One of a Kind

A Wildly Custom 1938 Cummins Swapped Dodge

Nate Wilson, of Grass Valley, California, wanted something different. In the last few years Nate has become a well-known car and truck builder in Northern California, and has built everything from twin turbo Chevelles, to Coyote-swapped Broncos. Trucks own a special place in his heart though, as do diesels. “I found a 1938 Dodge and I knew it just needed a Cummins in it,” laughs Nate.

What makes Nate’s ride especially unique, is that it’s not a body swap. A lot of swaps just use an existing chassis, say a ‘94 Dodge Ram dually, and swap and old timey body on top. Nate decided to go the much harder route of using the factory ‘38 frame, and build the rest of the chassis to match the ideas that were inside his head. Although it doesn’t look like any tow truck we’ve seen, it technically is one. Nate built the entire rear frame out of mammoth 2 by 10-inch boxed square tubing, and then topped it off with a custom flatbed. The 16-foot bed was just the start of the build though, and with the help of good fabrication buddy Zachary Hite, there was a lot more to come.

The 5.9L Cummins 12v is stock, save for a few minor upgrades. Some timing has been added to the engine, as well as a FASS 150 lift pump, governor springs, and valvesprings that enable the engine to rev past 3,000 rpm before a shift. Power is estimated at 300hp at the flywheel, and around 700lb-ft of torque.

Since Nate practically needs a 4×4 to get down the miles-long dirt road that leads to his house, building a 2-wd truck just wasn’t on the menu. After the chassis was built, next came the front and rear suspension, which were custom built by Nate. Up front, an ‘09 Ford front axle was incorporated into the boxed ‘38 frame, and hung with a tweaked WFO kit with King 2.5 coil-over shocks and dual steering stabilizers. The rear suspension is where things got wild, as a four-bag Firestone air system has been modified by Nate into a parallel four-link arrangement. The incredibly stout rear suspension and Dana 80 axle can not only handle the weight of the 8,000-pound Dodge, but a 10,000-pound truck on top of the flatbed as well.

Nate went with a newer generation HY35 turbocharger, which spools even quicker than the stock HX35. He also externally wastegated it at 30psi so it could live a long and happy life.

Nate was making good progress with his truck, and undoubtedly, he was building a monster. With the truck being the behemoth that it is, there was absolutely no powerplant that would do other than a diesel. The diesel that powers the Dodge is a legendary Cummins 12-valve, that was pulled out of a ‘97 Dodge. Before it was installed Nate hopped it up a little bit to the tune of about 300hp and 700lb-ft, and increased the engine’s rpm range so that he could wind out the gears a bit with the manual transmission. Speaking of manuals, the 5.9L engine is backed by a NV4500 transmission and Ford 205 transfer case, which provides both stump pulling power and freeway cruisin’. Fitting the diesel engine into the ‘38 was no easy task. The firewall had to be recessed, and both a custom radiator and Mishimoto intercooler had to be installed in order to tuck into the narrow front grille. Nate somehow made it all work, but even as we were taking photos it was hard to believe he fit it all in there.

A 4-inch downpipe exits the turbocharger and is routed into a giant 10-inch stack, that gives the ‘38 a deep mellow tone.

When taking Nate’s creation in, it becomes clear that his crazy attention to detail on the undercarriage is perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Dodge. There’s a whole other build underneath the truck, as that’s where Nate carefully hid 40 gallons worth of air tanks, two compressors, two batteries, and a train horn. Wherever possible Nate used vintage parts, from the train horn off of an actual train, to the ‘50s firetruck siren mounted on a ‘53 Mercury Monterey bumper. The paint of course is the Mother Nature styled original patina which has been clear coated, and somehow works just perfect with all the chrome. Yes, from the tires to the tip of the stack, we can definitely say Nate’s ‘38 is one of a kind.

The front stack in Nate’s Dodge is a pretty interesting arrangement. He took the dimensions, and then everything was built to suit. The radiator was a custom deal out of Service Center Radiator in Auburn, California, and the Mishimoto intercooler was a universal piece based upon his power goals.
The bottom front of the truck is just as detailed as any other part. Here you can see the underside of the Cummins engine and NV4500, as well as the front link suspension arrangement.
The killer chrome wheels on the ‘38 are quite the conversation piece. The 22.5-inch Alcoas that have been cut down to 22 inches by Michael’s Truck Works in Mesa, Arizona, and fitted with “Wilsonz Kustomz” billet centercaps to promote Nate’s shop.
Nate needed a beefy rearend to handle the weight of the truck, as well as any load he might be carrying.  A Dana 80 rearend with 3.73 gears was selected for the job, and was further upgraded with a locker from Yukon Gear.
There’s a whole second vehicle’s worth of work underneath the truck. The entire 26-foot frame has been powder-coated Misty Rootbeer, the air compressors, tanks, and batteries are all mounted along the frame, and the rear suspension is a full on custom parallel 4-link setup that uses Firestone airbags. There’s also train horns, and a custom driveline from Driveline Services in Sacramento, California.
There was no way Nate was going to be rolling down the highway on 80-year-old Dodge suspension. The front framerails were boxed, and King 2.5-inch coil-over shocks and an ‘09 Ford Super Duty axle with dual steering stabilizers gave Nate a solid platform to build upon.
The front suspension is based on a solid axle conversion kit from WFO, which Nate has seamlessly integrated into the Dodge.
With a host of gauges, a tilt steering column, and an original dash, the interior is an interesting mixture of old and new.
Nate laughed when we asked where he found a seat that fit so perfectly. No it’s not a Dodge seat, it’s out of a Chevy S10 pickup!
Nate needs to be able to use his Dodge to pick up future projects whether they run or not, so he mounted a heavy-duty 12,000-pound Warn winch on the front of the bed, right behind the cab.
By using the air suspension Nate is able to drop his flatbed almost all the way to the ground. For lower cars he also has a set of ramps that help ‘em onto the deck.

25-copy 26-copy

Virtually all of the cab and front of the body is still factory original. Even the double-hinged hood still works correctly.
Perhaps one of the more interesting parts on the truck is the huge front bumper that had us guessing. It’s actually not off of a pickup, but was pirated from a 1953 Mercury Monterey.
The front grille of the Dodge is factory, but has been jazzed up with the old and new theme. A siren from the ‘50s is mounted on the front bumper, along with newer LED headlight lighting.

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