Doug Cross has a lot of history with his one-of-a-kind 1956 Ford F-100 pickup.
“I had parts of it when I was just out of high school,” he recalls. “The real truck, I traded an El Camino for it in California in 1968. It was a 6-cylinder, four on the floor.”
That truck was actually a 1953 and he quickly discovered it drove like what it was — a farm truck with a straight front axle.
“It was a lot of trouble,” he said.
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At the time, his daily driver was a 1964 Pontiac Grand Prix, which he used with a tow bar to haul the wobbly old pickup back to Kansas. But the Pontiac pooped out and he had to reverse the order of march, towing the Grand Prix with the old pickup.
“All I could do was 40 mph. I decided I’ve gotta do something different,” Cross said.
His first plan was to pull the drivetrain out of the Pontiac and put it in the pickup. In fact, he already had started on that project when a friend suggested a different approach.
“Iran (Wheeler) said jokingly I’d ought to take an Eldorado and put that in the truck and I’d have the first front-wheel drive pickup,” Cross said. “I laughed it off and went to lunch. I didn’t take his idea seriously.”
But as he was finishing lunch, he noticed a front frame clip sitting nearby, with a tarp covering it. When the wind blew the tarp off, he realized he was looking at a front-wheel drive Cadillac Eldorado clip, complete with engine and transaxle.
“I thought, ‘There’s everything I need,’ ” Cross said. “I grabbed a tape measure and the wheels started turning and I thought, ‘I can do this.’
“Dick Rutschman, a good friend of mine, jumped in and we had a rolling chassis by Monday morning.”
Fortunately for him, his father ran a salvage yard and he was able to find almost everything he needed to create a vintage Caddy-powered FWD Ford pickup. But it was a long, time-consuming process. He did not finish the project until 1975.
“A lot of things fell into place … like the torsion bars,” Cross said. “I just notched the frame and they fell right into place.”
He created a tubular straight rear axle out of oilfield pipe.
Eventually, a 1956 F-100 cab would be swapped into place. The 472 cubic-inch Cadillac engine rated at 375 horsepower, was left basically stock, as was the 3-speed automatic Cadillac transaxle. By welding the complete subframe assembly to the Ford chassis, Cross was able to incorporate GM power steering, air conditioning and power brakes into his hybrid machine.
A 1967 Oldsmobile tilt, non-locking steering column was sourced, topped by a custom aftermarket wheel and the factory shift mechanism replaced by a custom cable-actuated unit.
The truck was painted a blinding Ford “Grabber Yellow” color and it attracted a lot of attention when Cross began showing it in Colorado where he lived in 1975.
“It won a bunch of trophies … including best-engineered custom,” he said.
“We drove that truck across the Golden Gate Bridge, up the coastal highway and to Lake Tahoe. We went through the Redwoods … we went everywhere in it. It was very dependable. The motor has never been touched.”
But then in 1981, Wichitan Larry Wolfe talked Cross into selling him the pickup.
“He tore it all down and painted it this baby blue color. He had it for 16 years and made a lot of changes to it. I figured it was probably out of my life for good,” Cross said.
“But then I heard he had it for sale, so I called him and he sold it back to me in ’96. I took it back and showed it in Colorado.”
But Cross was heavily involved in hunting and fishing and taking care of his horses at the time and didn’t really have time to enjoy the unique truck.
“I sold it to my brother Max in 2008,” he said. “He put headers and stainless exhaust on the truck.”
Max Cross runs a body shop in Valley Center and stored the “Fordillac” pickup there.
One day, Doug Cross noticed the blue pickup sitting under a clear plastic tarp and stood there reminiscing about the good old days in it.
“Max looked at me and smiled. He said, `I think you ought to have it back again.’ I paid him what he had in it,” Cross said.
“He had it nine years and I couldn’t believe I had it back again. The only reason I have it now is Max. And I will never let go of it again.”
Mike Berry: firstname.lastname@example.org