WHO ARE YOU?
Some of our most frequently asked questions are "What truck is the best truck to restore" and "What should I look out for when buying a project truck"? In the following article we will attempt to help answer these questions and provide some insight into the selection of a project truck. We submit to you the following opinions and advice, which is based on my experiences and observations of over 50 years of indulging in the automotive hobby.
THE SUBJECT IS TRUCK
Some things you might what to consider in your selection process is your needs and your end goal? For most hobbyist the end goal is a great looking truck which can be driven daily and provide for a safe and comfort ride.
A term I feel best describes this process is "Restofication". The term "Restofication" denotes a reconditioning process that will incorporate modern improvements into an older technology.
An example of this would be the improvement of the braking system on early trucks. While this is not an extensive modernization, the original concept of the truck is not alter. The increased safety adds to the derivability of vehicle, thus making it more fun to drive.
The Restification process is a string of individual decisions, all of which, makes every project as unique as the builder. Since this is the goal of most hobbyist, we will follow this assumption through out the article.
POPULAR IS EASIEST
As a rule, sticking to the more popular trucks makes the restoration of the truck much easier. This is due to the easy availability of aftermarket parts. The later model trucks by virtue of production length and the large number still on the road are going to be easier to find part for. This is not to say you should avoid other types of trucks. A good, complete, original truck of any model makes for an excellent project.
The best way to buy any truck is to select a truck that is complete and in the best possible condition you can afford. I would not recommend purchasing basket cases or trucks that the owner has given up on a restoration. Unless these trucks are dirt cheap, walk away. Usually the shear number of missing parts makes these trucks cost prohibitive. Walk away from trucks that are just too much for you to tackle.
The first time restorer should look for a running truck. A non-running truck that sits around in your garage is not going to be very popular around the house. If you can drive it while you work on it, you will enjoy your truck much more. Of coarse, you will have to lay the truck up for short periods of time to do upgrades and repairs. But, then your back on the road, enjoying your project.
CHEVROLET: Pre-War 1938 - 1942
These trucks are antiques in comparison to more modern trucks. Pre-war truck design remain pretty much unchanged until shortly after W.W.II. These trucks have very small cabs and are pretty much off shoots of the car lines. Parts availability is fair to good. Body parts are fair. They are more rare and demand somewhat higher prices than the later trucks. These trucks tend to be too expensive to restore and driven on a daily bases for the first time restorer. These trucks wind up as Sunday drivers and show trucks. Pre-War trucks present more of a challenge to restore and are a more costly project. I don't recommend an early truck for the first restoration or if you are on a small budget.
CHEVROLET: Post-War 1945 - 48 Trucks
The "Wurlitzer" style trucks, so nicknamed because of the look of the grille, are carryovers from the Pre-War designs of early 1940's. These are good examples to save, but they present the same challenges as all Pre-War trucks. This trucks are simple to restore, but are not to fun to drive everyday unless you plan to install IFS and power.
CHEVROLET: 1948 - 1955 1st. Series
We now come to the "Advance Design" trucks, which ran from 1947 to 1955. First appearing in mid 1947. These trucks were produced in great numbers and have survived in equally large numbers. The 1947 - 1955 1st. Series Chevy trucks are really a good choice for a first time restorer. These trucks are a lot roomier that the earlier trucks and very unique looking. Relatively simple to work on, parts and restoration information is abundant. The cost to restore a complete truck from this era is very reasonable. These trucks are available everywhere in various conditions. In areas of the country where rust is a problem, closely inspect each example you consider. These trucks were prone to rust in areas. The floor pans, lower cab corners and door bottoms are the most prone to rust-out in these years. The drain holes in these areas become plugged and water accumulates, causing rust. Many parts dealers who carry parts for these trucks, stock patch panels for these rust prone areas.
After many years of use, expect to find wear in all areas. The real mechanical soft spots on these trucks is the Torque-Tube Driveline and the Brake System.
First let us examine the brakes. When new, these trucks had acceptable brakes for the road conditions of the day. Designed for 40-50 mph driving, these brake systems are marginal today. A restofied truck will operate at higher speeds and be driven to the limits of the original design. Even if the truck is not re-powered, the brakes will require attention. The safe and sure method is to replace the entire system with later components. If the stock front axle is retained, a disk brake kit and power assist unit will transform the entire system into a safe and sure system for any condition.
Next, we look a the Torque-Tube driveline. Rebuilding a worn driveline of this design is difficult and expensive. Costs of of rebuilding the stock system surpasses that of a swap to a later axle. It is recommended that you consider an upgrading to an open drive system even if you retain the inline 6. The real benefit of opening the driveline is the ability to go to a higher gear ratio. The higher gearing is a must for normal highway driving. The open driveline will also be able to handle the heavy torque loads of a V-8 if you choose to loose the inline 6.
CHEVROLET TRUCKS OF THE LATE '50's '60's&'70's
The introduction in 1955 of the "Task Force" trucks was the biggest mechanical change to GM's truck line more than 10 ten years. These trucks followed the lead set by Ford with the introduction of the 1953 model F-100. The F-100's brought about the need for GM to increase cab size and modernize their trucks. The "Task Force" Series runs through the 1959 model year.
The 1955 - 1957 style trucks are very much in demand and everything in the way of parts is available for them. These trucks also make great first time project trucks. Also these are the first trucks which were offered the small block V-8. V-8 upgrades in these trucks is very easy.
There are no big changes until 1960, when GM changed the from the straight axle to a torsion bar suspension. This lasted only through the 1962 model year. In 1963 GM switched back to the straight axle. This retro-designing was part of GM's effort to cut costs. These trucks are pretty much the same mechanically. The 1960 - 1962 trucks have X frames which supported the torsion bar setup and are different from any other year Chevy truck. Parts are somewhat more difficult to find and pay for on these trucks. Unless your really nuts about these trucks, I would not recommend them due to their poor resale and flat market appeal.
By 1963, the cab height of GM's trucks had drop and the cab widened. GM introduces the new 230 inline 6 to replace the old Stovebolt 235. The 1963-1966 trucks are the first of the modern body style trucks. These trucks are more comfortable and easier to drive. They have more room and make good daily drivers. Parts availability for these trucks is very good. These trucks have made a very good come back in the last few years and are growing more popular all the time.
The 1967-1972 trucks carry on the previous improvement with a more desirable look. These trucks are highly sought after in the market today. Many good examples can still be found and prices are in the affordable range for now. These trucks make an excellent investment truck as well as very fine project trucks. Parts availability is excellent, with almost everything available. These trucks make excellent daily drivers and hold there resale value well.
FORD: 1930's to mid 1940's
These trucks are hard to find! Most of the good examples have already been restored or converted in to Street Rods. These trucks have very small cabs and are of simple construction. Most of all the early trucks have mechanical brake systems prior to 1939. Many of these trucks will be V8 powered, although 4 cyl and 6 cyl engines were available. Do to the popularity of the '39 -'41 models, there is an abundance of aftermarket parts and accessories. If you can find a sock running example, it will be costly to obtain. A stock restoration is your best investment on these trucks.
POST WAR FORDS, '46-'49
The 1946-49 trucks are a rehash of the pre-war trucks. Parts and materials for restoration are fair to good. The F-1's restyled cab is still not very popular. This are good service trucks, but there ride is poor.
FORDS of the 50's& 60's:
The 1953-56 F-100, known as "The" Ford collector truck. This is Ford's first modern truck with a large cab and modern engine. The strong points of this truck are it's tremendous popularity and the large amount of parts to make them like new. If any truck can be identified as the most popular collectors truck, it has to be the 1953-56 F-100. Their weak areas are the brakes, suspension and steering. These areas will almost certainly be wore out many miles ago if you find an untouched truck. Production of these trucks was high and many survived. You can still find these trucks at a fair price. In the rust belt of America, check carefully, as no truck is immune to the rust devil. The doors and lower cab areas are the first to go. For some reason, rust is a problem above the windshield area as well.
Fords of the late 50's and 60's are not very popular today due to their styling. Still, they are very good trucks, strong and dependable, with excellent mechanics. Many have survived due to their toughness. Single beam axles were used until the Twin I beam came into service in middle sixties. The Twin I beam trucks are much more preferred due to the improved ride and handling. From a collectors standpoint, these trucks are starting to catch on. Parts are fair, you can still get most through local parts houses or the dealer.
The Ford Unibody experiment in the early 60's, was unique, but these slab sided Fords were so unconventional that they may never be popular as a collector vehicle.
The 1967-72 F-100's are just now starting to come on strong as collectable trucks. These trucks are well built, tough and ride very well. Equipped with the Twin-I-Beam front axle, these trucks are very comfortable to drive. The toughness of these year trucks make them excellent daily drivers. One weakness is the exhaust systems and steering sectors. The large FE block 360 and 390 are notorious for exhaust manifold leakage. Steering sector problem still plagued Ford into these trucks. Good example high mileage truck should not be frown on. These truck are tough!
From here on 73's-80's, there is not much interest from a collectors stand point. These are fine work trucks and at this point are generally uncollectable at this time. But, don't pass on a good example, these truck will rise in value as good examples become scarce.
DODGE & OTHER ORPHANS
There are lots of very good trucks that for one reason or another are not as popular as others. Dodge is one of these type of trucks. While Dodge trucks are unique and have features others do not, they tend to lag the field in popularity. Dodge, as well as other Orphan trucks, are a challenge to restore. This is true of any other truck out of production. Don't count these trucks out because of their popularity. But, you should know what your getting into when choosing one. The restoration job will be more difficult, cost more and leave your investment in doubt. These trucks present more of a challenge and provide a uniquely different finished product. Almost anyone can restore a vehicle with parts that are easily available from dozens of suppliers. All it takes is money. The Orphans will take ingenuity, detective work and lots of parts hunting. But, the end result is a tremendous joy of accomplishment.
Studebaker, Nash, Plymouth, International, Mack and Diamond T make up the bulk of the Orphans list. There is still a considerable number of these type trucks out there. All are well built and will make a fine project trucks, but they are not recommend for the first time restorer. One of these trucks can make a first time restorer, a last time restorer. Deep pockets and a lot of drive is needed to complete one of these baby's. We salute those that can and have taken up the challenge of restoring an Orphan.
NOW, GET OUT THERE!
We hope this article has provided some insight in to buying a project truck. Always remember to do your homework before you buy. It helps to look at a vehicle with a friend or relative. Taking along someone to help you inspect a vehicle and discuss the condition, as well as the price, is sound advice. Don't be too quick and don't fall in love. Most important, know when to walk away. While a truck maybe worth the asking price, it may not be for you. Good Luck and we hope to see your pick in the Classic Truck Shop Classifieds