Some fellas seem to know what lights their fire at an early age. And when it comes to customs, it's not just a matter of whether it's in the poor soul's blood or not-shoot, it's down to their DNA. Molecular. Words like heritage and tradition come to mind, but only skim the surface of something much deeper. Such is the case when it comes to Rusty Baldwin of Jefferson City, Missouri, and his family, for it's become family tradition to hand down vehicles from father to son. And not just any old wreck you'd expect from ma and pa-heck no, we're talkin' customized classic Ford trucks here.
If you let Rusty pull on your ear for a minute, he'll be the first one to tell you it was his father's '56 Ford F-100 big-window pickup that first pervaded his senses with the feelings that cruisin' in a vintage Ford truck provided. It must have had a pretty strong effect, because at the age of 15 Rusty bought a '53 F-100, and with his father's help he had his first custom under his belt. But the still-wet-behind-the-ears Rusty didn't know that a legacy had begun.
Rusty's dad, Robert, guided his apprentice son through all the steps of that '53's rebuild, creating a bond that served to strengthen the values their family holds dear. But he always had a dream vehicle on his mind. You see, while the pair was attending the F-100 Nationals in Gatlinburg one year, a wild '56 panel truck caught young Rusty's eye. That sweet ol' panel laid its charm on him, and that was all she wrote.
From then on Rusty planned to customize a panel of his own some day, but none of the examples he found were up to snuff, being either too rusted or banged up. But he spent the time it took to find this particular truck building up his customizing chops on various rods, mostly Fords, but with the occasional Anglia thrown in to keep things amusing.
Then life changed in '99 when Rusty got wind of a truck that just might fit his needs. It seems a friend who knew of his unfulfilled desire saw an ad in the paper of a small town in Kansas, and that set the stage for a road trip. What Rusty found was a truck that had been stored for many years and had been kept clean by the original owner until the day came for it to change hands. This baby had been well kept and was very much stock, free of damage or what anyone else's idea of a custom might have been-basically the holy grail of panel trucks in Rusty's opinion: an original-owner vehicle.
The original 292-inch Y-block...
The original 292-inch Y-block was swapped for a big ol' 460. Modifications include .020-over Keith Black pistons, a Holman Moody dual-quad intake with two 650 Holleys, and a Comp Cam to pop stainless steel valves living in a pair of reworked '68 428 Cobra Jet heads.
Eighteen inches of a Lokar...
Eighteen inches of a Lokar floor shifter lead to a beefed '76 C-6 tranny built by Mike Christian's Transmissions in Jefferson City, MO. Internal upgrades include a B&M 2,300-rpm stall converter and external lines running to a radiator-contained tranny cooler.
Modified stock gauges rest...
Modified stock gauges rest in a chromed cluster. Behind the dashboard scene a Painless wiring harness Rusty installed supplies 12-volt juice throughout the truck. The mahogany steering wheel is from Grant.
From Rusty's door panels in,...
From Rusty's door panels in, every area of the '56 relies on Dynamat for sound deadening and insulation from the elements.
After the stripping was complete, Rusty started with the frame and worked his way out from there. He cut down the bumper-mounting horns by five inches and powdercoated the frame. When all was said and done he had a 110-inch wheelbase. He added a Mustang master cylinder and brake booster to bring the stoppers up to date, hiding the booster under the floorboard to keep the engine bay clean. He added a steering box from a Toyota 4x4 and utilized stock Ford spindles to mount a set of American Racing Torq-Thrust IIs shod with Falken tires.
His next project entailed deciding on the body modifications, including a chassis buildup to get the body exactly the way he'd been dreaming of. That was followed by some serious bodywork that included filling all the seams, a smoothed firewall, a filled ashtray, and an owner-fabricated flip-open gas access door. Inside, the cargo area was trimmed out with birch slats finished in a rich mahogany stain. The interior was finished in fine leather, and after that it was on to final bodywork and paint. Of course, modern amenities abound inside, including a DVD for the kids, with Old Air air conditioning so they can truly chill out while cruisin'
While the paint was drying Rusty focused on the engine. A '76 Ford 460 Rusty and his dad cleaned up with a .020-inch overbore and Keith Black pistons turned out to be the powerplant of choice. A pair of rare '68 Cobra Jet heads found their way atop the block and were fitted with hardened seats and stainless valves to assist the breathing dynamics. We'd love to tell what Comp Cam grind Rusty chose, but it's top secret. Well, actually, he forgot... But he did tell us he's got a Holman Moody dual-quad intake topped with twin 650 Holleys that sport a double-barrel shotgun aircleaner with a pair of K&Ns mounted on top. Capping off this setup is a pair of eyes starin' back at you like a silent graphic tribute to the hot rodders of the past.
Last but not least, Rusty installed a '76 Ford C-6 trans with a Lokar 18-inch billet shifter. There's also a B&M torque con-verter, plus a high-capacity cooler built into the radiator. Mike Christian in Jefferson City, Missouri, gets the nod for that little piece of artistry. But other than that, this panel was a family affair, with Rusty's oldest son, Andy, helping out by keeping cold drinks handy at all times and soaking in the hypnotic effect his dad and grandpa had on him. It's just this kind of thing that can have a positive, lasting effect on a youngster's mind. And that's how the Baldwins keep it a family affair.
One of the few areas Rusty...
One of the few areas Rusty didn't do himself was the panel's interior. Jim Nichols at Nick's Upholstery in Jefferson City stitched Ultra Leather with crushed velour in cream and teal to finish the panel's internal appearance. Note the bucket seats are a rare pair of '56 originals.
Thanks to a Pioneer head unit...
Thanks to a Pioneer head unit with two Pioneer 6-inch two-way speakers, two Pioneer 6x9 three-way speakers, and a Sony DVD setup, the cargo area has been transformed into an audio-visual area of mobile bliss.