Let's face it, all awards are not created equal. Despite what they say in those "heartfelt" acceptance speeches, actors know that taking home a People's Choice trophy will never be as prestigious as earning an Oscar. And in the hot rodding realm, winning top honors at the weekly Wal-Mart cruise night just ain't the same as hauling home a top award from the Grand National Roadster Show, the Detroit Autorama, or the Goodguys Nationals.
For F-100 owners and fans, few awards mean as much as a coveted Truck of the Year honor from the F-100 Supernationals in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. After all, this is the event where Effie builders compete with their true peers-other F-100 owners from across the country. Many people build trucks specifically to compete for the title, and each year the results are highly anticipated. Jess Walker is among the hundreds who annually await the announcement, so you can image his excitement when his name was called as Truck of the Year winner.
It certainly seems fitting for Jess to be holding the big trophy. After all, he's been attending the Supernats off and on for almost 20 years (he lives just down the road from Pigeon Forge and the show's original home, Gatlinburg) and has owned his '56 since 1978. The truck was actually "finished" once before (and done well enough to earn a feature in Truckin' magazine back in 1996), but a new chassis project snowballed into a second ground-up rebuild that put it over the top.
So what does it take to earn Truck of the Year? Well there's no set formula, but excellent craftsmanship and continuity of design will always help. Jess' truck has both. "I wanted to make the truck as slick as possible but also keep the look simple," Jess tells us. Mission accomplished. The F-100's exterior is as smooth as they come, with no emblems, handles, barbs, or do-dads to distract your eye from the mostly stock lines. The short list of modifications-filled seams, rolled pans, custom lights, widened rear fenders, and smooth running boards-serve to accentuate the '56's clean original styling. Of course, the flawless fit and glass-smooth Black Purple Pearl finish don't hurt, either. Mike Willard, of nearby Knoxville, Tennessee, gets credit for the great bodywork.
The beauty is more than skin deep, however, as the custom chassis that instigated this second go-'round could probably win trophies on its own. Built by Jim Barillaro, it's based on scratch-built framerails using a Heidt's independent front suspension, custom triangulated four-link in the rear, and coilovers all around. Naturally, everything is either painted, plated, or powdercoated. Heck, even the aluminum driveshaft and gas tank are polished! The glitter continues in the engine compartment, where chrome-plated aluminum adorns most of the 351 Windsor's exterior surfaces. Select parts from Edelbrock, Mallory, and Sanderson keep it running as well as it looks, while a B&M-shifted C4 transfers power.
Jess really exercised his creativity on the interior, where smooth, orchid-colored leather covers everything that had been stitched in tweed in the pickup's previous incarnation. The Tea's Design seats are separated by a custom-built console housing the Alpine stereo, Polk speakers, Vintage Air vents, and B&M shifter. Meanwhile, the smooth dash is now home to Dakota Digital instruments and a chrome ididit column topped with a Billet Specialties wheel.
It seems simple when you see it in writing, but ascending to the top of the F-100 ranks took three years of effort (that's in addition to the original nine-year build-up). "When I decided to build a new frame, I never realized I would later decide to do another frame-up restoration," Jess says. Of course, he probably never planned on winning Truck of the Year, either. Don't you just love it when an unplanning project comes together?