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Unread 04-02-2013, 07:30 PM
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Fair! Fair! is offline
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Default Vorshlag Shop Truck - 5.3L SWB GMT800 (Truck Norris!)

Project Introduction, April 2, 2013: For the past 7 years or so I've been using one truck to both tow our race trailer as well as to serve as the "parts runner" for picking up and dropping off pallets of parts to various local vendors. Initially this was a 2001 Chevy crew cab 1500HD 3/4 ton with a crew cab and a 6.0L V8 engine towing an open trailer. When we stepped up to a 38' enclosed gooseneck trailer I also stepped up to a 2006 Dodge 3500 5.9L Cummins MegaCab SRW 1 ton. Neither trucks were modified except for very minor cosmetic updates or things like better tires or aftermarket trailer brake controllers. They were both extremely clean and well detailed, but I do that to all of my vehicles. Still, they were big boring trucks that I ended up daily driving with for many years. If you daily drive in a 3/4 or 1 ton truck you know how big, heavy, and slow they are. After many years of wielding these behemoths through traffic it... just kinda sucks.

My previous tow vehicles/shop trucks: 2001 Chevy 1500HD 2WD 6.0L (3/4 ton) and 2006 Dodge 3500 Cummins SRW (1 ton)

The Dodge was still dead reliable but was racking up the miles, so in January of this year we custom ordered a 2013 Ford F-350 dually diesel and put the Dodge up for sale. I was tired of driving around almost 100% of the time on the street in giant trucks and I was bound and determined to not let this new dually become the "shop truck", used for running parts around town plus my daily commute. Somehow I always end up putting 20K+ miles per year onto my "tow trucks", with most of that not towing a trailer.

Another big problem with using one truck for both towing and "driving around" is that the new dually is so wide it cannot be driven through a typical drive thru, like at a bank - which I end up doing once or twice a day. It is also a crew cab long bed, the longest possible configuration for the F-350, so the wheelbase is a staggering 172" long. But the added wheelbase and width of the dually are actually better for towing a big enclosed trailer - it adds stability, cargo room, passenger room, and the long bed allows the front of the gooseneck to swing and clear the cab. Ask me why that matters sometime and I will tell you a story about the trailer meeting the cab on the Dodge the first time I towed with it and tried to make a U-turn, which had a shorter 6.5' bed...


The 119" SWB GMT800 is so much easier to park, maneuver and drive

So for our shop "parts runner" truck I wanted to buy a separate vehicle, but go almost the exact opposite way than the F350 dually: this one would be a 1/2 ton truck, so it would be lighter, handle and ride better, and have a much narrower chassis built on the shortest wheelbase possible. The answer I came to was a proven workhorse - the GMT800 chassis - with the shortest of 4 optional wheelbases at 119". This wheelbase is a staggering 54 inches shorter than the F-350 dually will have. GM made literally millions of these so I figured it would be easy to find exactly what I wanted (ha!).

What is the GMT800?

The GMT800 generation of 1/2 ton trucks was built by GMC and Chevrolet from 1999-2006 model years (and even some 2007 models). This truck was a radical deviation from previous 1/2 ton GM trucks with a host of new technological innovations. One big improvement was in chassis rigidity, as the 4 wheelbase variations for the frames were made with the hydroforming process and tubular cross beams, instead of stamped steel pieces. This was a technology originally developed for the C5 Corvette, which is explained below.

Hydroforming is a specialized type of die forming that uses a high pressure hydraulic fluid to press room temperature working material into a die. To hydroform a vehicle's frame rail, a hollow tube of metal is placed inside a negative mold that has the shape of the desired end result. High pressure hydraulic pistons then inject a fluid at very high pressure inside the metal which causes it to expand until it matches the mold. The hydroformed metal is then removed from the mold. Hydroforming allows complex shapes with concavities to be formed, which would be difficult or impossible with standard solid die stamping. Hydroformed parts can often be made with a higher stiffness to weight ratio and at a lower per unit cost than traditional stamped or stamped and welded parts.
Ford quickly countered this new technology with hydroformed frame rails on the 2004-current F-150, too. Lots of cars now use this technology in frame sections and other formed steel and aluminum components.

The GMT800 chassis also had several other firsts: 4 wheel disc brakes, 4 wheel ABS, LSx based engines, electronically controlled 4 speed automatics, tighter panel gaps and better aerodynamics, and much more. With updated electronics and better fuel injection these were more efficient, more powerful, and more reliable than any previous generation of GM truck. These have evolved into the GMT900, which covers 2007-current 1/2 ton trucks with cosmetic changes and some other small improvements.

I looked at other 1/2 ton trucks, but the newer GMT900 was a bigger truck that got both taller and heavier, and the only 1/2 ton Fords I cared for were the $55,000 Raptors. The 3rd generation 1/2 ton Dodge from the late 1990s/early 2000s era is notoriously less reliable than the redesigned 2009 4th generation Dodge Ram. In addition to the massive improvements in reliability, brakes, drivetrain and chassis, I just liked the look of the GMT800, especially the Regular Cab Short Bed 119" short wheelbase version (aka: RCSB).

Left: The newer GMT900 is taller than the GMT800. Right: I made this WANTED poster and posted it on Facebook

After looking off and on for 6 months and striking out, I started seriously searching after I ordered the F-350 and sold my Dodge 3500. The Dodge sold too quickly and the F-350 took longer to get built, so I was left without any truck for about 5 weeks. During that time I racked up 2000 miles on my 2013 Mustang GT, nearly doubling the odometer reading, just running parts around town. So this sort of sped up my search and I got more serious in my efforts. There were a lot really poorly written ads on Craigslist and too many car dealers that lied about what they had (V8s that turned out to be V6s, "Excellent" bodywork that ended up being trashed, lots of bait-and-switch trucks that didn't exist when I got there). All told I looked at about 600 online ads, a dozen actual trucks in person, and had tons of people searching for this truck for me. Somebody here at Vorshlag actually found this 1999 GMC Sierra 1500 below, and since it was located way out in the boonies I was the first person to come look at it. After a look to see that it was really what he stated (SWB, 5.3L, 2WD), a quick test drive and some haggling I bought it on the spot for cash. Big thanks to Jason McCall for going with me to get this truck (plus looking at several other turds with me in previous months!)

This example has "some miles on it" but the condition and price were too good to pass up. This has always been a Texas truck so it has no rust, and it had never been wrecked. The optional engines include a V6 and two V8s (4.8 and 5.3L), and this one had the much rarer 5.3L LM7 (same engine that we used in the GRM Challenge E30 V8!). It uses all of the same LSx parts we are familiar with and comes with the iron block and aluminum heads and was rated at 270 hp (there were also 285 and 295 hp versions in later GMT800s).

I picked the GMC over the Chevy Silverado simply from the looks - the GMC's factory front headlights and grill are more pleasing to me than two Chevy versions, made from 1999-2002 and 2003-2006 (but the aftermarket "billet grill" on this one has got to go). The RCSB trucks were much harder to find with V8s and 2WD than I had figured, as these are popular with the hot rodding and even drag race crowds. The lines are pleasing so the pimps hoard them, and the weight is lower than the other 3 wheelbase options so the drag racers gobble them up, too. Yes, people in Texas drag race these SWB GM trucks, in large numbers - don't ask me why.

Don't try this - you can overload a 1/2 ton truck when you put 3000 pounds in the bed! Luckily I never haul loads this

Of course I don't expect everyone to agree with my truck decision, but this wasn't some random decision and the purchase has been made. I'm sure you have had great luck with other trucks, or have a horror story about someone else's GMT800, too. But I have owned a GMT800 and it was dead nuts reliable - as have many other friends I trust - so I just wanted to get the short wheelbase version and see how it drives. And after a couple of weeks of ownership I found that it drives VERY WELL. This truck is super easy to drive in traffic, ridiculously easy to park, it navigates the bank drive-thru effortlessly, and it hauls a pallet well. I've already over-loaded it once, with a 3000 pound load of hardwood flooring, so we have a few things we need to improve to better serve as the "shop truck".

This truck has an amazingly clean interior with the upgraded "LS" package, so it has the power options but is still cloth. The split bench has the console/jump seat, for a 3rd seating option in those instances where I need to carry another person (rare).


The truck is mostly stock, which I wanted, but someone added a few modifications. Most of the mods are coming off, some already have been replaced or "fixed". The "Boss Motorsports" 20" chrome wheels are not at all my style, but we do want to show off some of the other products we sell on this and all Vorshlag vehicles, so it will likely get something like Forgestar wheels in a more reasonable 18" diameter. the smoked tail lights are both ugly and dangerous and will be changed quickly. The Edlebrock headers that were added by a previous owner have some leaks so we have a set of American Racing Headers 1-7/8" full length stainless steel headers coming soon. The after-header exhaust is a mess and will all be replaced with some typical Vorshlag custom exhaust work.

It looks like it already has been lowered a bit so we will change the wheel/tire package and reevaluate that. To help with towing (we need a back-up tow vehicle for short, local towing of cars on an open trailer) and improve the load capacity of this truck, we will add some load leveling airbags too the rear. There are also better OEM brakes we can use from the GMT800 chassis, too: the 1999-2004 GMT800 had 12" front discs with a single piston caliper. The later 2005-06 GMT800 extended cab trucks had a 13" rotor and twin piston PBR caliper. Could be a cheap and easy upgrade that utilizes heavier duty, OEM parts? We will do the research, pick up some new 13" brake parts and see what it takes.

I always assume some of you reading this will have some experience with the changes we have in mind, so feel free to chime in with tips and advice; hopefully it will be more than "God, those wheels are ghetto!". Yes, there are some aftermarket parts on this truck that are not to my liking - the price was good enough to help me ignore most of these these small issues.

I will update this thread as we repair, upgrade and tastefully modify this truck for our "shop truck" use.


Last edited by Fair!; 07-03-2017 at 09:05 AM.
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