Panel trucks are rare; having two fine panel trucks belonging to one family is even less likely. The reason for today's panel truck shortage began with low production numbers. When compared to the traditional open pickup truck, there simply was not the demand for a truck with a covered cargo area. While that roof provided protection from both the weather and unsavory characters who may want to unload your cargo, it also limited the ability to load tall objects. It was common to see plumbers, electricians, and local delivery of goods being handled by panel trucks. But still, the production numbers paled in comparison to the pickup.
As time went by, the popularity of the panel truck continued to dwindle. In 1950 (Ford didn't list production figures for individual truck models in 1949) there were 22,241 F-1 panel trucks produced. By 1954 new Ford pickup trucks outnumbered new panel trucks 10 to one, with a mere 9,093 F-100 panel trucks rolling off the production lines. Production figures would climb a bit from there by 1956, and then in 1960 the last conventional Ford panel truck was built, replaced in 1961 by the Econoline van series.
Hot rodders always recognized the value of a panel truck as a parts chaser and race car support vehicle. They were perfect for hauling parts, towing the race car, and then converting to sleeping quarters at the race track. They provided shade at the dry lakes and salt flats and simply supported the hot rod industry.
The sight of these two exceptional panel trucks parked side by side at the NHRA Hot Rod Reunion stopped us in our tracks. It turns out they were part of the Street Rodder Magazine Road Tour, traveling on the Vintage Air leg of that national journey. The 1949 panel bore Illinois plates, while the 1954 was from Texas, little did we know the two truck owners were related.
In keeping with the nautical theme, the engine bay is clean and simple with a marine gray
As it turns out Norm Baker, owner of the 1954 is the brother of Judith Baker-Barrows, who, along with her husband, built the 1949 panel. There was a third Baker involved in this panel family, the late Bill Baker. Bill was an artist and a hot rodder his whole life, and from all accounts he was a guy who lived life to the fullest. Sadly he lost his battle with cancer in 2006 before he could finish this 1954 F-100 panel. Rather than see the truck go unfinished and leave the family, Norm Baker stepped in and purchased his brother's truck and spent two years finishing it to the high standards that Bill Baker was known for.
The chassis work had been nearly completed and the frame rolled on solid axles front and rear with disc brakes up front and drum brakes out back. In 1954, Ford introduced their first OHV V-8, and while the venerable Y-block was a step up in power, the Baker boys opted for more modern power in the form of a 1985 small-block Ford motor. In the interest of reliability, the 302 was rebuilt to stock specifications, from the four-barrel carb to the cast-iron exhaust manifolds.
By day, Norm Baker is a charter boat captain, which explains the maritime theme of the panel truck. In keeping with that theme, the engine is finished in an understated gray paint scheme lending a marine look to the motor. Behind the motor, a C6 transmission handles the shifting chores with a Lokar shifter handling gear selection. Out back a 9-inch Ford rear spins the Coker Redline tires.
The nautical theme continues on the outside of the F-100. Painted an appropriate deep blue, the body remains basically original. The rear doors have been shaved and the license plate now resides in a recess that spans the hatchback-opening rear doors. At first glance you may think this truck is a 1956 due to the use of the 1956 hood and chrome grille. The hood has been relieved of all emblems and a new chrome bumper completes the front view.
Inside the truck a custom wood headliner was crafted by his brother-in-law Lyn Barrows. Lyn also contributed much of the custom metalwork inside the cabin, while Greg Stallmeyer handled all the leatherwork on the truck. Some of the late Bill Baker's artwork was done in metal sculpting and his use of a MIG welder in art was a trademark. Bill also painted the dashboard. The same style of metal panels has been incorporated throughout the truck.
By 2008 the truck was complete, a fitting tribute to Norm's late brother and a truck that will remain in the family for a very long time. But this is only half of the story, because in 2007 Judith Baker-Barrows and her husband Lyn Barrows purchased one very fine original truck from Joe Amato at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
With a love of old panel trucks running in the family there is little wonder the Barrows began bidding on this fine 1949 survivor in Scottsdale. Unlike most panel trucks, this one had led a relatively gentle life and was in remarkable condition. So remarkable in fact that the original factory paint remains intact inside the truck.
Since this truck still sees daily work hauling artwork to and from the Broken Oak Gallery,
After purchasing the truck, Lyn and Judith proceeded to make the old hauler a more modern vehicle. Lyn has been hot rodding for a very long time and had a clear vision how the truck should be built. The Barrow's own an art gallery in White Heath, Illinois, so it was important to have a reliable truck with reasonable ride quality to haul art to and from the gallery with either Judith or Lyn behind the wheel.
The old front axle has given way to a Mustang II front suspension and power rack-and-pinion, while out back a 9-inch Ford rear is mounted with leaf springs and carries 3.50:1 final gear.
For power a 1985 Ford HO 302 motor was mated to an AOD transmission. The engine remains in stock configuration with a single Holley carb feeding the small-block. Dress-up items are limited to a chrome breather and aluminum valve covers as this is still a working truck. A Walker radiator and twin electric fans control engine temperature, while cast-iron manifolds lead to a pair of turbo mufflers.
Externally the truck looks much like it did the day it left the factory. Since the truck was painted when they purchased it, the person behind the excellent paint and bodywork is unknown. Dave Anderson handled the graphics on the side of the truck and the original bumpers were sent off to be powdercoated in black. Those outside mirrors are straight from O'Reilly Auto Parts and the original lighting is still in use on the truck.
Lyn then turned his attention to the inside of the truck. The original "Spiralounge Seat" that Ford bragged about in 1949 has been replaced with a pair of modern Ford pickup seats. While the original seats may have boasted "coil springs adjustable to the driver's weight" with a hydraulic shock absorber mount, the new seats feature an additional 63 years of seat development and provide infinitely more support in all the right places.
The stock gauge cluster was sent off to Classic Instruments to be refurbished, while Vintage Air handles the climate control. A complete Ron Francis Wiring harness was installed in the truck and the GMC van tilt and telescopic column is topped with a custom banjo steering wheel.
And so the Bakers and their extended family now have a pair of panels capable of cruising long distances or delivering the goods on a local basis. These panels go a long way toward making family outings more fun and also provide plenty of reasons to get together anywhere between Texas and Illinois.
Norm Baker’s late brother Bill Baker did all the upholstery and interior paintwork on the
Lyn Barrow handled the task of crafting an all-wood headliner that blends perfectly with t
A pair of bucket seats from a late-model Ford pickup are mounted in place of the originals