It only takes an instant to figure out the theme of this custom Ford F-100. Rick Black’s bright red big-window ’56 doesn’t take its inspiration from old-timey shop trucks or Gassers or World War II fighter planes, but from the fire trucks that have fascinated Rick since he was a 7-year-old kid hanging around the Parker District Fire Department in Greenville, South Carolina, where his father and grandfather were fire fighters.
“You would often find me up in the cab of the old FWD fire truck, holding onto the steering wheel, making siren sounds—or you might find me on the tailboard pretending to hold on for dear life!”
Rick never lost his fascination with fire trucks. In addition to now being a third-generation fire fighter, he owns his own variation of the big rigs, in the form of this very unusual ’56, which he has named The American Firerod Eng. Co. 56.
When he found the F-100 in the classified ads, it had only partly been turned into a custom truck. Wearing some custom wheels and a coat of Porsche red paint, it seemed to be a show truck project that had stalled. Rick’s mission was to build it up as a tribute to America’s fire fighters.
He delivered the ’56 to Hot Rod Construction in his hometown of Piedmont, South Carolina, for a frame-off buildup. The team at HRC boxed the factory Ford frame for sturdiness and C-notched the ’rails for a significantly lower posture. The suspension was replaced with aftermarket components from Fatman Fabrications and RideTech. A Fatman Mustang II-style setup was installed in the front while a RideTech ShockWave system controls the ride and stance. You can see from the photos how low the truck can go; Rick can put the front bumper into the gravel should he so desire. A pair of 3/4-inch sway bars were installed to further improve the ride.
The wheel and tire combination features Rodder five-spokes from the Genuine Boyds Legacy Series—17s in the front and 18s in the rear—wrapped with Nitto radial tires. The rim openings expose the 14-inch front and rear disc brakes, plenty adequate for bringing the ’56 to a stop in a very short distance.
True to the spirit of any self-respecting fire truck, the engine compartment is as polished as a brass fire pole. The first thing to catch our attention was the ’30s era fire helmet (complete with an antique lion shield holder) mounted over the air cleaner. A restored and chromed 1930 Federal EP fire truck 12-volt siren on the driver side and a modern Grover fire truck horn on the passenger side keep the theme blaring full blast under the hood. Even more impressive is the dressed-up ’69 351 Windsor engine. Al’s Speed Shop in Taylors, South Carolina, built the engine, which has been bored 0.030-over and loaded with Seal Power rings and hypereutectic pistons. The fire helmeted K&N air cleaner feeds a Barry Grant Speed Demon 750 double-pumper carb and Edelbrock Performer RPM manifold. Chrome Ford Racing valve covers and a March Performance serpentine system add to the brightness. A pair of Hooker headers channels the exhaust to SpinTech mufflers.
The Windsor motor makes an estimated 400 horsepower and is hooked to a Ford C6 transmission—also built by Al’s Speed Shop and modified with a TCI Automotive shift kit. At the rear, HRC mounted a Ford 9-inch with a Posi and 3.73:1 gears.
HRC massaged the original sheetmetal back to original perfection, stripping off the emblems but leaving the handles in place. A stainless front bumper was installed and the rear bumper was eliminated to make way for a custom rear roll pan, with cutouts for the exhaust and a recess for the license plate. The bed wood was replaced with rich looking walnut. Fenders have been widened two inches in back and ½-inch in front—just enough to improve the proportions to Rick’s liking. The rears were modified with flame-shaped openings in the sheetmetal for the taillights and backup lights. Additional flame-oriented style elements include strobe lights mounted in the cowl vent, custom firefighter badge mirrors, badge-shaped emblems in the modified running boards, and Rick’s own badge mounted in the center of the front bumper.
The paint was applied at Hot Rod Construction. Selecting the color was easy. What we’d call “fire engine red” is actually a Spies Hecker color called Victory Red, a little brighter than the Porsche red previously worn by the truck.
The interior is a lot more plush that the typical fire truck cab, sporting a pair of Mazda bucket seats covered in tan leather. Dan Wickett at HRC handled the upholstery work. A center console houses the controls for the RideTech suspension and the Secret Audio sound system operating a six-disc CD changer. The lower dash is shaved smooth except for the air vents for the Vintage Air A/C. VDO gauges replace the stock gauges in the instrument panel. A flame-style billet steering wheel tops the ididit shifter column. The fire axe-shaped door handles and the fire hose nozzle shift knob are billet pieces crafted by Custom Billet Works specifically for this truck.
Rick prefers to maintain The American Firerod Eng. Co. 56 as a show truck rather than a street truck, trailering it to events. Needless to say, the unique ’56 receives a lot of attention wherever its shown. It has garnered a Best of Show award at the F-100 Supernationals and was one of 18 “Best of” winners at the Carolina Open Car Show & Hot Rod Run in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. More important to Rick than those awards is the chance to display the ’56 in commemoration of this country’s fire fighters. CCT