|A FAIR DODGE|
Rex Cadman describes the project to restore this ½-ton Dodge as ‘absolute madness’. Nevertheless, engineer Steve Cobb persevered and the result is superb. John Blackman has the story and took the main photos, while Evalina de Lis provided a touch of glamour
It was then that the Cadmans were planning a trip to Normandy and decided it would be a good idea to restore and take a couple of Dodges, a command car and the ½-tonner. Luckily, the command car was first into the Cadman’s workshop for their engineer, Steve Cobb, to work his wonders on. The restoration went as smoothly as these things ever do and the result was very much up to Steve’s usual very high standards. But when it came time to start on the ½-tonner it soon became clear that it wouldn’t be going to Normandy, or anywhere else, anytime soon.
‘Steve made a superb job of the command car,’ says Rex, ‘but In the process of tackling the ½-ton we discovered that around 80% of it was missing! What we’d actually got was a rusty old chassis, a pair of stripped-out axles, wheels, the remnants of a cab, bonnet, wings and grille, and the remains of what had been the rear body; all the expensive and hard-to-find pieces had long since gone.
‘So we started buying bits for it and even then, we hadn’t realised just how much we were going to need. What we should have done was to have put it on a trailer, taken it down to the scrapyard, weighed it in and walked away. That would have been the intelligent move. But it’s very hard to let £3500 go that easily! It really was in an horrendous state; tackling it was absolute madness. But Steve made a super job of it.’
The entire project spanned two years, not of continuous work, other vehicles passed through the Cadman workshop, but much effort went into sourcing the multitude of parts that were needed. Among the roll call of those that assisted are Steve Rivers of Dallas Autos in the UK (www.dallasautoparts.com), plus US-based John Bizal (www.midwestmilitary.net) and Vintage Power Wagons (www.vintagepowerwagons.com). Although the majority of components had to be sourced in the States, Steve and the Cadmans did find a few choice pieces themselves, such as a set of ‘marble’ reflectors that were located in Normandy.
After a thorough overhaul, the original 3772cc, 92bhp, T215 engine has been retained and runs sweetly, but the original differentials were useless. ‘One was so worn,’ says Steve, ‘that you could cut your finger on the pinion gear teeth. They were worn to a sharp edge. Steve Rivers at Dallas was able to supply a replacement diff for the front axle, but for the back axle I had to mate two gears together with a lot of valve-grinding paste… if you put a pinion gear to a planet gear that isn’t matched they’ll grind, but if you run them with valve-grinding paste they’ll seat nicely.’
Before even attempting to describe how much work was necessary to eradicate the infestation of ‘tin worm’ in the few remaining bits of bodywork, you need to appreciate that the chassis was twisted and even the springs had been worked to the point where they had become a liability, as Steve explained.
‘I had to de-rivet them, take them off the chassis, braze them back up and the re-mill them because they’d been used to the point that the pins had gone through the brass of the spring and started to work their way through the castings and chassis. It was a nightmare.’
As for the chassis, which was about 12in (305mm) down on one side, possible because an A-frame had once been attached, Steve corrected the twist with the help of a ‘Heath Robinson’ arrangement utilising scaffolding pole and a forklift. Interestingly, when Steve removed what remained of the A-frame parts he discovered that they had been welded directly over the vehicle’s chassis number, which probably preserved it. We’ll return to that later… also to the fact that the Dodge came with an additional pair of rear wheels so those on the rear axle could be ‘doubled up’.
If you are coming the conclusion that there wasn’t a single part of the Dodge as originally purchased in 1989 that didn’t require remedial work, you are absolutely correct. ‘We were lucky in that we had an extra set of front wings and an extra bonnet and cowl,’ Steve explains. ‘But there wasn’t a single part that I could take off, blast, paint and put back on. Every single piece had to have something done to it.’
The body work was in such a state that Steve had to make most of the cab, and the entire back end is new. He even had to extend a pair of replacement rear wings that were shipped from the States because it was discovered on arrival that there was about 12in (305mm) missing off the back edge of each one. Some of the work-in-progress photos will give you an idea of the amount of body work needed generally; Steve even had to brush up on his woodworking skills when it came to putting a floor in the pickup bed. And don’t think for one second that Steve and the Cadmans would be happy picking up the wood needed at their local timber yard. Oh no, nothing as simple as that. They imported American light oak from the States, together with the matching hoops. ‘We couldn’t have been more stupid if we’d tried,’ is Rex’s assessment!
But he says it with an obvious pride in the result. ‘I’m glad we’ve got it; it’s a nice piece. But we wouldn’t do it again and we certainly don’t have any intention of trying to calculate what it cost… not just in terms of parts, but in workshop time and all the hours Steve put into it. You could probably restore a Sherman for the same price!’
It’s not at all uncommon to come across restoration projects that have swallowed up more cash than the finished vehicle could attract on the open market. It’s probably the norm, in fact. But that isn’t point. For such as the Cadmans and Steve Cobb it’s more a case of, ‘if you’re going to do it, do it right’. Had they employed, for instance, a cheaper alternative to genuine American light oak in the pickup bed, you and I probably wouldn’t have noticed or indeed cared… but they know and they care. And that is the point.
Need we say that nothing is known about this vehicle’s history other than Mike Stallwood acquired it in the States? It is one of Dodge’s G505 series of ½-tonners that commenced in 1940 with the VC family. At the time, as far as Dodge were concerned, ‘V’ stood for 1940 and ‘C’ for a ½-ton rating. The six VC variants were largely based on commercial components, but when, in 1941, the WC family emerged (‘W’ for 1941) the overall styling was far more militaristic. As an aside, Steve Cobb commented that the Cadman’s 1941-built Dodge still showed traces of its civilian lineage, with provision for left- or right-hand drive both in terms of holes in the cab floor and provision for mounting the steering box on either side.
‘You could probably restore a Sherman for the same price!’
Now, Dodge’s WC family evolved into a large and comprehensive range incorporating ½- and ¾-ton vehicles (making a nonsense of the company’s original date/rating code system), so which of the WC family is the Cadman’s Dodge? You can see that it is obviously a pickup, which narrows it down a little, but to pin down the Dodge’s designation you have to know which engine was installed. I can tell you (since Steve told me!) that it’s the larger of the engine options, a 3772cc unit very similar to those fitted to ¾-ton weapons carriers and the like. Whether it was the same engine fitted in 1941 is another matter, but every other component has been worked beyond its useful life so it’s quite likely. A quick look at your Dodge reference material will reveal that a ½-ton pickup with the 3772cc T215 engine is a WC40.
But hold on a second. If you remember, we revealed that Steve discovered a chassis number under where A-frame mounts had been welded. Checking that against Dodge records indicates that the Cadman machine was an emergency repair truck. This effectively means that it was constructed as a chassis cab unit onto which a special service body was mounted. Apparently only around 300 of these, powered by the T215 engine and designated WC41, were manufactured in 1941. Many, if not most, were equipped with dual rear wheels. The Cadman truck came with such wheels. Further, an Ordnance Department document indicates that 17 of those 1941-built chassis/cabs were converted to pickups.
Is the Cadman Dodge one of the 17? Who knows? Maybe some intensive research will reveal all… or maybe not. But what is self evident is that the truck is a triumph of perseverance and skill over common sense, and a fine example of a type rare this side of the Atlantic.