Let’s face it. Those of us who travel in tuner circles tend to see a lot of cookie cutter bullshit. For every one gearhead doing something fresh and different, there are a dozen others merely ordering the biggest, most expensive, brand name parts they can fit on their credit cards in pursuit of untenable “goals.” This guy is the former. I caught up with him to talk about his nearly complete, Mitsubishi-powered Dodge.
INTRODUCTIONS: THE MAN
We like to give a little background into the people we interview – where they live and what they do – because we want to show what people like us (who don’t have the means to build a new vehicle from scratch in three months or such) are capable of doing when we put our minds to it. The rough and (nearly) ready Dodge truck you see here today belongs to Steven Johnson of Denver, Colorado.
Steven runs the emergency services department for the world’s largest fire and flood restoration business. Steven handles the worst of the worst case scenarios, helping people get through the first hours or days of the worst disaster they may have ever had to experience. Fires, building collapses, severe wind damage (tornadoes), cars crashing into buildings – pretty much anything that can, as Steven puts it, “jack up your home or business,” he’s the guy on the other end of the line coordinating resources to get everything back to normal.
I met Steven on GalantVR4.org, where he goes by the screen name “biglady112.” I figure there’s got to be a story behind that, so let’s start there. “Back in the mid-90s, when the Internet was just getting off the ground, I was taking a computer class. We were informed by our teacher that we were going to be starting a Yahoo email account as part of the class. I took it as a joke of course and did not take things seriously as most kids do in school. I originally wanted to use Fatchick112, but my female teacher and I did not see eye to eye. So we compromised on Biglady112.” That little piece of trivia aside, let’s get into the meat and potatoes, shall we?
INTRODUCTIONS: THE MACHINES
Mr. Biglady has a diverse collection of vehicles, starting with a 1989 Dodge Colt Turbo. Steven’s left this spry little econobox bone stock for daily driver duty. Says Steven, “I put and engine together earlier this year for this thing. I pretty much never drive it, as I drive a company vehicle for work all the time, as I am always on call. But this is an extra vehicle that we usually only use for date nights when I can break away from work.”
He’s also got a 1999 Saturn SL, also stock, which is his fiance’s daily driver. With 216,000 miles on the clock, it refuses to die, but you’re not here for dent resistant panels. You’re here for denting panels, for chop, cut, rebuild, for the 1947 Dodge pickup. Despite the longstanding, if not official partnership between Chrysler and Mitsubishi, it might seem strange to see Steven’s thrown a Mitsubishi Sirius lump into this beast. Then again, Mitsubishi was making Jeeps nearly 30 years before Chrysler bought out AMC, so maybe it’s not so strange after all. Especially when you think about how the Mitsubishi 4G6X is known for producing anything from 200 to upwards of 1,000 wheel horsepower. Add to that Steven’s decision to put the power through a GM TH400 trans and an Eaton LSD-equipped 12-bolt rear end, and you have a recipe for a surprisingly sweet cruiser-slash-street-toy.
SERIOUSLY, THOUGH. A 4-BANGER IN A HOT ROD? WHY?
“I’ve spent a lot of years racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats, where the street and rat rods always seem to draw me in. About three years ago there was a huge showing of rat rods in Wendover for Speed Week. I got to thinking I would love to own one some day. Well, as my skill levels increased and I acquired more tools in my garage, it was only a matter of time. I saw all the money a friend I was racing with was spending with just no end in sight and no real major payoff for all the effort we were putting in. My car was very, very close to making its first passes down the salt, but I think my better judgment and desire to no longer be in debt made my decision for me. I took all the parts off the car and sold my friend the chassis for nothing. I could still afford the hobby, but racing was just a never ending pit. So I took a leap and took on a ground-up build that would be unique. I don’t ever see any rat rods in my area and certainly none like what I have anywhere on the Internet.”
AND WHEN IT’S FINALLY COMPLETE?
Steven says, “The main goal of the truck is to scare the crap out of anyone brave enough to take a ride in a hot rod with drum brakes all around.”
You get to a point with any project where you’ve learned enough about man and machine to realize you might have done this or that differently, when asked about the most difficult part of this project so far, he points to the frame and rear suspension setup. “The frame and rear suspension were the hardest part of the truck; safety being the major concern. I had to measure, measure and remeasure. And I still got things wrong. Just trying to make sure it all meshed together, looked how I wanted – and functioned – was challenging. I just took all the things I had seen online, seen on other vehicles at the track, all the advice of my friends and family, and made decisions based on what made the most sense and what seemed the safest.”
That said, if he knew then what he knows now, Johnson would redo the rear suspension. He doesn’t like not having full control over the 4-link as designed. In fact, he can only adjust in two ways – not four – which can be frustrating as it binds up. Lesson learned? “I would take a more conventional route next time, rather than the easier route. I would do a more traditional and proven drag racing four link setup.”
This old Dodge isn’t quite done yet. Johnson’s going to finish plumbing the brakes and design/install the steering. Aside from that, the truck already runs, with the entire drivetrain functioning as a single unit. Steven’s had it running more than a couple months now, working out the bugs he can while it’s parked in the garage. Unless a major catastrophe happens, he hopes to be driving this thing before the holidays. “Would be nice to take it to the family Christmas party this year.”
Steven spends most of his time on the major DSM forums, but he’s also on GalantVR4.org, a couple Suzuki Samurai sites (he’s owned four of those in the past), and he’s also on TeamSwift.net, a Suzuki performance forum he found while messing with those Samurais.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
We had a bit of a tough time putting this story together. In fact, at the last minute, 90% of it changed drastically, and then we ran into technical difficulties. In a way, that’s how things go when you do something out of the ordinary. Have you ever wanted to build a hot rod of some kind? What makes your idea special?