From Rust Bucket to Magazine Cover Truck

January 18th, 2012

By Kevin Wilson

Photography: Kevin Wilson and Terry Delong

Ask any diesel enthusiast, and he or she will admit that most “project” trucks are never really done; they just become a work in progress.

Such has been the case for our own Project Beat-to-Neat, or Project 1st-Gen, as it has been called from time to time.

Nearly two years ago, we introduced you to our well-worn 1992 first-gen Dodge that was taking up residence in a farm field. The owner bought it for a song and has spent a lot of time and effort transforming it into a first-gen that any diesel enthusiast would be proud to own.

You might wonder why anyone would put good money after bad restoring a rusty, old beater. Well, to get the kind of truck that suits your needs without breaking the bank on a new one.

The method behind our madness was that the owner, Terry Delong, of Kendallville, Indiana, has been a lifelong automotive enthusiast who could turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. His résumé speaks for itself: He earned two Chrysler design awards for SEMA trucks he built, including the world’s first stepside Dakota, and picked up another SEMA design award from Ford. His trucks and hot rods have had at least 50 magazine features over the years, so he was the right guy to turn this rust bucket from beat to neat.

Another reason to have Terry work his magic on our project pile was that he teaches paint-and-body for the Four County Area Vocational Cooperative, also in Kendallville, Indiana, where he gets to share his secrets about what it takes to build an award-winning vehicle. The school “adopted” the Dodge as an ongoing project, with students getting plenty of hand-on experience over the course of several semesters turning something from beat to neat.

While coming up just shy of being a frame-off project, the body of the truck was pulled apart so panels could be repaired or replaced. The bed of the truck took the lion’s share of the work, since it had plenty of rust holes, while fenders and rocker panels were replaced with new ones. Once the truck was in primer, Terry started with some motor and trans mods.

Dave’s Diesel, in Angola, Indiana, one of the premier diesel shops in the state, did most of the mechanicals on the Cummins. First up was fixing the dreaded dowel pin issue, which is common with 12-valves. Next up, in preparation for more power and boost, was a set of ARP head studs. Speaking of more power, Dave’s also tweaked the fuel pin in the injection pump before installing some cool-looking BD billet valve covers.

ASA Modified was the source for the air intake system and 4-inch downpipe for the stock turbo. To facilitate the added air, Tim Worline, of Tim’s Custom Stainless Cooler Tubz, contributed some upsized polished intercooler tubes and a new intake manifold.

Hooked up to the new downpipe is an MBRP second-gen exhaust, which was fabricated to fit the first-gen by Terry and the students into a single-in-dual-out configuration.

Having more than 200,000 miles on the odometer, the safe bet was to go through the truck’s A-518 four-speed automatic and freshen it with a rebuild kit from BD Diesel Performance. Dave’s Diesel did the R&R and also fitted the trans with a BD torque converter and deep sump trans pan.

For an upgraded stance on the truck, the students installed a 4-inch Skyjacker Suspension on the truck, along with more-traditional off-road wheel and tires sizes. Rolling stock on the Dodge was converted to 295/70R17 Nitto Trail Grappler tires wrapped around 17×8-inch Ultra Wheel Drifter wheels. With the correct wheel offset and a set of Bushwacker fender flares at each corner, the tires tuck nicely inside the fender wells.

Before the truck could be rolled into the paint booth, a new Keystone grille shell was painted and installed. To complement the clean front end, Terry opted to modify a 1987 Chevy front bumper to fit the Dodge. The stock hood was also replaced with a 1970s-style ’Cuda scooped hood from AAR Fiberglass. The bed stake pockets were also filled, and, as a finishing touch, Tri-State Line-X sprayed the bed with Line-X.

Anything chrome on the truck was stripped and painted body color. As an old Mopar guy, Terry opted for “Big Bad Orange,” from the Planet Color line of Martin-Senour paints. Students Matt Woodward and Trevor Miles were credited with the awesome paint job. To make the tailgate stand out, Terry fabbed up a custom tailgate panel that features old-school gold leaf lettering, by Jim Stadinski, of Advance Signs. Black and purple were applied on the hood and tailgate to give the truck a retro Power Wagon look.

The interior was pretty worked when Tom Duty TD Customs, in Wolcottville, Indiana, got hold of the truck. Tom recovered the stock headliner and freshened up the door panels. The stock bench seat was repadded and finished in ultra leather. Before new carpet was installed, the cab was treated to some serious insulation to help knock down the noise of the 12-valve. So, Boom Mat, from Design Engineering, Inc., was installed on the rear cab wall. The finishing touch was a layer of DEI insulation on the floor, new carpet from Auto Custom Carpet and a Pioneer stereo with upgraded door speakers.

Project Beat-to-Neat is something that Terry and his students can be proud off. It got lots of looks at this year’s Scheid Diesel Extravaganza, as well as at a couple of Mopar events.

More importantly, this project demonstrates what can be done to an old, first-gen Dodge. And like most project trucks, this one isn’t quite done until we turn up the power a bit. Stay tuned.


Credit Where Credit Is Due

If this transformation looks like it was a lot of work, we won’t lie. It was—about two years’ worth. Terry admits that the students at Four Country Area Vocational Cooperative, in Kendallville, Indiana, deserve most of the credit, but we can attest that Terry put in countless hours of his own on this truck. It originally was his “beater” for chores, but we talked him into making it a Diesel World project truck.

Thanks also go out to all the sponsor and participants who donated products or helped along the way. More importantly, Terry credits his wife, Janice, and daughter, Laura, for being patient and putting up with him during the build. He also credits the countless friends who pitched in to bring the Dodge from beat to neat.




AAR Fiberglass






ASA Modifieds



Auto Custom Carpets



BD Diesel






Dave’s Diesel



Four County Area Vocational Cooperative



Martin Senour Paints








Skyjacker Suspensions



TD Customs



Tim’s Custom Cooler Tubz



Ultra Custom Wheels



This is in the January 2012 issue of Diesel World magazine.

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