Have you ever heard the saying “third time’s a charm”? Well, for Dennis O’Connell you could say forth or fifth time is a charm. It all started with Dennis building a couple Volkswagens for his kids, but he always wanted a hot rod for himself—a ’32 Ford coupe to be exact. While at a softball tournament for his daughter in Denver, Colorado, he got a phone call the type of which every parent fears. It was the Chico (California) police saying that his son had been in a serious car accident. Dennis’s first question was if he was still alive. The officer said yes, but he was hurt pretty bad. So Dennis booked the first flight home to see his son and be there for him during his recovery.
While at the hospital the family talked about what to do with the crashed Jeep and decided to give the young O’Connell the family Chevy van as his replacement vehicle. Dennis says that if he could’ve given his son a tank to drive he would have. Dennis and his wife, Joyce, had a follow-up discussion, again, at the hospital, about what he was going to drive now that the van was spoken for. Dennis suggested that he buy a truck and build it with an old-school hot rodding theme in mind. Well, Dennis admits that he sort of took advantage of Joyce’s fragile mental state at the time, but he would try anything to get his mind off his boy’s recovery. Joyce had spent a lot of time going to road races and other car-related events so it really wasn’t that hard of a sell for Dennis. Lucky guy.
While Dennis sat next to his son in the hospital bed he searched for a truck and spotted an ad for a ’55 Ford for sale in a nearby town. The truck already had a Ford 429 big-block and a front clip from a Thunderbird, and Dennis thought that would work great.
Knowing that he’d have a high level of anxiety from leaving his son’s bedside for long, he knew that if he were to purchase the truck it would have to be a quick turnaround trip. A few days went by and Dennis’ brother-in-law came to visit and so he thought this would be an appropriate time to get away and take a look at the ’55. Dennis really didn’t know what he was looking for at the time but when he got a chance to drive the Ford it drove straight and accelerated like a bat out of hell. When he got back from the test drive he took a peek under the hood and the 429 had a circle track-style carb that was either fully on or off, like a light switch. You couldn’t take off from a stop without spinning the tires, and Dennis thought it was perfect. On such a high from the test drive Dennis agreed to pay the ridiculously high asking price and a few days later picked it up and drove it back to the hospital to see his son again.
The truck drove great but the paint lacked the glossy finish that he thought it deserved. The original paint had been painted over several times and the previous owners’ attempts to do paintwork were not very good. Also, the rear fender had a nasty patch job and the tailgate was bent from abuse. The faded red paint and blue spots with sandpaper scratches had to go. Dennis said the hardest part of building the truck was learning how to do bodywork and use a spray gun. Dennis tried over and over to get the bodywork right, then one day it clicked in his head on how to do it perfect. After a little trial and error with body filler Dennis finally painted the ’55 the way he had envisioned it.