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A Junkyard Monster Truck?

Posted in Project Vehicles on January 17, 2019
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I have noticed that if you can’t learn, admit your mistakes, make changes for the better, and work to be a better person, you might as well be dead. I’ve always been obsessed with 4x4s, and have been playing with them for decades. I have made and will continue to make mistakes with them. I bought the wrong 4x4(s) in the past and may again, but one thing I am finally realizing at the ripe old age of 42 is that I like beaters. Just about anything that is rough and worn plumb out can be made better, more reliable, and more capable. The best part is you don’t have to worry about it getting stolen, scratched, or dented.

To that end, when I noticed for the eleventeenth time that my pal Mike had an old 1997 Chevy 3500 HD Crew Cab 2WD sitting idle on his property, I finally asked about it. Mike had acquired the old work truck when a friend sold off the assets of a company. The truck wasn’t worth much then because it didn’t run, and still doesn’t, and therefore still isn’t worth much.

But believe it or not it has good bones for a magazine project. For one, it’s cheap. Like you might even get paid to tow off a truck like this. It needs work; think about all the stories that could be written about it. It has a fuel-injected big-block 454. No one (including Mike) is gonna be upset if I cut it up and make it into something rad—or fail miserably (I don’t plan on it though).

So what is the plan? Well, I have a set of 2 1/2-ton Rockwell axles sitting here that Editor Hazel gave me. Add in ginormous tires, lifted leaf springs (the truck is solid axle front and rear), and a divorced transfer case; ditch the bed; hack the front fenders; shorten the frame; and add some fab time. This could be fun … and hopefully not too expensive. What if we build a do-it-all inexpensive junkyard monster truck?

Under the hood of the beast lies a Vortec GM 454. I know how to start an old carbureted engine that has been sitting for 10 years, but an old multiport fuel-injected engine is different. If the engine runs without a knock we are in business and the nearly free junkyard monster truck can become a reality. We know it needs a battery, spark plug wires, and some fresh gas at least. We also talked to GM expert Stephen Watson at Offroad Design ( for tips on what to try with this old engine. Stay tuned!
The interior is a bit ratty, and literally may have housed a few rats over the years, but we don’t need much … maybe some bleach and new seat covers. We’ve even tossed around the idea of cutting the top off the Crew Cab for a more truggy feeling. Either way the thing will probably need a rollcage if the build goes to plan.
Rockwell 2 1/2-ton axles offer a lot of beef for a relatively small sum of money. Editor Hazel picked these up some years ago, and I inherited them when I built the UACJ-6D for Ultimate Adventure 2017. I have some U-bolts, plates, and leaf-spring hangers from RuffStuff Specialties ( We’ll have to figure out which lift springs can be made to work with the 3500HD leaf spring brackets and shackles.
Editor Hazel also got some steering parts from PSC Motorsports ( and brought them with the CJ-6 to my off-road laboratory. This PSC 2 1/2-ton Rockwell full-hydraulic steering kit should help us direct the monster truck when all is said and done.
Maybe I could fund the project with the sale of distressed vintage lumber and scrap metal? I plan on dumping the big service bed and chopping the frame to keep the wheel base at a reasonable length. As for tires, how about some massive Mickey Thompsons ( in 54-inch flavor? Perhaps. Better get to trimming.

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