Stuck in an airport lounge for two days, Rod Garnett read through some hot rod magazines and came up with a crazy idea to build an LS-powered Fargo tribute
This article on Rod's Fargo was originally published in the September 2013 issue of Street Machine
OUT of adversity comes opportunity. If you’re on Facebook, you know the line from endless gut-churning motivational poster clichés. But it’s a cliché for a reason, and for Rod Garnett the adversity took the shape of a New York blizzard — all flights cancelled.
“We had to sleep on the floor for two nights at the airport. I was bored so I went and bought some hot rod magazines — something I hadn’t done for about 25 years. So there I am, sitting at the airport for two days, reading about things like the Little Red Wagon, chugging bourbon and Coke, thinking: ‘Hmmm, a man could build himself something.’
“So I came up with the idea of replicating a US-style forward-control pickup. It had to have a lot of horsepower — as brutal as possible. And I wanted the engine on display, in the tray.”
Ready for another bourbon, Rod?
Over the years he’s owned a string of modified cars, from over-engined MG Sprites to off-road racers and rally Porsches, so although his mad-cap mid-mount idea was an enormous one, he had enough experience to know it was technically feasible.
Back in Oz, Rod put his idea into action with a proposal to an engineer. “I presented all the information to ask ‘will it work?’ and he replied that there wasn’t any real reason why it couldn’t be built to the rules.”
Suitably enthused, Rod bought an early 80s Mitsubishi Express L300. The registration requirements meant building the car as an ICV — Individually Constructed Vehicle — using a current engine to meet emissions regulations. HSV’s present-generation alloy 6.2-litre V8 and six-speed auto combo is about as legally brutal as you can get, so Rod bought one — wrapped in a written-off VE HSV GTS. With the driveline and wiring stripped, plenty of other bits were sold to finance the build.
Van-to-ute chop included tube strengthening, relocated lights and smoothed door handles, before R&M Autos laid on the yellow tinter
The one-box Mitsu was relatively easy to cut down to a pick-up body and reconfigure to carry a mid-mount V8 thanks to its stout chassis: “I marked it out, started up a nine-inch grinder and got to work!”
He makes it sound easy but there was plenty of planning and sketching for the shape of the cab before cutting, and afterwards he had to install a rear screen and fill the hole left by the sliding side-door.
Mid-engine layout required clever thinking. Rod used the front half of a Nissan Patrol 4WD driveline with the turned-around HSV engine and trans. Reversed intake manifold means the engine still breathes from the front
Installing a V8 engine and transmission into a ute tray seems simple but there’s the problem of space between the end of the trans and the rear axle. Rod made that problem disappear by turning the engine and transmission around — yes, they face backward — and using a 4WD transfer case to turn the torque back through 180 degrees and pipe it to the rear axle. He chose a Nissan Patrol transfer case and diffs, splicing the pumpkin from the front diff into the cut-down rear axle housing, with one half-shaft shortened to suit.
“I looked at using a marine V-drive,” he says, “but because water is soft, they’re not really strong enough for use in a road vehicle, especially with a 6.2-litre V8 driving through it. The Patrol equipment is very tough, so I don’t expect any problems with it. Plus it’s cheap and I can fit a diff-lock later.”
The brakes are beefy Patrol items too, and Rod did all the necessary machining for the brakes and driveline switch-around on a 1930s-era lathe that he bought for $700. “It would have cost me a fortune to keep sending everything out for machining!” he says.
The chassis required a few nips and tucks in the rear. “I had to pie-cut and plate the rear chassis rails. The engineer reckons it’s three-and-a-half times stronger than it needed to be.”
With the engine installed and the body mods complete, a coat of bright yellow tinter was applied by local mob R&M Autos, one of the few tasks that Rod farmed out.
The dash is from a later Express — installed for its softer edges compared to the original tin — and filled with Vee3 gauges. The seats are from a Hyundai Elantra
The Fargo badges and distinctive headlight trim rings were sourced from ads on US forums. “I found a bloke selling a rusty Fargo truck in Canada. He wanted $500 for it so I sent him an email offering his price for the front badge. He accepted my offer!
“The only thing I really messed up was the doors,” he says of the build. “I didn’t realise I needed side intrusion bars in a cab-over vehicle.” The necessary bars were specced and designed to fit in the Mitsubishi’s narrow doors then carefully welded in — after the paint had already gone on — keeping damage to a minimum.
Little red: Rod was inspired by 60s Yank forward-control pickups like the Dodge A100 (Fargo in Canada), the Chev Corvair and Ford Econoline. The most famous was Bill ‘Maverick’ Golden’s Little Red Wagon wheelstander, based on an A100 and powered by a 426 Hemi mounted amidships
Another challenge was getting the HSV engine and electronic sport-shift six-speed electronic ’box to work with the modified wiring harness. It’s not 100 per cent yet but with HSV’s claimed 317kW — probably more — Rod has calculated that his mad Fargo tribute would crack the quarter in the high 11s.
But even after going by the book with an engineer, registering the beast was time-consuming.
“The RMS [Roads & Maritime Services] called it in,” Rod says. “They spent about 10 hours going through it. I guess it was just a little bit more radical than what they’re used to. But to be fair, the blokes who looked at it were great — and interested in what I’d done.”
Rod’s lucky enough to be retired so the estimated 1500 man-hours over two years to create his monster truck almost singlehandedly weren’t a problem.
“My time is my own but for every hour I spent working on the metal, I reckon I spent half that again researching and planning.
“But now it’s complete, my wife, Helen, is really keen for me to paint the house!”