We’ve featured a fair amount of engine swaps in the magazine over the years, but none of them have caught our eye and attention quite like this one. “The definition of ‘built, not bought,’” intones the owner. Indeed, no small amount of personal labor went into the construction of this beast.
Levi Horton’s 1974 Ford F350 4x4 has had quite the journey to get to where it is today. Levi’s brother Jack spoke to us at length about the all the details and how they achieved such a stunning final product.
“Ever since he’s known that these step-side crew cabs exist, he started searching Craigslist,” Jack says. He notes that before the advent of the internet, it would have been pretty much impossible to find one of these, let alone know that they exist. The Horton brothers run a hardwood flooring company in Everett, PA, and spent most of their youth restoring old pickups and other vehicles in their shop, which houses a plasma cutter, welder, and anything else you might expect from such automotive enthusiasts. Jack also mentions that they’re a Cummins family through and through, with multiple 12-valves being owned throughout the family over the years and another 6.7 being their current work truck.
They lucked out and found the truck they were looking for about seven hours away in Catskill, NY. They ventured forth to bring it home on a trailer, but were surprised at its condition when they arrived. “We almost didn’t come home with it because it was just so rusted!” he says. “It was garbage. The floor pans were junk, the bed was totally shot, and the whole front clip was shot. The frame was good and solid, but the engine barely ran.” The engine was an old Ford 390 FE, the most common of that generation of engines. Luckily for them, they had no intention of using that engine. In fact, Levi already had his entire vision sketched out before they even left.
As you might have guessed, that vision included Cummins power. They bought a 1995 Dodge to serve as the engine donor, a 12-valve P-pump 5.9L. They also converted the entire driveline to Dodge hardware. It’s a little bit of a Frankenstein, with the transmission being the donor’s 5-speed nv4500, the rear axle being a 1998 Dana 80, while the front axle is a 1978 high-pinion kingpin Dana 60 (“It’s kind of the Holy Grail of axles for these things”). They also did a 4x4 conversion and added a six-inch Skyjacker lift.
Cut It Out
Levi wanted the truck to be a little shorter, so he found a short bed on (you guessed it) Craigslist. They cut 15 inches out of the frame to accommodate the new bed, then plated and welded everything back together. While they were at it, they shored up everything else that needed structural help. That included replacing the front floor pans and cab corners and getting rid of the front doors. They also made cross member modifications and engine mounts. “We didn’t buy any pre-fab engine mounts or anything like that. We made them all ourselves,” Jack says.
At this point, the only original remaining parts from the truck they originally purchased were the cab itself, the back doors, and the frame rails. Jack tells us that they shied away from any reproduction parts because “they didn’t fit worth a crap.” Instead they simply scoured the internet and junkyards to find the parts they needed. After a lot of searching, they were able to find every part they needed to finish the build, though Jack admits it was similar to a nationwide scavenger hunt. One huge help was Carlisle Ford Nationals, a gigantic Ford-only swap meet that takes place once a year in nearby Carlisle, PA. People come from all over to showcase their wares and vehicle builds, and the Hortons used the opportunity to acquire the front fenders as well as various other parts. Some items, such as the hood and core support, came from local places or nearby New York state.