This question actually required a little thought before I ventured a reasonable answer. Many times, a person is dedicated to a certain model vehicle; or they have been planning their "ultimate" project for a long time. In other instances, it is simply a matter of opportunity. In this particular case, it was certainly opportunity that knocked the loudest.
Part of the Air Ride Technologies family is Precision Coachworks, a full-service hot rod fabrication and repair shop. At Precision Coachworks, we had been building this '56 F-100 for a customer off and on for about three years, as time, money, and ambition became available. Like most projects, the '56 involved a lot more money than had originally been planned. Obstacles were encountered, fussed over, and overcome with reasonable success. But in the fall of 2004, the customer had finally gotten to the end of his time, money, and ambition. We negotiated a deal to take over the project and finish it for ourselves. At this point, I never had a burning desire for an old Ford truck. I liked them just fine; I just didn't have that intense passion that is typically required to see a project of this size through to completion. But just like an adopted puppy, it grows on you really fast.
When we "inherited" the F-100 it was about 60-percent complete. The chassis and suspension were done; the drivetrain was mounted; the body modifications and paintwork were complete (save for painting a few trim pieces); and the majority of the body was assembled. It still needed a bed floor, glass, eatherstripping, trim, wiring, plumbing, wheels and tires, interior work, and just general "finishing up." Sounds like an easy fix, right? Well, it is for someone who is experienced and has time to devote to it. My guys at Precision Coachworks have plenty of experience, but their time is $50 per hour. The choice was fairly clear: I could let this thing linger in my home garage for several years while I gathered the time and ambition to dig into it myself, or I could pry open the old checkbook and get on with it. I have no patience with letting things linger.
We had done a fairly detailed estimate of the time required to finish this truck for the previous customer. Now that it was ours, we wanted to change and upgrade a few items, which obviously meant more time and money. After three days of collective brainstorming, we determined that it was going to take about 500 hours of labor and another $10K in parts to complete the project to our liking. In a strictly business sense, it may have been a wiser move to search for a new customer, but in this short time, the F-100 had started to grow on me; I could already envision the finished product with some really cool features. At that point it became a very typical project, fueled as much by passion as practicality. Since we had done all the work on this truck, I knew exactly what I was getting into. The F-100 had a lot of things going for it: a solid chassis and suspension, killer bodywork and paint, and a modern 4.6 GT Mustang drivetrain. If I had built this thing from scratch, it would have been built the same way.
The goal for the original owner had been to debut the truck at the F-100 Supernationals in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. We actually took possession of it in late January 2005. To make the F-100 Nationals in Knoxville in mid-May would require a real push. The guys at Precision Coachworks felt it was doable, so that was the new target.
Jon Hemmer at Precision Coachworks has a '53 F-100 of his own and is intimately familiar with these trucks, so he would take the lead on getting this thing completed. He immediately set about the task of installing the American Autowire harness, Vintage Air A/C system, and Street & Performance EFI wiring system.
Whether you are building a car, a truck, or a house, there has to be some vision for the end product. There is no way to get to where you want to go if you don't have some idea of where that may be. I saw the F-100 as a high-tech shop truck complete with our "Genuine Air Ride Technologies" logo on the doors. It would be an example of the image that we try to present at Air Ride Technologies, as well as a solid demonstration of our hot rod building skills at Precision Coachworks. It would look like a '56 F100, but it would ride, drive, and perform like a new Lexus. We used many OEM components in the suspension and drivetrain and only trusted high-quality aftermarket components throughout the truck. Although cost is always a consideration, I have built enough cars to realize the difference between price and value. Anytime I have to attend to a malfunctioning part, any initial price advantage is immediately lost, usually by a multiple of 10. Top quality, well-fitting parts sold by knowledgeable people are the least expensive way to go in the long run. Voice of experience!
There were three areas that needed initial attention because parts would possibly have to be special ordered or custom-built. First, we needed to get the engine running. Three years ago we pulled a complete running drivetrain out of a '01 GT Mustang. The 4.6 modular engine with an automatic transmission and 8.8-inch rearend would make a lively, durable drivetrain for the F-100. We contacted Street & Performance in Mena, Arkansas, for an engine harness to make it all work. I wanted to make sure this thing would actually run, so the wiring harness, both for the body and the EFI, was up first.
The next thing I wanted to change was the wheels and tires; this was simply a matter of taste. The former owner had spec'd out a set of 15-inch baby moons with tall balloon tires. My taste was at the opposite extreme--I wanted a set of 20-inch billets with a short tire. I made a call to Billet Specialties to order a set of their new Santa Fe wheels in a 20x10 and a 20x8 size. The Santa Fe is very reminiscent of the old Halibrand kidney bean wheels... old time look, high-tech fit and function. It usually takes a few weeks to get a set of billet wheels made, so we measured and ordered those right away. A set of BFGoodrich g-Force KDW T/A radials in a 275/35ZR20 size made the package complete. The third item that needed immediate planning was the interior. This was one area that I didn't have a clear vision--until we made a decision on the bed floor. We had previously planned on installing a replacement-type bed floor kit with oak planks and painted strips. It so happened that I was building myself a new office upstairs at Air Ride Technologies and had used bamboo for the flooring. As I was carrying the scraps to the dumpster on Saturday morning, I walked past the F-100. The tan/yellow color of the bamboo seemed just right with the dark blue paint. At the same time, the idea of a butter-colored leather interior started to form--two issues solved at the same time! When I ran this idea past the guys at Precision, they had an even better idea about building the bed floor from one piece of bamboo plywood with recessed polished strips. This seemed like a fantasy until Jon Hemmer found bamboo plywood on the Internet. We'll cover this part of the project in detail later, but the end result is stunning and pretty straightforward to accomplish.
With the immediate crisis resolved, we started making lists of all the construction details. This is actually the fun part. It is also the part that can keep a project on track or let it become bogged down with delays, changes, and unresolved problems. Next we'll get into the specifics about interior work (wiring, plumbing, and engine bay details). For now, enjoy the finished product--I know I sure will!
Since we now had a color direction for the interior, I called RodDoors and ordered their complete interior kit for the F-100. They make it all: the headliner, the door panels, the seat, and the trim panels. All you have to do is attach the leather or tweed of your choice. It saved dozens of hours of panel fabrication.
We also had a few other decisions to make in the interior: the stereo, overhead console, gauges, steering wheel, A/C controls, Dynamat, pedals, power windows, and steering column needed decisive action. I called Kicker to spec out a stereo system. I didn't want to clutter up the dash with a ton of gadgets, so we ordered an overhead console from Phipps Interior Products to get the Eclipse CD player out of the way.
Experience has taught me that Dynamat is probably the best investment you can make in the interior of your car. It simply cures any problems you may have with heat and noise. For the cool silence of a Lexus, close your eyes and write the check...now.
The previous owner had selected a set of Silver Series gauges from Classic Industries. I liked them, so they stayed. They were installed into a bolt-in panel from No Limit Engineering. You don't get many bolt-in projects on a truck like this, and we definitely cherished the moment!
Since the paint was such a dark color, we decided right away to use a polished wheel to brighten up the truck. We carried that theme into the interior as well with a chrome tilt steering column from ididit. This little beauty has the key switch built into it so there is one less doodad on the dash. The ididit column, floor mount, and steering shaft dropped right in, just like they said. We topped it off with an Outlaw steering wheel from Billet Specialties.To avoid poking a hole through our newly smoothed firewall, I chose one of Lokar's Eliminator floor mount throttle pedals and a matching brake pedal. The installation was simple, the function was perfect, and the look was clean all around.
In addition to a solidly designed and built evaporator unit, Vintage Air offers many options for vents and control panels for their A/C systems. We chose their polished Streamline control panel and their Venturi vents to complete the package. They look just right!
The power windows are a universal system from Yogi's. Not only do they carry all of the miscellaneous stuff you're going to need all through a project like this, but they also know how it works. Learn to know someone like them...it will make a big difference.