John Berizzi was born in Sonoma County, California, in the very small town of Geyserville. He still lives there today. In the mid ’50s, when John was at the age when guys start getting interest in cars and trucks, he started helping some of his older friends with their projects. Like many of the people in Geyserville, the Berizzis raised fruit—so John grew up around farm equipment and learned to make mechanical repairs.
“Soon I was ‘fixing up’ the family car, a ’54 four-door Ford. My dad didn’t say too much, so I proceeded with my plans. Even before I had my driver’s license, I could go to Santa Rosa with my older friends to cruise Main Street and drive by my girlfriend Rochelle’s house.”
In time, John was fixing up his own cars and frequenting the Cotati dragstrip—and coming home with trophies. “Finally my dad made me an offer. If I got rid of all my old cars, he’d buy me a new car…which I lowered and hopped up with a set of mag wheels.”
When John and Rochelle got married in 1963, they needed a second vehicle, so John bought a ’56 Ford F-100. They didn’t have much extra cash, but they did have a neighbor who owned a ’57 Chrysler New Yorker with a 392 Hemi and push-button Torque Flite, which he gave to John. The Hemi and transmission ended up in the ’56 pickup.
John continued to build and drive the truck for a few years, and then sold it to “get more practical.” But for anybody born with the hot-rodder gene, practicality can only be maintained for so long. When John retired in 2004, he started looking for a ’56 F-100. A friend found this one for him. It had no drivetrain, but that didn’t bother John because he had plans for that. And it looked good—at first glance anyway.
Knowing that gas mileage was...
Knowing that gas mileage was not going to be high, John installed a 35-gallon tank from an old International two-ton farm truck. “We mounted it inside the bed and, surprisingly, I like the way it looks.”
John started the project with his son-in-law Todd Matheson and a good friend named Bob Breazeale. Putting in a 350 small-block crate motor was step one. The engine is a 385-horse ZZ4 with GM Fast Burn heads. Valvetrain goodies, including the Comp cam and valvesprings, were installed at Zootis Performance. That tall K&N air cleaner crowns the Holley dual-pump 750 four-barrel, and Moon finned valve covers bounce a little more brightness around the big black engine compartment. The headers are from Sanderson—mufflers are Flowmasters. Highway driveability is improved by the overdrive Fourth gear in the 700-R4 assembled by Eric’s Performance Transmission in Cloverdale, California.
The rearend is a Fab 9 with Strange Engineering 4.11 gears and limited slip delivering torque to Dutchman axles. The rear is suspended by a Pro Street four-bar and Bilstein shocks. Bilsteins were also added to the A-arm front suspension, which features an Art Morrison sway bar and spindles from a ’72 Nova.
A pair of 12-inch drum brakes stops the 15x15-inch Weld five-spokes rolling on massive 31x18.5x15 Hoosier meats. Wilwood discs slow the front 26x7.5 Hoosiers on 6x15 Welds.
John started the exterior restoration by taking the body down to bare metal. That’s when he found rot and rust along the bottom of both doors and several other places. It was a disappointing discovery, but nothing that couldn’t be cured by some sheetmetalwork and readily available ’56 Ford reproduction parts. Stock headlights, taillights, mirrors, handles, and other pieces were provided by Sacramento Vintage Ford, and one-piece power windows from Nu-Relics replace the original wing window door glass. The body line was not altered, just shaved and cleaned up. The bed is a different story, completely refabricated to include tubs for those enormous tires and to hold the extra large gas tank.
It took a couple of years and an expert bodyman named Terry Richardson from Windsor, California, to get the sheetmetal straight enough for paint. The PPG Black, shot by Joe Mariani and sanded and buffed by Terry, combines the elegance of a tuxedo with the defiance of a leather jacket—and shows off the quality of the bodywork.
Bodywork on the ’56 required...
Bodywork on the ’56 required a lot of rust repair, which included replacing the rain gutter. The rotted rails were cut away and several 6-inch strips of 18-gauge sheetmetal were hammered into shape on an anvil and welded in.
John mounted a Grant GT steering...
John mounted a Grant GT steering wheel to a tilt/column shifter Camaro column.
The last job to be tackled was the upholstery. John explored interiors at car and truck shows, and met with Chris Plante at Aces High Auto Trim in Santa Rosa before deciding on the low-key, high-quality look. Chris used top-shelf Mercedes vinyl to upholster the original bench and door panels, and covered the floor and kick panels in Mercedes carpet. Dakota Digital gauges add an up-to-date appearance to the ’56 dash. A Gen II A/C unit from Vintage Air was mounted below the dash. Bob Breazeale wired the ’56 with a Painless wiring system.
According to John, the most memorable experiences during the build were the conversations among the people helping him work on the truck. Throughout the project, Rochelle provided lunch at the shop—spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, coffee, and biscotti. John and Rochelle have been married for 46 years now, and the truck has been finished for a little while—until John thinks of something else to do to it. Until then, maybe it’s time for another drive down to Santa Rosa to see who’s cruising Main Street. CCT