Customizing is taking something and making it different than it was originally designed. Purchasing a vehicle with the intent to modify it is a loose definition of hot rodding. When you mix the two terms hot roddder and customizer you get Dean Cotlow’s ’56 Ford panel.

Dean found the panel in a carport in Oracle, Arizona; the owner had purchased the truck 15 years prior. We can use the term grocery getter on the ’56. "Gilbert’s Groceries" was on the rear panels when the truck had been used as a delivery service vehicle. While Dean had a vision of how he wanted the truck to look, he described the condition of the truck when he first got it: "I made a purchase in lust but the outcome is what I’m in love with."

After sandblasting the chassis revealed that the structure was no better than an old rotted wagon wheel, Dean decided to tackle the chassis restructuring. First, however, it was off to the L.A. Roadster Show to get some ideas. There, Dean met up with Rob MacGregor from No Limit Engineering, and after explaining what the plan was for the Ford, he felt comfortable having No Limit make a chassis.

The motor selection was next and since panel trucks are known to be on the heavier side, the motor had to be of significant power to handle the mass. A friend suggested he check out Smeding Performance and their Ford motor lineup. As soon as he clicked on the Smeding website and saw the stroked small-blocks dressed to impress, Dean knew he had to keep a Ford powerplant in the ’56. With the motor leaving nothing to be desired, it needed an equally impressive transmission to keep the hydraulic fluids in the tranny. Dave Sharp of Sharp Transmissions in Tucsan provided the worked-over AODE Ford trans.

Back at the shop the usual body repairs were addressed, like the doorpost, driprails, and fender reconstruction. When Dean ordered the No Limit frame he wanted to change the huge gap from the front wheel by moving the suspension up 5 inches to improve the frontend visuals. Moving the frontend up required the front fenders to be cut out and sectioned to the new wheel location. Thinking the bodywork would be the easy part of the build (this is Dean’s first build) he didn’t take into consideration that the body filler would take a long time to cure before the paint was applied. This was the time to play with different color configurations until the color was just right. Todd Hood of Hood Automotive Refinishing in Tucson laid the Ford blue color that Dean kept a secret from us. That might be a good thing, because we’re sure others will choose to follow the paint choice once they see the panel in person. After the paint, there were some details like custom brass moldings and emblems handcrafted by Louie Check of Lil’ Louie Pinstriping in San Bernardino, California.

The interior of the panel is a hard thing to fill because of the vast space. Dean was able to treat it like a high-end apartment overlooking New York, or, like he said, a moveable log cabin. To accomplish his idea, Ron Mangus of Custom Hot Rod Interiors in Rialto, California, was the man for the job. Once at Mangus’ shop Dean picked out the butterscotch leather color and explained to him the look that he was going for. Mangus nailed it to a T with the interior fitment and design.

It’s hard not to continue with the details on this custom pickup. Dean brought a panel back from being a motorized shopping cart to a rolling piece of art. He drives it on a regular basis, but it gets trailered to major events, like GNRS, where he won Outstanding Interior, Outstanding Truck, and First in Panel in his class. ct