Every dark cloud has a silver lining - just ask Ron De Franceschi of Torrington, Connecticut. Having built his first custom 4x4 15 years ago, a yellow '75 Jeep CJ-5 named Tweety, it was taken away from him in a tragic accident, which left it totaled. The silver lining to Ron's cloud came 15 years later when he purchased what would soon become Tweety II, a '79 Dodge W150 4x4. Having some rather large tires to fill when compared to his first creation, Ron knew that if he was going to build another off-roader it would have to be done right.
First thing first: After taking delivery of his new project vehicle, Ron stripped the entire truck down to the bare frame. At that point, he had the entire frame sandblasted and painted Black with PPG paint by Tom Davis of Torrington. With a clean slate to work with, Ron began dialing in the suspension so that it would be able to go wherever he pointed it. The front Dana 60 was raised using a 6-inch custom suspension lift. The rear lift was custom-fabricated by Perrault Tire & Springs of Waterbury, Connecticut. The crew at Perrault's re-arched the rear factory leaf springs to accommodate heavier payloads. For added insurance, they added a set of add-a-leaves. The final touches for the newly tuned suspension came in the form of a 3-3/4-inch custom body lift kit that Ron fabricated by hand. With the rig raised a whopping 9-3/4-inches, the massive 39x15R15 Mickey Thompson tires mounted on 15x12-inch Alcoa wheels fit just perfectly. Rugged Trail shocks are in charge of keeping the ride quality smooth and controlled, even on the toughest terrain. With Dana 60 axles fitted with 4.56 positraction in both the front and rear, Ron is guaranteed not to get stuck anywhere he doesn't want to be.
The 440-cid Chrysler V-8 motor was massaged by Leifert Automotive of Torrington to achieve 500-plus horsepower. Obtaining that much power was accomplished by replacing key internal components with high-quality aftermarket accessories, boring the stock block 0.030 over, and then blueprinting, balancing, and deburring it. The forged TRW 9.0:1 compression pistons paired with a Crane custom-ground camshaft and lifters allows the engine to turn in pure harmony. Keeping the vital components lubricated is a high-volume oil pump, which pulls oil from an 8-quart custom pan. The iron Chrysler heads were treated to a three-angle valve job and then sent to be ported and polished, while the guides were sleeved. Ron assisted with the engine rebuild as well by fabricating custom engine pulleys. For aspiration purposes, a dual plane Offenhauser manifold replaced the factory version. Taking its place atop the manifold was a 850-cfm Holley carburetor. Increasing the voltage starting power is achieved by the set of Excel 8.8 plug wires. To give his rig a pronounced voice, a stainless steel Ultra Flow muffler with 2-1/2-inch tubing was installed. With the vitals fresh and ready for business, the block was repainted using stock Chrysler Engine Blue, with chrome valve covers adding just a hint of suspicion to it all.
The four-speed stock transmission was basically kept in its factory form with the exception of a Grannies Gearbox for those days that Ron is feeling extra adventurous off the beaten path. A Brute Power clutch disc and pressure plate were welcome additions as well.
For Ron, the most time-consuming and labor-intensive part of the buildup was yet to come. A welder by trade, Ron chose to custom-fabricate as much of the sheetmetal as he could. Using 10-gauge diamond-plate steel, he proceeded to build and weld together his own custom bed for Tweety II. When the fitting and welding were complete, he ground down every weld so that it would be perfect. He then fabricated the rear bumper from a solid piece of 10-inch channeled iron, which would be cut and fabricated to fit the contour of the truck. When all sheetmetal and body fabrication was completed, as a tribute to his CJ-5, Ron had Tom Davis paint the entire rig with 3 gallons of the same Corvette Yellow that Tweety I was painted with. The interior of the truck was reupholstered to complement the exterior.
Whether he is on a trail, in the middle of the woods, or just showing his new project, Ron is very satisfied with his new rig. Although it still is not the same as his CJ-5, Ron knows that his beloved Tweety I is in a better place, and whenever he misses his first joy, he just climbs into his second version and the world becomes a much brighter place - either that or he just has to look at the yellow hood from his windshield.
|Owner/hometown ||Ron De Franceschi/Torrington, Connecticut |
|Make/model ||'79 Dodge W150 4x4 |
|Suspension ||6-inch custom suspension lift kit; homemade 3-3/4-inch body lift |
|Tires ||: 39x15x15 Mickey Thompsons |
|Wheels ||15x12-inch Alcoa |
|Transmission ||Modified factory four-speed |
|Engine ||: Chrysler 440-cid V-8 |
|Additional features ||850-cfm Holley carburetor; Excel plug wires; custom-made stepside bed; Offenhauser manifold; custom-fabricated rear bumper; custom Corvette Yellow paint; CARR running boards |