When building a hot rod, customizers often grapple with retrofitting their factory chassis with contemporary components for a smoother ride like an IFS and trailing arms or swapping out the entire OEM running gear system for something more modern. When you want to go the latter route, the trouble is knowing what's compatible. Guys like Dick Dean did their homework to figure out that the 1949-51 Mercury chassis could be interchanged with an early 1970s Grand Prix or Buick Skylark because the dimensions were close enough to be feasible without a lot of hacking. Yup, they actually went to the trouble of breaking out the old tape measure and doing the math. Nowadays that answer is typically a search engine away when you want to make the same modification.
So when it comes to classic trucks, knowing which platforms to use for those kinds of swaps isn't always obvious. But in the case of Bill Cochran's '61 Ford Unibody, we're going to let the cat out of the bag so the rest of you have an easier time when you want to swap that original, rickety suspension and dated drivetrain on your same-generation Ford pickup for something that'll get you down the road smoother and faster. It isn't apparent from afar, but Bill's truck sits on a 1995 Ford Crown Victoria chassis…one that came out of an Oklahoma City police car—Blues Brothers eat your heart out. Although Bill won't be engaging in any PIT maneuvers or high-speed chases, he's got a pretty cool weekend cruiser thanks to some diligent research.
Bill came across the truck when his friend, James Hager, helped him build a racing 1964 Falcon Sprint. Being a dyed-in-the-wool Ford fan, Bill noticed James' 1961 Unibody and decided to trade for it. James had come across the truck at a used car lot. The body was in good shape, but like a lot of us, he was pretty dissatisfied with the ride of the straight-axle frontend. He wanted it low and smooth. He'd put several other cars on Crown Vic chassis and knew the measurements were perfect. The truck was about 3 inches narrower than the new chassis so the doorsteps had to be notched out to sit down over the frame. That, a little recess in the bed for the rearend, and 6-inch-wider tubs to allow for the larger tires were enough to make it work.
The truck sports the Crown Vic's original 4.6L V-8, although Bill is toying with the idea of bumping that up to a 5.4 at some point (maybe he's got the urge to chase criminals down the freeway after all). It's connected to the factory AOD trans as well. The Crown Vic firewall is what you see in the engine compartment so that James could have access to the dash, heater, and A/C, which are all Crown Vic on the inside as well. The console was handmade by James and sits between Ford Probe seats that Bill had redone in vinyl.
Bill's 1961 was shod in DuPont Flectra Currant Red along with some custom pinstriping. With the 10-inch Weld Rodlites in back and 7-inchers in the front wrapped in Hankook rubber, it's got a pretty aggressive stance and the squad car juice to back it all up. The tailgate was smoothed and the third brake light is a Ford Explorer unit. Anyone looking to criticize the truck for having non-FoMoCo parts would be hard pressed to do so. A bed light was added below the roof's rear lip to keep with the contemporary theme throughout.
Bill is behind the wheel of his 1961 pretty regularly, racking up trophies with a truck that rides just like a passenger car. So the next time you see the five-O in your rearview mirror, start thinking about what kind of truck that cruiser's guts can sit underneath. You might just discover the impetus for your next project.