The long search for a cabover project truck

By on May 1, 2013
Not-Buying-It

I’ve been on a quest for a good many years now, as you regular Road King readers are aware. For those who aren’t, my pursuit has been to find an affordable, reasonable-looking, used cabover tractor. It will be my project truck.

The intent is simple. I do what needs doing to get this cabover into a condition where I could put it to work. Should I not be able to find a carrier to lease to, I’ll have one heck of an only-drive-it-on-nice-weather-days vehicle.

From the start, I made some specific decisions about what cabovers I would consider. I wanted one that was operable. It could not be a product of neglect, sitting unused for a long time or missing a ton of parts. These, I figured, would be cost and time prohibitive. Besides, having a “hulk” parked outside the house wouldn’t endear me to my wife. With a running truck, I could drive it while I worked on it. And that would be more fun.

Dialing for cabovers

I began my hunt in earnest. After all, I know a gazillion people, many with the truck OEMs and their dealers. So I’d ask every truck person I came in contact with to be on the lookout for a used cabover for me. Having been a founder and longtime member of the Used Truck Association, I also contacted board, regular and associate members and asked them if they had or knew of a good used cabover.

One of my calls struck pay dirt.

A used truck manager friend at a truck dealership in the South said he had something for me. Saying I was elated doesn’t do justice to how I felt. My friend described the truck as a calendar cabover. “It’s such a good-looking cabover — inside and out — it needs to be on a calendar,” he said.

My exuberance grew considerably when he told me the asking price. I grabbed my checkbook and bought a one-way ticket. Arriving at the dealership, I found my friend. This was it. I was about to be the owner of a beautiful cabover that needed little work, and would be mine. All mine. We exchanged pleasantries, and with each word I was anxious to move on and see my new truck. And then …

“I have some bad news,” my friend finally said.

My mood rapidly crashed. I had a good idea of what he was going to tell me.

“I’m sorry to tell you that the truck has been sold.”

“WHAT?” I exclaimed, rather loudly. Who stole my truck?

“We just couldn’t refuse the generous offer that guy made on that cabover. My sincere apologies.”

I was devastated. Back home I went, putting the situation behind me. I continued my cabover quest, sadder and wiser.

Reality bites

What eventually dawned on me was that my mission to acquire a cabover was bumping up against one of the most fundamental concepts of economics: supply and demand. With the onset of less restrictive federal tractor-trailer length laws in 1976, cabovers lost their popularity in favor of conventional tractor configurations that provided more comfort, less engine noise and easier entry and egress. Who needs all that?

There just aren’t many cabovers around these days. When a product desired by buyers is available in very limited quantities, the price goes up. But as my dear father used to tell me: “Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.”

A dependence on others

I kept making calls, but I also began scrutinizing trucks-for-sale publications, doing online searches and exploring eBay.

One of my challenges has been to find a suitable cabover that is fairly close to where I reside. It’s very difficult, time-consuming and costly to travel across the country to visit potential project cabovers only to be disappointed, and I’m too afraid to buy a vehicle sight unseen. I’ve come to find out you can’t depend on friends to help with a cabover hunt. In a few areas of the country where I’ve found potential buys, I have friends who know trucks. I’ve called them and asked if they mind visiting the truck for me and checking it out. No friend denied my request. However, once I had the OK for their visit and phoned the friends back, they were always “too busy.”

Value viewpoints

For the most part, I’ve found that truck sellers are good about providing details and photos, and noting “flaws” with vehicles, such as a fuel tank leak, a broken cab jack and tires that need replacing. They’ve also been nice about sending along additional photos and discussing their truck over the phone or by email. Some even have provided videos of their trucks, showing the exterior and interior, and “listening” to the engine running.

A few have not been quite so forthcoming. Like many an online dater, I’ve been intrigued by a posted photo, only to discover that it is not of recent vintage. The beauty I’m considering picking up has seen a few more years and hard knocks since that picture reflected reality.

I recently got out to take a close-up look at a 1977 Peterbilt 352 with a 13-speed transmission and a 350-hp Cummins diesel. The truck had about a million miles on it. Among the issues I found which were not reported in the for-sale notice: transmission shifter air leak, missing speedometer cable, cracked two-piece windshield, door leaks, power steering leak, worn steering tires, huge chunks of tread missing on two inside dual tires and body work required.

Used cabover buyers and sellers view the truck’s value very differently. The absolute, no-negotiation, firm price for this perforated Pete was $9,000. Really?

Another lesson learned: On eBay, the bidding typically is slow until right before the deadline. That’s when the “feeding frenzy” occurs and the bidding accelerates rapidly. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. So I passed on a 1953 Kenworth Bullnose with a 262-hp turbo Cummins diesel (no mileage listed), a 5+4 speed transmission and a button tuck interior in great condition. The starting bid price was $20,000 — way out of my league. What did it sell for? I was afraid to find out.

Finally

I kept looking for the right deal. And much to my astonishment, I recently “won” an online auction for a 1991 Kenworth K100E with 11.1-liter Series 60 Detroit Diesel. With nearly 1.4 million miles on it, it was in pretty good condition, all things considered. The person selling the truck, located in Florida, contacted me and said the auction ended without the reserve on the tractor being met but he’d accept my offer. Finally, I thought, a dream fulfilled.

I told the seller I’d have my brother, who happens to live in the Sunshine State, come by and do the deal. I just can’t bring myself to buy a vehicle sight unseen, and I couldn’t get to Florida in short order. But before my brother could get by (about a week), the seller re-listed his K100E on a different online auction. This time he sold the truck. At least the seller let me know.

Solitary pursuit

Among the inspirational quotes I have on my office wall is one from renowned football coach Vince Lombardi. It reads: “It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up again.”

The will to persevere is often the difference between failure and success. I’ve got plenty of keep-at-it. If I had a penny for every business card I’ve handed out strictly for finding a used cabover, I’d be able to purchase a spiffed out, late model cabover.

So, I’ve no doubt that it’s merely a matter of time before I end my project truck quest successfully.

Of course, I thought that when I first started looking. In 2002.

About David A. Kolman

David A. Kolman, an over-the-road driver for many years, is the Senior Editor of Road King magazine.

9 Comments

  1. Eisen Montalvo

    May 14, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Hi David,

    I have a cabover that I’m selling. If you want, you can contact me at 520.250.7055 and we can talk about the details.

    Best regards,
    Eisen

  2. Jon B. Quick

    May 29, 2013 at 12:43 am

    I saw a 1970′s Kenworth Aerodyne like the one used by BJ & The Bear TV Show. It was sitting in Grand Junction, CO next door to the site where there was a Richie Bros. Auction about a month ago. I owned one of these and it was a great truck. You should consider yourself lucky if you could have one of these in decent condition. Grand Junction is not that big, you should be able to track it down. Next time I go through there I can check on it for you.

    Call me if you are interested:

    Jon B. Quick
    832-724-417

  3. RedEagle

    May 29, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    Check out truckpaper.com I saw 2 K100′s 1 a single bunk and 1 a double bunk. If I had the money I’d be buying the double.

  4. FJH

    June 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    If you haven’t found what you are looking for yet, then let me bend your brain. About 3 month’s back my boss asked if I knew someone that might be interested in buying his old Kenworth cabover I told him no, but I would keep my ears open for a potential interest. The price that he gave me is a definite steal against the two prices you listed in your story. I know that its a one owner truck, when the truck was parked it was operational. They retired the cabover for conventional trucks back in the early 90′s, It seems to me that he said it was a 1986 model. I can probly say that the truck was well kept on maintenance while it was used, I know today this company is don’t welch on maintaining there equipment. Truthfully, if I were not already involved in a boat restoration project, I would have bought it. I right now have nowhere to store it. I’m not going to give out the price that he told me, but if you call him and he say’s 5 or 6 grand negotiate with him. see what he’ll settle for. The ph.# is 800-327-2833. The company name is Yowell International Inc. and ask for Steven Yowell. If you want, tell him Frank referred you. The only thing I’ll be making off of it is the satisfaction that someone is attempting to put new life in that old monster! Good Luck!

  5. Curtis Parks

    June 9, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Been seeing a red and white cabover for sale at Williams Moving Co. in Missouri off US 60 close to Dexter. Looks in good shape and doesnt look like irs been sitting long. Good luck hope that helps.

  6. TBone

    June 30, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Not sure how old you would like to get, but I may be selling my 1994 International 9670 cabover. To give you an idea of the shape it’s in, it has 10 years ontime p/u and del. service, 1 with UPS and 9 with FedEx. Uh Huh Uh Huh !!!

  7. TBone

    June 30, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Not sure how old you would like to get, but I may be selling my 1994 International 9670 cabover. To give you an idea of the shape it’s in, it has 10 years ontime p/u and del. service, 1 with UPS and 9 with FedEx.

  8. River pirate

    July 28, 2013 at 7:08 pm

    Well I am in the market for a good used cab over my self. I would prefer a peterbilt 362. I want the larger sleeper. I just want the cab, I am planning on mounting it on a newer, longer frame. So a cab shell is ideal. Email me if anyone finds one. Bobby.haynes1121@gmail.com

  9. jesse

    September 1, 2013 at 7:54 am

    more cabovers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>