Posted by: Mark Polk | 2015

71 Power Wagon – Search for a Sweptline Tailgate

When I bought my 71 Dodge Sweptline project truck it was missing the tailgate. At the time I didn’t think much about it, I mean how hard can it be to find a tailgate right? I soon learned that finding almost any part for the power wagon restoration was difficult, but finding a tailgate in good condition, and at what I considered an affordable price was a real challenge.

When we took a trip to Colorado I found a guy in Denver who had disassembled several Dodge Sweptline trucks and filled his entire basement with the parts. He had every part imaginable and I hit paydirt for most of the hard-to-find parts on my list, but he did not have one single tailgate. I still wasn’t too worried about finding one since the project wasn’t close to the bodywork stage yet.

Time passed and I scoured local junkyards and even drove 3 plus hours to a salvage yard that I was told had a Sweptline tailgate. They did in fact have one, but it was beyond restoration. I probably called every salvage yard in North and South Carolina and actually did find another tailgate that was about an hour from where I lived. It had some rust that was repairable, and it was bent pretty bad in the middle, but I thought I could straighten it.

One reason I think so many of these Sweptline trucks are missing tailgates is because Dodge made a camper special model with a tailgate that could easily be removed to put a truck camper on the back of the truck’s bed. I think people took the tailgate off and put it in a shed or barn and forgot about it. On the models without the removeable tailgate it’s not so easy to get the tailgate off the truck, especially after forty some years. When I tried to remove the bent and slightly rusted tailgate I made three trips back and forth, the mile or so into the salvage yard where the truck was located. Each trip I would get additional tools, lubricants and finally an impact screwdriver, a big hammer and a torch to heat the bottom pivot mounting screws up. After spending an entire day working on it I finally got my tailgate. The salvage yard owner only charged me $125.00 and I thought I made the deal of all deals.

I got the tailgate back to the shop and started cutting some of the bad metal out and welding new patch panels in its place. The stamped DODGE letters had some rust that was not going to be easy to fix so I diverted my attention to trying to straighten the bend that was in the tailgate. With the truck on the lift I lowered it placing all of the weight on the bent section of the tailgate. When I left the shop every day I would turn the tailgate over and move it around in an effort to shift the weight to different areas trying to straighten it. I did manage to get some of the bend out, but there was still enough of a bend that it was noticeable, and it was unacceptable for this build, so I was out a few days labor, some metal and $125.00.

After exhausting my search at local salvage yards and on Craigslist I expanded my search to Ebay. I didn’t like the thought of paying for shipping too, but I was at the stage in the restoration where I needed a tailgate. I saw tailgates that were in decent shape but the prices were $400 and $500, and that didn’t include shipping. I contacted several owner’s and made what I thought were reasonable offers with no success. One day when I looked on Ebay I saw two new listings for tailgates. I wrote to both people making offers. One said no and the other one met me in the middle at $250 and $75 shipping. The tailgate was in good restorable condition and I needed it so I agreed. This was by far the most difficlt part to locate and purchase. Now I will probably see a half dozen perfectly good tailgates for $200 or less.

The tailgate I bought was a removeable tailgate and the hardware I had to mount it was for the stationary tailgate I bought at the junkyard. I fabricated a piece and welded it to the hardware I had. Now I can remove the tailgate if I need to. It wasn’t perfect but it works good, and when the tailgate is on the truck you don’t see it anyway.

The tailgate had three coats of paint on it, so I ended up stripping it down to bare metal. I repaired all the small dents and sprayed three heavy coats of primer on it. When it dried I lightly sanded it and sprayed and cleared it. Now I can figure out how I want to finish the inside of the truck’s bed.

Next up: Bed Liner Project

Read about the full build HERE

Mark Polk

Auto Education 101

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