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September 2012 Firing Order Editorial

Posted in Features on September 1, 2012 Comment (0)
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Fuel was less than a buck a gallon and I really wanted a fullsize 4x4. Of course I couldn’t afford a new fullsize truck at the time, so I drooled over used ’78-’79 Ford F-150 stepside 4x4 trucks in the weekly Auto Trader. While working my shift at the local full-serve gas station, I scoured the ’86-and-older version of that newsprint magazine until my fingers were literally black with ink.

The Fords didn’t seem as common as the GM stepside trucks in the pages of the off-road magazines at the time. I vividly remember a single feature vehicle that I really wanted to replicate. Of course I was a stupid kid, and by today’s standards this truck was a hideous recipe for disaster. It must have had a 12- to 15-inch lift with insanely arched leaf springs along with a 3-inch body lift to clear the 42-inch Super Swamper TSLs mounted on 15x14 Bart steel wheels. It needed this much lift because the fenders were uncut and polished to a deep shine. The body and the wheels of the truck were hosed in a bright orange tangerine color that was distastefully accented with pink and neon green splash trim. Yeah, it’s as bad as it sounds. Even the inner wheelwells and the underside of the bed were painted to match and looked as though they were washed and waxed regularly. It had four gold zinc-plated Rugged Trail shocks per wheel and matching quad opposing steering stabilizers, each festooned with a blinding neon orange shock boot. The axles were absolutely laughable, but what did I know? I’m sure they were GM 10-bolts front and rear, no doubt filled with stock 3.73 gears and open differentials. Of course, they were smoothed and decorated with orange powdercoating and bolt-on axle trusses. I think the truck even had the original push-pull steering assembly modified with every single bolt-on drop bracket and lifted steering arm known to man at the time. I bet it was a handful to drive down the road and impossible to maneuver on the trail, although I suspect the only time it ever hit dirt was to shoot the feature. Come to think of it, I wonder if Senior Editor (then freelancer) Ken Brubaker was the one behind the lens for that shoot. I don’t really remember. I’ll have to ask him or find the story in an old back issue.

Anyway, it took me several years to eventually get behind the wheel of my own fullsize truck. Fortunately, my neon-accessorized monster-truck dreams had faded into something much more practical. I wanted a tow rig that I could still take off-road from time to time. Since I lived near the desert and a few of my buddies were into go-fast trucks, I picked up a two-wheel drive ’79 Ford F-150 shortbed. It was a prerunner that had been built in the ’80s. It featured Spirit Racing I-beams, radius arms, and coil buckets with the ability to run multiple Rancho RS5000 shocks. The rear shocks poked through the bed and attached to a shock hoop assembly that bolted to the frame. The rear leaf springs were pretty much stock with an added leaf or two. The truck was likely badass in its day, but that was a decade or more earlier. Perhaps the most unusual part of the truck was the GM 350 V-8 and TH350 automatic transmission under the hood. Interestingly enough, it was a fairly common swap in the prerunner world, and you can still buy the bolt-on motor mounts today.

I quickly fixed up a few hack modifications from the previous owners and beat the snot out of that Ford. It hit desert two-track and whoops better than anything I have owned to date. I abused it in the local deserts and towed loads that were way too heavy for it. I was rewarded with lots of burnt, broken, and bent parts. After several years I converted it to a solid axle 4x4, something I would never recommend or do again, at least not on a Ford I-beam chassis. I had great fun with it in the sand dunes after that, though. I rarely got stuck anymore. I eventually rolled it pretty good in the Pismo, California, dunes and sold it to my brother.

Over the past decade or so I tinkered with older Jeep fullsize trucks because they appealed to me more than the smaller CJs, Wranglers, and XJs. However, the FSJs are considerably smaller than a traditional domestic fullsize. They are more of a midsize truck like a Dodge Dakota or Toyota T100.

Now that I’m at Four Wheeler, I’m finally able to get back in the proper-sized saddle. Not too long ago I began the search for another fullsize truck, only this time it didn’t require getting my fingers covered in newsprint ink. I found it online. I brought home an ex-military ’85 Chevy M1008. It’s basically just a stripped 1-ton Chevy truck with a 6.2L diesel engine. I have some cool ideas planned for it that involve a short lift, cut fenders, big luggy tires, a cool bed, and more. I promise to skip the square-arch leaf springs, neon splash paint scheme, and orange shock boots.


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