Rolling on 22s and 24s, this rat-rod dualie rides low with high innovation
RAT RODS HAVE come a long way since the time when critics were dismissive of the low-budget rides assembled from spare parts that highlighted a builder’s lack of concern for paint or chrome. While these creations have everything they need to be functional and legal, the goal is to drive and enjoy them, rather than have them become stars on the show scene. Today, events not only have special classes for rat rods, but there are shows devoted solely to the category.
Miami, Florida’s José Lugo is fully aware of this change in attitude and is a big fan, with four handbuilt patina creations in his past and the fifth finally ready for the camera. José works in his family’s electrostatic industrial painting business and specializes in powdercoating. He regularly makes cool rides look even better and loves the challenge. The project vehicle presented on these pages got its start thanks to a junkyard excursion that uncovered the perfect find: a ’40s vintage Mack semitruck cab, intact but displaying just the right amount of patina. A second lucky break was the grille, found months later at a
swap meet. To complete the package, José needed a new bed for his creation, but he faced the challenge of ensuring whatever new pieces he added were a textural match to the rest of the package.
Once the primary elements were assembled, the project began with the chassis. Construction started with an all-new frame, made from 2x5-inch rectangular steel tubing and braced with crossmembers to support anticipated heavy loads. José and a couple of friends created it, adding an I-beam dropped front axle from a Chevrolet 3500HD pickup, Sea Leg shocks, airbags, and a heavy-duty pitman arm to control a pair of oversized front tires. Radius arms hold the salvaged Ford rear axle along with another set of bags and shocks. Heavy-duty sway bars, front and rear, ensure a stable ride. When it came time for power, José bypassed the traditional flathead Ford or small-block Chevrolet engine choices, opting instead for a ’91 Dodge Ram dualie as the donor vehicle, using its 5.9L Cummins powerplant and transmission.
By definition, rat rods stand out from the crowd, but José wanted his to attract attention based on several factors, beginning with a showy engine. Starting with the essentially stock 12-valve Cummins, he retained the factory turbocharger, augmenting it with a second marine-sourced Caterpillar turbo plumbed on top. The air/fuel path begins with the huge Mack truck air cleaner mounted on the passenger-side
firewall. Atmosphere works its way through the first turbo, with the pressurized mix achieving terminal velocity via a blast from the second ’charger that fires it into the engine. Exhaust exits through a straight pipe mounted parallel to the windshield and flowing over the roof of this waist-high ride. A custom-built tank and fueling handled by FASS Fuel Systems components ensure there’s a constant supply of diesel feeding the engine. The combination of exposed piping, compound turbos, and the vertical stack team up to create a package that causes most folks to stop for a closer look.
Once the powertrain components were in place, it was time to mount the distinctive cab, complete with an abbreviated visor on top, wraparound two-piece windshield, and authentic Mack bulldogs on the mirrors. Initial input from friends suggested the semi cab was too wide for a rat rod, but José knew better, going so far as to exaggerate the width even more with a set of
dualie wheels in the rear. The wide cab is fitted with a fabricated bed and narrowed to accommodate the rear wheels, and a raised floor is incorporated to clear the suspension. Lifting the wood planks reveals the salvaged Ford dualie rearend, airbags, huge reserve tank, pair of Viair 450 compressors, and twin batteries. Vintage barn-door hinges are the finishing touch for the tailgate. The unique taillights are repurposed cylinders from the shop’s old air compressor mated with lenses from a ’55 Ford. Accents include fire extinguishers, a train whistle, and a trailer hitch destined to play a specific role in the future.
Rolling stock can make or break the overall design, and the distinctive Vintage II rims from Diesel Wheels catch everyone’s eye. José teamed up with Frank Carralero of Diesel Wheels to create the 22x8 and 24x8 package. José began by applying the translucent copper powdercoating to all six rims and then turned them over to Frank for the polished edges. Up front, the 22s have a five-bolt pattern while the 24s in the rear have 10 lugs holding the duals in place. All boast ominous-looking chrome spikes as a finishing touch. Fury Country Hunter M/T rubber gets the power to the ground.
While the patina’d truck might look a little rough on the outside, everything changes when you peek inside. José’s good friend Rolando “Rolly” Hernandez from R Custom Design in Miami did the interior, and the guidance was simple. “Although it’s a rat rod on the outside, the interior should be luxurious.” The TEA’s Design–style bench seat is done in hand-stitched Peanut Butter leather with matching door panels, transmission tunnel, dash, and carpet. About the holes in the dash, José says the interior will be complete once the ongoing search for authentic Mack gauges is successful.
This build took a short six months to complete. José enjoys the creative process, saying, “This is the perfect stress reliever after a long, hard day.” Future plans call for hooking up his six-wheeled ride to an air-bagged trailer that will haul his second rat rod. When it’s complete, the trio should create a head-swiveling sight rolling down the interstate. Special thanks to Frank Carralero from Red’s Hydraulics, Juan “Veneno” Garcia, and Orlando “Puro” Perez for their help in creating José’s dream ride.
The heart of the beast is the compound-turbocharged 5.9L 12-valve Cummins engine with its distinctive piping, authentic Mack air filter, and over-the-top straight exhaust pipe.
Simple yet effective, the front suspension uses a dropped I-beam axle, Sea Leg shocks, and airbags for adjustable altitude.
In stark contrast to the patina’d exterior, the interior is luxurious, with plush quilted leather on the seats, door panels, dash, and floor. Nostalgic touches include an authentic Mack steering wheel and column, along with an everexpanding collection of authentic Mack gauges.
Diesel Wheels’ 24-inch dualie wheels in the rear are equally complex, with polished aluminum edges and copper, accented with chrome bullets on 10 lugs.
The 22-inch Diesel Wheels rims up front are a complex blend of polished aluminum, translucent copper powdercoat, chrome bullets on the five lugs, and rugged rubber from Fury Off-Road Tires.
Jose’s Mack is adorned with such imaginative accessories as the taillights made with a combination of repurposed air compressor cylinders and vintage Ford lenses. The narrowed bed on the wide big-rig cab proved to be the perfect choice when combined with the tucked-in 24-inch dualie rims. Weathered barn wood makes up the bed floor, and it is hinged for access to the rearend and air-suspension components.
Locating the grille at a swap meet was the ultimate find, especially since the patina was a close match to the cab. José positioned it so that it is on the ground when the bags are deflated.