When you’re attending a major car show with 1,500 cars parked in all directions, it’s hard to stand out, no matter how crazy the creation. But sometimes size really does matter if you want to grab some attention, especially at über-sized automotive events. Just ask Mike Suchonic and he’ll confirm that fact straight up!
Here on these pages is Mike’s stellar 1952 Chevy COE. It’s an amalgamation of several-year models and their key ingredients all bundled together into one jumbo-sized 24 foot-plus some workingman’s rig that just screams “check me out, I’m all that and then some!”
Not only is Mike’s COE a big serving of diesel chuggin’ eye candy, but it’s also a service truck, racking up the miles as an effective long-distance car hauler. But what’s not evident to the naked eye is that this hybrid truck is much more than it appears to be at first glance.
Turns out this trick truck is riding on a more modern 1986 C30 Chevy dually chassis under its vintage exoskeleton. Mike took the best parts of several vehicles and melded them together into one cohesive ride that not only hauls butt but also looks good doing it. Let’s see how it all came together.
Mike was still drag racing at the time he purchased the 1952, so from the start the goal was to make a ramp truck that could be driven anytime, anywhere. He had a good starting point since he was already working with a more up-to-date chassis. However, to fund this new project Mike decided to sell his racer, which turns out didn’t bother him one bit. His goal was to build the baddest COE in existence. Game on!
Mike was originally going to build his own bed but soon found a usable 1971 Chevy C30 ramp truck locally. It was originally from New England, which meant plenty of rust, but Mike saw through the corrosion and figured it would be perfect for his project. He removed the ramp bed, determined the wheelbase he needed to install it on his chassis, and then sent it out to Zimm-o-matic in nearby Denver, Pennsylvania, to have it stretched the needed 45 inches to fit.
While that was happening, Mike decided on the motorvation for this ride. Being familiar with 7.3 Powerstroke Diesels, he decided that this would be the perfect engine for this build. He purchased a low-mileage 1997 Ford 350 box truck, pulled its heart out and salvaged anything that could be used on his COE.
By the time this was finished, the chassis was back from Zimm-o-matic. First task was getting the steering to line up. This was an issue because the steering column was so far forward on the COE. This was resolved by using a 1986 Chevy G30 van steering box and an ididit column, and by pointing the Pitman arm straight down and the input shaft straight up. This allowed the steering shaft angles to be in tolerance.
The suspension was the next issue to tackle. Mike removed the front springs and replaced them with Airlift bags. The rear chassis was notched and boxed with 1/4 steel plate to fit the Firestone airbags over the rear axle. Next the back of the chassis was extended and a hitch was added. A four-link suspension was installed next with heavy-duty 1.5-inch-diameter bars, and a Panhard bar was installed on the Dana 70 (stuffed with 4.10 gears) out back. All needed parts were fabricated by Mike himself and installed with the help of good friend Todd Cassler of Flames Unlimited.
Next Mike tackled the engine installation. The Powerstroke would not fit under the cab so he made room for it under the bed. Custom crossmembers were made for the engine and transmission so they could be removed from under the truck, if needed. The engine is mostly stock, with an intercooler, 3.5-inch custom turbo downpipe, and a 4-inch MagnaFlow exhaust added. The radiator, air conditioning condenser, and the intercooler are all positioned behind the cab. Fresh air is ducted from the front grille opening, through the bay, and underneath the cab to these pieces. Two custom gas tanks hold a massive 54 gallons of go-juice, so the miles rack up in-between fuel stops.
When melding the pieces from several-year trucks, Mike realized some did not go along with the game plan. That included the square sleeper from the 1971. That was scrapped and the bed was extended another 3 feet to make it more useful. All-new brackets were fabricated by the owner to hold the bed to the chassis of the truck. Zimm-o-matic replaced the doors on the ramp, fabricating new ones that included hidden hinges for a cleaner look. A Superwinch was installed out of sight in the ramp floor as well for pulling power.
The cab was kept stock, except for the inclusion of an original aluminum Fulton sunvisor and a custom side mirror and brackets with stainless steel arms polished by Bob Vasquez of Alternative Chrome. The ramp bed, cabinet doors, and chassis were powdercoated by Blue Lake Powder Coating. Grille, bumper, and hood hinges were chrome plated by Librandi Chrome for a little “bling.”
The entire rig was disassembled before final paint. The cab was media-blasted before Mike handled the bodywork. Todd Cassler of Flames Unlimited painted the cab, fenders, steps, and other pertinent parts. Mike handled the assembly to get this rig back into shape.
Mike built his own engine wiring harness because he couldn’t locate a new one for the Powerstroke Diesel. He started with a donor harness from the Ford box truck and traced every wire himself. He simplified the setup and ended up with just one fuse box. Even the cruise control now works with his setup. To control the lights, he used a separate Rebel Wiring harness.
The suspension consists of an Oasis air compressor, two 12-gallon tanks, 1/2-inch valves, and air lines. The compressor is mounted under the hood along with one of the batteries. The other battery is along the driver side step and the tanks are mounted underneath the ramp. Braking is run by a Ford master/booster pushing rear drums and Chevy C30 front discs.
As far as the cockpit goes, Billy Reed of K&S Auto Interiors handled many of the duties. He covered the original seat and headliner with tuck ‘n’ roll upholstery. He also designed and fabricated full door panels with the same tuck ‘n’ roll motif. Mike jumped in and installed New Vintage USA quad and speedometer gauges in the dash and fabricated the custom gauge panel that sits below it. A custom-built cup holder handles Mike’s Cup of Joe on long trips. Climate control is through Vintage Air and tunes are controlled by a Custom Autosound system.
Mike couldn’t be happier with the way the truck turned out. It’s no surprise, since he had his hands in the build from the start. The four-plus years of hard work and long hours paid off and he feels it was well worth the investment of time and money. “It drives like a modern vehicle and so far has hauled or towed anything I wanted,” Mike says. Special thanks go out to Todd Cassler and anyone who has listened to his crazy ideas, especially girlfriend Missy McMonagle who also put up with his extended garage hours!
1952 Chevy COE
1997 7.3 Powerstroke Diesel V-8, stock Garrett TP38 Turbocharger, Ford E4OD transmission
Tuck ‘n’ roll upholstery with vinyl stock seats, 1986 Chevy G30 van box with ididit column and Lokar shifter, audio from Classic Autosound, Vintage Air HVAC
Front, stock 1986 Chevy C30 with Airlift bags; rear, custom four-link with Panhard bar and Firestone bags; front brakes are stock 1986 Chevy C30 disc; rear brakes are stock 1997 Ford Drum
Stock Ford E350 Dually chromed 16×6 wheels, LT235/85R16 front and LT215/85R16 rear tires