Chewin’ Cud With a Rusty Goat: John Backus’ 1964 Dodge D300 Pickup

cud[ kuhd ] noun   

  1. Partly digested food returned from the first stomach of ruminants to the mouth for further chewing.
  2. To spend a long time thinking or talking about something

Photos by: Terry Lysak

1964 Dodge D300 Pickup

The untold tale of The Rusty Goat is one fraught with tetanus shots and missteps. Both of these remain an all-too-common occurrences in the world of experimental LS-swapped automotive ventures, often accompanied by deep contemplation or discussion over a particular topic. This contemplative procedure is often referred to as “chewin’ the cud,” and for John Backus, his “cud” just so happens to be a beat-up 1964 Dodge D300 pickup. Now as for the chewin’ side of things, John tells us that all began with a realization that muscle cars really aren’t what they’re cracked-up to be.

It was the spring of 2013, and while en route to a Goodguys meet in Nashville with a buddy, an intense urge to do something different came over the 51 year-old maintenance supervisor. Left with little else to do but chew the cud, the two men discussed John’s frustrations and future desires. Simply put, the man was fed-up with riding to car shows with friends, and never in his own custom-built machine. But he was not entirely sure which chassis would be best for his specific needs. This mulling over of automotive options, punctuated by heated Q&A “cud sessions” with his buddy, eventually left John hellbent on finding one of the most peculiar platforms for modifying and driving imaginable. Returning home, John immediately took to the internet in search of a vehicle that few people would ever consider building or showing: a 1960s-era Dodge pickup.

After some digging, a Craigslist posting advertising a roughed-up 1964 Dodge D300 pickup came to light — a truck that, ironically, was located just a couple miles south of Nashville. So John texted the vehicle’s owner to confirm its availability and begged his buddy to take him on one more quick trip down to Nash Vegas. Knowing full-well that John had been dwelling deeply upon the notion of owning his own oddball dream machine, his friend agreed to head back to Nashville the following weekend to look at the truck.

Eight-hour round trip complete, and the pickup truck that would someday become known as The Rusty Goat was happily grazing in its new pasture in Indiana. All told, the truck was in great shape, with a rebuilt stock motor sporting little more than an Edelbrock aluminum intake and carburetor. John tells us that the only physical part needing replacement on the truck was the passenger side rocker panel. From there, he had to stretch the rear fenders a full 2-inches to clear the wheels and raise the bed floor to accommodate the RideTech air suspension setup.

When asked why he wanted such an unusual animal, John tells us that the primary reasoning behind his interest in owning a 1960s Dodge pickup was due to their obscurity. Having owned his share of Chevelle’s over the years, John has seen how a meticulously-built machine can be shrugged-off as just another hackneyed slab of American muscle at a car show. For as badass as they may be, the Chevelle remains a mainstream staple, giving just reason for John to part ways with more run-of-the-mill automobiles.

In comparison, you’d have to hit at least a half-dozen shows before you came across another Dodge D300 pickup, and even then it probably wouldn’t have a fraction of the mods that The Rusty Goat rocks. Thinking back to the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, a couple of years back, John recalls that out of the 11,000 vehicles on hand that weekend, only a few dozen Dodge trucks appeared on the roster. While bigger shows like Goodguys may have more, classic Dodge pickups remain a bit of an anomaly, giving further reason for John to hold onto this old Goat.

When asked about his upbringing, John tells us that his early years were much like those of other fledgling gearheads. His dad always had some sort of slick ride sitting in the shop, with the ubiquitous ‘57 Bel Air giving way to an AMX Javelin with a 401 and the Mark Donahue package. While the other kids in the neighborhood were enjoying cartoons while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, John was turning wrenches with his old man and watching NASCAR in the garage. It was within this environment that some of John’s fondest childhood memories were made, as friends and family would congregate in the garage on Sundays to root for the big black car with the No. 3 on its side.

By the time John turned 16, his father had already lined-up a ‘65 Chevelle for him, a decision that caused the young man to fall madly in love with automobiles. Watching Winston Cup races in the garage eventually turned into learning how to fabricate and paint, with the latter of the two quickly becoming a forte for the young John Backus, as his interest in making things appear older than they actually were soon turned into an all-out obsession.

So when it came time to turn his archaic Dodge D300 pickup into something special, John focused on the tried-and-true rat rod approach to aesthetics and left the rest of the truck bone stock, which in hindsight may not have been the best decision. With his father on-hand, the two men took the old pickup out on its maiden voyage, a trip that resulted in the power steering pump over-pressurizing, which in-turn blasted fluid throughout the engine bay. 

Pump fixed, the Backus boys headed home, only to find themselves caught in a torrential downpour. With wipers and defroster on the fritz, and equally impotent window seals letting rain water in, the pickup truck’s first outing seemed more akin to the sinking of the Titanic than a successful maiden voyage. Laughing aloud, John recalls the deluge of water coming into the cab and the sight of his father bouncing around, as he struggled in vain to simultaneously wipe the windscreen and stop the truck’s cab from flooding.

Leaks fixed (both beneath the bonnet and within the cab), the Rusty Goat of today is a far more sturdy animal, with over 2.5 years of wrenching and fabricating serving as proof that its transformation was not an overnight affair. Built to be different for a cornucopia of reasons, John’s dilapidated Dodge D300 pickup has morphed into a pro-touring-style race truck, with everything but the engine being built by its master. While John’s insistence that he do all of the non-motorized work himself surely required an endless stream of long evenings and weekends, the end result is far beyond anything that this Rusty Goat’s master could have originally imagined.

As far as engine upgrades go, John’s Goat sports a V8 from a 2006 Cadillac Escalade, which received zero machine work, and still rocks a stock bottom end. On the upper end of the engine things look a bit different, with free-flowing factory 899 heads replacing the anemic Caddy units, both of which were ported and polished prior to being outfitted with fresh valve springs and Brian Tooley Racing rocker arm trunnion kits.

A Comp Cams camshaft also makes its way into the mix, as well, accompanied by a Holley HP Billet EFI bypass fuel pressure regulator, and a low-profile Holley sniper intake with matching 90mm throttle body. Once coupled with a 3-inch stainless exhaust consisting of Hooker Blackheart stainless steel 1-⅞- x 3-inch headers, X-pipe, and Blackwidow dual-chamber mufflers, and John’s rusty Dodge D300 Pickup generates a respectable 550-horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels.

Shifting gears manually is made possible courtesy of a Bowler Tremec T-56 Magnum six-speed transmission, which has been outfitted with a C7 Corvette single-disc clutch and matching flywheel and flexplate. From there, power is delivered to a Denny’s nitrous-ready 3-inch steel driveshaft with 1350 yokes, and then sent rearward to a Moser Engineering 9-inch Ford rearend that’s been loaded with an Eaton Trutrak posi, 3.90 gears, and Moser 31-spline axles.

To prove that a rusted-out truck of this vintage can handle sharply and still look amazing when slammed to the asphalt, John outfitted his Dodge D300 pickup with a slew of RideTech suspension additions. These include RideTech’s Strongarm control arms both up top and down bottom up front, along with the Indiana-based brand’s MUSCLEbar sway bar, panhard bar, and 4-link rear control arms. Adding show to all that reinforced engineering is a set of RideTech’s Shockwave adjustable air bags and the company’s lowering spindles. With a Turn One power steering box and pump affixed, and a 14-inch Pro+ brake system from Baer Brakes onboard, handling and stopping in the Rusty Goat is more akin to that found in a Corvette than a primitive Dodge D300 pickup truck.

According to John, herding the Rusty Goat of today is “like driving a sports car in goat’s clothing.” Nobody knows what it’s truly capable of, as the rusted truck appears all the world like just another bagged and battered pickup with big brakes and chrome rollers. But the minute John stomps his foot on the throttle and the pickup lurches off the line, all prior misconceptions about the truck being slow-and-low immediately evaporate.

With handling similar to that of a Corvette, and usable power that its owner claims “pulls like a freight train” from 4000 RPM onward, we are optimistic that this Dodge D300 pickup will be extremely competitive on track next season. Unleashing The Goat in open events has allowed both man and machine the chance to push their limits and stretch their hooves, as they chew-up corners (and tires) faster than a billy goat in a fat patch of kudzu.

When asked what mods might be next, John says that he is considering upgrading to adjustable coilovers and switching out the steering column for an Ididit unit so that he can attach a quick-disconnect wheel to his rig. There’s also talk of changing the bed over to a sweptline bed this winter, which should give the truck an entirely different look.

All told, it’s been roughly 2,500 miles since John Backus first plopped a built 2006 Cadillac Escalade V8 in his 1964 Dodge D300 pickup, and the Indiana native couldn’t be happier with how his Rusty Goat has behaved thus far. Rear haunches smoking, and battering ram head lowered toward the next apex, the Rusty Goat is a fantastic example of what happens when an unloved creature gets adopted by a human and gets a second chance at grabbing life by the horns.

John and his Rusty Goat wish to thank all of their sponsors, including: RideTech, Bowler Transmission, American Racing, Baer Brakes, ATL Fuel Cells, Holley Performance, Turn One Steering, Optima Battery, Kicker Audio, PIAA, Racequip, Corbeau Seats, Moser Engineering, and Blackwidow Exhaust. Plus a huge thank you to Randy Thacker for building the motor.

You can follow the Rusty Goat’s adventures on Instagram via @backer14 or @rustygoat14.

About the author

Micah Wright

Raised on LEGOs by grandfathers who insisted on fixing everything themselves, Micah has been a petrolhead in training since age four. His favorite past times include craft beer, strong cigars, fast cars, and culinary creativity in all of its forms.
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