Phil Cercone’s Radical 1932 Dodge Coupe
Much like a mad scientist analyzing parts laid out on a table, a similar scene was playing out at Wilson & Steely Kustom Coachworks, the former Hudson dealership in Athol, Massachusetts. Instead of a table, the shape of a 1932 Dodge coupe body lay in wait, immediately recognizable in bare metal and perched atop a mountainous chassis looking like it was ready to take on the end of days.
Shop co-owner Steve Wilson explained what led him to create such a radical hot rod for longtime client Phil Cercone. Steve actually found the Dodge lurking in the basement of a dilapidated house waiting to be torn down, and strangely enough, the coupe had seen plenty of duty on the streets in the early 1960s. This happened to coincide with Phil having recently seen Mad Max: Fury Road. Making one of his regular visits, he saw the hulk and made an immediate connection to it. A ghoulish aura flowed across the weathered sheetmetal body, taunting him to make a decision to save it from its current state and give it another chance—this time, with a twist. That twist
would lead Steve down a path of fusing a vintage body with that of a mad scientist’s vision of creating a prerunner-styled hot rod capable of hard-core off-roading. “I approached Steve with a rudimentary drawing of what I wanted to build and his crazy—yet genius— mind brought it all to life,” Phil said.
Wilson designed the radical concept with just the right amount of attitude, starting with a set of stock outer ’rails. These were incorporated from the firewall back, then shaved and boxed for added strength using plate steel. For added clearance, the rear ’rails were kicked 10 inches, bobbed 10 inches, and tied to a custom rear crossmember that also functions as a spare-tire basket. There’s also an upper rear crossmember acting as a radiator support and a rock-solid center crossmember fabricated from rectangular steel, clocked flat to the ground and secured in place. Forward of the firewall, Steve fabricated custom ’rails from 2x6-inch rectangular steel and gradually tapered them to look stock in appearance while also kicking them 8 inches and bobbing them 9 inches. It’s all tied together by a custom front crossmember fabbed from rectangular steel that also incorporates a D-style shackle recovery point. Steve added even more creativity by bending up a custom stinger. This acts as a support for the front upper shock mounts from Ruff Stuff Fabrication and the headlights. A custom mount for the Smittybilt X20-10K winch is a perfect anchor for the unit. Other custom accents include one-off side rock
rails with dimple-die plate steps and a six-point rollcage, plus roof rack.
Out back, the team started with a Dana D70HD rearend housing
(73 inches wide) packed with all the right bits. To handle the abuse, a Yukon Gear & Axle 4.56 ring and pinion was combined with a Powertrax LockRight locker linked to stock axles and spindles, dually hubs, and a Rokmen Off-Road Riddler bomb-proof differential cover to keep all the guts. It’s set in place with a pair of RuffStuff 48-inch Ultimate Rock Crawling Trailing Arms featuring a ¼-inch-thick main plate bent in three places for maximum strength. It’s coupled to triangulated upper links with chromoly Heim joints and a pair of ORI STX struts with 12 inches of stroke. These feature dualpressurized chambers and three-stage, velocity-sensitive compression dampening with a pair of Fox 2.0 Factory Series Bypass Piggyback shocks.
Up front, there’s a custom axle with Dana 44 forged inner Cs and Crane Axle forged chromoly outer Cs matched to 1978 Chevy Blazer six-lug hubs and spindles. W&S designed the radius-arm suspension from scratch. The uppers are anchored with front forged chromoly Ballistic Fabrication Heim joints with poly bushings; the lowers wear front forged chromoly Ballistic Fabrication Heim joints with poly bushings. Rear chromoly units are all secured with Ballistic Fabrication tube adapters and welded to the chassis using Artec Industries radius-arm brackets. Finally, a custom Panhard bar with chromoly Heim joints is secured using Artec Industries Panhard mount brackets. ORI STX struts with 12 inches of stroke soak up the bumps.
The navigation setup includes a PSC Motorsports double-ended hydraulic ram cylinder with 2.5-inch bore and 8-inch stroke, deftly matched to a Charlynn Eaton load-reacting steering orbital valve. Fluid moves through a PSC Motorsports P-series pump with a remote can chilled by a Derale Electra-Cool cooler. To tame the beast, a Corvette dual master with a double 8-inch booster linked to a Speedway Motors universal frame-mount pedal assembly pushes fluid through stainless lines to GM ¾-ton truck vented discs with two-piston calipers. The rears were anchored, thanks to a RuffStuff disc-brake conversion kit and the system also features a Summit Racing vacuum pump, residual valves, and an adjustable proportioning valve from Speedway Motors.
A set of KMC wheels help get it through the muck while still making a statement. Up front, 16x9 KMC XD300 Pulley model wheels wear Nitto Trail Grappler LT285/75R16 rubber combined with rear 18x9 KMC XD129 Holeshot wheels topped with Nitto Trail Grappler LT 37/12.50R18 rubber.
To pack a punch between the ’rails, Steve contacted Blueprint Engines for one of its 383ci GM long-block V8s packed with a speed shop full of gofast goods that generate 430 hp from 10:1 compression. A four-bolt main block was filled with a new cast-steel
crank linked to forged connecting rods capped with forged pistons. The mill gets a heavy thump from a hydraulic-roller cam with added gusto from a pair of Blue Print Muscle Series aluminum cylinder heads. Up top, Wilson added a Weiand Hi-Ram tunnel-ram intake with FiTech’s Go EFI 2x4 dual-quad system complete with eight highflow injectors, built-in pressure regulator, and internal MAP sensor. A rear-mounted Champion Cooling Systems dual-pass aluminum radiator was matched to twin 16-inch cooling fans, along with a custom aluminum radiator shroud to keep it cool. It all sparks to life through an MSD Pro-Billet ready-to-run distributor with spent gases dumping through a set of Speedway Motors fenderwell headers with insert collectors from Car Chemistry. Power moves rearward through a TCI Automotive TH350 StreetFighter packed with its Breakaway 2,500-rpm stall converter linked to a custom driveshaft from Mitchell Drivetrain.
The bodywork started with a wellbalanced 33/8-inch chop, a 2-inch channel, and shaved door handles and cowl lights. The rear valance was then removed and the rear quarter-panels were boxed for strength. A custom firewall and floor panels were made to be removable for ease of service, and a transmission tunnel was fabricated from 1/8-inch steel to add protection from the driveshaft. For color, Phil wanted something that would suit the advent of the apocalypse and be durable enough to survive it, so Steve coated the body in Monstaliner. Once everything was prepped, the coating of Pyroclastic gray was accented by the chassis’ SEM satin black.
The stock dash is reworked with a custom flat panel to house a Dakota Digital VHX1100 gauge cluster with four programmable digital message centers. Additional data is monitored through a FiTech touchscreen to keep track of fuel injection and ignition, while an sPOD Universal eight-circuit programmable touchscreen power-control center handles all lights and accessories. To complete the electrics, an American Autowire Severe Duty Universal Kit features a fully sealed 22-circuit fuse box.
Steering moves through a custom column topped with a lightweight 14-inch wheel from Longacre Racing Products and shifts pull from a Hurst Quarter Stick unit. A pair of Smittybilt XRC Suspension seats are covered in black and matched to Corbeau threepoint, 2-inch, double-release harnesses.
Any way you look at the coupe, it oozes attitude. But it’s one thing to have the look and an entirely different matter to back it up. We were treated to an exhibition of its capabilities by Steve, and rest assured, it’s as evil as it looks. This war hammer can take on everything from off-roading to driving to the local cruise night, and we dig it!
01] To bring plenty of zoom to the party, a 383ci Chevy small-block from Blueprint Engines cranks out 430 hp on the dyno. Cool bits include Muscle Series aluminum heads, Weiand tunnel ram, FiTech’s Go EFI 2x4 dual-quad system, and MSD ignition.02] The interior features gauges from Dakota Digital, a steering wheel from Longacre Racing Products, a shifter from Hurst, and a pair of Smittybilt XRC Suspension seats.