Making a living traveling the world, playing in front of hundreds of thousands of people in one of the biggest rock ’n’ roll bands on the planet sounds like a dream job to every teenager who’s ever picked up a guitar; hell, I still dream about living that lifestyle! But Mike Dirnt, bass player of the seminal punk band Green Day, has actually gone from dreaming about it to making it his lifelong career. Together with his band mates, Billy Joe Armstrong and Tre Cool, they’ve forged a steady path of rock destruction since forming some twenty-five years ago in Northern California’s East Bay. And while many things have changed over the years as the band went from playing three dollar shows at Gilman Street to sell-out stadium shows around the world, one thing has remained; Mike’s ’56 Ford Panel truck.
“In 1994 I had been searching for a used panel truck, because I love utility vehicles; form and function. For a musician, this is a must. I had searched a number of swap meets and what I had found was either too polished, too big a project, or just wasn’t speaking to me for some reason.
“One weekend I headed to the Turlock Swap Meet. I didn’t find anything of interest on site, but having been to my fair share of car shows, decided to check out the parking lot outside the swap meet. Once there, I spotted what looked like a panel truck roof about 70 yards off. I ran over to it and there was the toughest looking panel I’ve ever seen and it was for sale! It was a 1956 Ford with a 460ci engine and a C6 tranny, Volare front end, and was rough enough around the edges that it was a piece of art as-is! Like that perfectly worn pair of Chuck Taylors.”
Mike called the number listed on the For Sale sign and met up with the owner later that day. With an asking price of $6,500, it was two grand more than Mike was carrying in his pocket. Bartering down to $5,000, the lowest the owner’s wife would let him go, Mike borrowed an extra $500 from his buddy and a deal was struck.
“I knew if I didn’t drive it home that day, his wife might not let him sell it to me.”
Over a decade later and many thousands of miles clocked on the odometer (not to mention countless gigs!), and the truck was starting to get tired. It was time for an overhaul, but being a busy musician traveling the world doesn’t leave much time to spend in the garage. So, Mike turned to his good friend Jed Arian who agreed to oversee the build as it went together at American Classics in Petaluma, California.
Greg Mills takes over the story, “We received this tired old panel and as we tore it down, we evaluated which way to go. We started with a new Total Cost Involved chassis which included a cleaner IFS instead of the Volare front clip. On the rear end we went with a four-link setup because we knew we were going to be giving it some horsepower.”
Of course, the drivetrain would need to be sorted out as well. For that end, the crew at American Classics decided to overhaul the 460 by having TEM Machine Shop stroke it to 532 ci using a 4.30-inch SCAT crankshaft. Ross pistons were dropped into each hole and topped by a pair of Edelbrock heads. A super secret Comp cam was slid into the block to actuate the valves which are fed by a Holley 4150 carb through an Edlebrock Air Gap intake manifold. A Billet Specialties Tru-Trac serpentine setup ensures the accessories are driven with efficiency while the Flowmaster Delta 44s provide an equally reliable tone.
With over six hundred horsepower being made by the newly refurbished engine, the crew opted to swap out the strong C6 for an equally strong yet overdriven E40D. Assembled by Horgan’s R&R Transmissions in San Rafael with an SFI-approved flex plate and a Pro Torque street/strip torque converter, the electronic transmission is controlled by a TCS from Baumann Electronic Controls.
When resurrection of the panel began, Mike had only a few stipulations that he wanted seen through.
“I wanted the truck to be Ford drivetrain. I wanted the 460 in there, because it’s a heavy truck and as a great man once said, ‘there’s no replacement for displacement.’ I also wanted to maintain the original look it had, i.e. flat white paint and refurbished slot mags.”
For this end, Jed cleaned up the exterior, leaving the flat white paint and slot mags as they were, save a little bit elbow grease and moved his attention inside the truck. Here, the stock gauge cluster was retained, modified with individual gauges replacing the dummy lights that monitor the engine. A Dodge pickup truck bench seat was recovered in black leather with black carpet providing the foundation of the Spartan creature comforts while the rest of the panel’s floor was covered in custom wood flooring with polished stainless strips. A Flaming River tilt column topped by a Grant Formula GT steering wheel mounts under the dash. A full-length black leather headliner and side panels accent against the red interior, rounding out the cab’s accoutrements.
Mike relates that having the panel in purgatory while the crew did their magic was akin to visiting a good friend in the hospital.
“Only when this friend gets out, he should feel like a wolverine!”
Since the panel was completed, it’s responsibilities have been relegated from daily driver status to that more akin to a weekend warrior type. But Mike’s passion for the panel hasn’t diminished in the slightest and said, “This truck has been my band van, my second home, and a very dependable friend.”
No better description of a classic truck has ever been uttered! CCT