The Cost Of Free
4-Wheel & Off-Road|March 2020
Trying to revive a Chevy Vortec 454
Verne Simons

Bad ideas? We’ve had them, and probably will continue to have them despite our best efforts. Like a junkie, we always seem to be looking for that next fix, only our heroin comes in the form of trucks and 4x4. We’re not junkies—we’re junkys. We crave capable off-road rigs both big and small. And like most addictions, it creates a problem.

The problem is money, the root of all evil. We apparently would prefer to spend it on many ragged pieces of 4x4 crap than one or two nicer 4x4 pieces of crap. We hoard derelict off-road vehicles and projects in hopes that we can one day take them on an adventure off the beaten (more like “off the paved”) path. That’s why free or nearly free trucks and 4x4s are very hard for us to refuse. This is the exact problem with the 1997 Crew Cab Chevy 3500HD truck that is the focus of this article. It seemed free, a deal too good to pass up.

Of course, working at the world’s largest off-road magazine only enables our habit, justifying some, if not all, of our projects because we need them for work. (Yeah, that’s it!) We introduced this truck to you before, and we even started collecting parts for the build, namely, the locked and loaded 2 1 ⁄2-ton axles we plan to tuck under it. It’s a free truck, which is one of the most sought-after trucks for people with our particular addiction. And while it’s not four-wheel drive (yet), it does have a 454 engine, a beefy transmission, and solid front and rear axles. That’s right— leaf-sprung beam front axle. These issues, we’ve convinced ourselves, are easy to overcome given our current path of enabling our addiction, even if it means spending money on a free truck. But at what cost…really?

1 Here’s evidence that this Chevy 3500HD hasn’t moved in many years. It was last registered in 2002. That means there is a good chance it has been parked since then, but why? It’s 1997, so it was only 5 years old when it was parked and only has 112,000 miles on it. This truck, along with two others like it, were sold to our buddy as assets when a company that owned them went bankrupt. This buddy, Mike, basically told us that if we can get the truck running we can do with it what we want. We’re thinking big tires and Rockwell 2 1 ⁄2-ton axles!

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