The Green Lizard
I’d been riding 6 or 7 hours on the bench seat of my 1973 Ford F-100 Pickup Truck before landing in San Clemente (So. Cal). I was hauling my 1969 hardtail (rigid) Harley bobber (chopper) to my buddy’s pad. The next morning we were riding out to the 2012 Born Free 4 motorcycle show. It was early Friday evening when I arrived. I was readying for dinner and a night on the town when my buddy’s running around posse began to show.
They were all 30-something-year-old bachelors practicing the Mystery Method or system for meeting women in bars (Aka Picking up chicks, not my words, the system’s). As I understand it, part of the “Mystery Method” for attracting women is being a smart A$$, almost all the time! Popping off and even borderline arrogant. I don’t know; I guess it works.
My buddy’s friend must have been practicing “pre-game” because the first thing he said to me with his Indian accent was: “What’s That! The Green Lizard?” as he pointed, laughing at my road-weary Truck in the driveway. I believe he meant it as good-natured ribbing. I was tired and didn’t care but found it amusing and rather fitting. So it stuck. The Truck was dubbed and to this day is known as The Green Lizard, which might be oxymoronic since lizards are green? But whatever. I sometimes call it the Lizard for short.
It all began in 2011. I realized I needed an old truck in my life, mostly for hauling motorcycle parts, as well as picking up landscaping and building materials, dump runs, and to give myself something easy to tinker on. There are times when a man without a truck is like being a kid without tennis shoes. I never imagined the Truck I found would become a part-time play toy, grocery-getter, Picnic Pickup, and Car Show Party Crasher.
Scouring Craigslist, I spotted a horrible picture of a ramshackle Truck, still the vintage was right, and the body appeared intact. I guess I had a good feeling or sensed a deal, so I pursued it.
The seller’s name was Shari, and somehow, she’d come into possession of this old Truck that I’m pretty sure she couldn’t drive since it’s a manual shift with no power steering, and it’s an absolute beast to maneuver.
On the phone, she was aloof and directed me to go look at the Truck. It was parked at the end of a remote street in an affluent neighborhood high in the hills of Claremont above Oakland. She must have left it there, figuring it would be safe from theft, vandals, or being towed.
Upon arrival, the Truck didn’t look like much. The bed was full of old moldy mattresses wet from rain. The bench seat was an exposed foam pad, the cover having been torn away. The cab was littered with trash. Under the hood, there were five dead batteries lining the fender wall, presumably stolen, and the Truck wasn’t running.
I still hadn’t met the seller. Preliminary phone negotiations indicated I could have the Truck for near nothing. My research discovered roughly $600 owing in back DMV fees.
Shari, the seller, became sketchy. Her phone got disconnected. Then out of the blue, someone called on her behalf, saying Shari wanted to meet in literally one of the worst areas of Oakland. I cautiously made my way to the address, a two-story mansion that had once been home to a wealthy family of the 1930s or ’40s. Most such homes have been converted to apartments as the well-to-do have long since moved on.
The place was dilapidated, and the front door was open. There was no sign of electricity, and it soon became clear this was an abandoned property in transition serving as a meth infested flophouse with campers everywhere. There was an air of danger as I poked my way in. I could see people sleeping on dirty mattresses on floors in rooms that lined the downstairs hallway.
Eventually, I found Shari, and it was sad too… through her unkempt long brown hair, anyone could see she had once been a charming and pretty girl. Away from the squalor, we talked on the front lawn. I feigned disinterest and acted as if I was ready to walk. Her Craigslist post had expired, and I was maybe her last and best chance for quick cash. Two-Hundred and Fifty Dollars ($250) is what I paid. If I’d given her more, I’m sure she’d likely have spent it on bad behavior. Besides, the Truck was going to need work. The pink slip was lost, so a bill of sale was scribbled out. Shari snatched the money.
With help from my friend Ron (who’s good with motors), I got the Truck running, so with four bald tires, bad brakes, a borrowed battery, out of date tags, and whatever insurance my auto policy could muster, I began the trek home. Down through the winding hills of Oakland, I drove, all the while pumping the blown brakes and limping the lizard home. That same day I drove it to the dump, where it cost me another $40 to discard all trash and mattresses.
First Things First. I soaked the Truck in gallons of Simple Green and WD40. I pressure washed inside, outside, and over, and under it. Then more Simple Green, and more WD40, and more soaking. Soaking continued for days on end. Hot soapy water began to soften decades of dirt. I removed the Seat, instrument cluster, and the rubber floor mat and hosed out and washed the interior of the cab.
Covering the heavy American sheet metal is a thick layer of enamel paint that lasts forever, the kind of paint they don’t make anymore. I began rubbing carnauba wax into the paint and into the aluminum trim. The Truck started to clean up nice. I had to get all the old dirt off so I could start getting my own dirt on!
Full resto was never the objective. For me, every piece that had remained on the Truck since it first rolled off the Detroit assembly line when had become part of the heart and soul of the Truck, so I wanted to retain as much of it as I could. This was my slice of vintage Americana. My original objective, which has remained constant, was to spend as little money as possible. I don’t deny the Truck of anything it needs; I just go by the rule that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Under the hood, there is a smell I can’t describe, but it smells great! Yeah, I know, It’s probably toxic vintage oils and leaded gas residue haha, but it’s unmistakable and amazing.
I found and installed an old button-operated motorcycle air siren that provides a fun way to say Hello, Goodbye, or Thank you! or just to keep em guessing. The siren is the sort that winds up reaching a high pitch and then winds itself down again when the power is released.
What sets The Green Lizard apart is it’s lime green metal flake diamond tuft vinyl bench seat upholstery. I special ordered the material. Local shops wanted ridiculous dollars and time to re-upholster a simple bench seat.
I found a donor seat, and eventually, a Mexican guy in Oakland named Alex, who’s English was actually worse than my Spanish. We couldn’t get anything sorted over the phone, so I drove out there. Deep in the heart of the Fruitvale area of Oakland, where speaking some Spanish is a must. I found his hole-in-the-wall upholstery shop, the kind I used to see in TJ (Tijuana) when I was kid spending summers near San Diego. A short while later, and a lot of hand gestures, pointing, head nodding, and a handshake, we sealed the deal. I drove off, unsure if he had understood anything I said or meant? For sure, I wanted diamond tuft upholstery with green piping. I also wanted extra springs wound into the Seat to reinforce the worn 40-year old sagging mattress and make it extra firm.
A couple of weeks passed, and I couldn’t get hold of Alex or anyone on his end to even pick up the phone. I drove out to Alex’s, not knowing what to expect and certainly not expecting the Seat to be done. I’d had given him a down payment, but at $450- cash, he was still less than ½ the cost of anyone else. Was the deal too good to be true? Was my doner seat gone? The rundown shop looked as if it was barely surviving. I got there and saw my Seat sitting there completely done and looking great! Alex acted like, of course! As he went busily about his work.
I borrowed a ratchet from Alex and spun four lag bolts out, and I got the new Seat in place. On that spring California day, sitting high on the bench seat, wind wings flapped open, and in no hurry, I drove off, my left wrist dangling at 12:00 O’clock atop the hard plastic steering wheel, my right hand resting on the shift knob, my left foot depressing the clutch pedal, I eased into 2nd gear, everything felt right in the world as I hit the gas and cried my siren to say thanks and goodbye. The Seat had cost more than the whole Truck! Ha ha, and yet it made the whole Truck.
There are Step-Sides and Fleet-Sides, well, this Truck is a “Dent Side.” It has more dents than a recycled coke can, but each dent has a certain charm and its own (unknown) story.
The paint is two-tone, with the lower half being an avocado enamel that can polish out to shine like new—the top-half is a 70’s metallic lime green, with a vintage soaked in patina. The color combo is quite unique. I’ve never seen another like it, nor do I care to.
These old trucks are unbelievably unsophisticated. The wiring is primitive. It came with gun racks, so I left them. New beauty rings and NOS hubcaps adorn the wheels. I got new issue (white) California license plates from the DMV. Then had a guy paint them to the original California period-correct Blue and Yellow color scheme. I then shot a thin layer of acrylic clear over the hood to accentuate the patina and help preserve the paint.
I promptly rebuilt the Edelbrock carburetor. I installed an electronic ignition replacing the old un-reliable points. I replaced the radiator, starter, alternator, thermostat, hoses, a new Belt (yep, just one Belt), new battery, and installed gas shocks, a new clutch, new wheel bearings and seals, and U-joints. New whitewall tires and rear bumper. A new green-tinted windshield and green window tint add to the ascetics and mystic. I got a bed liner and a new brake master and rebuilt the brake calipers and new flasher and turn signal assembly. Pretty much everything important has been replaced or rebuilt.
NO SMOG REQUIRED! The Truck is so old it’s smog exempt! It’s powered by a “302” small block Ford motor, the same motor that powered early mustangs and is still used today. The 302 is fairly economical and actually gets a respectable 18+ MPG around town. I changed the tranny fluid in the indestructible Borg-Warner T-18 manual 4-speed [four on the floor] transmission. I also installed a modern sound system with 6×9 speakers and a 200-watt power amp that plays the radio, Aux, CD, and USB real loud.
The Truck is NOT a “Hot Rod,” Rat Rod, Custom, or Cruiser. It’s not Fast and Furious or Fancy. It’s not a Trailer Queen, Resto-Mod, or even valuable. It’s not a Work Truck, nor is it Classy, or even that “Classic,” but it has small elements of various enduring attributes that, IMHO, make the overall package personable with loads of utility and tons of fun.
Among other things, the Truck has helped me build three sheds, a small rental house, and a two-car-carport to, of course, cover the Truck.
Old Trucks weren’t quite as cool ten years ago when I found the Lizard. Not that they are all that cool now, but it has since become fashionable in the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma to keep old trucks around, especially with a weathered patina. I’ve heard them called Farm Boys, Farm Trucks, Uncle Jesse Trucks, and Barn Finds. It’s better if they look like they’d once been loved, then unloved, and finally loved again! I think old trucks resonate with some people because they see one, and perhaps like it, and immediately understand the lack of pretense. Unlike many trophy cars, Old trucks are within reach of anyone who wants one. For whatever reason, old trucks remind us of bygone eras and often our youth.
I love cars and car shows! At the Good Guys Car Shows, there is a sea of spectacular cars, and one more spectacular than the next. After a short while of checking out cookie-cutter “custom” resto rods, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and long for something a little different. Enter the Green Lizard. It’s easy for the Lizard to stand out at a car show without the music blaring and burnouts blasting by simply looking slightly out of place. You can almost see people wonder: What’s he doing! 😠 and still, others ask, What is he doing? 😃
It’s easy to get a car into a car show, just pay the entry fee, and have a vintage American Made vehicle older than some specific year. We’ve had great fun taking the Lizard to Car shows! Such events take place within fairgrounds, and I don’t mean the parking lots of fairgrounds but rather the interior. Cars can cruise around the massive interior of the fairgrounds or just park, chill, and picnic. Many car enthusiasts arrive early to stake out the best spots to display their cars and show them off.
I always arrive late since I just cruise around and park my old Truck anywhere, and not for intentional display. Well, once I parked next to a grumpy old codger. He had his $50K vintage street rod truck in the front row so all the pedestrians walking the main thoroughfare could see. I parked right next to his and was actually partially blocking the view to his Truck, not intentionally, of course. After parking, we left my Truck and went walking over the adjacent vintage auto parts swap meet. I was gone at least a ½ hour. When I got back, I could see people checking out my Truck! It was a crowd-pleaser. I was getting offers to sell it. I could see the old codger was bugged. Nobody was looking at his Truck, and my beat-up old pickup with a fancy seat was stealing the show! The codger came over and asked me to move my Truck so people could see his ha ha – I was happy to oblige.
Thank you for reading; this was longer than I expected. To sorta sum it up, there was a country song I heard about a John Deer Tractor, and I know nothing of John Deer Tractors. I don’t know what that song was about, but it sounded nice. I’d like to think in some way romanticized reliable old American Made machinery; of course, I might be wrong. It might mean something else, but If I ever hear that song again! I’m going to think of the Lizard. Long Live the Lizard!
Like an old horse deserving green pastures and chance the trot and play, this near 50-year old pickup has a forever home for as long as I can give it one.
Truck MFG Date: November of 1972 at the San Jose CA Plant that was closed in 1983 citing Japanese competition.