That Girl
I was writing about the latest pinup in Sport Truck magazine. It looks like Natalie from the Discovery Channel show The Kustomizer. I just watched the first episode where they build the monster hearse and the helicopter RV bike hauler. I could be wrong, but it looks like her.
Aaron from Self Metal Tattoos
Custom Paint & Body

We have also seen the new builder show, The Kustomizer, with a guy called Big Daddy or something like that. It's great that TV has brought the reality of custom fabrication and design to the couch potatoes across the nation. Although we have seen about enough screaming garage drama to choke a horse-we get enough of that at home. It is nice to be able to hold a conversation concerning our passion with most any garage drama couch potato. The term's welding, plasma cutter, and general fabrication have become living room fodder. We don't mean to hate, but all the Reality programming has overrun TV with so much real drama it's hard to watch another minute of whiner vision. The only unfortunate part of all these builder programs is the magic of TV makes it look like it only took two guys 14 hours to completely design and build a kick-ass custom. The truth is, even Foose can't do that, and if he could, it most certainly wouldn't come with a cheaper price tag. The second best part of The Kustomizer show is the hot babe you mentioned, Natalie Green. How cool is that? The girl we digitally captured at West Coast All Truck Nationals on April 10, 2005, is the girl on a builder TV program. We only say she's second best because the best thing is that she knows more about customizing and designing than the screaming guy that hosts the program she's on.

'85 Chevy Drop Arms
Hey y'all. Avid reader here, and I work on my truck whenever I can-unless it's complicated, then you just have to call in the pros. Anyway, I have an '85 Chevy Custom Deluxe SWB and am planning on dropping it using custom A-arms. I'm not thinking any dramatic drop, since this beast is my daily driver-maybe like 3/4, because I do go over curbs occasionally. How many inches of chrome and rubber can I stuff under there without body mods? Or with minimal mods? What kind of clearance problems might I encounter if I go big blingin'? Thanks a lot guys and keep up the good work.
Barbara Biggers

The Only Drop Suspension That Includes A-arms for an early Chevy truck comes from Air Ride Technologies. This kit fits the '71-'87 Chevrolet C10 and uses Air Ride's StrongArm A-arms. But, it's not the arms that drop the truck; it's the Cool-Ride air spring (airbag). It drops the truck 3 inches at ride height, and with all the air deflated from the 'bags, the truck will drop an additional 3 inches. As far as rolling stock, it's really hard to tell you what you should go buy. With that in mind, it would be better to tell you how to check the tire fitment for yourself. With the truck sitting level, measure the distance from center axle to the top of the fender wheel opening. Put the truck on jackstands and remove the tire shock and spring. Take a floor jack and jack up the axle 3 inches further than the stock ride height you previously measured. Measure from the center axle to the top of the wheelwell opening and multiply times two to figure what total diameter would fit.

Take a nail, a string, a pencil, and a piece of 1/2-inch plywood and make a template of the tire diameter. Hammer the nail in the center of the plywood, tie a loop at the end of the string, and hook it around the nail. Then, wrap the string around the pencil a few times, so it holds the pencil at the desired diameter, then draw a circle to form the tire diameter. Now take a piece of paper and rub it on the old rim to transpose the hub and bolt pattern to the paper. Lay it over your plywood, so the hub circle is centered over your nail mark, and mark the hub and rim bolt pattern to the plywood with a center punch and pencil. Cut out the rim diameter, hub diameter, and drill out the bolt holes. Bolt the plywood template to the axle, and jack up the axle 3 more inches, to ensure that diameter will tuck under the fenderwell. If it doesn't fit, reduce the diameter and try again till it will fit. After you figure what diameter will fit, then measure how wide the clearance is to figure tire width and offset needed to fit the truck.

Father Knows Best
Like most people in this country, I'm appalled by skyrocketing gas prices. It doesn't help matters that my ride is an '04 Hummer H2. I've gone with the urban warrior look, including lots of chrome and 22x10-inch Weld Racing Velociti 8 wheels with Nitto NT404 305/45R22 tires. Obviously, I don't take my H2 off-roading. My question is about improving fuel economy. I didn't buy a Hummer expecting 30 mpg, but I also didn't expect gas prices more than 3 dollars a gallon. I've got too much money tied up in my truck to bail out, but I would like to maximize mileage. My dad was ragging on me about how dumb I was to buy a Hummer and he also said my driving habits were a big factor in getting poor fuel economy. I don't do smoky burnouts at every light, but I like to get up to speed quickly and get where I'm going. I know I'm wasting some fuel, but is that really a big economy factor? Another point my dad and I argued about was the value of cruise control. I don't use cruise control because the freeways around here are so busy that it's hard to maintain a constant speed. Dad claims jack-rabbit starts (his term, not mine) and not using cruise control are bigger gas-wasters than proper tire pressures, vehicle weight, and keeping the truck tuned up. At least, we both agreed that long warm-ups and idling waste gas. My dad will believe that I'm right and he's wrong, if he sees it in print. Maybe then he will get off my back about the way I drive. Thanks.
Brandon McNeil
Brentwood, California

Sorry to say this, but father knows best. Fuel economy has become a big issue for all motorists, but especially for owners of large SUVs. It hurt our wallet to gas up a new Hummer H2 SUT test truck that we only drove for a week. We feel your gas pains about fueling a Hummer on a regular basis. Most sport truck owners like the power their trucks provide, so a more aggressive driving style makes perfect sense. Researchers have conducted tests on heavy SUVs and found significant fuel economy gains when zero to 60 times are slower. The difference between reaching 60 mph in 20 seconds, instead of 10, resulted in a 35 percent fuel economy improvement in one test. That sounds a little extreme, but the same researchers obtained mid-20 percent gains when testing lighter weight sports cars on similar parameters. We've experimented with the instantaneous mileage readout feature on new Corvettes and watched mpg numbers drop like crazy when we mash the throttle. Conversely, we averaged 30 mpg (in the same Vette) when we played balloon foot on a 300-mile cross-state freeway jaunt. Our balloon-foot numbers were aided by using cruise control. Personally, we don't like cruise control (that real or imagined lack of control feeling), but the numbers don't lie. The previously mentioned researchers recorded a more than 10 percent improvement in the SUV for cruise control versus strictly driver throttle inputs. Using cruise control in heavily congested urban areas is difficult, but it pays big dividends on trips. The other things you mention: weight (you can't do much about that), proper tire pressure, and keeping a truck well-tuned are all important, but they don't add up to the same gains as a more conservative driving style.

Leaky Tiki
I have an '83 GMC shortbed stepside pickup. It's my daily driver and it's pretty sharp, but no show truck. The truck came from Arizona, so it was a rust-free cherry when I brought it back to Minnesota six years ago. Since then, it's been outside all the time because I don't have a garage. My problem is that the truck leaks water on both sides of the floor. My girlfriend calls my truck the "Leaky Tiki," since I have a Tiki motif on the paint and graphics. I know it's not a heater core problem, since the liquid is clear and I had a new heater core installed six months ago anyway. The truck is air conditioned and I also had that whole system checked and recharged when the heater core was replaced. The wetness appears rain related, but it isn't a situation where the water runs noticeably. The windshield was starting to fog around the edges, so I had it replaced shortly after the heater core work. The glass shop installed all new gaskets and did an excellent job of sealing. They said there wasn't any sign of rust around the windshield opening. That brings me back to my dilemma. Can you suggest some other source of this annoying moisture?
Dwayne Brown
St. Cloud, Minnesota

Your recent repairs have covered many common sources of wet floors. Since your truck has factory air, a probable source of moisture is the area where cowl vents are on non-air-conditioned trucks. This series of Chevy/GM trucks has been known to leak here. All the trucks were produced with provisions for kick panel air vents. Air-conditioned trucks just didn't have things hooked up. There was a quality control problem of inconsistent spot welds and poorly fitted and/or poorly sealed seams. Those flaws can let water in when it rains hard. If you remove the plastic kick panels, we think you'll see evidence of leakage. If there isn't any rust-through, you should be able to reseal the seams. If everything is dry and perfect behind the kick panels (we seriously doubt that), another possible water entrance are bad cowl seams. Check all the seams for signs of missing or dried and cracked seam sealant. You can double-check any suspected problem areas by flooding the bad seam with a garden hose while someone watches for leaks inside the cab.

More Or Less
I have an '04 Dodge Dakota with the 3.7L V-6. I have been unable to find any upgrades for this engine. I like the V-6 but wish for a little more horsepower and torque. I also like the fuel mileage of the V-6. I would like to know if the aftermarket plans on developing any engine mods for the 3.7L, or is it a dud like the 2.8L Chevy was? I am looking for air induction, exhaust, underdrive pulley, and computer program modifications. Any information that you could provide would be helpful. I am in the Army, stationed in Kuwait at this time. I will be home in December and wish to start some upgrades if possible. Thank you in advance for all your help.
Scott Shays

If you like the fuel mileage and only want a little more without messing up the stock combo, then put on a small nitrous kit. This will leave the stock combination alone, so it won't alter the driveability in any way, shape, or form. All the other mods you mention will change the characteristics of the airflow, and you may wind up altering your fuel mileage.

Custom Tonneau Cover
I'm building a super-smooth '87 El Camino. So far, I've removed all emblems and unnecessary trim items. I narrowed the bumpers, so they tuck in nice and tight against the body. I want a flush fit (or possibly slightly recessed) hard tonneau cover, but most of the ones I've seen are the raised ones that extend up and over he sides of the bed. I would prefer metal or aluminum to fiberglass because I want a super-smooth finish to match the body paint. Also, I want the gaps between the tonneau and the bed sides to be as tight as absolutely possible. Do you know of a ready-made tonneau that would fit my needs? If not, how much trouble would it be to fabricate a custom tonneau?
J.R. Slattery
via e-mail

We're not aware of any ready-made late-model El Camino covers that would fit your stringent requirements. Whether or not you could build a custom tonneau yourself depends on your fabrication skills and the caliber of tools in your shop. The basic techniques for making a custom tonneau apply to any truck, but the shape of your El Camino presents some added challenges. The biggest problem for a '78-'87 El Camino is the bed's unique shape. As you know, the bed is not a normal rectangle. Not only is the bed very rounded at the back window, it tapers slightly towards the tailgate. El Camino beds are slightly less than 5 feet wide and about 6-1/2 feet long. That means a standard 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of aluminum is too narrow. An oversize sheet of aluminum is considerably more expensive and harder to locate. To get Mercedes-quality gaps, a precise pattern will have to be made. A very good sheetmetal shop should cut the panel. Your other choice is to use two 4-foot-wide panels with a butt weld in the middle. That joint will require more finish bodywork to achieve your seamless look. A frame of 1x1-inch square aluminum tubing needs to be designed and fabricated to support the sheet of aluminum. This framework should be thoroughly cross-braced. The outer aluminum skin is quite heavy. For best results the brace joints should be TIG-welded. A recessed perimeter bracket or ledge is needed to support the tonneau. The location of the perimeter bracket depends on whether you want the tonneau exactly flush or slightly recessed. Aftermarket aluminum scissor hinges like those used on street rod hoods will allow the tonneau to open and close smoothly. These hinges need to be mounted to the framework and then attached to the bed bulkhead. The hinges should be well-braced to evenly distribute load forces. Pressure-adjustable nitrogen-charged struts, like those used on hatchbacks and liftgates, should be mounted approximately above the center of the wheeltubs. Some trial-and-error engineering will be needed to determine the length of the strut and its extended angle (approximately 45 degrees). Super heavy-duty industrial-strength two-part bodyshop epoxy can be used to bond the aluminum sheet to the frame. This operation has very little wiggle room or time to perform the mating, so quick, accurate positioning is imperative. An alternative bonding method is to use aircraft-tapered and recessed rivets. These aircraft supply store rivets require some body filler for a totally flush finish. They can crack the paint when the tonneau flexes, so the epoxy bonding is probably best suited to your needs.

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