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Over the past few years Salvage to Savage has made a name for itself with a steady succession of eye catching, over-the-top builds. The Boca Raton, Florida-based speed shop is the brainchild of Michael Rolleri, a former contractor with a background in metal fabrication who was looking to branch out beyond stainless steel kitchen equipment. He’d grown up riding motorcycles, and a custom chopper project that he completed back in 2007 had piqued his interest in taking his fabrication skills beyond the construction realm, but the lack of a proper work space prevented him from pursuing it further at the time. But when Rolleri decided to look for a new office for his construction company and found one with a shop area attached to it, the situation changed.
“That provided me with the room to work on some fabrication projects,” he recalls. “I used to do a lot of furniture and lightning fixtures. That’s kind of how the concept for Salvage to Savage started. It was about taking something that was considered garbage – driftwood, old building materials, etc. – and making cool stuff out of it. I really had no idea that I was going to get this far into the custom car business.”
The company started popping up on automotive enthusiasts’ radars after the debut of Cha-Ching, their twin-turbocharged, LS-swapped ’65 Chevy C10 Stepside build. Coverage of the project caught the attention an EV conversion company, who in turn reached out to Rolleri with an idea. “The owner called us and basically, ‘hey – I want you guys to build an electric truck, and I’ll supply you with the motor and so on,” he explains. “That got the idea started, but we wanted to take it in a different direction. We didn’t want to do a ‘plug and play’ kind of build. We wanted to challenge ourselves, so we instead decided to use all Tesla parts and build a custom chassis around them.”
True to the shop’s name, the would-be EV-swapped ’85 C10 was a complete basket case when Salvage to Savage got started on the build. “It was basically a project that someone had started and given up on,” says Rolleri. “It was more or less just a shell with no motor or transmission. When we initially got it our first thought was to bag it and put an LS in it just like everybody else, but we thought that doing this Tesla conversion would be a little more interesting.” Their hunch was right: Since the shop got started on the project last year – a process which they documented on their YouTube channel – subscribership has skyrocketed from about 6000 users to over 170,000.
Rolleri says that the concept behind the project was to build a classic truck that didn’t really look like a classic anymore. “We had a vibe in mind, almost like a cartoon rendering. Something really low and really wide, and a few of the guys who work here are really into drifting, so there’s some of that JDM style in there as well. And we wanted to perform in the ways that a pro touring build should.”
The team got started by taking off the body and tossing the original chassis for a custom fabricated piece. Up front a Corvette C5 front cradle houses a Tesla Large Drive Unit while the back end utilizes a Tesla subframe assembly for the Large Drive Unit that powers the rear wheels. “We put the batteries on a chassis table and built a custom chassis around those components,” notes Rolleri. “It turns out that the overall footprint of a Model S is really close to a C10, so it worked out really well from that standpoint.” Space between the frame rails was more constrained up front, though, so the team developed a kit that allowed them to relocate the inverter to provide more packaging flexibility.
A long range battery pack from a Tesla Model 3 is on hand to provide the juice. “We chose not to take the battery apart – we kept it just how you’d find it in a Model 3, and it’s bolted to the bottom of the frame, just like a Tesla,” he says. “That makes it much easier to swap the battery out. Most people don’t go to the trouble of building a custom chassis for an EV conversion project like this, so they end up disassembling the battery pack and placing the modules all over the place.” The custom chassis consists of 2x4 box steel tubing that’s reinforced with additional webbing and crossmembers to keep the truck from twisting due to the incredible amount of torque that the two EV motors can deliver. Rolleri estimates that the combination is good for about 1000 horsepower and 1800 pound-feet of torque as it sits today.
But before the C10 would be ready to hit the road again, the team also had to sort out how to control the new powertrain. “That was new territory for us,” Rolleri admits. “We had planned to have Chris Hazell from Zero EV come out from the UK to help us out with that. But because of the Covid travel restrictions he wasn’t able to, so our head tech Andrew just kind of dove in and started doing research.” The three-pronged solution consists of a battery controller from Ingenext, a Zero EV motor controller, and a Racepak SmartWire system that controls all of the vehicle’s accessories.
The cab of the truck needed some updating as well, of course, and Rolleri hoped to make its tight confines a bit more user friendly. After gutting the interior the team installed a pair of Status Racing carbon fiber seats as far back in the cab as possible and created a custom fiberglass dash. An AEM dash displays the C10's real-time vitals while a 20-inch tablet-style center display provides some tech-forward eye candy. To ensure the truck is ready for any drift battles that might arise, they also outfitted it with a handbrake that locks the rear motor to help kick the rear end out, along with a clutch pedal that allows the driver to disengage the system’s brake regeneration feature on the fly.
The C10’s wild carbon fiber bodywork was designed by Fortune Flares and produced in-house by Salvage to Savage. An APR carbon fiber wing and forged 18x12-inch three-piece Finspeed wheels wrapped in Toyo R888 competition rubber help to give the square body its drift-ready look, while custom touches like the infinity tail lights help to further separate it from the rest of the pack.
The team completed the build just in time for last year’s SEMA show but they weren’t satisfied with its handling performance, so they got the C10 back in the garage soon after the event in order to make some changes. “At that point it was a conventional coilover setup and we weren’t happy with how it looked, so because of the time constraints we had to cut coilovers up to the point where they were just garbage that looked cool,” Rolleri says. “So when we got back from SEMA we completely cut the chassis apart again and re-designed the whole suspension.”
The new setup is a pushrod configuration that’s outfitted with Viking coil overs. “Obviously we wanted to improve the handling, but I think the main reason we did was to kind of flex our fabrication skills,” he quips. “But there’s also something to be said for how easy it is to make quick adjustments now.”
Looking ahead, Rolleri tells us he’s considering a switch over to AEM EV for motor controls as well as a battery swap, but the team is already hard at work on their next batch of projects. “We’re doing an EV swap in a ’65 Lincoln Continental, and we’re also building an LS-swapped ’63 International Travelall that we’re going to bring out the LS Fest in September. We’ve got a couple of C10 projects in the works as well, along with a ’70 Chevelle build with a twin-turbo LSX and a Roadster Shop chassis that we might bring to this year’s SEMA show. Keep an eye out for that one.”