Restoration: RG13 Dodge—Part 1

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle

Deals on Wheels resident truck restorer Lyndsay Whittle kicks off another project - A Dodge (or is it a Commer?) RG13

The truck had a lot of surface rust that isn’t seen in the photos

I guess it’s a case of ‘here we go again’ with yet another truck restoration to get underway, only this time, it’ll be under a slightly different format from the four jobs that have preceded this one. I think I’d better explain myself to put the records straight.

I’m truly saddened by the fact that the previous restoration on the poor old D Series Ford has ‘fallen at the post’, partly due to people being off work due to COVID-19 sickness.

While this doesn’t mean that the restoration has come to an end, it surely has put a dampener on proceedings in the interim, hence, the premature start on restoration number six.

I’ll be giving updates on the D’s progress as we work through this current restoration, but before we start, I feel a history lesson coming on, so here beginneth the lesson.

Is it a Commer or a Dodge?

On its way to its new residence

To answer that question, we have to go back to 1975 when British company Rootes Group introduced the streamlined ‘Hi Line’ tilt cab RG Series Commer truck in three variants: the RG11, RG13, and RG15 Series.

The RG11 was powered by a naturally aspirated 120hp Perkins 6-354 cu in engine while the RG13 had the turbocharged 6-354T, which produced around 155hp and the RG15, which had a V8 Perkins powerplant.

In 1980, these trucks were re-badged as ‘Dodge’ by Chrysler Corporation who latterly owned the company. Strangely enough, this truck is registered as a 1982 model and actually is registered as a Dodge RG13, however, it sports a Commer (minus the ‘C’ making it an ‘ommer’) badge, leading me to believe it’s probably had a cab replacement from an older model sometime in its past.

The doors also have rust that can’t be seen in the photo

Another reason to believe the older cab theory is that the vinyl on the dash is black in this truck, whereas all the Dodges I’ve ever seen have had a light brown vinyl. So, in a nutshell, to save total confusion from here on in, we’ll call it a Dodge, which, in fact, is what really it is.

The headlining was immaculate but was glued in and had to be destroyed during removal

If anyone can find me a Dodge badge of the era, I’d love to hear from you. I’m not looking for a freebie; I’m happy to pay a reasonable price for one. Continuing the history lesson, my fascination with these trucks dates back to 1980 when the local volunteer fire brigade was supplied with a brand-new RG15 that looked pretty modern at the time and I wanted one.

I was looking for a new truck to replace my ageing TK Bedford on my Auckland-Hamilton run, so it wasn’t long before I contacted William Gill and Sons in Huntly, who were the Dodge agents at the time.

I would’ve liked an RG-13 with the turbo but found to my dismay that it was about $4000 dearer than the RG-11. The extra $4000 was the price of a Luton body, so it isn’t hard to guess which variant of truck I wound up with.

I can remember stretching the envelope and adding cloth seats, an overdrive sixth gear, plus a few other extras to my order. These were decisions I never regretted making, as the truck earned the purchase price of around $32,000 in six months of operation.

This was back in the day when a whole day’s diesel cost around $30 per day. Try making that kind of money in this day and age. Anyway, I digress. Fast forward to October 2020 and what do I see for sale on the internet but an RG-13.

Long story short, I bid a little bit more than I had originally intended (as you do) and wound up owning the truck for a tad under $2500k. I arranged to borrow my mate Colin’s transporter—that’s the same Colin who lent me the same transporter to go to the South Island to collect two FGK Morris trucks back in 2014, and off I went, a much shorter distance, only about 30km this time, to collect the Dodge.

There will be some work tidying this up

Simon Coombes, the nice guy I’d already paid my money to, helped me to load the truck and then proceeded to tell me he only wanted to get $2000 for the truck and that along with a sun visor and receipts for several hundred dollars he’d recently spent on a slave cylinder and other mechanical work, there’s a brown envelope on the seat, which I found out when I got home, contained the money I’d paid him over and above the $2000 he expected to get for the vehicle in the first place.

I later reflected on the fact that you only come across people like Simon once or twice in a lifetime. So here we are a couple of years down the track finally honouring the obligation I have to a man who I’m sure will be watching the truck’s progress with great interest.

Harking back to 2020, having seen a few photos of the truck on the internet, I arranged with Simon to give it the once over before I decided whether I’d be in the bidding or not.

I have to admit that my first impression was tinged with a bit of disappointment, simply because the truck had had its chassis shortened, something that wasn’t all that obvious from the photos I’d seen.

At the time of my recce visit, from memory, the old truck had reached a bid of around $750 but hadn’t reached reserve. To that end, I wasn’t expecting to see a truck that was road-ready.

What I could see was that it had reasonable ‘bones’ as it started and ran well, albeit with a bit of black smoke at start up. Simon showed me the receipt from a week or two back when he’d had the clutch slave cylinder replaced, even though the truck was already on the market.

Winching the deck onto my transporter

On the back of the truck was a deck that obviously didn’t belong to a vehicle of that size, but it was part of the transaction, so I thought I’ll worry about what to do with it should I wind up owning the truck.

When I unloaded the Dodge from the transporter at the workshop, I knew it was going to be some time before I’d get around to restoring it, so all I did was remove that tiny deck, give it a wash, make a mental note of the work that might be required to get it up to scratch for a COF and put it undercover for a later date.

So, here we are getting underway with restoration number six, and I’m making no predictions at this stage as to how in-depth this restoration will be. We’ll make that call in next month’s story.  

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