removing the center brace and creating a two piece window with V-butted panels, to give the effect of it being a one-piece windshield.
This leg of the work on the truck was done with the assistance of Robert and also Dennis’s long time friend Frank Ayoub, who is a chef by trade. Frank worked every Saturday with Dennis on the truck, helping out with the custom modifications Dennis had dreamed up for the project. In the spring and summer months the two pals would take the car to a number of cruise nights and to local car shows, where the partially finished Stude’ would do very well, even nabbing several awards during the build process.
When Dennis had the truck body completely modified to his liking, he disassembled the custom ride and prepped it for the final paint scheme. Using his numerous years of experience in perfecting panels and laying down paint, Dennis coated the ‘49 in a Sikkens formula tri-coat Pearl Sunset Yellow which has a white base coat and pearl orange mid coat. The beautiful orange hue was then covered with four coats of clear.
To finish off his prize winning ride, the next step in the process was to have the interior refinished and customized. This was handled expertly by Everlast Upholstery of Linden, New Jersey. The cab was done in a light tan and beige leather and suede motif, which complements the wild pearl orange exterior.
The valve covers of the big Chevy engine were also customized. Dennis filled in the lettering on the plastic covers, and had his friend laser etch “Studebaker” callouts on the stock pieces. Then, carefully, he filled in the lettering by hand with a custom green paint, which would also be used on the exterior Studebaker logos.
A set of Lokar pedals help the truck stop and go and a custom steering wheel keeps the truck pointed in the right direction. The wheel is constructed of two pieces of ¼-inch steel plate, cut out on a drill press, then hand finished and plated in chrome. This design mimics the spoke shape of the Centerline Galaxy rims upon which the truck sits, 17-inch up front, 18s out back. All four wheels are decked out in Toyo tires.
As of now, Dennis has no plans to change a thing on the truck and he enjoys taking it on the road, often logging hundreds a miles a week during the summer months. He built this ride to drive, and drive it he surely does.
Dennis would like to thank his blushing bride, Phyllis for the endless reserve of patience she displayed throughout this build process. It would not have been possible to complete this project without the assistance and input of his friends, Robert Latuso and Frank Ayoub. And finally, thanks to the paint elves at Akzo Nobel for their colorful input. CCT