First a little background: every once in a while I would see an F1 pickup on the side of the road, in a driveway or parking lot, and wondered if the owner would be interested in selling. Sometimes I even left a note on their windshield with my phone number but I never got a call. Going home one afternoon back in 1987 I decided to make a shortcut from Winchester Blvd over to Pollard on Hacienda in Campbell, California, and there it was, a For Sale sign on a genuine Ford F1. It was in reasonable shape, a little surface rust, no tailgate, decent body overall and the price was right. It turned out that it was a mid-1950 Ford F1, with an original flathead V8 (that actually ran) and a really low-geared four-speed transmission.
The bed was not bolted down so I had to do a little wrenching before I hit the road. My wife Roi followed me to make sure I made the eight-mile trip home. It ran pretty good but the ride had a lot to be desired. At around 45 it felt like things were about to come unglued. I had a plan to make the F1 presentable with a new paint job but I was advised that the little bit of surface rust may cause problems down the line. I had recently started a new job and did not have a lot of free time to work on the restoration, but I did use the truck to haul stuff from the local Home Depot and to occasionally take junk to the dump. Several years passed without progress and I eventually parked it out in the field next to the house. It still ran pretty good but I had purchased a new GMC truck in ‘94 and the restoration project urgency faded away.
Fast-forward to 2011 There she was, still sitting where I parked her way back in ‘94. The F1 had actually sunk into the mud, and weeds had grown up around her, pitiful. One fine spring day my daughter said she wanted to do a cleanup around the place and asked me what I wanted to do with the now rusty relic in the field. Well, I said, I’m going to restore it! “Really?” she said and went on to gently remind me that I was running out of time. And, of course, she was right. This confrontation prompted me take a close look at what was now a pretty sad piece of work. After poking around a bit, I figured what the hell, let’s just do it.
With the help of a couple of friends, we hooked a chain to the rear axle and pulled it out of the mud, power washed it inside and out and assessed the extent of deterioration. It was pretty bad. The running boards were shot, all the bed wood had rotted away, there was a lot of rust around the bottom of the cab and the ground was actually visible through the rusted-out floor. The fenders and hood were in pretty good shape, a little surface rust, minor work needed to bring them back. The cab, on the other hand, was not so good. At this point I decided to disassemble the body from the chassis and sandblast all the metal surfaces to get rid of the rust altogether.
Although I was often encouraged to scrap the whole thing and find a truck in better shape, I felt that after all was considered, I was committed to see this thing through. With help from my friends, I hauled the now-bare metal body parts to a body and paint shop in San Jose specializing in restoration. This was in July of 2011. Because the shop had a number of projects in front of me, I figured that I had about six months to get a chassis ready for reassembly. To bring the original chassis and running gear into the current millennium, however, would require significant coin. I knew that I wanted to install a newer model OHV V8, automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes and a better suspension in front, but after estimating the cost of acquiring the new power plant and trany, beefing up the chassis and purchasing the aftermarket suspension hardware, I needed to consider an alternative attack. I remembered reading about guys putting their early model truck on a newer truck chassis. This would potentially provide better suspension, brakes and a significant upgrade in power. Furthermore, to minimize modification of the new chassis I needed to find a vehicle with the same or very close to the same wheelbase.
To make a long story short, I found that the Ford Explorer would fit the bill and went searching for one that was in good shape and had a V8. I did find a really good one from a fellow over the hill from me in Boulder Creek. After checking it out we made the deal, brought it home and with help from my friends and a neighbor’s lift, we removed the Explorer’s body from the chassis (nine bolts).
While the engine and transmission were off the frame, my friend and skilled mechanic John Freeman, my daughter Taylor and I teamed up to prepare the new chassis for its new role. Although the engine and transmission were in good shape, the power steering rack had a leak and needed replacement. While waiting for the steering rack, we replaced the water pump and blasted and painted the chassis, running gear and engine, wrapped all of the wiring and made it ready for mounting the F1 body.
While this work was going on I began to plan how we were going to mount the older model truck body onto a late model truck chassis. The original chassis is basically two parallel pieces of channel steel. The newer Explorer chassis turned out to be a real challenge. The frame was about three inches wider and had twists and turns that did not readily accommodate attachment of the F1 body parts. The rear double-hump shock mount crossmember, for example, rose several inches above the frame. In order to avoid encroachment into the bed surface I needed to replace it with a straight crossmember.
In regard to the bodywork, I checked in periodically to see how it was going. They had to do a lot of patching and welding to repair the cab section. The entire floor needed to be replaced and the driver side cowl area had caved in sometime before I bought the truck. The bed panels were restorable but the front bed panel was pretty bad and needed to be replaced. As it stood, I needed to purchase a new tailgate, front bed panel and grille, running boards and floor panel.
The cab restoration was pretty much ready in March 2012 and, with the help of my friend John, the chassis was trailered over to the body shop to begin assembly of the now primed body parts. Mounting the cab to the new chassis required some metal fabrication work as well. I designed a channel shaped bracket and two double flange brackets to support the rear section of the cab as well as two ‘L’ shaped brackets to support the front corners of the cab. The forward and rear cab mounting brackets were positioned and welded directly to the outside surface of the frame. The truck’s cab was finally bolted down onto the brackets using some of the rubber mounting pads from the Explorer. With cab in place, the rest of the body parts were assembled onto the chassis and made ready for a return to my shop at home.
While I had the truck back home we were able to complete the wiring, install a new under-floor mounted power brake unit, hook up all of the gas and brake lines and transmission shift mechanism, install the new headers and get ready to start the engine. This is a fuel injected engine with sensors all over the place, so it took a little fiddling around to get it to fire, but fire it did! The early Mustang shift mechanism is mounted in a center console that my daughter made from half-inch thick birch plywood. The console fit nicely between bucket seats that I had pulled out of my neighbor’s older Explorer.
The now roadworthy truck was hauled over to a shop in Santa Clara to install the exhaust system before delivering it back to the body shop to prep for paint. As it turned out, there was a great deal more sanding and filling and sanding to get it ready for the shiny yellow paint I had selected. All of the body parts were disassembled from the chassis except for the cab. While the painting process was going on I purchased the white oak wood kit for the truck bed and all the hardware to mount it. My daughter stepped up to prep the wood to a smooth finish, finally applying a glossy marine varnish. Because the Explorer frame was about three inches wider than the original, I needed to design a special bracket set to mount the new rear bumper. This bracket resembled a large ‘T’ with a slight offset to line up with the existing mounting holes in the bumper. I also designed and fabricated brackets for mounting the new front bumper.
I’m going to cut to the end here.. Everybody pitched in to carefully reassemble the body parts onto the chassis, mount the bumpers, tail lights, seats and power windows. The maiden voyage for my F1 was down to local afternoon get-together in Santa Clara in July 2013. In the months that followed I had the upholstery done, installed a stereo system and completed a number of tasks on a rather lengthy to-do list. A lot of people ask me, “how much do you have in it?” I have been advised to avoid adding up all of my receipts, at least not for a while.