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1965 Dodge M37 The Dumpster: Part 1

Posted in Project Vehicles on March 1, 2010 Comment (0)
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My new-to-me '65 truck was missing everything but the axles when I bought it, so basically I brought home a good body and frame. This "new" truck, a Dodge M37, is very similar to the classic civilian Power Wagons; it was equipped with a low-power, high-torque straight-six engine, manual transmission, a divorced transfer case, and unique dropout-style axles.

M37s were 3/4-ton truck used by the U.S. military from the early '50s to the late '60s. While five or six other guys at the office have the later iteration military 1 1/4-ton Jeep M715, I think the Dodge M37 is much better looking with big swooping fenders capable of clearing 40-plus-inch tires, and a narrower body perfect for four wheeling.

It was also time to get rid of my Red Sled, a '91 Chevy 3/4-ton, due to wiring and IFS headaches, so I figured the M37 would be a great home for all the old Sled's running gear and other old stuff I have lying around the shop. Since this would be the receptacle for discarded project bits and it's a faded green color and was full of trash when I bought it, the M37 was christened the Dumpster.

I took the Dumpster to Pacific Fabrication and discussed the build with proprietor Kevin Stearns and his head tech, Jason Howerton. The plan was simple, to start with. I would swap the axles and powertrain from the Red Sled and add the Dodge 1-ton front axle I had brought home ages ago. But then I decided that the 4L80E automatic wasn't right for this old truck. This classic truck warranted a manual. As luck would have it, I had recently pulled the SM-465 from my Chevy Army truck.

The classifieds ad said "army jeeps" for $500 each, so I called. The lady said there was a Dodge and some other stuff. A Dodge jeep didn't make sense, but she was selling stuff from an old renter who wouldn't pay his rent, and I had money burning a hole in my pocket. The next thing I know a '65 Dodge M37 was following me home.

Next was the big-block 454ci engine from the Sled. This throttle-body powerplant was still low in miles, but even when new it wasn't very impressive in power. In my conversations with the guys at Pacific Fab they recommended one of their late-model LS series GM engine packages. They sell both new and used LS V-8s with many different power numbers and simple standalone wiring harnesses. We decided on a used 6.0L small-block from a '04 GMC Denali (see "Awesome Engine in Any Truck," Sept. '09) that should offer around 300-325 hp versus the 230 from the 454.

With the engine mocked in place we moved forward with the front suspension and gear train. Doing an entire powertrain swap in a vehicle isn't a simple weekend project, but the goal is to see this truck running in Moab by Easter Safari. We'll be touching base with the Dumpster over the next few months and hopefully will be wheeling it by April Fool's Day 2010.

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Pacific Fabrication
Morgan Hill, CA 95037
Phoenix, AZ 85043
Evolution Machine


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