One guy has two very different Fords with two things in common: they both have air suspension, and they’re both very cool indeed.
Words: Dave Smith, photography: Richard Dredge
You’ve got your heart set on the American car or truck you always wanted. You save up, and start searching the classifieds and the internet. You spend months or years hunting down the ideal example, the best you can afford, then, if you’re lucky, you get to start enjoying it. If you’re not so fortunate, you start on the rebuild, making it exactly what you wanted it to be.
Or, you can spot something and think, “Wow, that’s cool, I think I’ll have it.” Steve Smith from Cannock, Staffordshire, is the chap who found himself in that position a couple of years ago, and while you could argue that his truck is a working vehicle – Steve heads the UK distributorship for Nankang tyres – this ’55 Ford F100 is far too nice to work for a living. Isn’t it…?
“I spotted it on eBay about seven years ago,” says Steve. “I was just looking around, saw it and bought it! I did feel a bit guilty about it, though, because I have kids and a family and I’d just bought this for myself. It had been built as a hot rod truck, the basic engine and suspension work had been done in the States but it hadn’t been done well. The doors didn’t even shut properly, so I had to drive it home holding the doors shut! As soon as I got it home I started messing about with it, but I kept it on the road and made improvements as I went along. I suppose I’ve had it all in bits over the years, but not all at the same time.
“The first job was the air suspension, which was made easier by having Chevy Monte Carlo suspension already fitted all round. I fitted Ridetech Shockwaves at the front, which are like a coil-over but with an airbag instead of a spring, and replaced the rear coils with plain airbags. I used Jaguar air compressors mounted underneath the truck alongside a Range Rover tank, with an additional Jaguar tank under the bonnet. All the fitting, piping and valving I did myself, plus fitting adjustable tubular top arms at the front to get the geometry right. Now it rides so much better. I also used Jaguar brakes, including Brembo four-pot callipers up front, and fitted bear claw latches to the doors so they’d close properly and wouldn’t rattle. I fitted door sealing weatherstrips, too, which it didn’t have before.
“Then, about five years ago, I noticed that the body was out of line at the back, and ended up stripping bits off it for a year! The bed rails appeared to lean down towards the centre of the truck, and so did the bonnet, so I took the bonnet off and pancaked it. By slicing between one and two inches out of the vertical part of the bonnet bulge all round I got the bonnet to sit more parallel with the bed rails. I then mounted it so it flips forward.
“The interior was done by Dave at Landon Marine from scratch, and it’s a really nice job. There was no roof lining or anything to begin with, and the seat looks like two seats but it’s still a three-seat bench. The wheels are three-piece 20-inch Trafficstars with low-profile tyres – Nankang tyres, obviously – and the dual stainless exhausts both exit on the driver’s side so I can enjoy the noise, the passenger can get stuffed!
“I’ve had it painted in fits and starts, because every year I decide to do something new so there’s pretty much nothing original left, and nobody knows exactly what colour it is so it’s very hard to match! The rear pan’s been rolled, I cut the chains off the tailgate and fitted internal hinges. It’s all steel except for the fibreglass running boards. The running gear is standard small-block Chevy, probably from the same Monte Carlo as the suspension, and I fitted an Edelbrock carb and manifold and MSD ignition, which made it loads better.
“The next job should have been the cab. There’s filler in it, and I hate rot and filler, plus the doors don’t fit perfectly, but it was time to do something else and I ended up buying a Chevy Nova. I put the truck up for sale and started fitting an LS motor to the Nova, but it wasn’t coming along as quickly as I’d hoped. The truck was still around so I put it on the Nankang stand at last year’s Autosport show at the NEC, and I couldn’t believe the interest it generated. Even amongst the more mainstream sports cars, at one point I counted 15 people standing around it taking photographs. It finally sold at the beginning of November, and has now gone to its new owner in Lancashire.
“I bought this Falcon about a year ago as I’d expected to have the truck sold and wanted something on the road for summer. It’s a California car, bought through Ray’s Classics in San Francisco. I know Ray, and he knows I hate rot, so when he found this ’65 Falcon Futura he called me and said, ‘It’s all original, and has got your name on it! I’ve had a few cars from Ray, now, because he always describes things spot-on, so you know what you’re getting.
“I thought I’d leave it alone and just enjoy it… So, two weeks after it landed I was cutting the suspension around. I fitted airbags front and rear from airbagit.com, using their cheapest kit with all the four-way valves and such, and it’s really simple to fit. I also bought a triangulated four-link kit that was supposed to be tailor-made for the Falcon but wasn’t even close. The longest part of the job was just setting up the four-link and trying to get the geometry right, but now it drives so much better than standard it doesn’t even stand the comparison. It handles really well, too, but the stock non-power assisted steering and the huge wheel mean that the steering is really slow. Even the original non-power brakes work a treat.
“Aside from the suspension, it’s a bog standard car with a straight six and three-speed column-change auto. The wheels are just chrome smoothies – to hide the fact that they’re four-stud hubs – with (altogether now… ACM) Nankang tyres, and it has a standard power hood. All the paint and interior are original 1965 Ford. It’s not that good close up, but I don’t want to paint it because I know what’s there and can see that it’s genuine. I could have fresh paint and a new hood but then suddenly you find you’ve got £20,000 in it… Besides, once I started messing, where would I stop?
“It’s better left as it is, it’s really pleasant to drive and would go anywhere. Working on it is a doddle, it’s so original it’s like a brand-new car, there’s not even dirt underneath. It’s a better car now, with the air suspension and mods, though – before, if you’d have gone around a roundabout you’d all have fallen out! I love old cars with modern running gear, but if I start doing one bit, I’ll end up doing it all. I’m going to concentrate on the Nova now, although the more I do, the deeper I get and it’s going to end up a full-blown show car.
“I also have something else on the way – a 1974 Ford F100, just like the one the family tyre business used to have that I drove when I was 18. We bought it in 1979 and kept it for three years, and it had the Chase Tyres logo down the side, so I’m going to try to make the new truck look like the original truck, but as if it was parked up in the early Eighties and has just been pressed back into service, even with the same logo down the side. It’s amazing, we have all these cool cars when we’re young, then we get married and have kids so we have to sell the cars, then the kids grow up and leave home and you go out and buy your cars back!”
1955 Ford F100
350cu.in. Chevrolet small-block V8
TH350 three-speed auto
Chevrolet Monte Carlo suspension
Edelbrock intake manifold
MSD distributor and ignition
Stainless steel exhaust
Trafficstar 20” wheels
Nankang tyres, 255/35R20 front, 275/35R20 rear
Home-brewed air suspension
Ridetech Shockwaves front bag-overs
1965 Ford Falcon Futura
Ford 200cu.in. straight-six
C4 column-change auto
15” chrome ‘smoothie’ wheels
Nankang 205/55R15 tyres all round
airbagit.com air suspension
Triangulated four-link rear kit
Many thanks to our venue for the day, Curborough Sprint Course near Lichfield, Staffordshire. The venue is operated by Shenstone and District Car Club, who run a full calendar of sprint events through the year – please see their website at www.curborough.co.uk.