Ralph Straesser is a recently retired auto shop teacher from Oceanside, California, who’s built cars all his life. Since his retirement, he’s built a ’59 Chevy station wagon, ’60 Biscayne sedan, ’65 Hemi Dodge, and, most recently, a ’62 409 Biscayne. In addition, he maintains the muscle car collections of a Las Vegas casino owner and a nationally known TV and movie personality who lives in San Diego.
While this truck spent its entire life in a dry Arizona climate, its long working life too
The inspirations for his last two builds both came by way of engines. His 409 Biscayne came about after finding two complete 409 engines for a bargain price. This ’51 F-1 pickup evolved in a similar way, starting with an old flathead engine.
A friend offered Ralph a 59AB Flathead that had been sitting on a pallet in his warehouse for years. It had been removed from an old forklift and supposedly had very little run time. When Ralph tore it down, he found that he had a first-class vintage engine; now he needed something to put it in. He created a list of flathead-powered vehicles he’d like to own. At the top of that list was a ’34 Ford coupe. The very high cost of a steel ’34 quickly pushed it to number two on his list, with a ’40s or ’50s vintage Ford pickup being a more reasonably priced vehicle, and one that is far more practical than a coupe. Ralph looked at several pickups over the span of six months, but nothing suited his plans. Then a friend from Arizona called saying he found a candidate for his Flathead–a stock, driveable ’51 F-1, with very little rust.
Stance is everything with any vehicle, old or new. Ralph Straesser added a Total Cost Invo
Ralph drove over to Yuma, Arizona, with his trailer, bought the pickup, and hauled it home. He did a little tinkering to make it safe to drive and did so for six months while he laid out his plans for the build. Making it a good-looking and comfortable driver was the goal. This meant an upgraded chassis with power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The improved ride came by the way of a Total Cost Involved independent front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering.
Ralph’s pickup only sported surface rust and had never seen any major accident damage. But what it did have was 60 years of scars from daily use. There were small dents everywhere, including several on the cab roof where it appeared as though large wooden beams were transported. The only sheetmetal replaced were the running boards, the tailgate, and the panel at the front of the bed–the latter no doubt damage from cargo shifting fore and aft during transport. Ralph used a hammer and dolly to rough out the dents and then added a skim coat of filler to smooth out the imperfections. Paul Vasquez, one of Ralph’s former students, applied the Ford Wimbledon White paint with Honeywell Beige accents, and Aaron Marcy added the hard maple to the bed.
Simplicity is the key word to describe the interior of this ’51 F-1. The former owner recently recovered the seat using a quality-grained vinyl that Ralph retained with a little cleaning. The column shift mechanism was removed and the steering column repositioned for more driving comfort. The original gas tank that was mounted behind the seat was removed, allowing the seat to be repositioned rearward for additional legroom. The original steering wheel was repaired and repainted, and the balance of the interior painted in the same shade as the exterior.
The previous owner recovered the seat with a quality brown-grained vinyl and the removal o
Ralph took the block to Evans Speed Equipment for machining. Evans has been machining and building engines since the days after the war–the big war–when dry lakes racing was in its golden era. Jaime Gonzales squared the block, bored it 0.060 over, and turned the crank 10-10. Ralph then assembled the engine using new French rods, four-ring pistons (Flatheads typically use a three-ring piston, the fourth ring is added for extra oil control), and a mild Isky cam. The heads are one of the 200 sets of the rare Wilson & Woods Bonneville heads. He topped it with a Rochester Quadrajet and added a Chevrolet distributor. The carburetor with its small primaries provides excellent throttle response and the distributor offers a wide variety of tuning options over a stock flathead distributor. Jim Warner, of Warner’s Muffler in Oceanside, made the custom headers and exhaust system. Backing up the stout Flathead is a 700-R4 transmission connected by a Wilcap adaptor and shifted with a Lokar shifter, and a 4.11:1 9-inch Ford rearend–a combination that provides for acceleration and comfortable cruising.
If someone had to give this former auto shop teacher a grade on his project, it would have to be an A+. Its vintage engine and modern driveline reflect a high level of ingenuity, producing power and reliability, while the exterior maintains an elegant, low-key look. And extra credit has to be given for the truck’s stance! CCT