Mix & Match - Diesel World

Robbie Watson spent two years collecting parts to fabricate his personal best.

Robbie Watson owns his own wrecker service in Branchland, WV and has been an automotive enthusiast from his earliest memories, rebuilding and personalizing his bikes, wagons, and toy trucks since he was about five years old. “Later,” he says, “the best toys turned out to be lug nuts and Dad’s tools!” In fact, the rebuild process has never stopped, teaming up with his father, Sam Watson regularly to create something new. At the tender age of 16, he began his own first build, a 1955 Chevy Bel Air and, over the years, multiple vehicles have graced the family garage. The one you are looking at right now however, may be the most elaborate yet. It’s a blend of an F-100, F-350, and lots more, reminiscent of the old Johnny Cash song, One Piece at a Time.

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10B

The eye-catching ’97 Dodge 5.9L Cummins 12-valve boasts beautiful powder coated duct work for the Holset HX35 and HT60 twin turbo setup. An Isuzu intercooler and custom radiator keep the engine cool.

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It started when Robbie and Sam bought a nice truck from Spartanburg South Carolina in the 90s. Unfortunately, sandblasting revealed too many problems so they bought another from Fort Worth, Texas. Just for fun and to stock up on spares, they purchased a third F-350 from Missouri.  With lots of raw materials on hand, Robbie began concocting a basic recipe for just a good driver but before long the plan called for a chopped and slammed rig with big tires on the back. That idea went away as well, realizing that the look had been done and redone. That’s when he decided to mix-and-match, creating an audacious one-of-a-kind build that would combine imagination with no compromises. Using found components, Robbie blended a custom 1953 F-100 body with an F-350 chassis and Dodge 5.9L Cummins, along with lots of Chevy parts thrown in for good measure.

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The valve cover says Twin Turbo Grouch, humorously referring to Sam, Robbie’s dad. Robbie found a stuffed Sesame Street ‘Grouch’ and realized it was a natural characterization of the truck, smoky, stinky, and green!

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The F-350 chassis became the foundation and the first step was to box the frame and shorten it to accommodate the smaller F-100 bed. Being in the wrecker business meant the supply of spare parts was almost endless, like the Freightliner aluminum step tank that was cut down to 30 gallons so that it would fit between the rear rails. Suspension upgrades were next and once again rooting through his inexhaustible parts bin, Robbie looked around the yard and realized that he had a heavy-duty front end from a 1997 Chevrolet P30 commercial van. Since it had upper and lower control arms along with power steering, it was too good to pass up. After a few measurements, he knew it would fit the chassis but both front fenders had to be modified to accommodate the wider track. Eibach 2-inch drop spindles were added up front to improve the truck’s profile and parallel leaf springs were adapted to hold the rear in place. The final step in the chassis build was to make it a roller using half a dozen 16 X 7 aluminum rims from a‘97 Ford dually, wrapped in 75-series rubber.

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Dolphin gauges in mint green monitor traditional functions. The angled collection of black face Auto Meter gauges in the lower center of the dash monitor diesel elements.

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The plush interior begins with a set of overstuffed Chevrolet buckets, complete with center console, overhead console, and custom door panels, all stitched in natural distressed leather. The hard surfaces of the interior were painted to match.

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Wraparound sound fills the cab, thanks to a custom ported enclosure behind the bucket seats that holds the pair of subs and highs along with component sets in the doors.

Motive power was next, solved thanks to a 1997 Dodge 5.9L Cummins 12valve and an ‘02 Dodge transmission that Robbie says was “just laying around.” His good friend Randy Johnson of Kings Mountain, NC began the engine tear down by O-ringing the block, then fitting the motor with larger injectors, 4500RPM governor springs, and a Bosch injector pump. Chroming the injector lines made them stand out but the real eye-catching feature is the beautiful powder coated duct work for the twin turbo setup. Robbie chose the Holset HX35 because of its small frame, quick spool time, and simple installation. He added an HT60 turbo from an N14 Cummins as icing on the cake. Since the twin setup creates heat, it was plumbed into an Isuzu intercooler and Robbie had a custom radiator built to fit the space, augmenting it with an electric fan. Running out of engine room, he relocated the oil filter to the passenger side front wheel well. The package is capable of 50 pounds of boost although it’s set up for considerably less around town. The engine is connected to the Dodge 6-speed manual transmission with Robbie opting for a single disc clutch that allowed for smooth takeoffs, minimal pedal effort, and easy stop and go driving. Bob Holmes fabricated a big single disc clutch, re-drilling the flywheel to handle the torque. The trans feeds the F-350 14-bolt rear, running 3:25 gears. Robbie says the six speed is fun to shift although he really only needs three out of the six gears. He felt it was much easier to make the standard work over the automatic. The truck has never been on a dyno but he estimates it produces somewhere between 400 and 500 hp with twice that amount of torque.

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Razor sharp edges and wafer thin cut lines show off the attention paid to the bodywork on the truck. Bumpers were removed, the grill bar painted to match, and just a touch of chrome accents added.

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The smooth skin on the tailgate blends into the custom rear pan. Standard width rear fenders were fitted to the widened bed with custom inner fender panels covering the dually rear wheels.

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Adapting the F-100 body to the F-350 chassis proved to be a challenge with the bed becoming the critical dimension. The widened front fenders and cab were fairly easy but in order to match the dually rear axle, the bed had to be widened 14 inches over stock. As a result, the running boards display a distinctive stepped shape, the result of mating three different running boards from an F-700. Robbie retained the grooves in the sheet-metal for a factory look. Standard width, factory rear fenders were mounted to the wider bed and new inner wheel tubs made everything fit. The front end of the truck was customized with subtle additions, beginning with eliminating the bumper and emblems, then adding frenched chrome headlight rings and optional teeth on the grille bar. Robbie adapted a set of Dodge pick-up hinges to the Ford hood. The rear uses a custom fabricated smooth tailgate with both the front and rear corners of the bed fared into the sides. Traditional Ford taillights are augmented with LED central marker lights. A touch-latch, gas filler door was cut into the driver side rear fender. With the end in sight, it was time to move inside.

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All six 16 X 7 aluminum wheels are the same, sourced from a ‘97 Ford dually running LT225/75R16 rubber.

The elegant interior began with ’96 Chevrolet pickup bucket seats complete with armrests and center console. The seats, door panels, console, and headliner were upholstered in distressed natural leather and the shifter for the six-speed occupies a prominent spot between the seats. Dolphin gauges in a brushed aluminum panel are in front of the driver monitoring traditional functions while a second collection of angled Auto Meter gauges in the lower center of the dash keep track of diesel-oriented parameters. In addition to all his other skills, Robbie demonstrated his tone-meister talents creating the driver and passenger entertainment system. The dash-mounted Sony CD/MP3 stereo fills the cab with music, controlling a 300-Watt Alpine 4-channel amp. It activates the 6-inch Polk Audio component sets in the doors along with a custom ported enclosure behind the seats that holds a pair of 10-inch MTX subs and an additional pair of 4-inch Kenwood 2-way speakers. Sound deadening throughout enhances the concert hall experience. With the diverse collection of parts and pieces finally coming together as a unique creation, Robbie took the final step, creating his own homemade paint booth and spraying the truck Synergy Green, a color from a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro.

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Sam and Son, Robbie have been building rides together since Robbie was a child.

The truck was a labor of love for more than two years and it may never be finished. Once imagination takes over, it’s difficult to stop!  With no constraints and no compromises, this highly efficient super truck combines speed, style, imagination, and loads of spare parts, making it truly one-of-a-kind. It’s got enough power to terrorize the local Camaro contingent while racking up 24 miles per gallon. We photographed the truck at the F-100 Supernationals in Sevierville, Tennessee where Robbie was in good company, capturing one of the Elite Ten awards.