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CTC Recap

Posted in Features on June 16, 2005
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Contributors: Jerrod Jones
Photographers: The 4-Wheel & Off-Road Staff

It's been a while since we started our Cheap Truck Challenge idea. If you don't remember, our deal was to buy some cheap 4x4s and do what we wanted, as long as we kept under $1,500. We were all assigned to first find a ride, then buy it, steal it, beg for it -- whatever we had to do to get it and keep under the $1,500 cap. Once we had the vehicles, we would get together with our friends with similarly priced piles and make a run with 'em.

How long ago was it that we came up with this idea? Well, if you don't remember, then we don't wanna admit it, since we've had a few glitches and had to fix a couple things that weren't originally planned on. Plus, it's darned hard to find time when all of us can get together and go be dumb.

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This task of total thriftiness was definitely challenging us, even though we are no strangers to being cheap or finding good deals on 4x4s. Some might say we have become spoiled in our days. Often with blinding speed our thousand-buck beaters transform into new-parts pits that get more money dumped at them than brand-new trucks. And even though our beaters are probably still worth only $1,000, they'll have twice that in tires rolling below them. This is why we set the cap for ourselves. No part was supposed to bring the price of our ride over $1,500.

Once we all had vehicles, we constructed a plan and tried to stick to it. When that didn't work out, we went with Plan D: a do or die run out to the Salton Sea for Tierra del Sol 2005. And since no struggle with trucks that barely run could be complete without friends, we invited a few to bring their piles too. The friends didn't have to stay under the CTC budget cap necessarily, but they did have to bring out the cheapest ride they had. Not all our rides made it out to TDS, and a couple friends were no-shows with no-goes. Those who made it ruled the desert on the cheap and showed those high-zoot half-buggies that a weekend of off-road madness can be had for next to nothing.

The search was on for each of us to find a ride, one after another in consecutive monthly issues. Feature Editor Fred Williams was the first to be up, since the Cheap Truck Challenge idea emanated from his mind. Time was running out and Fred had not yet found what he was looking for, but in a lucid dream he came up with thoughts of Samurais on the cheap. Down the parking strip from a fab shop in Torrance, California, we found a little black one sitting outside a classic-car garage with five months of dust on it. After inquiring within, we found that the Sammy had been abandoned by the last owner, who could not afford any more work by the garage. The garage's owner was looking to off it for what he had into it, so Fred wound up with a $450 Samurai that had a bad PCM. Fred had $1,050 left to play with, so he did a spring-over axle swap, got some used 31-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrains for it, and found a new PCM. A day of backyard wheeling brought a blown head gasket to our attention. Guess you get what you pay for, huh? Fred had kept under the $1,500 budget, and actually had built probably the most capable little wheeler out of the five we tried, but the extra money spent on the gasket repair would push it over the budget. The Fredurai was out.

The Rambulance
To date, the '54 Dodge M43 has not moved since it was purchased and parked on Feature Editor Jerrod Jones' dirt lot. Jerrod, in his turn at Cheap Truck Challenge, had been doing some Friday night Internet searching (read: checkin' out girly photos), when he found the M43 listed for $100. An immediate phone call confirmed this wasn't a misprint, and the next morning, Jerrod was at the ex-owner's house. A cool "hundo" changed hands and the truck was his. Very cool truck indeed, but what the heck was he thinking? It was almost beyond basket case--with no engine or tranny, and a partially disassembled rear axle. Chances of it being built and ready to run for under $1,500? Negative 10 in 1,500. It didn't take long for reality to set in on Jerrod, and he quickly declined its CTC eligibility. He was out to search for another ride within a week, but the Rambulance, appropriately named by a snappy reader, will not be forgotten. Quite a few of you wrote in and expressed your delight in seeing attention paid to this old rig, so we will definitely do some sort of buildup on it. Thoughts of 46-inch tires, huge axles, and a Sawzall had first filled our heads, but after so many suggestions sent to us by readers, we think it will make a great camping/support/recovery vehicle for us someday. But this is one serious project, not to be mingled in with our numerous other projects, and has been put on the backburner. The M43 never even got to bat.

Sweeet Bronco
"Sweeet Bronco" was the song we would have to sometimes wake up to in the morning as Tech Editor David Kennedy ad-libbed words to a tune that didn't really exist. Die-hard GM lover David had turned coats and found a $400 Bronco in the Recycler classifieds. How could a guy who could recite you '85 Chevy manifold part numbers purchase something that was Found On the Road Dead? To this day, we continue to poke fun and question his GM loyalty, but he paid a fair price. By some miracle, David's Bronco made it home upon purchase, but then proceeded to sit for the next four months in a dirt lot, doubling as a spider's nest. The Sweeet Bronco had been seriously ignored for probably 10 years before David bought it, and it had a disintegrated interior and rotted hoses to prove it. He spent a ton of time going through and doing a beautiful job of checking and replacing lots of things under the hood, and a new Edelbrock manifold and carburetor setup threw David's budget way outta whack. It was too late to stay under the cap, so David decided it was time to take it the route most of our purchased vehicles go and start building it up. A new 4-inch Rancho kit was installed by him at home in the garage ("No Shop Required," Apr. '05), quite a feat for an IFS truck, even a twin-traction-beam IFS truck. At the same time, David rebuilt the entire twin-traction-beam front end and replaced the rear Ford 9-inch third member. He was now quite a few bucks over budget, but this was still his cheapest and most eligible CTC ride. But after all that was done, a wasted tranny finally reared its ugly head and said, "Not today." David is keeping the Bronco and will add it to our fleet of available trucks to do work on, so it was definitely not a wasted purchase. But as far as abiding by the rules and being able to make the CTC trip, the Sweeet Bronco struck out!

Sammy Two
When Fred finally figured out that his first Samurai wasn't gonna cut it, he was (needless to say) pretty bummed. He had put a ton of time into it, and had actually come up with a pretty nice ride if you like that little Crackerjack toy sort of thing. While he was figuring out what to do, a friend of a friend had just gotten done reading his CTC story, and contacted Fred with an offer of a white Sammy for something around his price range: free. It seems the guy's wife wanted it out of the driveway or something, and it had a transfer-case issue. Well, the transfer-case issue turned out to be not as bad as originally thought, and Fred was able to get the Sammy running again for nothing. He spent this white Sammy's budget getting it up in the air a little with some shackles front and rear, and threw on some mini Swampers almost small enough for a golf cart. To top it off, David Kennedy rebuilt the transfer case with a lower gearset for good measure. Yes, Fred's new white Sammy was running fine until the weekend before Tierra del Sol, when an overzealous driver put a kink in the poor Sammy's steering linkage, which had to be scavenged off the previously abandoned Fredurai. Once Fred had the steering fixed, he thought he was ready to roll out Friday morning, but once again the curse of the cheap truck reared its ugly head and bit into the white Sammy's alternator, leaving Fred scrambling for a last-minute alternator swap on the way to Tierra del Sol. Save for a few minor problems, Fred's white Sammy was a complete success that was able to drive itself all the way out to TDS 2005, wheel around, and power itself back. We worried that Fred might lose it on the way out though, since he was never topping more than 55 mph in his hamster-powered ride. But Fred does not have the patience issue that Jerrod does, and the pedal doesn't have to be mashed to the floor to make Fred's drive a pleasant one.

Richard's Pw Bait
One day this '42 Ford GPW showed up at our office and Pw freaked out (not uncommon when he sees a flatty he hasn't seen before). It turned out that Rifle Shooter had recently hired Richard Venola as its new editor and Richard showed up in Los Angeles with this flatfender commonly referred to as the Pope. The Pope was found in a field in Michigan 13 years ago, and Richard stretched the frame and body 6 inches and dropped in most of the drivetrain from an S-10 Blazer and a '73 CJ-5 to make it a reliable daily driver. Yes, rain or shine, this is Richard's only ride--no top, no cage, never been towed. How cool is that?

The Lawg
Jerrod Jones found the Lawg somewhere near Corona, and for $1,300 the '75 Dodge W200 was inspected in the dark with a flashlight, purchased, and driven home. The Lawg has a 440ci engine with A/C, a 727 tranny, a Dana 60 rear, and 35-inch tires with stock suspension and is actually in really clean shape. Jerrod added an air filter, did an oil change, and called it quits. A few months went by until Jerrod needed to pay his mortgage. The Lawg was sold to David Kennedy for the original price of $1,300. Dave's Bronco was no longer CTC-legal and the Lawg was close to ready. Under Dave's ownership, the Lawg gradually started to have fuel delivery problems. It got to a point that the Lawg would not make it past a certain stop sign down the street before it would have to be towed back home. So the Lawg was sold back to Jerrod for the original $1,300, problems and all. Fast forwarding to the weekend of Tierra del Sol, the Lawg had not been touched, Dave had sold the Lawg to Jerrod and didn't have a ride, but Jerrod hadn't paid Dave yet, so maybe he was the one who didn't have a ride.... Besides feeling like a two-dollar hooker that was passed back and forth, the Lawg still had fuel-delivery issues, so Dave and Jerrod spent the next day and a half replacing the fuel pump, then a fuel hose, a fuel filter, and even removed the carb to take a look. It was finally figured out that the steel fuel line along the framerail was clogged. We were out of time and there was only one thing to do. We can't believe we're even telling you this, but we actually ran aluminum fuel line from the fuel tank, down the side of the cab, under the hood, and into the fuel pump. The passenger door had stopped opening the night before so that custom body moulding (if anybody asked) down the side and along the door was no big deal either. But this is in no way a good idea or solution if you have similar issues. Save for some exhaust fumes coming through the holes in the floorboards, it was a mighty fine ride out to Tierra del Sol.

Pwstein's Monster
And Rick? Well, Rick is Rick, and he didn't have to go anywhere to find a ride under $1,500. Our editor, Rick Pw, has something we'll call the Sanford and Son factor. He has so much stuff lying around his place that he could build five Jeeps and not spend more than $20. And if he could help it, we knew he wouldn't even spend that much. Instead, he'd sell a part off another 80-percent-dead Jeep carcass to subsidize the outgoing expenses. Rick's Jeep came about as a trade for tires, and neither party got much of a deal. Bald tires for a wrecked Jeep with balder tires isn't much to go on, but after six months of weekend wrangling on this beat-up CJ-7, it was ready to be registered and driven on the CTC. Too bad the DMV wanted $500 in fees, fines, and penalties for the 15 years it sat in the weeds, and that doesn't even count the title or a smog certificate. Rick ended up just getting a title by some stroke of luck, and drove it onto his trailer for a wild ride out to the desert behind a motorhome that hadn't run in four years. Click HERE to check out Rick's complete Salvage 7 story.

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