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1984 Chevy M-1008 - Project Reject

Passenger Side View
Jimmy Nylund | Writer
Posted April 1, 2007

A workhorse on the cheap, barely saved from the glue factory

Literally plucked from a junkyard, this '84 Chevy 1-ton had already worked its butt off for the Navy, and what we have in mind for this ex-military M-1008 won't exactly be leisurely either. Those who have followed our prior projects may have noticed that we tend to put some of our vehicles to hard enough work that if the ACLU cared about four-wheel drives, Jesse Jackson would have us on his speed dial.

What we're hoping to accomplish with this one is to make it generally useful for either hauling or pulling heavy objects around the immediate neighborhood. Part of that goal will be met by converting the original bed to a dump bed. With 4.56:1 gears and an underpowered diesel, it's already better suited for local gruntwork than for tooling down to the store. Also, and it should go without saying, nothing fancy is likely to find its way onto this pickup-it is destined for pure function.

This M-1008 junkyard refugee should be a good foundation for a dump-bed conversion, sporting a Dana 60 front and a 14-bolt rear axle with a Detroit Locker. With 4.56:1 gears and a 2.61:1 low range, even the lowly 6.2L Detroit Diesel should be able to move it. We're mostly concerned about the rear suspension and how long the NP208 will hold up with a bed full of dirt or pulling large trailers. Well, it's all a moot point unless we get the motor running. Split rims with nearly split tires in the rear, held on by three lug nuts each, are part of the bargain. Notice also the less-than-pristine sheetmetal. The stylish towbar will remain on until the pickup can be moved under its own power.

On an otherwise nice day, our friend Dennis Franklin rolled up with this pickup on a trailer, and sporting a big grin. "Here you are!," he said. He had indeed threatened to show up with an M-1008 so clean that we'd envisioned a minor restoration to achieve museum quality. What was on the trailer didn't look quite that good. There wasn't a straight body panel to be found, roof included, and parts were missing.

Among the more useful absentee objects were the radiator and all its assorted hardware, both batteries, the seat, and the tires and wheels. Nice to have, but not necessary items, included the side windows and the secondary alternator. Superfluous hardware such as the dash pad and keys, we could do without.

Since Franklin did owe us money (but not much) it was only fair that the "free" pickup's condition reflected that. Plus, he let us borrow the mismatched tires and wheels for now. So much for Plan A, but this pile will be infinitely more useful than what a fully restored one would ever be.

Not having a clue how long this vehicle had been sitting, it seemed prudent to check the oil. Empty. We gambled and poured a gallon of perfectly good oil into the crankcase. Another thing worth considering before firing up a derelict car is the fuel supply. In this case, the filter looked quite clean (on the outside) and the fuel gauge showed a quarter tank. Normally we would've just ethered away until the dang thing started, but since this is a diesel and they are much more expensive to fix, we played it safe and cracked a fuel line to get an idea of what was in there.

Whatever it was, it smelled very rank, a bit like very old gasoline, and was completely red. It was probably a concoction of gasoline and ATF that had sat for a few years, and perhaps some ancient diesel fuel. (Don't ask how we know, but a diesel will actually run quite well on gasoline, if the gas is old enough).

We diluted the unknown mixture with two cans of off-road diesel. Hey, the fuel was already as red as could be, and besides, this thing's not likely to see pavement anytime soon. We also dumped a couple of quarts of (used) motor oil into the tank for lubricity.

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A pair of late-'90s Optima batteries, linked with jumper cables, and a mess of temporary wiring were used to crank the cold 6.2 over, but even with starting fluid (we couldn't resist) it wouldn't fire. Sure enough, the glow plugs didn't work. Another pair of jumper cables were used to bridge the solenoid which feeds the glow plugs while the batteries did their best to turn the 24-volt starter motor on 12 volts. After a few more tries, the engine started-and ran for about two seconds-but it was a feat we couldn't duplicate, no matter how many more times we tried. Two problem areas appeared to hinder progress here. It seemed that mostly air occupied the fuel-injection system, and what wasn't air didn't seem to burn. Not in a diesel's combustion chambers, anyway. Not wanting to waste too much time, and to also not ruin anything in the process, we called friendly expert Mike Calandra at Diesel-Tune for advice. He had several good suggestions on how to go about the initial start-up, some of which we actually heeded. For example, he said it'd be a good idea not to fire a crusty motor up with a good radiator. Not a problem, since we didn't have a radiator.

Trying to bleed air out of the system and then charging batteries have become a weekend pastime, and the motor actually roared to life once more, if ever so briefly.

Surely the motor will fire eventually, so we ordered a dump-bed kit from Pierce Sales to get things going, so to speak. Four leftover 16-inch wheels off of an '88 1-ton were donated by a neighbor, and with 4 1/2-inch backspacing, they both look-and are-wrong for this model. But they should fit, and the price was right. A set of 34x10.50-16 Super Swampers would be perfect for the application, so we put dibs on Interco's occasional supply of blems, hoping to have a complete set for cheap before having to move the pickup.

Slowly but surely, we're also collecting lug nuts, as three per wheel won't quite cut it. There are quite a few things to do before this derelict pickup becomes useful as anything but a yard ornament, but with some luck, it'll get there. Wherever that is.

This thing will see numerous cold starts-but it had to start first. On a cloudy, cold (by SoCal standards) and windy day, we did some temporary re-rewiring to feed the 12-volt starter 24 volts rather than 12. With the motor spinning at a higher rpm, it fired relatively quickly, stalled, fired, sputtered, and stalled again. Then it started and settled into a rough but steady idle, just as the clouds parted and the wind died down (no kidding). Ah, we knew it would cooperate eventually. Now we better get busy checking all the fluids. And get a radiator.

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