Neil Bunis’ love for classic cars and trucks started at the impressionable age of 14. By then he had already landed a part-time job at the mecca of motorsports in New Jersey, the famous Raceway Park in Englishtown. It was an eye-opening experience for a young lad like Neil and it was without a doubt a great place for a burgeoning car fanatic to spend his spare time.
During work breaks, Neil would cruise the raceway grounds, admiring the array of vintage cars and trucks that made their way to the track in preparation for high horsepower, quarter-mile showdowns. Though Neil loved big cubic-inch clout in all packages, he was especially drawn to the older trucks that made their way to the track. Interestingly enough, he felt that although they were the workhorses of America, they unfortunately never really received the attention they deserved from collectors.
During this time, Neil had a buddy whose stepfather lived down the street and who worked at the Ford plant in nearby Linden, New Jersey. Restorable cars and trucks rolled in and out of the neighbor’s driveway frequently, as they would quickly strip them down to their frames and completely rebuild them right in front of young Neil’s eyes. This lit a fire in him, and deep down inside, he just knew he could do the same if given the right opportunity.
So, at just 17, when other teens were buying cheap import sedans and using family hand-me-downs for their main drivers, Neil went out and found this sweet ’57 Ford pickup. It was an interesting buy for a young guy, and Neil surprised quite a few people when the crusty pickup rolled onto the property. But he was ready to conquer the task at hand; to bring the aging pick up back to life. The plans were to rebuild it over the next year, a little at a time, when money and free time allowed.
However plans changed dramatically later that year. Coming home from school one day, he was involved in a major car accident. Basically, Neil died three times, his heart stopped completely, only to be brought back to life by paramedics. He would end up in the hospital for six months, healing from massive injuries, and then was assigned to rehab for another year and a half. It was a long, hard road to recovery, but Neil pulled through.
By the time Neil was healthy enough to resume his normal life, the car had already sat for a few years. Once he had healed enough to take on the physical rigors of an all-out restoration, work started on the truck. In all, it would take 13 years from start to finish, but it was well worth the time and money spent.
Neil enlisted the help of Tony Cirillo at Classic Muscle Car Restoration to help with the refurbishment of the Ford. First off, the truck was dismantled and the motor and trans were put aside in anticipation of a more potent Ford setup.
Many of the parts were in reasonable shape and were set aside for future use. The doors, fenders, and hood were very usable—a good sign that this build would not be hampered by too many unforeseen problems.
The cab and frame were then sent off to the Hyers Auto Body in Toms River, New Jersey, where they were blasted thoroughly, and cleaned up of any rust. It’s at this point that Neil realized there would be some need for patches, both on the cab and the frame. The welders at MCR went to town, patching the necessary spots with appropriate fresh metal.
Next off, a Mustang II frontend was located, reassembled, and welded in up front. Out back, the original rear was taken apart, cleaned up, and reattached to make the frame a roller assembly, so that the mockup process would flow smoothly.
Neil then went on the hunt for a suitable motor. He came across a 351 Windsor at Performance Unlimited in Freehold, New Jersey, which he felt would do the trick in his ’57. With an Edelbrock 695-cfm four-barrel on top and a set of Hooker headers, this little package pushed out 425 horsepower—plenty of juice to propel the truck down the Garden State’s back roads.
For a trans, Neil selected an AOD, three-speed automatic with overdrive. The engine/transmission combo would be perfect for the build theme, as Neil wanted to drive the hell out of his ride. Next, these pieces were set in and mocked up with the chassis. Once this was done, the truck’s cab, fenders, and hood were test fit to finish the mockup. After the OK was given, it was all torn down for its specific coatings.
The body was sprayed with an epoxy primer, bodywork was smoothed, and a healthy dose of Monaco Blue base/clear was applied. The dark blue almost looks black in lower light, but pops nicely out in the bright sunlight. The chassis also received a helping of flat black paint, for an old-school look.
Next, attention was given to the bed. A kit from Blue Oval Parts contained all the necessary goodies to return the back end of this truck to life. Panels, fenders, wood, and stainless steel hardware were all included in this particular kit. It was assembled and test fit, and once again broken down for paint. The wood was sanded and shellacked, rubbed with steel wool, and then varnished to finish it off. Metal pieces received epoxy primer and paint, in preparation for final assembly.
The cab was remounted along with the doors, and the gas tank was placed out back. With that, the bed was reassembled and laid out back. Flowmaster 2½-inch exhaust was then added to the mix, continuing the flow of gasses from the Hooker headers up front.
The interior was the next hurdle. All glass was in good shape and reused. The floors received a layer of Dynamat to cut down on heat and noise, and a fresh carpet was added to the mix. Vintage Air supplied the cooling effect, Haneline gauges were mounted and a power window kit made getting fresh air a breeze. American Autowire supplied the fuse box and wiring harness.
Vick’s Auto Upholstery dreamed up a nice, subtle remake of the skins and panels. A modern console was placed in between the driver and passenger and a Flaming River tilt steering column keeps this Ford pointed in the right direction.
Outside, shaved handles give the truck a sleek look. Emblems and bumpers were supplied by Mac’s Auto. This Blue Oval rides on steel American Racing rims, with 15x8s up front and 16x10s out back. These wheels are wrapped in Cooper Cobra skins; 245/60R15 up front and big 295/50R16 meats in the rear.
With his past behind him, Neil is out cruising the streets in the first ride he ever purchased. His life has been a long, bumpy road and at times he felt like he was creeping backward, and not making progress. But now his life is firing on all cylinders and driving down the road in a ride he dreamed about as a kid is definitely a euphoric experience, and worth the effort put forth.
Neil would like to thank his wife Jen for putting up with his shenanigans, his parents for believing in their son and pushing him when life was putting the pressure on. He would also like to give a shout out to Bob Evans for the inspiration and Tony Cirillo at Muscle Car Restoration in Bayville for their collaboration on this project.