In the early '70s, when Jeff King of Hettick, Illinois, first got out of the Air Force, he picked up an issue of Truckin' magazine and immediately took a liking to the mid-'50s Ford panel trucks that seemed to be abundant in Southern California. But back in Illinois, the reality of owning a Ford panel seemed to be just a dream, because he never saw any old panel trucks in his area. Until one day while driving home from work, Jeff took a little detour through Shipman, Illinois, and spotted a '55 Ford F-100 panel sitting in a backyard. The detour turned into Jeff's new route home as he cruised by the old '55 each day after work and dreamt about fixing the truck up.
Then one faithful day, Jeff drove by the house where the truck was sitting and discovered it was gone. His heart sank when he didn't see it, so out of depression he drove around Shipman until he got lucky and spotted the '55 in front of a wrecking yard. Jeff pulled into the lot and asked the guy behind the counter if they wanted to sell the truck. The fellow told him he could haul it away for $300. Jeff went home and told his wife about the truck, and sensing that he really wanted it, she said they could take the money out of their savings. Since Jeff and Sheila were raising four girls at the time, money was pretty tight, but he just had to have the panel. He paid the wrecking yard an additional $50 to hook the '55 up to a wrecker and haul it to Jeff's house. One of the things that Jeff forgot to mention to Sheila was that the truck didn't have an engine or transmission and the interior was gone.
A machinist by trade, the first steps Jeff took to customize the '55 were not all that unfamiliar. Jeff blew the '55 down to the bare chassis and started by boxing the frame and installing a C-notch in the rear to clear the Ford 9-inch rearend packing a set of steep 2.77:1 gears. Up front, the stock straight-axle was pitched in favor of a Mustang II with coilover shocks. Additional modifications to the chassis, enabling the '55 to run 15x10 Mickey Thompson tires on Centerline wheels, were handled by Creed's Rod Shop in Jefferson City, Missouri.
To propel the old Ford, Jeff decided since everything else was Ford, he might as well stay on course and run a Ford engine and transmission. Jeff located a '75 460-inch motor and rebuilt it to a mild state of tune, then opted for Sanderson headers with Flowmaster mufflers for the exhaust system and MSD for the ignition. For the transmission, the C-6 that came with the 460 was rebuilt.
The exterior was another area that Jeff entrusted to Creed's Rod Shop. After shaving the driprails and installing a tilt fiberglass front end from Fairlane Company, Kevin Creed shot the truck in DuPont medium Scarlet Red. For a finishing touch, the stock Ford front and rear bumpers were tucked in a few inches and matched in Scarlet Red.
One of the good things about a panel truck is that the interior can really be adapted to add to the truck's overall practicality. To get the comfort level in the right zone, Jeff installed air conditioning from Vintage Air. To handle the audio portion of his driving enjoyment, a sound system featuring premium components from Sony was stuffed in between the two walls. Up front in the cab, Dakota Digital instruments ride in front of a banjo steering wheel from the late, great Eddie Peabody (just kidding, Jeff didn't tell us where he sourced the steering wheel from). Fortunately, though, credit was given to Billy Hamlin of Meadowbrook, Illinois, for upholstering the interior. Billy used a combination of bone-colored tweed and Naugahyde to help soak up unwanted road noise, as well as a tactile environment that is as pleasing to the touch as it is to the eye.
In closing, Jeff thanked Mike and Kathy Shelton for their help, and then mentioned that the '55 Ford panel he bought in '82 for $300 ended up winning Best Panel at the 2000 Ford F-100 Supernationals. With over $40,000 invested, that's kind of an expensive detour, wouldn't you say?