Hot rod or rat rod? In the early days of car customizing, there was no such thing as a rat rod, just nice hot rods and crummy ones. Today, the definition of a “rat rod” is a regular debate. Is everything that isn’t shiny a rat rod? Are rat rods good or crap? Can a newer car be made into a rat rod? Into a hot rod? For this story we’re going to go with the idea that rat rods are built on the cheap from a plethora of random parts, bits and pieces. Bonus points are given for creative engineering that’s also safe and functional. Now let’s meet Ben Kleinfelter.
Ben’s FrankenS10 started out as rolled high-mileage 1993 Chevrolet S10 pickup. His overall goal was to create a ’90s era hot rod inspired by ‘40s and ’50s-era drag racers. “I wanted it to be as inexpensive as possible,” Ben says. “The silhouette needed to resemble a ‘40s hot rod, but I wasn’t sure how I would get it there. I never saw this attempted by anyone else.” Since finishing the build he says he has seen a couple here and there, so clearly the hive mind is at work.
He started with a $1,500 budget and went over by about $400, which is pretty much coming in below budget by any build standards. Of course it helped that he had a small junkyard of GM parts to choose from already. The base of the beast is a 1993 S10 with disc brakes all around, and endless options for parts and fitment. “I purchased it for $200 and drove it home with no windshield.” Despite the roof and glass damage from the rollover (and a few bullet holes in the passenger door), the Texas truck had a solid frame and body—a gem when you live in the wintery salt-laden Northern regions.
While the build was started on a whim, Ben ended up putting a lot of thought and effort into making it work. After ripping the truck apart, he fabricated custom mounts to set the cab back by almost 2-feet on the frame. He chopped the damaged roofline down by 3.5-inches on the pillars before replacing it with sheet metal from a second scrapped ’89 S10. Metal from the ‘89 was also used for sculpting the headlight buckets. Glass is pricey and a pain to cut, so LEXAN polycarbonate was used for the windows.
In true rat rod fashion, the shrunken truck bed holds a beer keg repurposed as a fuel tank. It’s modified to internally house the factory two-speed fuel pump.
The engine and transmission are set back by 19-inches in the frame, which lines up to the cab for better weight distribution, transfer, and aesthetics. It’s two feet away from being a mid-engine vehicle with 50/50 weight distribution. The power and handling is comparable to an early-90s C4 Corvette, with an added benefit of a satisfying supercharger whine. It hugs winding roads with ease and shoves you back in the seat when the pedal is put to the metal. A wrecked 2000 Buick Regal GS gave its heart up to power this creation. The supercharged 3.8 had over 255k miles before installation. The factory ECU was shipped to Sinister Performance for a GTP tune and Ben fabricated the headers from two different sets of stock 3800 manifolds and crossover tubes. To top it off, the engine is crowned with a scoop made from scrap stainless steel harboring a Buick emblem mounted in the center, a clue to its original origins. An old school ’53 Chevy 3100 radiator from yet another project keeps the engine temperature in check. Chrome S10 bumpers were chopped, bent, and then welded together with stainless steel filler to form the grille shell.
To achieve a wider stance, Ben tested his skills by fabricating custom front control arms, which widened each side by 3.5-inches. By modifying the factory front coils, this combination lowered the front end by 5-inches. Here’s where he got exceptionally frugal: Ben traded a second empty vintage beer keg for a pair of rear drop springs, the front tires were free on side of road, and the rear wheels and tires were repurposed from his ‘68 Camaro. The stripped out interior was influenced by a friend’s gutted Honda Civic track car. The seats and steering wheel came out of the first car he owned, a 1988 Buick Regal. Scraps from the hood of the ’89 S10 were used to form the dash. And if the T5 manual transmission doesn’t make it theft proof enough, the ignition is nestled behind the seat out of plain view.
After some serious abuse, Ben discovered that the rear axle hopped like a jackrabbit on speed. The issue was resolved by building a homemade axle wrap limiter. Custom brackets were also fabricated so he could install a pair of used but functional shocks to absorb the full-throttle impact. The little Chevuick runs an eighth-mile in 9.40-seconds at 79-mph and gets 30-mpg cruising down interstate, which comes in handy when living in a rural area away from the big car shows and dragstrips. The pickup draws a crowd at every show, so it doesn’t really matter what you call it, Ben calls it a lot of fun.