When people think of trucks, they think of something utilitarian. A vehicle that's just meant to drive in a straight line and haul things that cars don't have room for. So how do you get an old truck to handle like a modern sports car without the average onlooker getting wise to the changes? A sleeper autocross truck, you ask? The idea that this is even possible probably surprises most people. The weight distribution in trucks is so uneven that achieving this goal sounds about as realistic as an ejector seat in a helicopter.
When you're used to driving race cars like Rodd Kneeland, not only are your expectations high, but you want your vehicles to reflect those expectations. Having raced for 22 years, from dirt tracks to the Nascar K&N West series, Rodd doesn't skimp on performance in any of his vehicles. After owning a 1972 Chevy Cheyenne in high school, Rodd set his sights on getting another one and giving it the kind of performance upgrades that would definitely set him apart from the pack and give the truck the ability to perform with the big boys on the autocross track. After searching the Internet for quite a while, Rodd finally found the right candidate for his build – a Super Cheyenne that was essentially in pristine stock condition.
While attending the Goodguys Autocross in Pleasanton, California, Rodd met a fellow gearhead – Rob Phillips, owner of PCHRODS. Rob was there competing with his big-block-powered '69 C10. Both discovered they owned C10's and had a love of racing, and Rodd began telling Rob the direction he wanted to take his truck. Eventually Rodd gave Rob his blessing and turned the '72 over to him to complete his vision.
From the outside, the truck doesn't appear to be anything other than a Super Cheyenne with a little lower stance and that's the way Rodd likes it – hiding the goodies underneath. One of the most remarkable aspects of this truck is its Hotchkis TVS system (see September and October 2012 CLASSIC TRUCKS for full articles). “The geometry on the kit is like my race car and I've seen the kit perform. For a street truck, it can compete with muscle cars and it's an unbeatable kit for keeping with the stock frame,” Rodd says of the Hotchkis TVS kit.
Other upgrades include CPP spindles, Wilwood 14-inch disc brakes, and MagnaFlow exhaust. “We also swapped out the stock GM crossmember for the transmission with a stronger tubular unit from Early Classic Enterprises from Frenso, California, as well as their Extreme Trailing Arm crossmember, which not only adds strength to the chassis it allows us to pass the exhaust through it instead of under it, keeping the underside of the truck clean with nothing drooping below the framerails,” Rob adds. The truck rolls on custom Niche Mach V three-piece forged road race wheels built by MHT Wheels, 19x10 up front and 19x12 in the rear. Wrapped in Nitto NTO5 tires, it not only sticks to the ground, but it corners like it's on rails.
The Cheyenne still sports the original 402 with a few minor touches. The dual snorkel air cleaner is courtesy of Spectre Performance to squeeze out a few more ponies. Future plans may call for a bigger intake, carb, heads, cam and pulley kit. All in all, Rodd wants to stay true to the Cheyenne's original drivetrain, with some modern upgrades to spruce it up. A polished Rick's Hot Rod stainless steel fuel cell now resides the rear. The interior is bone stock, but Rodd mentioned wanting to add a bigger stereo to have the sound of the tunes match the performance of the truck.
So the next time you see a truck an autocross event, don't snicker because you think it's out of its element. With companies like Hotchkis putting performance components on the market that never existed before, it probably won't be long before the term “sports truck” becomes popular nomenclature in describing categories of vehicles. Out-corner a Lotus on the track one day; throw all your camping gear in the back the next day.