It’s not easy being green

Gary Dunn resurrected this gorgeous green 1956 Ford “big window” pickup, a one-time Arizona show-winner, from a worn-out, beat-down shadow of its former self. The new incarnation has gone on to win more than 100 awards.
Gary Dunn resurrected this gorgeous green 1956 Ford “big window” pickup, a one-time Arizona show-winner, from a worn-out, beat-down shadow of its former self. The new incarnation has gone on to win more than 100 awards. The Wichita Eagle

Everybody deserves a second chance, right?

Well, sometimes a truck deserves a second chance, too. And Gary Dunn gave a once-proud 1956 Ford F-100 pickup a second chance and the truck has repaid him many times over.

He had gone to Arizona to look at a 1955 Ford pickup back in the early 1990s.

“I had sent the guy $300 to hold it, but when I saw it there was just something about it. It was not the truck that I wanted,” Dunn said.

“He had not misrepresented it. I can’t explain it, but I just didn’t want it.”

He told the seller he could keep the deposit, but the truck’s owner gave returned his and Dunn and his wife, Kathy, headed on down the road.

A chance stop at a convenience store led to Dunn buying a local “truck trader” magazine and he spotted something that looked promising, a 1956 “big window” Ford pickup. Arrangements were made to take a look.

“A guy in Oklahoma City had built it for his brother-in-law. It had been a show truck. In fact it was the Arizona Show Truck of the Year in 1977,” Dunn said. But the truck had been handed down to a son who had no real interest in it and the vivid green pickup was in rough shape when Dunn looked at it.

“But I could see it had a lot of potential, plus it was a ‘big window,’” Dunn said. Most Ford pickups of that vintage had a smaller, flat rear window, while a few were built with a large, wrap-around window in the back of the cab.

After borrowing a battery so he could test-drive it, Dunn negotiated a deal. But then he had to split the money with the owner’s ex-mother-in-law, who wouldn’t turn loose of the title until her ex-son-in-law’s pending debt to her was paid off. The title work was finished about two minutes before the courthouse closed and then the Dunns headed for home with their new acquisition on a trailer behind them.

“At about Flagstaff, I started laughing. My wife asked me why I was laughing and I said, ‘That guy’s battery is in my truck and now his truck doesn’t have a battery.’”

Once the pickup was home, Dunn made sure it was mechanically roadworthy and then drove it regularly, despite the screaming green color.

“I hated that color and I couldn’t wait to repaint it,” he said. “But everybody kind of identified that truck with me.”

When he decided to have the truck restored to its full car show glory, he sent it out to Henry Barge, an old Army buddy who ran Rocky Mountain Paint and Body in Colorado Springs. By then he had decided the truck should be repainted in a color similar to the original bright green.

Starting with a VW color and adding gold pearl, the two men played around with the color until Dunn was satisfied.

“Henry called and said he had shot the cab and a couple of fenders. He said, ‘That is one ugly color. I’m not going to shoot the rest of it until you come out and look at it.’ Everybody in the body shop was saying, ‘That guy’s ruining that truck with that paint,’” Dunn said.

But when he saw it, he said “proceed,” and he’s never regretted that decision.

Lefty’s Upholstery, then located in Hutchinson, stitched up a show-quality white interior for the truck, using a mid-’60s El Camino bench seat as a starting point. A white-rimmed custom steering wheel was used, along with the truck’s original shift lever, cut down to size. Another Army buddy, Arlen Mitchell, donated a set of Ford Racing gauges to the cause, mounted in gold-finished bezels.

Kathy Dunn took on the task of finishing the beautiful oak cargo bed kit, sanding it smooth and applying 17 coats of marine varnish, sanding between each coat.

“She did a fantastic job on that,” said her husband, who also credits her with nicknaming the truck “Baby” and coming up with a list of the most frequently asked questions fielded at car shows, like where Abbyville is and what the color is called.

“We call it Gosh Awful Green,” Dunn grinned.

A 302 cubic inch high performance Ford V-8, dressed out in chrome with white ignition wires, rests under the hood, and routes power through a modified C4 automatic transmission back to the original ’56 Ford rear end. Dunn had a custom set of steel wheels crafted by the Early Wheel Co., mounting 60-series BFG T/A’s.

The finishing touch was a set of understated gold pinstripes applied by Cadillac Daddy-o of Wichita. The refinished show truck has been displayed at well over 100 car shows and seldom comes home without a trophy.

“We looked up the original builder in Oklahoma City and he was so glad that I had got the truck,” Gary Dunn said. “I showed him pictures of the finished truck and he started crying.”

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