When Darrell Amberson thinks of the classic 1946 Dodge WC pickup that he restored, he thinks of a quainter time in history.
Amberson—a collision industry consultant and former president of Lehman’s Garage in the Twin Cities metro area of Minnesota—loves history and the hands-on work of vehicle restoration. But until he found his dream pickup, he had only restored muscle cars.
The car buff and former professional drag racer discovered the truck through a friend who had a boat-moving business and owed him some money. It was 1995, and Amberson had been to some auto shows with his wife. He told her he thought it would be fun to get a truck to restore. As it turned out, his friend in southern California had two trucks.
“In exchange for what he owed me, he picked up the two trucks and brought them up to Minnesota,” Amberson says.
One of them was a beat-up 1946 Dodge WC pickup. It would become a trophy winner, even though Amberson points out that his wife’s first reaction was that it looked like nothing more than an old truck.
The truck had spent its life in southern California, where the dry, warm weather kept it in better condition than if it had originated in Minnesota. Still, it was rusty and missing components, Amberson says. He put on a particle mask and old clothes when he started restoring it. The upholstery was dried and crusty, and plywood in the bed of the box was broken and dried up. But the sheet metal was intact, he says.
The pickup was built right after World War II, Amberson says, when the country began rebuilding its economy. Auto production had shut down during the war, and most models were similar to this one before the war started, he says.
Amberson stripped the paint, took the truck’s body off the frame, then sandblasted it and painted it a period-looking deep blue. He built the engine himself—a flathead six cylinder that makes about 100 horsepower. A machine shop did the machining. He also replaced components such as U-joints, and painted them.
The tailgate had been overloaded and was bent, so he fixed it to factory, and the truck bed was lined with oak wood and nine coats of varnish. From there, Amberson completed the wiring and added turn signals, which were not built in the truck originally because they were made to be workhorses, not street drivers, Amberson says. He also installed a driver’s side arm rest, driver’s side visor, heater, gauges and horns.
He restored the truck before his time at Lehman’s. He was working at Town and Country Dodge in Hopkins, Minn., as the body shop manager, and the body techs there assisted him with straightening panels and painting components. They worked a little at a time, mostly on weekends. He estimates he poured about $10,000 to $12,000 plus labor into the pickup.
Amberson says he and his wife talked about the truck a lot when he was restoring it, and she followed his progress. For years it was “my truck,” he says. But now they take it out to dinner and to local shows, where it has won top prizes. They’ve put about 5,000 miles on it. “Now it’s our truck,” he says.