Earl Higgins cut his teeth as a youngster hanging around his father's body shop watching the guys sling lead and apply paint, eventually lending a hand around the shop and learning the trade. But life as a bodyman was not to be and Earl ended up running his own heavy equipment company working as a grading contractor on various construction sites around the Southern California basin. This line of work often led him to areas less traveled where the random dilapidated car sat, having been neglected for years.
On one such job site, Earl was tasked to cut a road for the construction crew near an old farm where the elder resident himself was working on clearing an area of his land. Every day to and from work Earl saw the farmer struggling to clear the brush, shrubs, and debris from the property until one day when he decided to step in and offer the man a bit of his assistance. If he still needed to clear the land when they were finished with the job site, Earl offered, he'd bring his tractor 'round and help the man out.
Making good on his word, a few days later the road was cut and he trekked back down to the farmer's house where that afternoon while clearing the land, Earl spotted an old truck out behind the barn. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be rather rough and looked like it'd been sitting for many years, but there was no mistaking the classic bulbous fenders, cab, and hood and that floating grille. The truck was a '56 Ford F-100 that the farmer had parked on the back forty many years ago when it's Y-block engine most likely took a turn for the worse. Earl offered to buy the old custom cab and the farmer, having just had what would have been week's worth of work done in a matter of minutes by Earl's tractor, happily took him up on his offer.
Once home, Earl began to tear into the F-100 with childish glee, but under all that dirt and debris from the years at the farm, sat the sheetmetal of a well worn pickup. With his background at the body shop coming back to him, Earl knew he had many hours of blocking, hammering, and leading to get the panels all back to a state that he'd be pleased with but first he needed to address the underpinnings, namely the drivetrain, and suspension.
He started with the stock chassis, replete of any sheetmetal components, and began by boxing the rails. A Volare clip was installed up front replacing the original straight-axle, parallel leaf springs, and drum brakes with independent suspension sprung on coil springs and disc brakes. A '77 Lincoln Versailles rearend was installed out back on parallel leaf springs to handle the horsepower from the 351-inch Ford that Earl had rebuilt with an Americam regrind, a Holley intake, and carb. The block was completely deburred and detailed before he sprayed it in Ford blue and dressed the setup in polished aluminum and chrome. Behind the Ford powerplant sits a similarly detailed C6 transmission. Steering duties come by way of a '76 Chevy van tilt column mated to a power box.
With the mechanical side of things sorted, Earl quickly turned his attention to the aesthetics, working the body and sheetmetal down to bare metal before beginning the arduous task of straightening the well-worn panels. Using his earlier experience at his father's body shop, Earl metal finished the entire truck using lead instead of Bondo before applying primer and sealer and finally, a custom mixed PPG red hue aptly named Higgins Red. Many basecoats and even more coats of clear were sprayed in Earl's Glendora, California garage before the buffer was brought out and the bright red finish polished to a glass-like luster.
Once the paint was cut and buffed, Earl installed the glass and hand-distressed oak bed wood and wired up the original gauge cluster and iPod stereo system before moving on to the interior appointments, one of the only things not done in his garage. The cream leather and wool upholstery was handled by Covina-based trimmer Frankco, who wrapped the bench seat, door panels, headliner, and kick panels. While the stock gas tank was retained behind the seat, Earl had Frankco build a custom leather-wrapped panel to cover it, further finishing off the confines of the classic cockpit.