Gullwing doors are automotive doors hinged at the roof. When opened, the doors resemble a seagull's outstretched wings. In the early 1950s, Rudolf Uhlenhaut, the chief developing engineer for Daimler Benz in Germany, invented gullwing doors for the Mercedes-Benz 300SL race car he and his team of engineers were developing. An all-out road-racing machine, the 300SL's tubular chassis had a low center of gravity. Conventional rearward-opening or suicide doors would have interfered with the 300SL's chassis tubes.
In a full-sized half-ton pickup, a low center of gravity or door and framerail clearances are not issues. Conversely, the realm of custom classic truck hobbyists who view doors as an open opportunity for customization is huge. Vintage trucks with rear-doorjamb hinged suicide doors are fairly prevalent in the custom landscape. Doors that swing diagonally up from the front jamb's upper corner, akin to a Lamborghini Countach, are considered cool to mini-truckers, as scary a notion as that may seem. But when was the last time you saw a Gullwing Effie? Vern Rauch of Garden Valley, Idaho, has been a custom car and truck enthusiast for 53 years. He's never seen a gullwing-door vintage custom or new truck. Nor has he ever seen a customized hauler with a Star Wars theme. Since he wanted to build a unique '56 F-100, he incorporated both ideas. All the restomodders are cringing at the notion, while the custom camp of truck builders are wondering why they didn't think of doing such work. After checking out the photos of Vern's Ford, even the restomodders will be impressed.
Vern bought the F-100 cab from a guy who rescued it from a river in McCall, Idaho. Thrown in with the soggy cab's purchase was a salvageable hood and front fenders. Vern already had the rest of the exterior body panels in his inventory of F-100 parts.
What our intrepid truck builder didn't own was a chassis. Realizing he'd have more than enough work trying to resuscitate the river- and time-rusted cab and other old sheetmetal pieces, Vern contacted Total Cost Involved in San Bernardino, California. He selected a fully boxed TCI chassis equipped with an Air Ride Technologies air suspension system at both ends, a TCI Mustang II IFS, a Ford nine-inch for the rearend and TCI ventilated and slotted disc brakes all-around. Desiring some foundation fabricating, he constructed a 20-gallon stainless steel fuel tank, located it behind the differential and plumbed the fuel lines with stainless steel pipes.
The theme of building something different made its way to the Effie's engine bay. Boise Cylinder Head built a '56 Chrysler Hemi that Vern backed with a renewed '98 700R4 trans. The trans has both a 2,000-stall converter and a trans cooler in the bottom of the Effie's radiator.
Working from the roof down, good friend Dale Taylor fabricated the '56's unique gullwing doors. Dale and Vern performed the bodywork, which included shaving away the trim pieces and door handles, smoothing and paint prepping. They sprayed the dashing, driving Darth Vader look with Concept Black.
Before Vern brought the truck to the auto trimming shop, he and Charles LaMothe wired it with a Haywire harness. Gene's Upholstery in Paso Robles, California, gets credit for the 2006 Grand National Roadster Show award of Best Interior-Truck. They utilized gray wool carpet on the floor, trimmed the '88 Chevy truck seats in gray European leather and used the same sumptuous hides for the uplifting door panels and headliner.
When it comes to crafting custom vintage haulers, Vern's no slouch. The Star Wars F-100 took 13 months to build. Sometimes theme trucks can be gaudy and over the top. Despite the fact that this Ford has gullwing doors and a Darth Vader demeanor, we defy even restomodders to contend it's not tastefully built and well engineered. In addition, customizers now have an open opportunity to incorporate gullwing doors into their vintage trucks. May the force be with you, hobbyists.