Rocky Burris can't even hazard a good ballpark guess on how many cars he's been involved in customizing over the past 40 years or so. "It's gotta be in the hundreds," he said, shrugging.
But he can tell you how many vehicles were traded or bartered away to make his latest project, a wild 1950 Ford pickup with radical fins, a reality. "I went through six cars to come up with this one," he says.
"I traded for this truck about five years ago. I got it from a guy in Indianapolis who had it on eBay. He had got a good start on it, but it was kind of rough. Hub Harness, another guy (Fred McColpin) and I met him in Carthage, Mo., and picked it up there," Burris said.
The truck already had the top chopped by 5 inches and the rear fins grafted into place. "They were a little lower, though, so I brought them up to make it more swoopy," Burris said. The resulting fins, in fact, are so pronounced that Burris jokes the truck could pass for "Batman's utility vehicle."
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He isn't shy about taking on other folks' projects. "I love taking someone else's vehicle and putting my ideas on it," he said.
Among those ideas are the canted '59 Thunderbird quad headlights and the gold mesh front and rear grilles. The front grille is filled with rows of chrome drawer pulls, while the rear is accented by not two, but four classic '59 Cadillac bullet taillights. But the Caddy lights are mounted sideways on either side of a custom billet aluminum piece that Burris fabricated himself.
The hood of the truck has been pancaked, with a functional air scoop brought to the nose, and the truck's body is channeled down over the frame rails. It also features suicide-style doors that open to the rear, cleverly actuated by frenched-in antennas on either side.
Ron Pinkston, Burris' longtime friend and body and paint expert, handled the shaping and smoothing of the truck's custom contours. The front fenders were raised to accentuate the sectioned look of the truck. A set of non-functional lakes pipes exit from what Burris describes as "torpedo tubes" on the front fenders, a design he recalled on a Dave Stuckey Studebaker pickup. "I picked a lot of the old customizers' brains for ideas," Burris confesses.
He traded Pinkston a '68 Cadillac convertible for his contributions to the project and let Pinkston pick the paint color, a suede green custom mix, accented by darker scallops. Rocky Burris Jr. handled the pinstriping chores, including his dad's trademark shrunken head logo on the rear deck, and the Rat Fink and green genie figures on the beer tap shift knob.
Inside, the truck came with a 1955 Olds dash that had been cut down about 10 inches to fit the narrow Ford cab. Burris chose a 6-inch Haneline all-in-one gauge cluster that is a perfect fit for the original Oldsmobile speedometer bezel. He upholstered the Courier bench seat in his own off-white diamond pleat pattern and chose a vintage straight steering column topped by a Grant wheel with a bullet center cap.
Under the hood rests a clean, but common, 350 Chevy V-8 wearing Cal Custom valve covers and an old-school Cad/Olds style air cleaner, all done in matching green. The transmission is a 350 Turbo and the rear end a matching GM 10-bolt. The front suspension, however, features a '79 Chrysler Cordoba sub-frame using cross-torsion bar suspension.
Wide whitewalls on 15-inch wheels fitted with modified mid-'50s Buick hubcaps are used front and rear and the exhaust consists of a set of pipes built by the owner with Magnaflow mufflers in the middle.
"I like to call it 'modern nostalgia,' " Burris says, noting the truck has the good handling and reliability of a current-era vehicle, while wearing the look of an early 1960s radical show truck.
Although it's formally called "Two Kool," Pinkston gave the truck a nickname that has stuck — "the Fin."
And, as Burris says, "The Fin is in!"