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1975 Chevy K10 Paint, Roll Cage & Accessories - 2005 Ultimate Adventure

Part 4: Paint, cage, and all the trimmings.

The plan was to build a truck capable of driving anywhere in the country, to wheel the hardest trails we could find, and make it durable enough to blast back to L.A. to put it all in a magazine. For the last three years we've achieved that goal by starting with a brand-new Ultimate Adventure truck that could have driven across the country and back without any problem. Then we modified the heck out of them so that they could wheel with the best of 'em. Rather than try to outdo last year's incredible Tacoma, we wanted to see if we could build a worn-out old truck to do it all, just with less of the sticker shock.

We know we met at least the first half of our goal. The truck drove/ wheeled/drove 4,000 miles in 10 days. Our Ultimate K10 carried two guys with a week's supply of clothes, camping gear, and camera bags everywhere we went. We slept in it, ate in it - heck Editor Rick Pw even hung his hammock from it when we camped out for four days! And other than a transmission that had to get swapped out 'cause it never had Reverse, a rear locker that stopped locking, and some serious rock rash, it barely gave us any trouble.

Now, whether you consider it budget-built is really up to your wallet. Sure, your 4x4 might be able to take on all the trails we did without any problem. But could you drive it over 4,000 miles in the middle of the sweltering summer? Truth be told, of all the rigs that went on Ultimate Adventure this year, only two of them were never on a trailer: Tim Hardy's Ironman Samurai and our Ultimate K10. And sometimes the toughest part of the Ultimate Adventure is the ride home! So read through the captions and go back over the last three issues to judge for yourself how well we did. We tried to pinch every penny we could, but in the end we had to balance out our squeaky wallets with parts and pieces that would ensure our success. We think most of you would probably have done the same.

To guarantee that we wouldn't have any problems with the 30-year-old braking and steering systems on our K10, we decided to replace everything. Trust us, this is money well spent on a vehicle that will not only wheel, but drive down the highway at 75 mph next to some of you. We had GM Truck Center rebuild a two-wheel-drive GM truck steering box (for crossover steering) and then sent it off to West Texas Off-Road to have it drilled and tapped to control a 1 3/4-inch Red Neck hydraulic ram (Stage II kit). The box came back to us and was bolted into the K10 with a Borgeson Universal steering shaft that uses two precision U-joints (instead of rubber) to eliminate any slop in the steering.

In order to make room for our Sam's Offroad 1410 front driveshaft that would now be on the driver side of the K10 we needed to come up with a new shifter linkage. Stealing an idea from the street-rod world, we called up ididit and ordered its cable shift conversion kit for GM steering columns. Basically this kit lets you keep the stock column shifter in the cab, but does away with the problematic bell crank and rod shift linkage that GM used on these trucks. It takes some metalworking to install, but once in place it gives you smooth shifting no matter how twisted the body and frame get.

When dealing with a 30-year-old truck, you spend a lot of your budget dealing with parts that deteriorate from age. Case in point: Our body mounts were wasted and needed to be completely replaced. The upside to working with a truck like our K10 is that these parts are readily available from the aftermarket, and after one call to Daystar we had a new body mount kit on its way to GM Truck Center. Depending on how rusty your truck is, you may want to drill four 1/8-inch holes in the floor of the truck to spray the bolts with WD-40 or JB 80 before you make an upgrade like this.

With phase one of our buildup complete, we hauled the K10 up to Santa Rosa, California, to have Fabworx build us a four-point rollcage. We stripped everything out of the truck except the steering column and the back window to make things easier. There's not a lot of room in a regular-cab pickup for a full cage, so Fabworx's Bryan McCully and Forrest Moore began by bending up and fitting the 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-inch-wall DOM main hoop as tight to the back of the cab as possible. We wanted the cage welded right to the floor, so McCully and Moore cut out steel plates that will act as footings everywhere the cage attaches to the body. This structure will spread the loads out over a large area of the floor should the truck ever roll over.

In order to weld the rear diagonal and horizontal bars completely, Moore leaned the main hoop forward and tipped the halo hoop through where the windshield would have been to get to the backside of the joints. These 360-degree welds add strength and impress other fabricators who wonder if Fabworx cut the roof off the truck to do it.

In a serious rollover the cage could still punch through the floor of the cab, so a seat cage was built to mount our new Mastercraft Rubicon seats to. Now both occupants will be surrounded by the cage structure - even if the entire cab were to be ripped off the frame. The seat cage is also much better at coping with the weight of two 200-pound guys bouncing around on the trail than the sheetmetal floor ever was. If you're considering building your own seat cage (or even just new seat mounts), make sure you verify the seating position before you burn in the final welds.

While the cage was going in, we were hard at work on the truck's wiring and brake lines. Larry "Yodaman" Kitahara runs a shop in Santa Rosa specializing in Toyota 4x4s. He could tell we were in serious need of some help, so he volunteered his nights and a couple weekends to the cause. Next to rebuilding Toyota engines, Kitahara's specialty is electrical problems. Who better to blend our truck's original wiring with the new Ramjet harness? Thanks again, Larry!

Time was of the essence, so rather than try and rework the original 1975 stepside bed, we scored this 1985 version from one of Bryan McCully's buddies. KC Customs unbolted the fenders and tore out the rotted wooden floor so Brad Atkins of American Bead Blasting could strip the old paint and scale off of it. The rear fenders also needed to be reworked for tire clearance and departure angle. De La Montanya masked off the trick new bodyline and used his Hobart plasma cutter to carve it out without warping the entire piece. Then he pounded in a new 3/4-inch flange to give the piece some strength and prevent it from flexing.

With the fenders, bed, and hood on deck for the paint booth, KC Customs moved onto the cab - which would end up being the only part of the original body we reused! The rockers were cut off at the doorsill so they could be replaced with 2x4-inch, 1/4-inch-wall rectangular tubing that will act as our rock sliders.

KC Customs opted to get a set of reproduction doors for our truck locally ($100 each), because the originals had 15 pounds of Bondo in each of them and they still needed work. De La Montanya is laughing because even with a new set of GM door hinges (the old ones were beyond repair), the fit of the reproduction panels is horrendous and will need a lot of shimming to make the body lines match up.

The nicest piece of sheetmetal on the truck is the Reflexxion cowl induction hood. This all-steel hood is built to OEM-quality standards and is the only brand KC Customs uses because the craftsmanship is so good. Tom Burke is scuffing up the DuPont Imron 6000 paint De La Montanya laid down two days ago so that Bryan Kinney can lay out some of his famous flames and give our truck some personality.

We pulled a couple all-nighters at KC Customs so that De La Montanya could spray the entire cab inside and out with the bulletproof Imron paint. With Kinney's flames airbrushed on the hood and all of the bodywork back on the truck, it was back to GM Truck Center in Burbank to install the interior pieces, bed accessories, and fire the engine.

Up front we went with an Off Road Design bumper and winch-mount combo powdercoated by American Bead Blasting in Santa Rosa to fit our Warn 9.5ti winch and SDB-210HB lights. We decided to shoot the lower grille valance panel with some satin black paint to give the truck a more menacing look and make the turn signals more visible.

To keep our K10's Ramjet 350 running cool on our blasts across the Mojave Desert in 118-degree heat, we needed some major engine cooling. For the price, reliability, and ease of replacement, we went with a $110 three-core radiator from our local AutoZone. Most stores stock this (PN 433161), and it comes with a lifetime warranty. For better cooling at slow trail speeds we ditched the mechanical fan and went with Flex-a-lite's 27-inch electric deal (PN 295). It features twin 13 1/2-inch, high-power electric fans that cover the radiator core perfectly. We modified Flex-a-lite's upper bracket to bolt the fan assembly to our original upper radiator mount, and then moved the side mounts to the threaded inserts in the bottom of the fan so we could secure it to the truck's lower radiator support. Wiring was as simple as installing the fan controller to the fan's shroud and running power through the supplied fuse, a ground to the battery, and a switched positive lead through the ignition.

With less than 24 hours till our departure, Henrik Hairapetian rallied his GM Truck Center team for another all-night work party. His guys wired and plumbed the ARB compressor to control the lockers, installed dual Optima YellowTop batteries, and plumbed all of the hydro-boost brake and power-steering lines.

The UA K10 uses Tuff Country's proven 4-inch heavy-duty leaf springs up front with a set of SX8000 gas shocks. We then added a set of Off Road Design heavy-duty shackles and a greasable bushing kit to really let our springs twist. To eliminate any harshness in the suspension when it bottoms out, we bolted on Daystar's foam bumpstops (PN KU09039). With such a mild suspension lift we choose to run Sam's Offroad 1410 extreme-travel driveshafts front and rear without a CV to save money and increase strength.

In the rear we used a set of 1988-1998 1/2-ton Chevy truck springs that we got from the Yodaman in Santa Rosa, California. With Off Road Design's 2-inch shackle flip kit and its prototype heavy-duty shackles, our truck sits 3/4 inch higher, and the rear rides well and has very little axlewrap. You'll also notice the dual 2 1/2-inch exhaust system that Greg Gallegos of Flowmaster artfully tucked up between our framerails while we were in Santa Rosa. For a quiet cruise that would still have the Flowmaster performance sound, we opted for a pair of 50 Series SUV mufflers with an H-pipe that crosses behind the transfer case. To finish off the look we added a pair of polished Flowmaster tips.

You'll see our UA K10 in action as part of our 2005 Ultimate Adventure. But now that we have some seat time in the truck, we've got some fine-tuning to do, one or two repairs to make, and a few things we'd like to just downright change. We tried to stay true to our budget-built theme, but the reality is that there are only so many corners you can cut and still do what we've done with this machine. If you have some ideas on how we could make it better, an idea for something you wished we'd done different, or are trying to figure out how you can build your Chevy like ours, drop us an e-mail at 4wheeloffroad@primedia.com. We'd love to hear from you.