As soon as Mike pulled into the shopping center parking lot, his '68 Ford F-100 was drawing onlookers like ants to a dropped Popsicle. Even behind the grocery store loading docks, where we photographed the engine compartment, people found us-as if drawn by some sixth-sense perception that something cool was hiding back there. And down at the beach, where the rest of the photos were taken, more curious bystanders stopped to admire the pickup. Mike's used to the attention and doesn't mind answering questions about the Viper Red truck he spent three years building.
When Mike Nagatani got started in this hobby 25 years ago, he was a teenager building VW Bugs. His taste hasn't changed-just expanded to include custom classic trucks. He picked up this Ford more than 10 years ago from one of his neighbors who had always intended to hot rod it (you know the story about good intentions). Maybe the neighbor was making excuses or maybe he was trying to persuade Mike to do the work he never got around to doing. In any case, Mike had no big interest in building the F-100 into anything other than a cool work truck. The truck he really wanted to hot rod was his '35 Dodge pickup. That was his dream truck; the F-100 was his utility vehicle, used for chores like hauling dirt and moving friends' furniture. "What any good longbed truck does," he explained.
"All that changed when I saw a concept drawing of a '68 Styleside lowered with a set of nice big wheels," Mike continued. "At that moment, I told myself that I was going to hot rod this thing."
The initial few changes were cosmetic. The first was to lower the truck, adding a dropped front I-beam axle from AIM Industries, and Koni shocks. Then came the shaved door handles, followed by molding the cowl into the front fenders and shaving the driprails. Of course the rear tailgate had to be smoothed and the dash had to be cleaned up.
"One body modification led to another. After a year of working on the body and realizing all the work being done, I knew I had to take it off the frame."
It wasn't until that point that Mike started to understand that this project was getting bigger than he'd planned-and that a lot of the street rod style modifications that he had been planning for his Dodge were going to end up on the Ford.
Mike limited the sheetmetal work to the type of body mods that enhanced what was already there, instead of camouflaging it. In addition to the changes already mentioned, he eliminated the emblems and trim and hid the gas tank filler tube. The cowl vents were filled and the hood was pancaked and reshaped to roll into the fenders and grille area more smoothly.
In the rear, the bumper was removed and replaced with sheetmetal below the tailgate, which was filled in with the sides of the bed. Seams and stake holes were also filled and the concave tailgate was reshaped to finish off the rear as one clean smooth piece.
Mike redid the floor of the bed with custom red oak, which complements the PPG Viper Red paint shot by Ramon Gonzalez at ACM Body and Paint in Escondido.
With the body and bed off the frame, the 'rails were modified to fit the 20-gallon Mustang gas tank, and-along with many of the other chassis components-were powdercoated to match the body. The brake lines were all remade using the existing lines and the front brakes were replaced with '73 discs, with the drums retained in the rear. The wheelwells were packed with Coys C-5 rims, a contemporary interpretation of traditional five-spokes. Mike selected 18x7s for the front and 20x8.5s for the rear, and wrapped them in P245/45R18 and P275/40R20 Nexen radial tires.
The interior was given a complete, but not radical, rebuild as well. Mike pulled the dashpad and filled the passenger side of the dash. He replaced the plain factory instruments with whiteface gauges from Dolphin. The dash insert from Boese Engineering fills the oval instrument panel. A Grant Formula GT steering wheel replaces the original piece and follows the overall red theme. Custom door panels were made, keeping the factory look. Mike created the custom armrests, hand-sculpted to resemble the exterior spear. The Sony stereo head unit was mounted overhead in the custom aluminum headliner. Even the stock-looking rocker panels are custom built. The factory bench was finished in red and gray vinyl by Morales Auto Upholstery.
It's not true that the truck was painted to match the MSD Blaster 2 coil and plug wires, it just looks that way. The '68 Ford 390 had been recently rebuilt when Mike bought the truck. The intake manifold is topped with a single Holley four-barrel and chrome Ford Racing air cleaner. The 390 is linked to the C6 automatic transmission, rebuilt at San Marcos Transmissions, with a stock 9-inch at the rear axle.
In addition to everything you can see on Mike's F-100, you've got to appreciate the fact that he was able to keep his start-to-finish build budget to a thrifty $15,000. He kept the costs down by doing almost all of the work himself-but adds that he got a whole lot of support from his wife, Theresa, and their kids, Michael and Krysta. The forum members at Fordification.com provided answers and advice, and Mike credits his friend Tim Pokorski from T&M Automotive in Omaha for teaching him a lot about building a custom classic truck.
Remember the '35 Dodge that was Mike's dream truck? His initial reason for giving any attention to the Ford was to sell it after it was fixed up, and pour that money into the Dodge (the good intentions story again). "I finally sold it last year when I realized that the '68 was really going to be something cool," Mike told us. Maybe the Dodge is getting some attention now in somebody else's garage. But it's Mike's red-hot F-100 that's getting the attention around here.