It's all Jim Ireland's fault. He showed up at a company picnic with a chopped, dropped, flamed, tail-dragging, and fender-skirted '40 Ford. I drooled and he said, "You want to drive it?"

A few years later, I bought an amateur-built '53 F-100 and embarked on the madness known as custom-car building. Jim and I are now the founding members of the Rockers Car Club. We have two members (Ed.--and a couple honorary members). No dues, no newsletter, and no meetings, but we have wicked, pissah T-shirts.

When I bought the '53, it belonged in the Ralph Nader Hall of Fame--unsafe at any speed. The steering wheel came off in my hand at a stoplight. The brakes made it veer wildly into oncoming traffic. Basically, it was a disaster looking for a place to happen.

Five years and more work than I want to think about later, it's done. It was ugly getting there because I was my own worst enemy due to a lack of a master plan from the onset. I even called the painter six times in one day, changing my mind on satin versus gloss paint (he was very patient). There's probably a 12-step program forming for people who worked on my truck. "I'm Bob, I worked on Hartcorn's truck." "Hi Bob! Keep coming back..."

James McClain, who stitched my interior, was invaluable as a general problem solver. The painter, Dave Parsons, was really patient and did things in my best interest, not for his own convenience. Butch Martin, a well-known hot rodder from way back, did a really nice job on the chassis. Jim Ireland was the "Rodfather," the aesthetics guy who knew how they did it in the old days ('cause he was there). Jim also encouraged me to stick with the 351 Cleveland; he said there were too many 350 Chevys out there already. The parts and vendors used were all the usual suspects, Jasper, Lokar, Glide, Flaming River, SoCal, Mid Fiftys, Sacramento Vintage Ford, etc., but parts are parts; what really matters is why.

Bolting on a bunch of stuff without a coherent plan makes for a confused final product. I've seen too many styles mixed on rods and customs, and at some point, I had an epiphany and figured out what I really wanted. I love traditional hot rods and decided to use the styling elements of cars like the Doane Spencer and the Norm Wallace '32 roadsters, and I wanted to incorporate them into an F-100. Everything had to be period correct if it was visible in the interior or exterior.

The 351 Cleveland was designed to look like a high-end upgrade done in the mid '70s. Everything else looked like it was designed or built in the '50s or '60s, without the kitsch. The paint scheme had to be black, and after much persuasion by Jim Ireland, I relented and added scallops to the plan. We taped the vehicle while it was still in primer, took digital photographs, and sent it to a studio to have them fill in the lines. The virtual truck looked great, and it was a go.

Steelies with beauty rings and dog-dish hubcaps were the only way to go. The interior had to have rolls and pleats with a lot of gauges and things to look at. I wanted an aggressive look on the dash to match aggressive paint and stance. I did make one concession, however, which was insulation. I went a little over the top on this, but it made a huge difference. As a result, the doors close like a Lexus, and the only noise I hear is good noise--a low, throaty exhaust. I installed a killer stereo, as well.

Everything on the exterior was put in place to make it look lower, longer, and wider without resorting to a chopped top or sectioning. From the custom grille inserts to the one-piece glass and wider fenders to a smooth tailgate and roll pan, it's all there to achieve a certain look. It looks fast while parked.

The result is a truck with traditional looks and modern refinement that is driven daily. Three major factors in the drivability are the big steering wheel, floor shifter which allows for an easy manual shift to OD, and the Doetsch shocks. At 80 mph, it's only pulling 2,400 rpm. It corners like it's on rails and is solid and squeak-free. Everything I wanted.

As if the truck isn't a conversation starter itself, I added the trunk in the bed which was a prop in the movie Avalon by Barry Levinson. It also comes in handy to keep things in one place as I'm burning some corners.

F A C T S & F I G U R E S
Dave Hartcorn
Annapolis, Maryland
1953 Ford F-100

CHASSIS

Frame stock
Modifications rear rails boxed and C-notched
Chassis Builder Butch Martin
Rearend / Ratio Ford 9" / 4.11:1
Rear suspension leaf springs
Rear brakes Ford drums
Front suspension Heidt's Mustang II
Front brakes 11" discs
Steering box Chubby Chassis power rack
Front wheel make, size Early Wheel solids, 15x7 (4" bs)
Rear wheel make, size Early Wheel solids, 15x10 (4" bs)
Front tire make, size BFGoodrich Radial T/As, 235/70R15
Rear tire make, size BFGoodrich Radial T/As, 285/70R15
Gas tank aluminum 21-gal under bed

ENGINE

Year and make '71 Ford Cleveland
Displacement 351
Heads 2bbl Cleveland
Valve covers stock chromed
Manifold / Induction Edelbrock / 600cfm 4bbl
Ignition / Wires Mallory
Headers Sanderson
Exhaust / Mufflers custom duals / Flowmaster 50-Series
Dress-up Street & Performance serpentine brackets and pulleys, Mr. Gasket air cleaner

TRANSMISSION

Make and model Ford AOD
Modifications built by TPI
Shifter Lokar floor shift

BODY

Body style / Material pickup / steel
Manufacturer Ford
Modifications cowl side vents filled, one-piece windows
Fenders front / rear stock / Fairlane 3" widened
Hood stock shaved
Grille stock with custom inserts
Bed Bruce Horkey with stake pockets filled, aluminum bed cover with electric lifts, smooth tailgate
Bodywork / Paint by Dave Parsons
Paint type / Color DuPont / black
Headlights / Taillights Lucas style / '56 F-100
Bumpers front / rear stock / Sir Michael's roll pan

INTERIOR

Dashboard stock with custom under-dash panel, SoCal knobs
Gauges Mooneyes in Haneline engine-turned panel and pedestal mounts on dash
Stereo / Speakers Alpine CD/XM satellite / JL subwoofers, Diamond woofers and tweeters
Air conditioning Vintage Air Supercooler
Wiring Painless
Steering wheel SoCal 17" four-spoke Bell
Steering column Flaming River
Seats Glide Engineering bench
Upholsterer James McClain
Material / Color vinyl / tan
Carpet tan