They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This won’t be another love-at-first-sight story. In fact, when Rob Harris of La Habra, California, won the online auction that made him the new owner of this ’39 Ford pickup, the love was slow to grow. Let’s face it, a ’39 ain’t a ’40. With a face only a sow could love, the pig-snout pickup offers a challenge, even for those with vision. Now ordinarily when it comes to vision, Rob is not without it. Rob has built hot rod cars and trucks before, and he does posses the ability to see the inner beauty in most any ol’ bucket o’ bolts. Even so, he kept this naturally homely ol’ truck hidden from view in the deepest, darkest corner of his garage as he continued with other projects. Then finally after a year or so, he decided to sell it. It was just too ugly.
Like Rob, his father Bob Harris is no stranger to hot rodding, and even more coincidentally, at about the same time as Rob’s unloved pickup was becoming available, a nicely finished pickup of the same persuasion had caught Bob’s eye in his own Carlsbad, California, neighborhood. When Bob learned that Rob’s truck was about to be reposted on the very same online auction site it came from, he took immediate action as necessary to thwart his son’s pickup-peddling plan. A dual-purpose agreement was reached: ugly as it was, Rob would build it for his dad and the truck would remain in the family ever after. And so, with Bob making the calls concerning engine and powertrain componentry, and Bob’s wife, Lynn, putting the final stamp-of-approval on the color selection, Rob’s new project got underway with timelessness and sneaky stance being top priorities.
With the ol’ truck scattered and its frame stripped to bare bones, Rob began by fabricating a heavy-duty center structure of his own design, which stiffened the ol’ Ford’s frame as it made room for good things to come. Later after some other necessary upgrades, the frame was powdercoated black by Express Power Coating of Paramount, California. As Rob continued with assembly, the finished rolling chassis became a work of art, most of which would disappear once the cab, bed, and fenders obscured the view. However, this ol’ truck has plenty of clever detail changes within sight for those who pay attention.
Currently leading the way is a nickel-plated Super Bell 4-inch-dropped I-beam, a thinned-out stock buggy spring and split ’bones. Out back, the stock buggy spring made way for parallel leaves from SAC Hot Rods in Orange, California. This setup locates a Ford 9-inch posi posterior (also nickel-plated) with 3:25 gears and Moser Engineering axles, narrowed-to-match the stock Ford width by Cook’s Machine of Los Angeles, California, while tubular shocks from Pete & Jake’s smooth the bumps at all four corners. Rob’s chosen guidance system is based on a Vega-type steering box and bracket (again by SAC) with a Limeworks column and banjo steering wheel providing control.
For go power, Bob chose a GM Performance Fast Burn 385 crate engine, topped with an Edelbrock 750 carb. The well-dressed Mooneyes-equipped mill is backed by a Gennie-shifted 700-R4 trans, which was prepared by Jerry’s Transmission in Norwalk, California. Down where the sun don’t shine, a well-hung exhaust system by Cannon’s Muffler Service of La Habra, California, begins with Sanderson headers, and passes the gasses through Magna Flow mufflers and stainless steel twice-pipes. For whoa power, properly adjusted four-wheel manual drum brakes do the job, and they accept Ford steelies, which in turn accept Merc caps just fine.
Like other builders, Rob will bring in a ringer now and then for certain chores. After a thorough abrasive blasting, the cab and doors were sealed in cellophane for a rainy day trailer ride to a place where gappin’ happens; Gopher Grove Garage (an underground operation) in Valley Center, California. What’s the first thing most of us zero in on when scrutinizing bodywork on any elderly vehicle? We go for the gaps, don’t we? And when we see an ol’ commercial vehicle that fits well, we know it didn’t come that way from the assembly line. Nope, somebody worked for that. As dictated by heightened standards, cutting, welding, and grinding are now considered standard procedure for gittin’ the gaps you see here. After a series of surgeries which included some panel patchin’ in the usual places, ironing out the wrinkled roof and tightening up the oil-canning rear cab panel, the once-warped cab and doors were one; fit, faired and in primer, as together they reassumed their positions on the newly completed chassis for a fair weather trailer ride home to Rob’s garage.
As Rob proceeded with the bulk of the build, another ringer was recruited for bodywork on remaining panels such as fenders, hood, running boards and more. The list could go on and on, even the repop bed assembly needed attention. Mikey Rhodes of La Mirada, California, picked up the pieces and saw the job through, from pounding to painting, to polishing the fresh Dupont topcoats in Ford Estate Green. The color is complemented by green tinted glass by Pete’s Auto Glass in Santa Fe Springs, California, and interior trim in light brown leather tuck ‘n’ roll with upholstered door trim panels and a wool headliner was stitched by “Rich and Famous” of Van Nuys, California. Rounding out the cab’s interior is instrumentation from a ’37 Ford passenger car, rebuilt by Speedo-Check in Whittier, California.
Back on the subject of ringers: Rob doesn’t rely on many, but after wiring and final assembly were completed in his garage, a trip to Ed Martin Garage in Riverside, California, was in order. There our friend, Guardrail Willie Martin tuned the engine and applied his expertise to the ol’ pickup’s new Vintage Air setup, which works together with a three-row recore radiator to keep the cool factor flowing throughout, thanks to La Habra Radiator, in La Habra, California.
Although the details of its past are sketchy, there were signs from the very beginning that this ol’ pickup has spent a good number of its years with hot rodders. Now as agreed upon, it’s with the Harris family of hot rodders to stay. It’s been four years now since the project began, and at its 2011 Grand National Roadster Show public debut, the one-time ugly truckling (yes, a ’39!) managed a First Place victory in its class.
Beauty they say is in the eye of the beholder, but Bob sums it up best, “I couldn’t be happier with the way the truck turned out, Rob seems to have a good eye for detail and quality; he really made me proud. I know he is happy with the way it turned out, and I bet he’s even happier to have his garage back!” CCT