A Classic Kaiser With A Few Surprises
“My goal was to build an expedition vehicle. I had been shopping for a truck to design and build for sustained off-road travel,” says Kevin Mackie of Milpitas, California. The story of how he ended up buying and building this ’69 Kaiser M715 began with a chance find.
“Approximately eight years ago I opened a small auto business servicing Honda automobiles. My neighbor was kind of a military nut and had a bunch of old army vehicles stored around the complex. The M715 had been shrink-wrapped, and I had no idea what it was. After a big storm in 2010, the covers had been torn off, exposing it. Some friends and I walked over to check it out, looking all through it (thinking it was my neighbors—it wasn’t), when the owner came out upset that strangers were looking at his vehicle. We introduced ourselves, apologized, and started talking. We found out he may be willing to sell it. I made a very low offer and he accepted- with the condition that I buy it to use it,” Mackie says.
“The truck had been there for almost 15 years, untouched. It was very complete and after a brake master cylinder and some fresh gas it was drivable. I actually commuted with it, driving on back roads and side streets for about three months,” he goes on to say.
However, with no power steering or power brakes and a top speed of only about 40 mph, Mackie says, “the need for change was due.” His best friend and co-builder of the rig, Randy Ellis, convinced his father to donate an ’89 Ford F-350 ex-US Forest Service truck to the cause. “The diesel engine and strong axles were a great concept for the build. Researching forums, this exact swap appeared to be a myth that was frequently talked about, but possibly never done,” Mackie says. He notes that, “From then on, the build was on.”
As with any build, there were complications that Mackie had to deal with along the way. Further, this wasn’t a build with an unlimited budget and Mackie had to use his resources wisely. With that said, one of the most devastating (and costly) issues arose due to a broken chain. During mock-up, a chain broke while using a forklift to set the engine and transmission. This resulted in a broken-in-half transmission and a smashed transfer case. Mackie says, “One thousand four hundred dollars later we continued on.”
Over the next few months, Mackie spent every evening running wires, hoses, lines, and the like. He says there was a lot of trial and error (what he calls “research and development”) to make everything work. Finally, near the end of 2011, the truck was up and running and after about three months of “sorting bugs,” he says he had a good running, reliable vehicle. The truck’s maiden voyage was to the 2012 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah.
And that is where we ran into Mackie and his heavily modified M715. It was still under construction, but we saw the truck in action on the trail and its performance is as strong as the vehicle is unique.
At A Glance
Vehicle: 1969 Kaiser M715
Owner: Kevin Mackie
Stomping grounds: Milpitas, California
Build time: Two years
Engine: Ford 7.3L IDI V-8 turbodiesel, Banks Sidewinder turbo, Banks up-pipe
Transmission: ZF S 5-42 5-spd manual
Transfer case(s): BorgWarner 1356
Low range ratio(s): 2.72:1
Crawl ratio(s): 63.8:1
Front axle/differential: High-pinion Dana 60, Warn Premium manual hubs/Sierra Gear & Axle 4.10 gears, Eaton Detroit Locker
Rear axle/differential: Ford 10¼, TSM disc brake conversion/Sierra Gear & Axle 4.10 gears, factory limited slip
Front: Factory leaf springs in a spring-over configuration, Pro Comp ES3000 shocks
Rear: Factory leaf springs, shackle flip, Pro Comp ES3000 shocks
Steering: Custom GM power steering pump, Toyota pitman arm and steering box, PSC Motorsports hydraulic-assist steering system, customized steering shaft with Borgeson U-joints, PSC cooler, high-mount steering arm
Tires: 40x13.50R20 LT Pro Comp Xterrain
Wheels: 20x9 ATX Series Artillery, Teflon coated
Armor: Interior rollcage, bed rollcage, custom rock rails
Cool stuff: Blackout lights, soft top, easy-to-access Hi-Lift jack and spare tire