It's not often that someone buys a brand-new truck and keeps it for 30 years, but Texas-born Charles Youngblood had the makings of a fine custom classic truck literally grow up in his very hands. When Charles and his wife, Cindy, were just starting their soon-to-be family of four, they chose a '77 Ford Ranger XLT Lariat with a mere 390 miles on the odometer as an all-around family vehicle. "At the time I got it," Charles reminisces, "our daughter Angie was just a baby. So the truck grew into the family along with Angie, who's now 32."
But unlike daughter Angie, the years weren't quite so kind to the Ranger. As one might imagine, 30 years of Texas weather along with the Lone Star State's infamous bumpy red clay backroads added more than just a gentle patina to the trusty '77. A brand-new pickup might be the answer, Charles thought, but it wasn't until he stumbled on a unique piece of equipment at a local police auction that a lightbulb went on in his head. He found an '02 F-150 for an unbelievably low price with very low mileage, but there was one small problem: the F-150 was completely devoid of sheetmetal body panels. Nothing that could even be considered a paintable surface existed anywhere on the truck. It seems someone had taken a serious liking to the truck's outer skin, and after stealing it with a mere 60 miles on the odometer, they stripped it to the bone before the Special Investigation Unit had it back to the somewhat dismayed owner, who promptly let it go across the auction block as part of an insurance settlement.
Since the price was so low and his Ranger and the '02 F-150 shared a similar wheelbase, Charles figured he just might be able to squeeze some lemonade out of this pile of lemons. When he got the stripped late-model home, he began taking the measurements that were critical for what he had in mind. Charles wanted to complete a merger of sorts. If the two trucks shared enough common geometry, Charles figured he could graft the old body to the new chassis and driveline. At first, it seemed like a big if, so Charles took the '02 rolling chassis and his treasured '77 to his buddy Mike Cassidy, the proprietor of Cassidy's Rod & Customs in nearby Newcaney, Texas. If anybody could give him an answer to his dilemma, it was Mike.
Once the duo actually had the frames side by side, it was easy to see this crazy idea might not be the nightmare it first appeared. By cutting away the original front clip up to the firewall, they were able to graft the complete '02 clip, including the disc brakes and improved independent suspension, while still having room in front of the firewall for an improved air-conditioning system courtesy of Vintage Air.
After the front clip was welded up, the chassis was fixed to a frame jig, where Mike's precision welding brought smiles all around when they realized the mod-motor and transmission would drop into place with a minimum of fuss. Charles couldn't help but grin as he thought of what the 5.4-liter fuel-injected Triton motor would feel like propelling the truck he had driven for over 30 years. The Ford overdrive automatic transmission also fit like a dream, as did the late-model positraction rearend.
With the driveline squared away, the focus moved to the rear suspension. After trying a modified stock configuration with lowered springs, Charles decided on a four-bar setup with airbags. As on the front, late-model Ford discs stop the rear. Charles' rims of choice are 20-inchers from Billet Specialties shod with a set of BFGoodrich tires. The '77's body was pretty straight, so all that was needed was basic prep work before it was shipped to Allen Matthews Paint & Body to be covered in a PPG blue similar to the '77's original Ford Production Blue with accenting Acapulco metallic blue.
The final step was handing the truck over to Miquel's Custom Upholstery to lay down plush carpeting and restore the stock Ranger bench seat to feel better than new while retaining the '70s look. The dash cluster was updated with Dakota Digital gauges fit in place using the stock Ford bezels to retain a vintage look. Last but not least was the Kenwood in-dash sound system for when Charles and his wife want to watch the moon rise while cruising to some of their favorite tunes, no doubt some of the same melodies they listened to when their trusty '77 was brand new.
Just a shade smaller than the '77's original 302 V-8 with a C-4 Cruise-O tranny, the 5.4 m
For rolling stock, the '77 relies on the good stuff from Billet Specialties and BFGoodrich
For classic sounds, it's a Kenwood unit stacked above a Vintage Air control panel for some
Charles didn't say where the aftermarket steering wheel was sourced from, but it sure look