Diesel World isn’t partial to any one scene or type of guy who runs a compression engine. We enjoy discovering and celebrating owners of a vast variety of machines, from economical sedans to monstrously powerful pulling machines to dedicated race trucks and everything in between. Darrell Reese is one of those guys that fit in between—as a dyed-in-the-wool Mopar guy, he’s owned a wide variety of project vehicles, including: a ’69 Coronet, ’71 Dart, ’74 Dodge truck and a ’93 Dakota rock crawler, all of them with various stages of customization and capability. Like many gear-heads, he was always tinkering with his cars and trucks and the collection kept growing, but none of the rides truly satisfied him and his wife Keely.
Reese has owned the ’85 Dodge W350 seen here quite some time now, finding it in the woods while driving through West Virginia over ten years ago and purchasing it to go along with the other Mopars in his collection. The original engine, however, made the truck a dog to drive, so to have more fun, he installed a built V8 gasser. But riding in the leaf sprung truck was still terrible, leading the truck to sit more than it was driven. When Reese’s automotive aspirations and collecting began to overwhelm their home in Junction City, Ohio, Keely encouraged him to acknowledge his gear head disease and to try and focus on one project vehicle that would make the couple happy.
“Reese found the truck in the woods while driving through West Virginia over ten years ago.”
W350 LONE PROJECT
The goal was to build a vehicle that would be all-encompassing, first and foremost a daily driver with modern-truck amenities, but also a workhorse that could pull double duty as a play truck but also look nice enough to qualify as a show truck. Reese decided that his ’85 Dodge had the potential to become the truck of his dreams. He sold the other projects to help fund the W350 build and help him focus on just one project. While the truck had only 27,000 miles when he purchased it and had not been driven a lot over the years, it was also pretty bare and needed a lot of work to become his dream truck. With the help of friends and family, he pulled the Dodge into his small two-car garage and went to work.
Not really having a definitive plan but knowing he wanted to go as far as he could with the truck, he stripped it down to the frame and let it take on a life of its own as the build progressed. Reese started by stripping the truck down to the chassis, removing the cab, bed, and drivetrain. He then sent the body over to Kaleb Shumaker at Far From Stock Restyling in Junction City, Ohio, to straighten, smooth and paint it before it would be reunited with the chassis. Then he sandblasted the chassis before rolling it back into the garage at which point he realized that the leaf spring suspension was never going to give him the ride that he wanted out of the truck. To give him the smooth ride he desired, he began to think about running an air suspension system.
Rather than trying to adapt a basic air suspension system to the truck, Reese thought if he was going to build something adjustable, he might as well make it extremely adjustable, so he started designing a long travel system that would allow over 14-inches of ride height adjustment with large air bags on all four corners of the truck. After diagraming suspension pickup points and frame cuts in his head, he headed into the garage for a long sleepless night with the band saw where the leaf spring chassis met the point of no return and the unique air system that would come to be the truck’s trademark feature was born.
W350 REAR-END WORK
The rear of the truck rides on a Dana 80 axle from a ’96 Dodge that is stuffed with a Powr-Lok differential and 3.54 gears. It is hung under the chassis with a three-link long arm suspension designed and fabricated by Reese with Ruff Stuff Specialties components. The lower control arms are simple straight runs from the frame to the axle housing with bushings at the frame and large Heim joints at the axle. He designed a complicated multi-piece upper wishbone for the upper link that runs from the outside of the frame rails down and under to the center of the upper axle mount above the differential with a single huge Heim joint to allow articulation. The wishbone upper design was necessary to clear the factory fuel tank. Each Firestone 10-inch air bag is mounted outside the frame with custom buckets then tied directly into the axle. The air bags were sourced from a semi-trailer application so they will support plenty of weight. To tame the ride he used a pair of Bilstein 5100 series piggy-back reservoir shocks along with a Hellwig anti-sway bar he adapted to work with his custom suspension.
The front end of the truck rides on air as well, with a matching set of 10-inch Firestone airbags sandwiched between a pair of Bilstein remote reservoir 5100 shocks on each side. Reese fabricated new mounts to secure the airbags to the frame as well as a bolt-in truss that links the two mounts together across the top of the engine. The Dana 60 axle housing was widened four inches and is located under the chassis with a pair of custom three-link lower control arms that were fabricated to prevent it from rotating under the truck. A Panhard bar is utilized to keep the axle assembly from uncontrolled lateral movement below the truck as the suspension cycles through its travel while another Hellwig anti-sway bar is used to control body roll. Limit straps are used on all four corners of the truck to prevent the suspension from overextending.
Reese uses a SmartRide air management system from AirBagIt.com to control the system with the iPhone app or a control panel he installed at the front of the fold down center console armrest. He installed position sensors on each corner of the truck to measure the ride height so that he can precisely control it going from a low slung stance with the tires nearly touching the fenders to a huge lift with tons of clearance or to ride height at the touch of the screen. An AirBagIt DC7500 compressor feeds a 9-gallon air tank mounted along the frame rail between the AirDog lift pump system and the fuel. The compressor and an Optima Red-Top battery are mounted along with the support modules wiring and hoses in a fabricated box under the bed with an access panel cover through the floor of the bed. The truck rolls on a set of 35.0X14.50R22LT Super Swamper IROK tires wrapped around black 22X14-inch Fuel Octane wheels.
“… he started designing a long travel system that would allow over 14-inches of ride height adjustment with large air bags on all four corners of the truck.”
Reese’s wild suspension design wouldn’t be nearly as impressive if he bolted the beat-up 30-year old body onto the chassis. Thankfully, while he was working on the chassis and suspension, Shumaker and his team at FFS were whipping the body into shape. After making the body straight, he laid the great looking Chrysler inferno crystal pearl coat Pro-Spray paint onto the body to give the truck a unique look while keeping true to Reese’s Mopar roots. Color matched Scorpion bed liner coating was sprayed inside the cab to form a headliner as well as on the bottom of the cab and rocker panels for paint protection. The pickup bed features a black Scorpion liner to offset the bold body color and match the matte-black finish on the hood and top of the front fenders. The door handles, mirrors and grille were also treated to the matte-black finish and the custom FFS grille is backed with steel mesh for a unique look. To make the tailgate pop, the back panel features a carbon fiber insert with sponsor decals along the lower edge.
The front and rear factory bumpers were replaced with fabricated plate steel bumpers that Reese built to smoothly integrate into the classic body lines of the truck. Two SR-Series 30-inch Rigid Industries LED light bars are integrated into the center of the front bumper flanked by a pair of smaller Rigid D2 HD lights to blast through the darkness on the Ohio back roads. Surface mount D2 lights are integrated into the rear bumper/roll pan to help Reese light the way when backing up.
To give the truck the modern creature comforts he wanted, Reese installed front seats from a ’99 Dodge Quad Cab and the rear bench seat from an ’06 Mega Cab. He recovered the seats with a two-tone leather kit from LeatherSeats.com with dark graphite and light grey leather inserts. The truck also features a modern audio/video system with a touch-screen Pioneer head unit in the dash feeding a pair of Kicker amplifiers mounted behind the fold down rear seat in the corners of the cab. The four-channel KX 400.4 powers the front and rear Kicker KS65 door speakers while the mono KX 800.1 powers a pair of Kicker RT10 10-inch subs mounted below each front seat.
“Reese chose to ditch the gasser and drop a ’92 5.9L Cummins 12-valve into the W350.”
Knowing he wanted the truck to be seriously powerful, he chose to ditch the gasser and drop a ’92 5.9L Cummins 12-valve into the W350. But before installing the Cummins, he wanted to give it a few upgrades so with the help of his friend Steve Cole, they refreshed the engine in the garage. The head was sent off for a mild port job and machined for O-rings in addition to a new set of spring keepers and retainers. While they reused the stock crank, pistons and rods, they swapped out the cam for a Jams Performance Hot-Street camshaft to actuate the valves. The cylinder head was then bolted down with a set of ARP head studs to keep the pressure inside the cylinders.
Fueling was handled by an AirDog fuel pump/filter system that delivers plenty of #2 to a modified 215 P-pump with 5K springs and full cut delivery valves and a modified AFC housing that feeds a set of 5X14 nozzle injectors. Exhaust outlet is channeled from the head into a three-piece second-gen manifold with a compound turbo setup featuring a 62/71/.90 over an HT3B that Reese replaced with an S480 just before we went to print. The compressed intake charge is handed off to a Banks Power intercooler from a Super Duty before being channeled into the head through a custom boost tubes. Spent exhaust gasses are directed into the air through a miter-cut 7-inch exhaust stack mounted to the floor of the bed. He estimates that the truck makes around 600-650 horsepower with well over 1,000 lbs-ft of torque making the truck very fun to drive whenever he mashes the loud pedal.
The potent Cummins engine is backed with a NV4500 manual transmission that was upgraded with a billet input shaft and cryogenically treated internals. A South Bend Clutch 3850 dual disk clutch is used to channel the power from the engine to the transmission. Cole and Reese also fabricated new driveshafts with 1410 U-joints to get the power from the transfer case to the front and rear Dana axles.
Like most gear heads, Reese doesn’t consider his truck completed, and he still has more work to do on it, like finishing off the interior with some more custom touches. But he has already built a great looking truck with the power, comfort and amenities of a modern truck combined with the cool lines of a classic first-generation Dodge with a good bit of customization thrown in for good measure. In addition to driving and enjoying the truck around town, he also takes it to major events like the Mopar Nationals and diesel favorites, like the Scheid Diesel Extravaganza and TS Performance Outlaw events where he has won several show-n-shine awards. DW