Revisiting a Radical Radial Engine ’39 Plymouth Pickup

PonyGirl Uncategorized

Gary Corns Radial Engine 1939 Plymouth Truck SEMA 2017

We’re looking back at one righteous ride, the “Air Radial”. It’s the time of year when thoughts of a fat man racing through the skies in an old fashioned sleigh go through our heads. But I bet, if given the choice that ole man would trade in that relic on rails for Gary Corns creation.  Who needs reindeer when you have Old “Shakey Jake” – read on and you’ll understand!

What do you get when you have a hot rod affliction, a fascination with aviation and a salvage yard at your disposal?  You get “Just a plane truck” that’s all.  That is if a radial engine powered ’39 Plymouth pickup is just a plane/plain truck, wink, wink.  At a show where over the top is the norm, Gary Corns Radial Engine ’39 Plymouth “Air Radial” caused quite a commotion at the 2017 SEMA show.  And why not, right?  It ain’t every day you run across a plane married to a pickup with a hefty dose of  humor thrown in for good measure.  Unexpected is putting it mildly when describing “Air Radial”.

Gary Corns and his family run a very successful salvage yard in Colorado.  About 30 years ago a ’39 Plymouth pickup was sold to the yard for a whopping 300 bucks.  Then that Plymouth just sat, waiting for the right inspiration to come along.  Fast forward a few decades and Gary’s acquisition of a  mid 1950’s Cessna Sea Plane.  Right then and there, Gary knew why that ’39 Plymouth hung around so long, that radial engine just had to go in the truck.  And in the ’39 it went.  The final product leaving a VP at Lockheed Martin asking Corns to explain exactly how he put it together.  Corns proudly admitted, “we must be doing something right when a rocket scientist is asking us how it works.”

The juxtaposition of an aircraft engine in a bare metal ’39 pickup is mind bending yet inspired.  Positively you have never seen anything like this before.  That Jacobs engine looks more like art than a pickup’s power plant, but it’s the real deal and runs like a top.  Old “Shakey Jake”, has 7 cylinders, is 757 cubic inches and puts out roughly 300 hp.  It has 2 plugs per cylinder, a distributor and 2 mag packs with an updraft carburetor.

Corns admits the trickiest part of the build was pairing an automotive tranny to an aircraft engine.  Airplane engines are designed to turn propellers, that does pose a problem.  A friend suggested Corns use a V-drive out of a boat.  And a solution was born.  “The propeller shaft was connected to a custom cogged pulley that runs down to a boat V-drive with a 3-inch Kevlar blower belt.  A custom driveshaft heads back from the bottom of the V-drive flange to the front of a Turbo 400 trans, where a clever assembly made from a 1970 Chevelle pinion and various old Ford bearings spins the 12-inch torque convertor.” (thank you hotrod.com). According to Corns “the transmission thinks it’s connected to a small block chevy”.  A collaborative effort with extraordinary engineering acrobatics brought this aero truck to life.

The details on this truck are outstanding.  The top was chopped, the rear was tubbed, and more than 1,000 custom rivets enhance the lines of the truck.  Corns installed a tube chassis, and extended the front end to make enough room for that Jacobs engine.  Continuing to blur the lines between aircraft and pickup, pitot tubes, aircraft lights and landing flares dot the exterior.  Mickey Thompson’s keep “Air Radial” rolling with Wilwood’s best keeping it all in check.  Countless hours of welding, bending, cutting and inventing went into the creation of “Air Radial”.  Corns has mad metal fabricating skills, his talent is evident throughout the build.

The interior of “Air Radial” is outer limits!  The attention to detail and theme maintenance is almost as impressive as the radial engine busting out of the hood.  The seats are straight out of the Cessna.  The controls are fully functioning dual steering yokes, dual brakes with a central throttle.  It has a custom hand fabricated console.  If “Air Radial” ever reaches altitude Corns has all the gauges needed to navigate the the friendly skies.  “Air Radial” is pure aviation on four wheels.

“Air Radial” burns a bit of fuel.  Gary said he gets about “a block per gallon”!  It holds 15 gallons of the go juice and 8 1/2 gallons of oil.  It can run for about 10 to 15 minute intervals, it’s a hot one!  So hot in fact that Corns injects oil into the exhaust once the engine gets hot, producing what he calls “stunt smoke”.  If you’re going to put on a show, put on a big one!  If the smoke wasn’t enough, there’s no muffler on “Air Radial”,  the louder the better.  And if you close your eyes, you’d swear you were on a runway waiting for take off.     

You’re looking at a year and a half of blood, sweat and tears.  Corns said “I wanted to be different, and I think I am”.  I for one dig that this dude dared to be different.  “Air Radial” even comes complete with it’s own 40’s era tug to take it in and out of shows, now how’s that for attention to detail!  Now cast your eyes at this fearless flyer and judge for yourself.


With the “Air Radial” build, Corns wanted to show exactly what you can do from a wrecking yard and in doing so he built one heck of a ride! Check out their Colorado Auto & Parts site for the full skinny on these mad mechanics and their playground of previously owned parts

Want to see more rare gams like this one? Drop us a line and we will hook you up. Need instant gratification? Head over to the Pony Girl Show Stopper Gallery and browse to your heart’s content.

Have a project?  Want to put the pedal to the metal and then stop on a dime?  Then you need to check out the Wilwood Vendors Showroom, they can put a stop to anything on four wheels!

Till the next time – Keep on Kruzin!