It’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It’s also been said that everything is better topless.
For both of these reasons, you’re now reading about the latest addition to the Bangshift project car fleet: Project Beachcomber, my 1979 Dodge Ramcharger. We’ll start first with the imitation part and then get to the topless part, I promise.
Oh, and why the name “Beachcomber”? All said and done, the plan is to turn the truck into something reliable that I can cruise to the beach to with my family, not a hardcore 4×4 build. This is also my first vintage Mopar and first build that requires a good amount of bodywork, so be prepared to come along as I learn how to weld.
Setting expectations now, I’m going to attempt to keep a running tally of what this project is costing me, for better or for worse. As a Chevy owner that is now forced to source parts for a 40+ year old Mopar, I feel like this is penance for years of easy parts availability and low prices. Is this why Mopar owners owners are all so cranky? (Fueling the fire for the comments section…).
Anyways, let’s begin with how I even found the Beachcomber, followed by the current condition of the truck and next steps on the journey to putting it back on the road.
Finding the truck
Our own Tony Sestito’s “Power Laggin’” is one cool truck, so when I realized that as a responsible homeowner it would make sense to buy a truck for myself I of course
calmly went shopping for the most reliable one I could find immediately started searching Craigslist for the coolest thing I could find within my budget of $5000 or less. Lightnings, SS454s, Squarebody Chevys, all were fair game, but also outside of my price range in decent condition. Just as I was about to resign myself to buying an early 2000s F150 or Silverado to dump my leaves into like any normal human being, I spotted this ad on Craigslist:
Let’s go through the checklist again of what I actually needed from a truck:
- It runs
- Isn’t rotted out
- It’s a truck
Now, let’s go through the checklist of what was now madly flashing away in my brain like 4th of July fireworks
- It’s a ‘70s truck, in my price range
- Better yet, it’s a pop-top 2 door SUV, which is beyond cool
- Even better, it’s IN MY TOWN
Sure, the ad may have completely lacked photos and mentioned such trivial red flags such as, “drove into my garage 5 years ago have not started it since”, “needs [insert bodywork here, meaning that it needs a lot more]”, and “used as storage”, but again, it’s a truck…and the roof comes off!
Now, here comes the tricky part: The original craigslist ad (Which I didn’t take a screenshot of) didn’t list a phone number, just “no e-mail, call Paul”.
Given this minor roadblock, which of the following potentially stalkerish activities do you think I took part in?
A) Put a post in the local town Facebook group, asking if anyone knew the owner
B) Drive around town for several days, looking for a truck I’d never seen a photo of
C) Email the Reply To link, despite the statement of “No email”, asking for a phone number to be added
D) Refresh the Craigslist ad several times a day, hoping that it would magically be updated?
If you answered “E) All of the above”, congrats, your prize is in the mail!
After almost a week of this totally normal behavior I had all but given up, only to be rewarded when my early-morning refresh of the Craigslist ad rewarded me with a new title that included “Updated listing!” and finally, a phone number to call. Problem is, it was 6 AM. Patiently waiting until 9 AM to call so that I didn’t appear totally nuts, I set up a time to look at the truck later on that day. From here, let’s tell the rest of this tale with photos…
Points awarded for truth in advertising when it was written that the truck had been used for storage for the last few years. Looks like half of Home Depot was in, on, or under the truck. I was told that a set of front and rear seats were also in there, but had to take the seller’s word for it.
Overall, the driver’s side and frame looked solid, which was good.
Hard to get a view of the passenger side due to how the truck was parked, but I could see enough to verify that it would definitely need bodywork on that side, which I expected from the ad.
Here’s where the party is: The truck came equipped with full-time four wheel drive, a 360 which “ran when parked”, and an Edelbrock carb perched upon an aftermarket intake. Rats nest of wiring was a “Day 2” modification. Spoilers: It only gets better once I get the truck home. Stay tuned…
Talking to the seller, I found out that the truck also came with two hard tops (One was rotted along the rails, the other solid but with a custom “peeling black spray paint over blue” paint scheme), a full set of badges, and some other odds and ends. I also found out that I was lucky to have called that morning, since the seller’s phone had been ringing all day with people looking to buy the truck, including during the time that I was giving it a once over.
$3000 in cash later, I had the title signed over and arranged for a tow truck to come a few days later to trailer it the whopping two miles back to my house.
Now that it’s finally home, I figured a bath was in order so I could see what I was working with.
All cleaned up. Mmmm, 70’s two-tone brown. It actually has a metallic flake to the darker brown, at least the parts that weren’t touched up with a rattle can.
By this point Tony came by in the Power Laggin’ to get a glimpse of the New Truck On The Block. So of course we decided to do an impromptu set of photos of the two side-by-side.
Now that the family reunion is over, let’s take a deeper dive into the condition of the truck. WARNING: Graphic photos of rusty Mopar ahead. Viewer discretion advised.
We’ll take a look at the driver’s side of the truck in a future article to see how good the rust repairs were, but getting the worst over with, here’s a closer look at the passenger side of the truck. …Yeah, that ain’t pretty.
The rear quarter is blistered front and rear of the tire, so all of that will need to be cut out and new metal welded in. Same with the rocker panel, lower door, and rear of the front fender. Luckily, all of these parts are reproduced, although word is that fitment may vary.
The frame itself has surface rust, but looks to be solid (Now let me go find some wood to knock on…)
Quad headlights were a “love ‘em or hate ‘em” option for ‘79 and ‘80. My plan is to swap over to the grille and light setup from the ‘77-78 trucks, which arguably was the best look.
Ram’s head hood ornament was added on from an ‘80s Ramcharger. Neat conversation piece, but that and the hood will be replaced for the early 70’s “bird bath” hood.
Tailgate has some great patina, but also a few holes rusted through so I may be on the hunt for a replacement.
Factory wheels have been replaced with a set of black aftermarket steels wheels and some General Grabbers. Undecided as to what I’ll eventually run, but “wagon wheels” look great on these trucks, so I may try to track down a set of aftermarket 15s or 16s with that look.
On our second stop of the Tour De Rusty Mopar, the driver’s side floor and passenger cab near the rollbar will also need some patching. Otherwise, the floor is relatively solid. Like the exterior, patch panels are available; I’ll most likely attempt these first before the exterior in my Adventures in Beginner’s Welding.
Metal door panels are neat, but there’s a few other factory options that I’ll be trying to source.
Digging the steering wheel, although I don’t know enough about Mopars to know if it’s factory or not.
Taking a closer look at the faux wood grain dash there’s a full set of gauges, although no word on if any of them work.
Impossible to tell how many times the odometer has rolled over, but I’m guessing the 102k stated in the ad is more believable than 202k given how terrible the fuel consumption of these trucks is reported to be with the Full Time 4×4.
Ammeter has been replaced with a cheap Chinese gauge, which in this case is actually for the best given how trucks with factory ammeters were prone to self-immolation.
Rounding out the non-factory gauge package is the venerable Sunpro Super Tach II.
Tunes are supplied by an aftermarket Sony deck manufactured sometime in the last 20 years. Well, in theory, since I haven’t actually seen any speakers yet in this truck…
Oh hey, a mystery switch! I love those! Turns out that this one turns on the blower for the heater box. I’ll most likely be diagnosing and fixing that along with replacing the Mopar glass fuses, which I think will look neater as a garage piece than actually in the truck.
A factory console was also included, although the door was replaced with a wooden one. Opening it up revealed a set of front seat belts in okay condition along with some factory exterior badges and a rear-view mirror.
How the power of the almighty LA 360 meets the road is determined by the Full Time 4×4 shifter. Undecided on my end as to if I’ll want to keep it full-time or convert it to part-time. If you have any advice on this, feel free to leave a comment!
Here’s a closer look at the front high-back seats. They’re in decent condition aside from a few rips.
Those armrests…mold or decades of ash burns from chain-smoking drivers? Either way, those need to be cleaned up and the foam inside them replaced. We’ll have a separate article detailing my attempts at saving these seats since i’m digging the 70’s fabric.
Loving the instructions on the visors
“Check the glovebox for parts for roof removal”…let’s go look…
Two small screws, a few black plugs, and some more glass fuses. Sounds about right…
Last but not least, a shot out the rear. The bed looks to be overall solid, but as you can see the factory lift back is missing the interior latch. No big deal as I’m planning on running a soft top or going topless.
Someone was an Edelbrock fan, having equipped the factory 360 with an Edelbrock carb, intake manifold, and air cleaner.
The carb is in need of a rebuild as the floats were stuck. Luckily, that’s easy enough and we’ll cover it in a future update.
Stock manifolds loudly exhaust leak their way into a true dual exhaust setup that exists just front of the rear wheels. Evidently that’s a common exhaust routing versus exiting by the tailgate to avoid gassing out passengers, but the entire exhaust system will most likely need to be replaced at some point.
Ironically, I in part was excited to buy an older truck to avoid having to deal with a ton of wiring. Of course, that means I would purchase something that had a rats nest under the hood.
Most of it looks to be for a headlight relay setup that someone hacked together, which should be easy enough to sort out (I’m going to need some more wood to knock on…)
Efficient wiring routing or “Crap, I don’t have enough wire, just run it straight across the brake reservoir”?
Hey, remember that mystery switch on the dash? This alligator clip is the other end of that puzzle, which is someone’s solution to needing a ground for the blower motor.
We’ll end on this “first startup” video I took with a few friends of mine, which ended as soon as we spotted the aforementioned Edelbrock pouring fuel everywhere. If this is any indication of how this build is going to go, it’s going to be an adventure, folks!
So, there we have it, our introduction to Project Beachcruiser! Love it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments, and expect more soon!
Purchase of truck: $3000
Grand Total: $3100