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Old vs. New, Dumb vs. Smart

Posted in Features on August 23, 2017
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One of the most unique facets of this job (and coincidently, one of my favorite parts of being an automotive journalist) is that you get to spend hours bench racing with your colleagues. Not that bench racing is something new to any self-respecting gearhead. However, actually getting encouraged to do it while on the clock as part of your job? You gotta admit that’s pretty cool.

I am not exactly sure if the same holds true in other employment fields. I mean, do paleontologists sit around the water cooler with each other like, “You know what, Earl? You should take the skull of that T-Rex you are staging, install some Mastodon tusks, and put it on a Giant Short Faced Bear body. That would be so sick.” But the guys around the 4WOR barn routinely do just that. Only we substitute truck components for awesome prehistoric animal parts.

However, as a decades-long professional bench racer I have to keep making one clear, overwhelming observation: Bench racers are evil. I mean, that’s the only way of explaining some of the suggestions we dole out to each other. Just like old Earl’s paleontologist friends trying to get him to make a Tyrannobearadon, the fruits of our bench racing sessions are usually the most messed up, circuitous, whacked combination of parts possible derived from a plan that makes absolutely the least amount of sense.

Example time! When I asked Verne Simons to donate his JK Unlimited frame and assemble my 1971 UACJ-6D (which, itself, adheres to the spirit of this editorial), part of the deal was that I give him the CJ-6’s chassis, drivetrain, Rockwell axles, and a complete PSC Motorsports full-hydraulic steering setup I had for it. Now that Verne is sitting on a set of awesome 2 1/2-ton axles and a bitchin’ steering he is champing at the bit to install them in something. Verne scoured the Phoenix classifieds and came up with two options.

Option A was a white, late-model Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup that had sustained a light rollover. The windshield and windshield frame were intact, but the cab was just a little rumpled. It had a 5.4L engine, overdrive automatic transmission, a good T-case, and a pair of 3/4-ton axles Verne would no doubt put to good use in something else he would build in the future. Without even looking at Option B, intellectually it was clear that this was the smartest choice. Verne would most likely gut the interior, cut off the roof, ditch the doors and rippled bed, and then would be free to build a sick Rockwell rig without having to deal with crap like adding fuel injection, rebuilding drivetrain components, fixing shoddy wiring, and so on. But a plain white plumber’s truck? Snooze.

Option B was a ratty 1978 F-250 with a swapped-in 460 that in the ad looked like it probably had trouble starting. (Side note to sellers: At least put the damn air cleaner back on the engine when you’re taking your ad photos.) The interior was ratty, the wiring under the hood looked like somebody’s dog had gotten tangled in it and spazzed out trying to get free, the cooling system seems questionable, and the transmission will probably need a rebuild. Even though Option A is the intellectually smart choice, Option B has the emotional pull. And we’ll go with emotional almost any day of the week even if that means dealing with leaky fuel tanks, adding aftermarket injection on a questionable engine, or having to completely rewire a pile of previous-owner electrical nightmares.

I am still not sure if Verne will buy this thing for his Rockwell build or not, but one thing is for sure. When we sit down to bench race about its project name, you can bet I’m suggesting Tyrannobearadon.

—Christian Hazel

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