Truck Conversion: Convert a Car into a Pickup Truck

If you're a homesteader who needs but can't afford a pickup truck, a car-to-truck conversion as described by the author might be a feasible alternative.

| March/April 1980

Many country dwellers find that a pickup truck is nearly indispensable for performing a multitude of farm tasks ... from hauling manure to delivering an ailing goat to the vet. However, not every aspiring back-to-the-lander can afford to pay the steep prices that even used examples of the versatile haulers often command. In fact, a couple of years ago I found myself in just such a bucks-down situation . . . and decided to turn my old Falcon into a pickup truck.

The drive to 'keep on truckin' " has led any number of industrious individuals to attempt sedan-to-pickup switchovers. Sometimes a truck conversion works amazingly well, but other projects—undertaken by folks without the requisite knowledge of automobile structure and stress—have ended up as dismal failures. The major reason is that most American cars built since about 1960 employ what is called unitized construction, which means that the body of the vehicle is a structural part of the chassis. More than once I've seen the pitifully butchered remains of a haphazardly chopped unibody car flopping down the road . . . just waiting for the first significant load to break its flimsy spine in half.

Consequently, anyone contemplating a conversion will find a pre-sixties sedan (with separate body and frame) to be a better candidate for truckhood. But don't completely rule out the plentiful unit construction models! With a little planning—which this article will try to help provide—you can give your "modern" auto-turned-truck all the strength it'll need . . . at the same time removing a few hundred pounds of extraneous roofing and flimflam.

For example, my own change-of-life truck was once a 1962 Ford Falcon. I chose the small unitized-body Dearborn product for a couple of good reasons: First, I already had it sitting in my driveway . . . and second, I knew I could afford to feed its fuel-thrifty six-cylinder engine.

If you don't happen to have a car that's begging to be transformed, it's often possible to find really inexpensive potential "converts" in a local junkyard. Once an American passenger car is more than about five years old, repairing any significant rear-end damage tends to cost more than the vehicle is worth. Such "totals" frequently end up in the auto graveyard with nothing more than cosmetic wounds. Since you'll be removing the body parts from the rear of the car anyway, fender bends are unimportant. Be sure to check the springs and axle for soundness, though, and make sure that there are enough intact rear frame members to provide places to attach your soon-to-be truck's bed.

Plan Ahead

Once you've selected a suitable runabout, find yourself a crayon or other marker to use to plot out your incisions. Because the body of a unitized car contributes so much to the chassis's overall strength, you'll have to work around the doorposts, the rocker panels, and the floor behind the front seat. On earlier (separate-frame) models, however—depending on how the passenger compartment is mounted to the frame—you may want to cut away that flooring . . . and most of such a car's sheet-metal shell can be unbolted and set aside. Of course, in either case, you'll have to cut the rear of the roof off.

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