Whether it's elementary school, junior high, high school, or college, everyone can lay claim to having one teacher that stood out above all others. One who took a genuine interest in their students, the subject matter, and had the ability to make you interested in what they were teaching. The students who take Mark Walker's auto body class at Forsyth Tech couldn't agree more. And the curriculum entails much more than the finer points of collision repair. Mark knows the best way to engage his students is to give them projects they can really sink their teeth into and turn their ideas into reality. From restoring used bikes for needy children to building the '68 Colton Camaro for SEMA in just 5 weeks, Mark's passion for his craft goes way beyond Bondo, hammers, and dollies.
When Mark was searching for a new project for his students to work on, he found a good deal on a '78 F-100 Super Cab. It was a stock truck owned by a local farmer, and all in all pretty straight. Originally, this started out as a simple paint and body repair type of deal, but as the saying goes ... one thing led to another. The students convinced Mark to up the ante and make this '78 something of the custom persuasion. They put their heads together to come up with a list of mods that were realistic to complete within their budget and off they went.
They started by disassembling the body, taking it off the frame, and stripping it down. The rear was C-notched, and the leaf springs were moved up and lowered 3 inches. The I-beams and front springs were dropped the same amount. Everyone was in agreement that larger wheels were a must and the decision was made to go with 20-inch KMCs on the front and 22s in the rear. The brake rotors had to be machined to accommodate the bigger wheels in the front as well as putting in a different lug pattern.
As luck would have it, a fellow instructor (of the race car program) offered to donate a motor if his students could be the ones to build it. What now resides under the hood is an '86 460 complete with Edelbrock manifold, Holley carb, Crane cam, and Hedman headers. In order to make this big mill fit, different motor mounts had to be installed in addition to cutting and moving a header tube on each side.
Since auto body is Mark's forte, you can bet there were going to be changes-a-plenty. Aside from shortening the driprails and remolding the roll pan to straighten it, the bumpers and firewall have been smoothed. Even a section of the roof was cut out to turn the '78 into one of the few ragtop trucks! Aftermarket electric windows were put in, including a roll-down rear window. For paint, Mark and the students wanted to go with something off the beaten path. Mark knew Ford had a color originally available one year only (1989) and was a tangerine used on the Cobras. He decided to run it up the proverbial flagpole and after spraying some test panels, the class gave that particular shade the thumbs up.
And if you thought they'd acquiesce to giving the interior duties to the guy up the street, you're wrong. The 40/60 front seat came out of a Chevy and the entire interior was done in a flow-design tan leather by the students. The tonneau cover was dyed to match the interior.
The truck is now basically Mark's class mascot. It now appears as the logo on the T-shirts for the school's auto body program. But even though you might think Mark's thrill would be in having a cool ride to recruit future alumni, he says his biggest thrill is seeing the satisfaction in his student's eyes when they can see the fruits of their labor. "I knew what each one of them was doing on the truck and really enjoyed seeing them start to think on their own as the build progressed. I've had kids I've taught through the years and wondered if I got through to some of them and made a difference," Mark says. "When I see kids I had five, 10 years ago, who compliment me on what they learned, it's really rewarding." We think it's safe to say the only criticism Mark's students would have is that the semesters aren't long enough.