The trucks of our childhood continue to climb up and to the right of every value chart posted by Hagerty and Bring a Trailer, as if they were tech stocks. What’s more, Farmer Joe at Facebook Marketplace thinks his rig is worth its weight in gold, as he saw an “exactly like it” hit six figures on Barrett-Jackson last week. The reality is that a vehicle is only worth what someone will pay. It seems people have no problem paying around $100,000 for New Era Performance Dodge diesel builds.
They’re just that good, not only because they’re incredibly clean on the outside, but also because they’ve been totally redone underneath the laser-cut sheet metal. Charlie Pitcher, the owner of New Era Performance, has the right idea to build high-end trucks that do more than look good in a showroom. He tells me it starts with coilover front suspension swaps, expertly modified mechanical diesel engines and super fabrication work.
“The first thing we came up with is, are you trying to go for an original truck, or do you want it to be comfortable and have power? Usually it’s the latter of the two,” explains Pitcher. “We tend to drive home the front coilover suspension conversion. Doing that and the long travel in the rear really makes up for the ride quality of these trucks.”
New Era is known for its 1972-1993 Dodge Ram pickups. The earlier models are often referred to as Tin Grilles, while the newer ones are usually referred to as First Gens. Pitcher says they are different from what shops usually look for, allowing them to create memorable builds time and time again through impeccable work.
Of course, it helps to start with a clean truck in the first place. And since New Era Performance is an hour from Philadelphia, inside the rust belt, they usually get trucks from the west. That means turning to Nevada, Utah and other states where the pickups haven’t been exposed to decades of moisture and salt.
“To get the results you want, you play with a variety of different trucks and parts to put together the right parts,” says Pitcher.
For example, the matte green truck you see here has its Texas frame. Although the body is an older Tin Grille design, Pitcher built it on top of a ’92-’93 Dodge chassis, because the frame rails are taller and thus sturdier. That’s just the beginning of how much attention is paid to detail, and it’s also a sign of how much trucking knowledge the three guys from New Era possess.
“We’re trying to make usable vehicles,” says Pitcher. “A lot of the stuff we’re building is way overbuilt. The main thing we focus on is the drivetrain and suspension, so everything is built to be durable and easy to work with – simple, reliable, that kind of stuff.”
“The tasteful modifications for the Cummins are usually an injection pump, turbo work, head bolts, re-sealing the engine with new gaskets and cosmetic paint,” continues Pitcher. “Unless they specify a full rebuild, we usually find a good running car with low mileage [truck] and give it a refresh.”
These builds typically involve a great deal of customization, and Pitcher is no stranger to drafting new frame designs for the sake of both strength and comfort. He then uses his knowledge of metalworking to realize his sketches. Most of it is self-taught, although he has spent the last ten years working in a shop to hone his skills.
Pitcher’s ability to draft custom parts extends to bodywork as well. It’s perhaps just as impressive when you pop the hood and see the immaculate front fenders or some other masterfully crafted metal piece normally hidden from view. They look so sleek because they are first designed in a CAD program before the files are sent to a local laser shop for production.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we can draw a montage and have it cut,” he says. “Then, a few days later, the parts show up and everything fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. You don’t have to trim or grind or cut anything. It just fits together.”
While the process is constantly being tweaked and streamlined, these builds don’t happen overnight. Pitcher tells me they usually quote 12-18 months for jobs similar to the green truck, which are wide ranging. That is also from the moment they get started, which could be next week or six months after a customer has started using a truck.
This is the game to play when dealing with high quality and high expectations. Not everyone treats trucks as true collectibles, but when you apply a lifetime of lived experience to create the best rig possible, that’s what you get. You don’t have to own a pickup like that to be a true enthusiast, but if you claim to be, you should realize how cool these projects are.
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