Thankfully, because of certain career choices, some people never have to grow up. For lifelong car nut Tony Miller, his position as vice president of design for Mattel's Hot Wheels division could easily be the envy of boys and girls raised with the magical 1/64th-scale four-wheeled fantasies. Tony doesn't just like playing with little cars-he likes the fullsize versions too. Tony already had a chopped '36 Ford three-window and a sweet '50 half Ford Victoria (R&C February 2003) in his stable, but when a tempting opportunity presented itself, he just could not turn it down.
More specifically, Tony happened upon a '34 Ford pickup a gentleman had purchased from the daughter of the original owner in 1968, and after disassembly and 35 years of well-organized storage, he decided he was never going to build it. Tony just happened to be the lucky guy at the head of the line and he didn't hesitate to become the truck's third owner. Tony knew exactly what he wanted, but a full plate at work had him looking for someone to take on the project. Keith Tardel was Tony's first choice and lucky for him he had a spot at his shop, Rex Rods in Santa Rosa, California. A game plan was discussed and Keith tore into the extremely clean and complete (although disassembled) '34 Ford.
As a hardcore traditionalist, Keith planned to only change what was absolutely necessary to update the truck to a top-drawer, 1950s-style hot rod. The chassis was the first to get his attention, and after a simple dusting off of the cherry original 'rails, Keith added an original Mor-Drop front beam axle and surrounded it with a POSIES reversed eye spring and '40 Ford spindles and hydraulic brakes. More '40 Ford components can be found under the rear.
The original engine choice was a built and period-dressed Ford Flathead, but a slight case of sticker shock had Tony looking for alternatives. It just so happened that Tony had removed a perfectly good '55 Chevy 265ci small-block from his '36 when he swapped in a blown Flatty, so why not make good use of it. A simple freshening of the internals by Bob Stephan was matched by an awesome detail job by Keith and then the 1955 muscle was mated to a '39 Ford top-shift tranny.
The next round would pay attention to the body, which after a pampered early life and a safe indoor hibernation for the second half, hardly left enough tough work to make Progressive Auto Body even break a sweat when they prepped the 70-year-old tin for the perfectly smooth coat of PPG glossy black paint. Before that paint was laid, a couple nips and tucks were done, like the notches in the bedrails for the way-cool cab stack exhaust pipes. Accents to the smooth bodywork include a '32 Ford front bumper, '34 commercial headlights on a dropped bar, '32 taillights, and an early GM steel sedan trunk mounted in the bed to carry a few tools and maybe a small lunch on long trips.
Inside the unchopped cab Tony splurged on a fresh set of threads stitched up by Sid Chavers. Pumpkin Brown leather covers both a custom seat and the door panels. Fitted in the original '34 dash is a Haneline panel filled with Stewart Warner gauges. A reproduction '40 Ford steering wheel sits on top of a '47 Ford column and the original cowl vent and a simple heater are the only amenities.
About the same time Keith was finishing up the '34, Tony retired from Mattel toys. Now he can stop playing with little toys and play with his big ones full-time.
San Pedro, California
1934 Ford Pickup
Originally a Flathead seemed like a natural for Tony's pickup, but the lack of a decent block turned the attention to a perfectly good '55 Chevy 265 sitting in Tony's garage that was left over from another project. A quick freshening with new rings and gaskets was all that was required, followed by a thorough detailing by Keith Tardel, to make the engine appear as a factory fresh '55 crate engine. An early adapter mates the Chevy mill to a '39 Ford transmission that connects via the torque tube to a '40 Ford rearend.
The original frame that came with the truck was in perfect condition, so Keith just changed what was necessary, using various early Ford parts to upgrade the underpinnings to '50s, period-correct hot rod status. Up front is an original Mor-Drop dropped beam axle mounted under a POSIES reverse-eye spring. Doing the stopping are '40 Ford drum brakes on all four corners and '56 Ford F-100 steering points the truck in the proper direction. Another reverse-eye transverse spring supports the rear, and tubular shocks absorb any bumps in the road.
Wheels & Tires
Keeping with the early look, Tony decided on a set of Kelsey Hayes bent-spoke wire wheels sprayed gloss black and had them mounted into a set of Firestone Deluxe Champion tires (4.50/4.75x16 front and 7.00x16 rear). A set of reproduction '33 Ford caps and '40 Ford trim rings from Sacramento Vintage Ford add the perfect finishing touch.
Body & Paint
The pampered '34 Ford sheetmetal was in such fine shape it was an easy decision for Tony to elect "show all flaws" gloss black as the final color. Most of the body was left just as Henry had intended, except for the slight modifications to the bed to route the super-cool cab stacks Tony had dreamed about since he first began devouring pocket-sized rod magazines decades ago. Progressive Auto Body sprayed on the PPG paint and Keith Tardel dressed it up with fresh pieces from Sacramento Vintage Ford.
While the interior may be a tad small by today's standards, Tony made sure it was as plush as possible with a full upholstery job by master stitcher Sid Chavers. Fresh Pumpkin-colored leather covers a custom Sid-built seat and door panels with German square-weave carpet on the floor. Sticking with the traditional, the original dash was fitted with a Stewart Warner gauge-filled panel from Haneline and a reproduction '40 Ford steering wheel from Vintique tops a Tardel-modified '47 Ford column tube.