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The 2015 Cheap Truck Challenge Dodge Gets a Bit Better

Increasing Safety & Reliability

Trenton McGeePhotographerRob BonneyPhotographer, WriterJason DeBusmanPhotographer

Cheap Truck Challenge 2015 ended with me and the Kid driving the old Dodge off into the sunset after a very successful few days of wheeling (Cheap Truck Challenge 2015 1964 Dodge Power Wagon Build-Up). The trip had revealed a few improvements that could still be made on a budget. The Kid was headed back to school and slowly making payments to me until he could pay off the truck. In the meantime I have been using this truck daily to work out the bugs and find any issues . . . and also to provide incentive to a teenage boy who really wants his truck. The fact that it is ugly and old is just a bonus for me.

After putting a few thousand miles on it, I found the truck surprisingly reliable but beginning to run a little rough and getting poor mileage. A quick inspection of the original points distributor revealed that the recently replaced parts were already worn and out of adjustment. A quick call to Pertronix got a replacement distributor and coil with electronic ignition on the way. One relaxing father-son afternoon later, the 360 V-8 was running and driving better than ever. Power was back, low-end stumbling and missing was gone, and we are hoping mileage will improve.

The next order of business was taking a good hard look at the brake and clutch. The clutch master and slave cylinders turned out to be way out of adjustment. They were drastically improved by proper adjustments (who knew?). The original brake master stopped the truck fine but required a bit of pedal effort and was a dreaded single-line master cylinder. Given the fact that the Kid was probably going to be slamming on his brakes a lot, we swapped the master to a dual-line manual master out of a 1975 Bronco. It now stops better, and the added safety factor of a divided system makes Dad feel a little better too.

Overall, maintenance costs have been minimal. Fuel cost is high, but the fun factor is equally high. The Power Wagon’s off-road abilities continue to surprise me. We have a few more mods in mind, but the Kid should be hitting the dirt and impressing the school girls in no time.

Since Cheap Truck Challenge 2015, the Kid has been making sparse payments on the Dodge. With the untimely death of the last Rob Bonney Fabrication shop truck’s transmission and the Kid in school, the W200 has become a nice retro shop truck for RBF. What fab shop doesn’t need an eclectic old 4x4 beater as a shop truck? This has also given ample opportunity for Bonney to work the kinks out of the truck during trips to the metal shop or sundry other adventures until the Kid makes that final payment.

The Dodge 360 V-8 in the Dodge is not original, but the points-style distributor sure might be. Since CTC 2015, the points have slowly fallen out of adjustment (as they will). Anyone who has any experience with a Pertronics Ignitor knows how simple they are to install and how seamless their operation is over points. With that in mind, we made a call to Pertronics for one of its modules for our worn Dodge distributor. As it turns out we were able to kill two birds with one stone. Pertronics now also offers New Cast Stock Look complete distributors already filled with the company’s seamless electronic ignition parts.

With new parts in hand, one Sunday we pulled the Kid out of homework duty to install the new distributor and a brand-new Flame-Thrower Coil. The first step is to find top dead center. We had the Kid pull the No. 1 spark plug and hold his finger over the hole while Dad cranked the engine. The Kid was scared he’d lose a finger, but I assured him he would be fine (plus, he has 10 fingers, so one loss wouldn’t be the end of the world).

The Kid is learning, but after all, he is still just a kid, so his dad, Jason Debusman, helped out and made sure everything went as planned. Working on old trucks with family and friends is what this is all about.

With the old distributor out of the way and the O-ring on the Cast Stock Look complete distributor lubed up, we had the Kid install the distributor in exactly the same position as the old one. He also transferred the relatively new plug wires on to the new cap supplied with the distributor. The new Flame-Thrower Coil was mounted in the factory bracket, and we bypassed the Dodge’s resistor to supply the new system with 12 volts.

After CTC 2015 when we helped the Kid swap a newer disc brake open-knuckle Dana 44 under the Dodge, it became apparent that the factory single-pot brake master cylinder wasn’t really doing its job anymore. With a bit more help from Randy at Driven Auto Parts (who helped us find the axle and clued us in on the master cylinder), the plan was to add a dual-line master from a 1975 Ford Bronco. The Kid removed the old master cylinder and we mocked up a Rob Bonney Fabrications adapter plate out of 3/16-inch steel to take the master cylinder mounting pattern from four bolts to two.

With the adapter plate all mounted up, we test-fit the Bronco master. The factory Dodge brake pushrod was adjustable and allowed us to make up a 1/4-inch difference between the old Dodge master cylinder and the newer remanufactured Ford unit.

Once we knew everything was going to fit we showed the Kid how to bench-bleed the master cylinder before final installation and final plumbing of the new brake lines. Later as the sun set, the Kid and his dad adjusted the clutch linkage, added a stiffer return spring, and bled both the brake and the clutch hydraulics before we hit some local Arizona trails for off-road driving lessons.

The performance of the old Dodge keeps getting better. With the new ignition system the old 360 V-8 has new life and power and will keep running this way reliably for years (assuming the Kid does some maintenance). The brakes are much better than before with the leaky original master cylinder—and boy, what a difference a little adjustment made in the clutch hydraulics! With all this and a few more payments, the Kid and the Dodge should have a long future together on- and off-road.