Leon Ek­ery’s Bru­tal, Du­ra­max-Pow­ered 1956 DeSoto

Hot Rod - - Roddin’ @ Random - Todd Ry­den

Imag­ine own­ing a junk­yard in the South­west for the past three decades, and think of all the rust-free cars, parts, and pieces that have come and gone. We’d be lust­ing to build some­thing dif­fer­ent ev­ery week, only to be re­minded that you can’t keep it all, and pay­ing the bills at home should prob­a­bly out­weigh (only barely) try­ing to horde ev­ery cool piece that came through the yard.

Leon Ek­ery has had his share of in­ter­est­ing old tin come through his yard, Dyer Auto Sal­vage, in the far north­east cor­ner of El Paso, Texas. But he also un­der­stands that his busi­ness is based on sell­ing the cars and parts that land in his yard. There are ex­cep­tions, such as find­ing your dream car or per­haps some­thing so un­usual and against the grain that no­body re­ally wants it. Such is the case of a cer­tain 1956 four-door DeSoto Fire­flight.

Leon ad­mits to hav­ing a pen­chant for “dif­fer­ent” when it comes to cars, trucks, and even mo­tor­cy­cles. In fact, one friend dubbed his drive­way “the land of the mis­fit toys,” so there was just some­thing about this DeSoto when it was towed into the yard. The car was com­plete, in­clud­ing the fac­tory 330ci Hemi and all of its fac­tory bright­work and in­te­rior pieces. Even­tu­ally, a lo­cal hot rod­der pried the Hemi out of the DeSoto, but Leon couldn’t bring him­self to scrap the com­plete car, so he waited.

Leon’s been mess­ing with cars all his life, and he’s been through hot rods, cus­toms, a lit­tle drag rac­ing, rock­crawl­ing, SCCA rac­ing, and even mo­tor­cy­cles. What in­trigued him, as well as his son, War­ren, was land­speed rac­ing. And Pikes Peak. And Power Tour®, along with One Lap of Amer­ica.

They needed a car to do it all—and one that would be dif­fer­ent. A plan was un­fold­ing.

It was War­ren who brought up the

prospect of go­ing with diesel power to net the most bang for their buck, plus it was dif­fer­ent. In look­ing at the DeSoto parked in the yard, now with­out its heart, the thought of drop­ping a Du­ra­max driv­e­train into the for­lorn ’56 kind of made sense. The game was on.

At first, they thought they were just go­ing to need to re­work the DeSoto’s chas­sis a bit and beef things up un­der­neath to get the en­gine to fit. Leon found a run­ning and driv­ing 2003 Chevy 2500HD pickup with more than 200,000 miles on it, which would pro­vide the en­tire driv­e­train and elec­tron­ics. It was also about this time when they started to re­al­ize that the 1956 chas­sis was never go­ing to live up to the de­mands of that kind of torque, power, and weight.

More think­ing, mea­sur­ing, and imag­in­ing en­sued un­til their buddy and builder, Shawn Petta of Func­tion Fab, de­ter­mined that they can mod­ify the truck chas­sis and, in the­ory, drop the body in place. Shawn and Leon knew about S-10 chas­sis swaps in street rods and Crown Vic chas­sis un­der full­size Fords and pick­ups, but could the Sil­ver­ado chas­sis and driv­e­line ac­tu­ally be mod­i­fied to squir­rel un­der the big DeSoto body? Shawn got busy to find out.

The Sil­ver­ado was stripped down to the run­ning chas­sis and most all of the re­quired elec­tronic com­po­nents to keep the nec­es­sary sys­tems func­tion­ing. The in­stru­ment clus­ter, wir­ing har­ness, steer­ing col­umn, trans, and com­plete en­gine were kept in their orig­i­nal lo­ca­tion. To lower the front end, a set of McGaughy’s drop spin­dles were used in con­junc­tion with a set of low­er­ing keys for the tor­sion bars.

The rear end was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story. Ob­vi­ously, the wheel­base of the two ve­hi­cles was dif­fer­ent and rather than cut a sec­tion out of the mid­dle, it was de­cided to re­po­si­tion the rear axle for­ward on the ex­ist­ing frame. This would elim­i­nate com­pro­mis­ing the strength of the chas­sis, and they’d sim­ply cut off the length they didn’t need.

Once lo­cated prop­erly, Shawn set about fab­bing a cus­tom rear-sus­pen­sion sys­tem con­sist­ing of a heavy-duty truck four-link sys­tem sup­ported with QA1 coilovers, as well as a Watts link­age to re­duce the side-to­side move­ment and in­crease over­all sta­bil­ity. As for the rear axle it­self, Shawn started with a sheet­metal 9-inch hous­ing, fit it with the stock GM 2500 axle­tubes and brake as­sem­blies, and mod­i­fied the mount­ing lo­ca­tions.

Mean­while, the DeSoto body was pulled apart with the floor cut away to see where it would all come to rest on the chas­sis.

The body was kept in its aged patina, ex­cept for a cou­ple mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions. In the rear, the quar­ter-pan­els were sliced a bit to make chang­ing the rear wheels a lot eas­ier and made to re­sem­ble some­thing of a fen­der skirt.

The other nec­es­sary met­al­work was done on the hood to add clear­ance for the turbo and air in­let. Leon didn’t want to have the turbo and plumb­ing peek­ing out from un­der the hood, so they cut the orig­i­nal hood and shimmed the skin from a 1956 Chrysler hood just high enough to add the ex­tra clear­ance, and welded it in place. The bumpers, grille, mir­rors, and trim are all orig­i­nal to the DeSoto.

One nice thing about the project is that the driv­e­line was proven and still func­tion­ing as a 2003 Chevy truck. Even the ABS brake sys­tem was re­tained and still in place. An en­tire floor­pan was cre­ated, then for added sta­bil­ity and aero, Shawn crafted an en­tire bel­ly­pan un­der the DeSoto. Sand­wiched be­tween the floor and the pan is a 5-inch open ex­haust sys­tem crafted by Al Ledesma of Al’s Per­for­mance Ex­haust, which snakes up and out the rear win­dow.

All along, Leon had no in­ten­tions of mak­ing this a one-sanc­tion­ing-body race car. In fact, he wanted to keep it street-le­gal and went through huge headaches to have the Lexan win­dows func­tion and the rear glass to re­main in place. All the wir­ing, turn sig­nals, and horn func­tion as they did when the DeSoto was new.

The stock ECU, har­ness, and the ac­ces­sory drive re­main, though Leon had Dan Moschkaw up­date the head studs with a set from ARP and re­place the in­jec­tors, fil­ters,

and pump with FASS com­po­nents. War­ren added a 64mm Stealth turbo, and used a set of open man­i­folds and down­pipe. A lit­tle tun­ing was re­quired with the new 2.47 gears, which were cou­pled to a Gear Ven­dors Un­der/Over­drive unit that puts the fi­nal drive at 1.3:1 (which places the cruise rpm at about 2,800). Rod Cod­dens (aka “Idaho Rob”) of Adren­a­line Truck Per­for­mance took to the task with his trusty lap­top and EFI Live pro­gram­ming.

What was orig­i­nally thought to be a 12- to 18-month build ended up tak­ing four-plus years, but pa­tience pays off and the “DeSotomaxx” was not only done but done right and ready to race.

Leon and War­ren have run the DeSotomaxx at El Mi­rage three times now, turn­ing in con­sis­tent 146-mph passes. It seems that they found their wall of air for the 7,200- pound brick and need more power to get through it. To learn what kind of power the tired Du­ra­max was mak­ing, they took to the rollers at Ham­mer Per­for­mance. At the wheels, they saw 450 hp with 900 lb-ft of peak torque. Not bad for 200,000 miles, but not enough.

In 2017, they tack­led Big Bend Open Road Race in West Texas, which is a 59-mile run from Fort Stock­ton to San­der­son. The fa­ther­son duo ran the 100-mph tar­get class just to get a feel for the event, to check the han­dling of the be­he­moth DeSoto at speed, but mainly to en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence. They ended up run­ning third in their class and bring­ing home the tro­phy for Most Unique Ve­hi­cle.

For 2018, the plan is to head to Bon­neville for Speed Week, but first will be se­ri­ous up­dates to the driv­e­train. A new en­gine is be­ing built at Scog­gin Dickey Parts Cen­ter Raceshop based on an all-new Du­ra­max block. It’ll have a Cal­lies ro­tat­ing assem­bly to hold up to the in­creased rpm and higher boost from com­pound tur­bos. Know­ing what they achieved on the lakebeds and the dyno, their goal is 1,200 hp with nearly 2,000 lb-ft of torque to send them into the 200s.

“The car doesn’t re­ally fit any classes to go for a record in the SCTA, so 200 is more of a per­sonal goal,” Leon told us. “The one class it does fit has a record over 270, and we’re not go­ing to do that. But we will still drive the car on the street and en­ter other fun events, which is ex­actly what we built it to do.”

Records or not, Leon and War­ren have al­ready hit their num­ber-one goal of hav­ing some­thing com­pletely unique at the race­track and on the road. Who knows, maybe some­day it’ll even get a paint job—but prob­a­bly not.

01] There’s not much to see un­der the hood, un­less you like nearly stock 6.6L diesel en­gines with 200,000 miles. The SDPC Raceshop in Lub­bock, Texas, is work­ing on a new en­gine that will be in place for the 2018 sea­son. 02] In land-speed rac­ing, the...

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