And now, for something completely different

Former Ford mechanic brings home ’36 pickup and makes it sparkle.

11/10/2012 12:00 AM

11/10/2012 7:32 AM

What do you do when you have a killer flamed pearl purple ’46 Ford coupe with a blown, fuel-injected 351 Cleveland V-8 sticking up through the hood parked in your garage?

Well, in Gary Nooney’s case, you look for something a little smaller, a little lighter and a whole lot less fuel-thirsty to drive on a regular basis. That’s why he bought the body and frame of a 1936 Ford pickup from a friend for his next street rod project five years ago.

"I was really looking for a ’46 Ford pickup because I’ve got the ’46 coupe," he said. "But I bought this pile of junk instead. It was just a cab sitting on a frame, but I looked it over and brought it home anyway."

He knew he had his work cut out from the start. His friend hadn’t misled him about the condition of the truck, he said. He thought a little welding would bring the chassis into shape, but once he had sandblasted the frame, he realized most of it couldn’t be saved.

"You could have shot a Red Ryder BB gun through that frame at any point from the front crossmember back," Nooney said. Fortunately, for someone with his expertise and experience, that was not a project-ender.

After installing a coil-over front suspension, he said, "I built a new frame from 1/8th-inch steel plate from the coil towers to the rear." Simple, eh?

"I started working on this junk when I was a kid," Nooney said. He grew up working in a Standard gas station run by his father and was never far from machinery while serving in the Marines during the Korean War, coming home to work at Beechcraft and then as a Ford mechanic for more than three decades.

"All I’ve ever done is beat on this stuff," he grinned.

He built a lot of engines, transmissions and rear ends during those years, so he wasn’t intimidated by what lay ahead. The roof of the old truck was in remarkably good shape, but the fenders were another matter. It took four battered, poorly patched front fenders to make two good ones. The rears were even worse, where no fewer than seven holey fenders were required to turn out a pristine pair.

A buddy, Jim Bowen, helped him with the extensive body work, which also included cutting the ribbed center sections out of the running boards and molding in smooth pieces of sheet metal for a cleaner look.

A custom Rootlieb hood consumed three months of work to make it fit the cowl and grille shell properly. Sons Gary II and Jason, who both grew up around Ford dealerships, also provided plenty of help, said Nooney.

It was under the hood where things got really interesting. Nooney bought a low-mileage 2.3 liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine out of a 1988 Ford Thunderbird Turbo Coupe that had burned.

"That engine was brand-new inside. I rebuilt it and changed the cam to a mild grind," he said. He didn’t want the same issues he faces on the street when he fires up the ’46 coupe.

"I built this to drive," Nooney said. "If I want to race, I’ll drive the coupe."

A skilled machinist, he built the intercooler and air intake boxes for the 4-cylinder engine out of aluminum plate, which he welded together and took to Metal Finishing Co. in Wichita to be polished to a high luster. They also handled the chrome plating of the Ford 9-inch positraction rear end, suspension components a various trim pieces.

Nooney also built a one-of-kind power steering reservoir, a fuel filler neck, door handles, windshield wiper stanchions, motor mounts and the brake and gas pedals for his truck himself. He also fabricated the 2-inch single exhaust system that runs through a Magnaflow muffler out the back of the pickup.

"It doesn’t sound like a 4-cylinder when it’s running," he grinned. The little engine now produces an estimated 250 horsepower, which is more than adequate when combined with the 4-speed automatic transmission he rebuilt to match it. The combination, running through a 3.50 gear set, yields fuel economy of over 20 mpg without a problem, he said.

There were challenges, of course: the computer didn’t want to let the overdrive kick in on the transmission and the electronics likewise would not allow the turbo to build pressure at first.

"I could outrun it afoot," Nooney said.

A salvage-yard computer connector solved the transmission shifting problem and an Australian-made manual turbo waste gate valve took care of the boost issue.

"If I need something and I can’t buy it or steal it, I’ll make it myself," Nooney joked. "It’s all steel. There’s not a fiberglass part on it anywhere.”

Inside, the cab was refurbished with a set of bucket seats, the only pieces whose origins are open to debate. A friend who runs a furniture upholstery business, Don Welch, agreed to do the stitchwork as a favor to Nooney, using some high-grade black vinyl to cover the seats, door panels and headliner.

The stock steel dash was retained, but was refitted with white-faced electronic VDO gauges, again after the right computer fix was in place. Nooney modified a 1976 Ford pickup tilt steering column to fit and topped it with a Billet Specialties steering wheel. He also turned out the control knobs for the air-conditioning system on his own lathe.

He installed a hickory wood cargo floor secured by stainless steel rails from Bed Wood and Parts, a Kentucky-based company. A straight ’36 Ford rear truck bumper was smoothed and rechromed, while a ’36 car bumper with a bow to match the curve in the grille shell was used up front. The front bumper guards contain tiny turn signal lights, while oval LED tail lights are set in the custom rear valance below the tail gate.

Nooney selected 16-inch Halibrand 5-spoke mag wheels for his truck, the fronts carrying 225 /50R/ 16 Grand Sprint tires, the backs much larger 235 /65R/ 16 Coopers.

He shot the truck with several coats of Ford Silver Frost and then turned it over to Mike "Wet" Willey of Claremore, Okla., for the graphics. Nooney told him he wanted an American flag emblazoned on the front end of the truck.

He got a very realistic version of Old Glory draped over the hood and flowing down the flanks of the truck, with small "slipstream" details flowing off the white stars.

"I’m a flag waver," Nooney said simply. "It’s just something we wanted … not to be showy. Just something I believe in."

The plan was for Nooney and his wife, Veronica, to drive the truck to California this summer to visit her family. But that wasn’t to be, as she died before that could happen.

Now the patriotic-themed truck serves as a sort of therapy for the grieving owner. He cares little about winning trophies and instead enjoys his time behind the wheel, when every stop at a filling station attracts a crowd of curious, appreciative onlookers.

"My goal was to build it on a budget and my intention was to build something you can drive, and it’s tremendous," he said.

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