Sometimes, no matter whether the subject is an automobile or a human being, fate can be a funny thing. Take, for example, the 1951 Ford F-1 pickup gracing these pages. Believe it or not, the feature you are reading right now could have just as easily been about a '70 SS396 El Camino.

Our story began when Tak Okamoto of Gardena, California, bought a '51 Ford pickup from a guy who wanted to get out of finishing a street rod project. The old F-1 was a good example of a bad attempt to graft an IFS frontend without any clues about how to go about it. The guy had made such a mess out of trying to hang a Volare clip on the front of the '51's original chassis that Tak opted to leave it behind. Ditching the F-1's 114-inch wheelbase frame opened the door for Tak to consolidate an ongoing project of his own-a '70 SS396 El Camino. The El Camino's 116-inch wheelbase didn't represent a problem for what Tak had in mind. He envisioned a radically customized pickup with numerous body modifications.

Perhaps this might be a good point to provide you with a little information about Tak Okamoto's automotive background. "I have always liked cars and trucks. During my high school days in the late '40s, we used to cruise Bob's Big Boy on Colorado Boulevard out in Southern California's San Fernando Valley because a lot of custom cars would gather there." By '63, Tak had opened up a body shop in Gardena, California, appropriately named the Gardena Body Shop. They specialized in collision repair. Although the shop didn't take on any customizing work, Tak has always admired customs, and spent all his spare time working on them.

After dragging the '51 Ford pickup home in pieces, the next task was to determine which parts would be retained from the El Camino and which ones would be tossed. In the early stages, Wesley Inafuku helped Tak disassemble and cut the El Camino apart. Once they had it down to the rolling chassis, Tak decided he would retain the El Camino's stock ride height, cab floor and firewall. Figuring it was the simplest way to have a transmission tunnel conform around the Turbo 400 tranny, inside the engine compartment the SS396 firewall provides a perfect relief for the 396-inch Chevy engine to nestle into. On the driver's side, the firewall supports a Chevelle SS396 dual master cylinder equipped with a brake booster. The passenger-side firewall was shaved completely smooth.