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My New Truck Project

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I bought a running 1981 Chevy Crewcab dually a few months back for $350. The truck was a father son project that never went anywhere. It came with lots of new parts a 91 front clip, Billet grill insert, Goodmark steel 3" cowl induction hood, new rear fenders, tailgate, running boards, new window seals, new replacement fuel tanks, and various other parts.
Soon after starting the project they found it had corrosion on the frame and cab that was unrepairable and the project sat for 5 years until I bought it. I planned on scrapping the truck for the steel and selling the parts but havent got around to it, everytime my grandaughter comes over she wants me to take her for a ride in it, we usually tool around the neighborhood and shes happy.
My wife suggested I fix the truck up and make it street legal but theres too much wrong with it for this.
Last week I loaded it on the trailer to take it to the metal scrappers the wife and grandaughter stopped me and asked if there wasnt some way we could salvage the truck. After letting them know this truck really was a pile of junk we decided on a plan.

Were agreed on a $10,000 budget to build a GM dually Crewcab in 12 months.
Heres our wishlist for the project:
Body: 1973-1987 GM Crewcab dually
We'll be using the newer front clip and hood we have, remove all the door handles and exterior chrome, a simple two tone paint job (dark metalic grey top, pewter lower panels).

Drive train: basic 350 engine, 700R4 trans, factory rear end.

Suspension: Airbags on all 4 corners. This truck wont be able to drop and drag but it will have the abillity to sit lower while still being capable of hauling a gooseneck trailer, fifth wheel trailer, or bumper pull trailer. The bags we plan on using have a range of 6" from top to bottom. The rear suspension will be a 3 link bolt on system and the front will retain the wishbone style.

Interior: Front bucket seats, rear bench. If we can afford leather in the budget we'll use it, but I think it's gonna be tweed. AM/FM/CD with 6 speakers, if the budget can afford it we'll see about a DVD set-up.

Heres how the plans gonna work:

I have April and May to find a suitable candidate. We plan on spending no more than $2500 for a truck, running gear wont be a factor, but we want all the bodypanels, steering, glass, and electricals intact. Were keeping the rusted junk truck for now in case we need any parts from it.

June we'll strip the truck down to the frame and sandblast all the parts, but concentrate on the frame.

The Suspension shop will install the suspension, all 4 corners will cost $1500, they'll supply the new bags, new bushings, and rubber for the suspension. I have to supply and plumb the air compressor and reserve tank, also supply the steering gear and they'll install it. They get the frame for July and August.

The paint shop gets the body for August and September, for $1800 they'll spray 4 coats of color and two coats of clear, color sand, and buff. I have to have any body work and paint stripping done before dropping it off to them (removing chrome and filling holes, removing door handles and tailgate latch, straighten any panels).

We bought a remanned 350 and 700r4 from City Motor supply for $1050, I have to give them the core when I strip the truck down.
After I paint the frame I'll install the engine/trans. The rear axle in the truck I already have was rebuilt a few years ago. This should take place in September while the body's getting painted.

The body and frame should get put back together in October and November and we have 4 months to assemble everything else.

We're waiting on estimates from a couple of upholstery shops to see who we'll use. I hope to have that finalized by June so they can start on the interior pieces while the body's getting painted.

The shops were dealing with gave us discounts because were letting them have the truck a couple months at a time so they can work on it during their slow periods.
I expect to have a few cost overruns and surprises but most of the major components either are already payed for or will be payed for before we actually start the work.
We'll take pictures as the work progresses.


  1. TRPLXL2's Avatar
    Here's a thought, I was going to have my truck two toned with the darker color on top until I gave it a lot of thought about heat. I ended up with silver on top and the black on the bottom, I think it works better for keeping the cab cooler with the lighter color on top.
  2. Darstedly's Avatar
    That's some undertaking. Huge fun and I'm sure you'll get it done in the 12 months. Good thing you live a dry climate for all the paint and filler to dry. Best of luck with for minimal cost overruns.
  3. tbplus10's Avatar
    Yes keeping the lighter color on top does keep the cab cooler but we wanted it to be just a little different. Also I have a bunch of Aircraft insulation sheets I'll be using on the floor, sides, and ceiling of the cab to keep the temperature regulated and keep the interior quiet.
  4. tbplus10's Avatar
    Saturday the Grandaughter and I kicked off our new project by starting the search for our project truck. We found 7 trucks we wanted to to look at. All were GM dually 6+6 cab 2wd trucks .

    Truck 1 a 1982 GMC looked great on craigslist, 87K miles, running drivetrain, newer tires, no dents, decent blue velor interior, and $2000. We were 15 minutes too late and watched it drive away as we arrived.

    Truck 2 and 3 were 1984 model trucks, they were ok but had no titles, both were priced at $2500. I wont buy a truck without a title, been down that road before.

    Truck 4 a 1982 had rust in all the lower panels and frame and had a bad repair on the frame from an accident at one time. He wanted $3000.

    Truck 5 a 1984 was a nice find, straight panels, all glass, and decent tires, it's been parked for 4 years beacuse it was a theft recovery that was returned with no eng/trans. The owner kept it in great shape thinking he would one day replace the drivetrain. He even wash's it every month and wax's it every 6 months. This one were gonna come back to, he lost the title but is getting a new new one before we give him any $$. He only wants $800 and since he fell in love with my Granddaughter he said he'd save it for us exclusively.

    Truck 5 a 1987 had more dents than a demolition derby car, the interior looked like stray cats were living in it, and every piece of glass on it was cracked or broken. He was asking $2200, and made a point of informing me I wouldnt find a truck in this condition at this price again. I certainly hope not, I hope owners of trucks in this condition have the sense to price their trucks appropriately.

    Truck 6 a 1982 was the remains of a parts donor from a project. The price was fair at $300 but to much was missing for our project.
    On the bright side the Project truck that had recieved the parts was for sale. A 1990 Surburban, on the not so bright side it'd been rear ended recently. We bought the Surburban for $750 because it had a complete 3/4 ton air ride suspension, 4 doors that were primered, shaved, and had poppers installed, pwr wndws, pwr locks, and limo tint laminated glass. It also had a perfect front clip, and perfect grey leather interior with bucket seats in the first two rows. The owner threw in the 10 speaker system and 8 amps because he didnt have the time to remove them. Since this Suburban had been a custom conversion it also had leather door panels, center consol from the dash to behind the second row of seats, and a custom overhead console. It also came with a pile of extra parts we have'nt been able to inventory yet.

    Truck 7 a 1985 in ok shape we never got to look at because when the owner told me he didnt have a title but it would be easy for me to apply for one I asked him why he didnt apply for one and sell it legally instead of being dishonest with people. He promptly booted us off his property.

    So we still dont have a truck but we've got plenty of parts. Almost our whole interior, so we may not need to spend much on that. I have to see if I can make the Wool carpet from a Surburban fit a 6X6 cab and I'll still need to get the custom rear bench seat/bed we want.

    I hired a neighbor kid to help with the project. I'll pay him $5 an hour at 20 hours a week, I"m also giving him a running 350 engine for his 1985 Chevy truck, and I'll assist installing it. In return he'll do parts runs and assist with the labor and cleaning, I'll pay his gas when he uses his truck for me.

    Were gonna start organizing the extra parts we have and make a list of items to sell so we can recoup some funds to use for other items on our wish list.

    The painter fell through, his shop is closing next week.
    But as the saying goes when one door closes another opens.
    My nephew and brother have proposed painting the truck and doing final assembly in trade for a 1984 F/S Blazer I have for sale, the catch is their Body/Machine shop is in Ca., we'll need to figure out how to get the trucks to them. This rearranges my schedule some but I dont think it's a big issue since we dont even have a truck yet.
  5. tbplus10's Avatar
    An update on our truck project:
    Unfortunately the white 84 we looked at last weekend still isnt available, the owner's having difficulty getting the title, issues with the original loan company, they went out of buisness 4 years ago and never released the title when he bought the truck in 1984.
    We went to look at 4 trucks this weekend, 3 had no title, evidently Texans arent aware (or dont care) it's illegal in this state to sell a motorvehicle without a title.
    The one truck that did have a title belonged to the parents of a friend of my wife. After looking over the truck I decided it wouldnt work because it had bent frame horns front and rear, I didnt want to take a chance that was the only part of the frame bent since it'd spent it's whole life on a farm, and it was a 4X4, I'm looking for a 2wd.
    The truck didnt run but during my inspection I found the wires to the fuel pump were corroded through and the starter positive lead had melted off. Fixed those little problems, shot some ether in the intake and she started up but ran a little rough.
    The owner was really surprised when he heard it running, it hasnt run in 5 yrs.
    He asked me to look at his 94 ext cab Chevy and since the wife was inside learning all about Aunt Betsy's 6 county award winning Blueberry jam I figured I had a little time to waste.
    The 94 needed a new battery, a fuel pump fuse, a starter relay, and a new fuel filter. Starting to see a pattern here. The grandson's been working on the trucks and his repair method is to turn the ignition until the vehicle starts.
    After we got the 94 running grandpa was ready for me to start another project, by this time I was making excuses to leave, but he hooked me with "come see my scooter" I didnt know what to expect but when he showed me a worn 52 Harley he must have known I was hooked.

    And he must have already talked to my wife because he offered to sell it to me for $800, so now I have a new Harley restoration project, which isnt bad because this bike also has a sidecar thats still buried in the barn (I've been looking for a sidecar to mount on my Harley Nightrain since I bought the bike).
    But the week wasnt a total loss, my helper and I stripped and chopped up the Suburban I bought last week and managed to put to use some tools I bought a few weeks ago at an auction, a set of "jaws of Life" and a "K-12" saw, we also got to lift the truck with an air pad jack I bought.
    The Suburban yielded a few items I hadnt expected:
    A full set of working Stewart Warner oil filled white face gauges in a custom dash panel
    2 1/4" dropped front spindles (For a 3/4 t truck)
    5" dropped rear shackle and spring kit
    a complete competition 4 bag airbag system
    and the engine is a running recently rebuilt chromed out 350 4 bolt main
    The engine is promised to my helper, oil pan to manifold in trade for his engine.
    Next week I dont expect to get a lot done, were gonna R/R the engine and trans in my helpers truck.
  6. tbplus10's Avatar
    Another week gone by on our project.
    Spent most of this week installing an eng/trans in my assistants truck as part of our labor deal. Got his truck running again after 3 nights in the garage doing the swap. The 85 we swapped the engine into had a V6 so swapping in the eng/trans package included some fabrication work, but we got it all together finally.

    I bought a 1986 model rust free Dually Crewcab frame to start building the frame and suspension for my project. We stripped the new frame to bare metal, had it checked on a frame rack, and started smoothing all the welds and filling in any holes and imperfections. I'm waiting for a 6" "C" notch kit to arrive via UPS, we've got the front "step" welded on and a jig plate on the frame for the "C" notch with tabs welded around the frame and bolted to anchors in the floor so it doesnt move around until we have the notch welded in.
    I pulled out my body lead equipment and started leading in the frame imperfections and figured while I was at it I'd do some lead work on the body too, so we sandblasted the doors, fenders, and hood. This weekend I'll start doing lead work on them. The drivers side rear door had a lot of plastic filler and some rust in the lower edges, I'll have to take a closer look at it this weekend to see if it'll be a problem.

    Still waiting on a title for the truck we'd like to use for the project but the owners battling red tape, so we're looking at other trucks in case this one doesnt work out.

    We assembled the interior and probably wont need to have any pieces made since we're using the full interior from the Suburban. We are looking for a decent stereo system to fill a few speaker and dash holes but that isnt a priority right now. Picked up 3 12" flip monitors from a few wrecked Dodge Caravan's so we're gonna try and incorporate them into the interior somehow.

    A deal has been struck for the paint work and the truck will be assembled and driven to Ca. by my nephew so him and my brother can disassemble, paint, and reassemble the truck in trade for a 1984 Blazer my nephew will tow out to Ca. with the truck. They'll pick the truck up in the fall for the work and we'll go pick it up in the winter, at that time other than some minor issues it should be complete.

    If we ever get a truck to base the project on, at this point I'm looking at Cab's and beds also in case I need to build the whole truck from parts off a bunch of different trucks.
  7. tbplus10's Avatar
    Had'nt updated on the project for a while so here goes.
    Finished the "C" notch, boxing the frame, and adding a few extra cross members and smoothing imperfections in the frame before it goes to the powder coaters and suspension shop when I had to take a night off for the wifes B day (April 19th), took her to Ruth's Chris Steak house for dinner.

    At the end of the meal just before desert I passed out in the restarant and didnt come out of it until the next day. Evidently my kidneys were failing had an infection and had started to shut down, the alcohol I drank put me out. Kind of funny cause I didnt feel sick prior to that point, I had a bout with kidney stones a week earlier but nothing that really slowed me down. So I ended up in the hospital for a week and a half, was put on strict bed rest until May 13th, and have to do Dialasys until they get my Kidneys straight and figure out whats causing the infection.

    So I figure the truck project is gonna fall way behind or end up incomplete project sold for whatever I can recoup when my best friend came over to visit me. He was nice enough to take the frame to the shop and since the title on our donor truck cleared he made a 300 mile round trip to go pick it up with his trailer.
    The next weekend he came back and with my helper stripped the truck down to the frame and got the cab and bed ready to be undercoated and painted inside. I've still got some work to do before the exterior of the bed and cab are ready for paint but at least my project isnt stalled out. Hopefully I'll be back up and running around the end of May and I can get back on track.

    Some thanks to the people that helped me out in the last few weeks:

    Mike from Ruth's Chris Steak House, a GM truck fan that promises to join GMTC soon. He brought me meals every day for a week even after he found out the rest. wasnt responsible for me passing out. He also came out to the house for a few hours and helped disassemble our new donor truck.

    Jaycee my helper, he volunteered to continue working on the project without pay (he was worried since I"ll be off work for over a month I wont have enough money to pay my bills, I explained employee benefits and long term sick leave to him so he now knows I'll continue getting payed until I'm back to work).

    Bill, my best friend since 1971, without planning it we've joined the military together (different branchs him Air Force me Navy) been stationed on the same bases together 4 times, and moved from Ca. to Texas within 45 miles of each other after retiring from the service. He's always been there to lend a helping hand.

    And My wife, hopefully her next b day turns out better.
  8. tbplus10's Avatar
    Been a long time since I wrote anything on the Dually project.
    It's come a long way but is farther from being finished.

    In late May we got the rolling chassis together dropped the motor and trans in, and put the body on for the trip to Ca.
    My brother hauled it to his paint and body shop in Sacramento, Ca. where they were gonna disassemble the body, install the wire harness, paint the body, reassemble, and have the interior finished.

    A minor incident on the way to Ca. caused a little extra bodywork, in the process of straightening a panel that had gotten hit by a road sign my brother decided to try his first attempt at sectioning a GM truck body. He sectioned the body by 1.5", siince the porportions were now off he decided to chop the top by 1.5", lay back the "A" pillars a few degrees, and channel the body by 1". This led to dropping the engine/trans down 1.5" and back 2.5", notching the front frame rails for a low profile radiator, and lowering the seats by 1.5".
    So final body work is still in work at this time and paint is a month off.

    My brother discussed the project with the shop next door to his and struck a deal to convert the truck to propane. Since I had a new engine with 0 miles "Propane Concepts and Performance" replaced my new engine with another new Propane tuned engine running 11.5 to 1 compression and guaranteed to produce 375 HP. They also adapted a rover gear splitter overdrive unit behind the 700R4 to give us 12 forward and 3 reverse gears. The package should produce mpg ratings in the high 20's unloaded, low 20's loaded. Unfortunately my plan of having the truck rated to tow 14K wont work as the rover gear splitter only rates to 11,500.
    Were now obligated to give the shops in Ca. time to test the truck after it gets on the road so were looking at a spring delivery in Tx.

    We had a suspension specialist look at the suspension and he made a few changes.
    He replaced the ball joints with longtravel ball joints and tubed "A" arms used on Pre runner trucks to give the front end a little more adjustment. Now when the front suspension is layed down the front tires stay flat.
    He also added CV joints to both ends of the driveshaft.

    Interior is still a problem, some previously made panels will have to be refitted and the seat covers need to be refitted after the frames were shortened.

    I'm sure I'll be happy wth the truck when it's finished but at this point I'm not to enthused, all I wanted was a nice looking truck to haul things around with and the project's gotten a little out of hand.
  9. Crawdaddy's Avatar
    Wow. I am not quite sure how people can run projects and not be able to drive or otherwise enjoy vehicles for years on end. Granted, it is fun to fab and work on the vehicles, but it's not driving either... Perhaps when I get the time and money to do something like this I will see it in a different light.
  10. tbplus10's Avatar
    I havent really run this project, it's been running me. It's now completely different than our plan when we started, everything originally was to be done local and I would be diving the truck by Christmas. The original drivetrain I bought/rebuilt has been replaced. Fuel is now Proane vice Gasoline, the trans has a Rover overdrive with the 700R4, the 1 ton r/r diff has been replaced with a modified 1966 3ton 2 spd diff., the body's been chopped , sectioned, and channeled and I was planning stock sheet metal.
    I'm still close to my budget though because of reselling parts I had but couldnt or didnt want to use.
    The new drivetrain (Eng, overdrive, and R/R diff) is gonna cost me advertising space on the tailgate for a few years.
  11. Crawdaddy's Avatar
    You mentioned putting a gear splitter overdrive behind your transmission? Which one did you get and how much did it cost? I tried looking it up and the best I came up with was a Gear Vendor overdrive that would cost me $3200. I'm thinking if I do the upgrades I want to so that I can tow my trailer, the overdrive might buy me some MPG back so it's more or less where I stand right now. Thanks as always for your contributions Tim!
  12. tbplus10's Avatar
    I cant say much about the splitter installed, the one in the chassis right now is a preproduction test model that hasnt had an approved patent yet. Prior to delivery back to me one off the assembly line will be installed. The cost to me will be R&D use of the truck for 2 months, Vendor showings of the truck for 2 months, and both rear quarter panels will have vinal appliques on with the Vendors name for 2 years.
    Some time next spring I should know if the splitter will be worth the price.