Though it looks as if it's so steeped in the past that it turned green all over, there's nothing antiquated about Mark Murray's pickup. Even Mark will tell you no car from the era it resembles looks quite like it. For example, at first glance it's a '32 Ford roadster pickup; however, this particular style of roadster pickup body didn't exist until a few years ago.
The same goes for the vintage-spec race tires, the world-class five-speed transmission, disc brakes disguised as drums, aircraft-inspired seats, and-gasp!-the billet wheels. They're all modern parts with looks that belie their performance. Engine withstanding, it's an entirely New Millennium creation built to reflect what's going on now, not to repeat what happened then. If anything, it's a modern riding and handling car that just happens to look the part of an old hot rod.
To understand why this car came out this way is to understand that Mark stands at the crossroads of hot rods and sports cars. For the former, "I'd certainly attribute that to my grandfather," he indicated. A gunsmith of world renown named Stan Baker, "He had a chopped-and-sectioned '40 Ford convertible and a '36 Ford three-window he built in the 1940s," Mark recalled. "My dad's still got the '36, and it's unchanged from the way he built it then.
"But, beyond that, I grew up my entire life going to Monterrey for the Historics and Pebble Beach." For that, Mark credits his father, Stan Murray, who campaigns a Le Mans-pedigreed Lotus 11 in vintage events. "I've been doing that since literally before I can remember. The whole era and the event ... everything about it is vintage performance, yet nothing is modern or smoothie or high-tech."
To craft such a traditional-themed pickup, Mark commissioned a rather unlikely shop: Bellingham, Washington's Pyramid Automotive Engineering. Though known for creating pretty progressive machinery for the street rod market, Pyramid's founder, John Barbero, has a traditional side-even if only for the fact that he's built hot rods since the street rod movement's infancy. But, Mark had more grounded reasons. "You hear all these horror stories about geometry, and that's John's deal. That guy can really set up a chassis," Mark indicated. With that, he gave John a set of framerails and a few requests: Make it long, make it low, and make it handle ... and make it do that with an early Olds engine, while you're at it.
Starting with a set of 3-inch-longer 'rails, John crafted a chassis with a 6-inch-longer wheelbase. Leading the chassis is a drilled Magnum axle and hairpins, but the mounting method is a little unorthodox; the tie-rod ends that link the hairpins to the chassis look the part of mid-century construction, but more modern urethane bushings offer a little more compliance where it's not so obvious: between the hairpins and batwings. Hidden by the chassis are Pete & Jake's ladder bars, but out where everybody can see it is a Hot Rod Works-prepped Winters quick-change rear axle.
Though the Olds mill has an Offenhauser intake now, it in fact started as a real three-carb J-2. A prolonged stay in the rain dictated an eighth-inch overbore, but as any old drag racer will tell you, an early Olds has a block well up to the task. Backing that engine is an adapter from a traditional source, Wilcap; however, there's nothing vintage about the Tremec close-ratio five-speed behind it. "There are people who build period cars that are period-correct to a tee. I respect that, but I'm not one of 'em," Mark said. "I really wanted a driver, and with that engine I really didn't want to risk a three-speed Top Loader. I also wanted a good overdrive."
Ford did actually build a roadster pickup in 1932, but its differs from the one Brookville manufactures. Unless you're a restorer, that's probably a good thing, as the real '32-34 articles don't look anything like any other body in Ford's lineup, and they're certainly shorter on legroom than the Brookville. Pyramid's Kenny Gilmour eliminated the windshield bump to accommodate the boat-style windshield, shaved the door handles, and removed the feet from the flat-style Brookville firewall. Steve Skuhra grafted a '33-34 passenger-car dash to the cowl. Though the bed resembles a stocker, Kenny relocated its wells to center them with the wheels and fabricated panels to fill the gaps between the bed sides and the frame arch. The Kewanee Green that Wilson Johnson and Earl Heyrend applied to the car is a Ford color, but it certainly reflects Mark's sports-car background. In a subtler sense, it's something that identifies the car as a latter-day creation, if only for the fact that American racers of yore generally regarded anything resembling the start flag an unlucky car color.
There's admittedly a bare-essentials appeal to Frank Wallic's aluminum aircraft-style seats, but Mark had these particular ones painted after an attempt to have them plated soured their finish. Cedardale Auto Upholstery's Paul Reichlin trimmed the car, and when a leather supplier couldn't come through, he sacrificed a few of the distressed hides he'd reserved for his own three-window project. He covered the seats, door panels, and the Bell-style steering wheel in hide; the floor, in German square-weave carpet.
Whereas most cars that mingle certain styles do it in aesthetics only, this is a car that's particularly faithful to its influences in the most important way: on the road. The engine grunts in a way only a 400-inch Kettering Olds can, and it can shred the hides when asked to. The lightly baffled pipes rumble as if they're echoing sounds from 1958, and the siren's call of straight-cut spur gears offers the ideal background. In that way, it's a hot rod.
But, the way the car drives is decidedly sports car-like. The Tremec shifts fast and smooth like a vintage Italian gearbox, and each flick of the lever seems to find the engine's sweet spot. The seats cup you in the way Brit-roadster seats do, and the square-weave carpet has that purposeful coarseness common to old Autobahn bombers. Despite riding on what race car engineer Carroll Smith referred to as two dead axles, the car is remarkably compliant and turns well.
From a personal perspective, Mark's car merges his own backgrounds. But, in a greater sense, his car is emblematic of a new generation of hot rods built by a group of enthusiasts who aren't willing to confine themselves to one camp. Generally younger, they aren't necessarily restrained by memories of "the way things used to be"-recollections which tend to be imprecise, anyway.
Not that they're going for historical accuracy, either; it is, for the most part, beside the point. You have to consider that this is the same Me Generation that resurrected bell-bottom pants a few years back without that coarse, plasticky polyester feel.
When they play with cars, as Mark's pickup illustrates, they capture the look yet not necessarily the crude road manners of hot rods built in the middle of the last century. They want their high-tech; they just don't want it to look that way, thank you.