What started as a 1939 Plymouth pickup truck has now morphed into this one of a kind custom built rat rod they call the Radial Air. It’s the brainchild of Gary and Alice Corns based out of Colorado. They own a wrecking yard that’s been in their family for years and they’ve developed a love for everything involving a motor and metal. To give you an idea of the type of people they are, rather than having friends over for weekly poker nights, they have weekly work on car nights where you bring a case of beer and come work on some random projects. Great idea!
We say random projects because the Corns specialize in the abnormal builds that require a ridiculous amount of fabrication and innovation to make them work. That’s blatantly obvious as soon as you lay eyes on this pickup truck and see this massive circular engine sticking up out of the hood. At first glance, it almost appears as if its a whole bunch of V-twin Harley motors stuck together, especially if you’re not familiar with airplanes. But actually it’s called a “Radial” engine built by Jacobs and it once powered a 1950’s seaplane that the Corns discovered when they visited an airplane salvage yard.
When Gary first rolled up to the shop with the radial engine it hadn’t been run in years. Before they could start the massive undertaking of figuring out how to fit the engine in the truck they had to make sure it would run. Luckily Gary is one of those guys that has every tool you’d ever need and if by some chance he doesn’t have it, he sure as hell knows someone who does. So he got in contact with someone that happened to have a radial engine run stand from the 1950’s and hooked the old Jacobs up. Sure enough, it still had some life in it and fired right up.
Now that he knew the engine had potential it was time to get to work. He and his sons tore the truck down to the frame and stripped it down to bare metal. They decided to tub the rear end, chop the top, and the entire framework was replaced with a custom tube chassis. Considering they were using a massive airplane motor, they decided to roll with it and continue on with the airplane motif. There’s more than 1,000 hand bucked solid rivets around every edge of the body panels just like you would see on an old seaplane. The interior was fitted with all sorts of gauges and lights from an old plane as well as leather aircraft seats.
The biggest obstacle that the Corns faced with the build was how to get the power from the radial engine to the Turbo 400 transmission and therefore the rear wheels. After all, it was built to turn a propeller directly attached to it. What they came up with is absolutely genius, they attached a custom cogged pulley to the propeller shaft then used a 3-inch kevlar blower belt to connect to a V-drive system from a boat. From there they custom built a drive shaft that would connect the back of the V-drive to the front of the transmission and then finally to the torque converter. It’s complicated, but yet simple in theory, and effective as hell apparently. Gary says that “in the end, the transmission thinks it’s connected to a small-block Chevy”.
When the engine was first built it was claimed to have around 300hp, but after a few modern upgrades like the ignition system among other things, the Corns have likely improved on those numbers immensely. They actually have plans on racing it at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Salt Lake City so it’ll be interesting to see what the old girl can do once that big old motor gets rolling. This thing is loud, like obnoxiously loud in the best possible way, of course. Plus, it shoots fire out of the side mounted exhaust pipes like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Now that it’s completed, Gary has been taking it out on the car show circuit and has gotten the attention of a few members of the aviation community. Apparently, the VP at Lockheed Martin asked him to explain how they did it, and a former CEO of Cessna liked it so much he signed the console. Gary went on to say “we must be doing something right when a rocket scientist is asking us how it works” and we can’t argue with that logic.