SEMA 2017: Gary Corns Wild Radial Engine-Powered ’39 Plymouth Truck

With custom car builders intent on grabbing headlines, you never know what you’ll find at the SEMA Show among the many one-off and concept vehicles on display — but a pickup truck with a mid-20th century aircraft engine for power definitely crosses the border into the unexpected.

Builder Gary Corns assembled this one-of-a-kind 1939 Plymouth truck two years ago, with power from an early 1950’s Cessna radial engine out of a C195 airplane. Measuring 757 cubic-inches and with seven cylinders and 14 spark plugs, the mill produces around 300 horsepower and enough noise to hear it coming from the other side of Nevada.

“She purrs like a tomcat in a milk house,” Corns shares with a laugh, adding that he tells people it’s “like seven Harley-Davidson’s — I’ve got my own gang.”

Corns’ truck is aircraft-themed throughout — its interior, engine compartment, and undercarriage featuring stunning custom fabrication work to produce one of the most impressive vehicles we’ve ever laid eyes on.

“I wanted to be different, and I think I am,” Corns says “We built this truck for Bonneville (the famed salt flats in Utah) so my two sons could go down there, and what better way to get a world record than have the only one in its class. The radial engine — they don’t have a class for it; they wouldn’t let me run it because my seats weren’t attached to the rollbar. So we ran it down the side of Bonneville and ended up shutting things down because of all the smoke. One of the officials who has been there since 1959 said this was one of the coolest things he’d ever seen at Bonneville.”

She purrs like a tomcat in a milk house. I tell people it’s like seven Harley-Davidson’s — I’ve got my own gang. – Gary Corns

To add to the flair of what is already a show in and of itself, Corns injects oil into the exhaust using a three-gallon tank up front once the engine gets hot, producing what he calls “stunt smoke” to mimic the smokey trails from early World War I and II military aircraft in combat.

Corns’ truck is displayed at the Covercraft booth at SEMA — a result of their partnership in creating a custom cover that would fit over the exposed engine protruding from the hood. “Nobody else could do a cover for it. Car cover companies would ask, ‘well have you done any modifications to the engine compartment?,’ and I’m telling them, ‘well the engine is coming out of it.’ And that was it, click.”

“Mark and the team at Covercraft saw it on Jay Leno’s show and called and said they’d love to make a cover for it, and they’ve made us several of them since,” Corns shares.

Corns says he can drive the truck for 10 to 15 minutes before it gets too hot. The trickiest part of the build to figure out, he explains, was mating the automotive transmission to the aircraft engine. During the process, a friend suggested he use a V-drive out of boat — so he went and stole one out of his boat, spent a couple of long nights making it work, and the end result is a radial engine mated to a Turbo 400 — an ingenious idea that even the CEO of Lockheed-Martin was dumbfounded by when poring over the build.

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About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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