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Cheap Dreams Are Nice

Posted in Features on May 19, 2005
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Isn't it nice having dreams? Most of the time, they're completely unrealistic. And they're great until you actually give 'em a try. Like buying a bitchin' old truck for a sweet deal, only to realize later the price you'll pay--and oh, you'll pay. For example, Fred, Dave, Rick, and I had a plan. We were all gonna buy and build super-cheap 4x4s for under $1,500. Then we were gonna have a mini competition between the four of us, perhaps making a tour around much of California. But this is a Cheap Truck Challenge, and that just ain't gonna least not this time around.

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It's hard building a super-cheap truck that'll be a good wheeler, a street driver, and not a money pit or deathtrap. If you've scored a "great" deal before, then you know what we mean. C'mon, admit it. You've totally fudged it when boasting about your killer deal. If you're claiming $500, then you probably spent at least an extra $100 on fluids, fuses, belts, and so on. But we'll just call that "the gray budget area."

So of the four of us, I am the last to give this Cheap Truck Challenge a try. Dave truly did get a good deal on an old man Bronco with heinous maroon interior (page 83). The total cost of his buildup was kept below the $1,500 cap. He spent a long time cleaning under the hood though, and the interior wouldn't look any worse if you puked on it.

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Fred got what was thought to be a great deal on a little 'Zuki with a rebuilt motor and a bad ECM. After getting a new ECM, putting on some other mods, and seriously closing the gap between the cap and Fred's remaining budget, we took it out for a spin and found the 'rebuilt' motor had a few bugs--like a blown head gasket which essentially wasted the motor. So much for his Cheap Truck Challenge.

Rick--well, Rick has like 10 different vehicles he could qualify for this competition. He hasn't even bothered mentioning which one he'll think about using since he, being Pw, could have any one of them running within 24 hours. That's the problem with having this type of competition with a guy like him.

And then there was my purchase. It struck me from my PC screen late Friday night in the office, "1954 Dodge M43, no motor, no tranny, $100." Must be a misprint. I decided to call just to make sure. Sure enough, the previous owner was trying to unload his son's ex-project from his driveway. "I'll be there in the morning." I had no idea exactly what I had claimed I would purchase, but I knew I was excited. Just swap in a motor, a tranny, and go, right? Right...

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Think About This!
As sweet a deal as this was, it's no bargain truck. Buying a vehicle with no engine or tranny will almost always get you the best deal on the initial vehicle price, but what are your plans for a 4x4? If you were gonna scrap the drivetrain anyway, then you definitely scored, and not only saved yourself money, but also time, since the motor and tranny are out of the way. But if you can live with the motor that your budget dream comes with from the factory, an already-running truck is almost always the better and cheapest choice.

Think about where you're going with your buildup project, how long you have, and how you're going to finish it. Even if you are planning on scrapping most or all of the drivetrain, having it mobile during the buildup is very good, in case you need to transport it.

Maybe you have a choice between two similar vehicles, and one has body damage or rust, and while the other doesn't, it's $600 more. Well, again, what are your plans? If the bed and doors are rusty, but you're gonna wheel the piss out of it and probably one day pull the doors and bed anyway, then don't waste your money getting the cleaner rig. But if you do plan to keep the body, the cost of new doors and bodywork will overshadow the measly $600 you could save on the dirtier truck.

All of us get overexcited and caught up in the process of acquiring something new, but remember that life is almost never all roses and gumdrops, and the work you spend on a truck trying to undo years of neglect or a previous owner's boneheaded idea, can become very costly.

So This Is What We We're Thinking...
All right, after some careful deliberation and actual thought, obviously this M43 is out of the question as a running and competing vehicle for under the $1,500 price cap of the Cheap Truck Challenge. So, what do we do now? At first, I got it and immediately thought, "Perfect magazine tow vehicle." All we'd have to do is fix the rust, do a little (OK, a lot) of interior work, put in a fridge, and use the fold-down cots to sleep in and the storage underneath for tools and tow gear. Throw in a sweet diesel and a five- or six-speed, put on some 36-inch E-rated tires, and bring some tunes for a long haul. Then I started thinking--dare I say it?--maybe some 46-inch Baja Claws or 49-inch Iroks, some Rockwell or Unimog axles (if Kennedy doesn't notice they're missing), and maybe a Cummins diesel to move all that weight. The top is rusty and visibility is poor, so maybe we hack it to convertible truck status and lose a ton of rusty weight. All that mixed with front and rear 15,000-pound winches on iron so old that it seniors even our trusty boss Pw.

What Should We Do? You Tell Us!
Well, what do you want us to do? We're sort of stumped. No matter what we do, this is in no way going to be a cheap buildup. Maybe I should just scrap this project, sell it for a couple bucks, and think about getting something easy like a 1/2-ton Chevy. So, should we keep this as a project buildup or sell it and start our search over? What would we have to go through?

Would it be cheaper to buy a running truck? What about going serious with this thing? We were thinking along the lines of Biggest Buggy Ever. Should we? Or maybe it would be a cool tow vehicle? Or (even more maybes) you have a better idea. Let us know! E-mail your suggestions to I'll take a look at what everyone has to say, and make a decision based on the most popular plan of attack. Maybe it will be a logical one, and maybe you readers are just sadistic and wanna see us try to heave axles that weigh more than some cars under our Dodge M43. Let us know...I'm waiting.

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