Everybody jokes that a hot rod or custom is never finished, but once upon a time it was gospel. As if by clockwork, trendsetting cars vanished only to reappear the following season even more exuberant.

A thousand miles east and another mile higher than his Southern Californian peers, Otto Rhodes was an unlikely trendsetter. Over a four-year period he sculpted his ordinary F-100 into a chopped, pearl-painted, chrome-laden show stopper that collected gold like a trophy wife with a charge card. The Mountain Pearl certainly set precedent in 1962, the year it became the first full-color vehicle featured in Hot Rod magazine. And just like clockwork it disappeared...only it never returned.

Nor did it disappear for good. Otto's truck was unique, but so is its story. After bouncing among garages for more than 40 years, the Mountain Pearl is back.

Culturing the Pearl
Otto's story with the truck began in September, 1956, right after he graduated high school. He'd sold his first car, a chopped '36 Ford sedan, and acquired what was then a nearly new '53 F-100. He proceeded to do things within a teenager's reach: he chromed the bumper, mounted '53 Pontiac taillights below the tailgate, and dropped the nose over '50 Merc wheels.

"I wanted to get it painted," he explained. "This guy I knew had a body and paint shop." Only Otto got a bit more than he bargained for. "He talked me into chopping the top," he said. "One thing led to another, you know."

Otto and his friend Bill Dickey chopped the truck-twice in fact. "We first chopped it 5 inches and man was it ugly," he explained. Effie fashionistas understand why: the side windows on slant-post F-100s taper backwards. "The front of the roof is actually higher, so we put an inch and a half back in the rear."

From there the project snowballed. "I was kind of influenced by a Barris truck from then," he said. "It had the front fenders leaned in and that whole theme on the front end." But rather than copy it, he and Bill improved it.

They began the nose treatment by pulling the leading edges of the fenders 5 inches towards the truck's centerline. They trimmed the roll pan to match and welded it to the fenders.

The new nose opening started as chunks of 2-inch mandrel bends that Otto pieced together. He welded it to the body wherever it touched the existing surround and filled the yawning gaps between the old opening and the new one with sheet. Bear in mind that until this point, Otto had never welded.

The pair created the license plate cove by first defining the shape with 1/4-inch bar stock and tacking it to the roll pan. Using the rod as a guide, Otto relieved the center. He trimmed a strip from its top, installed it slightly above and back, and filled the gaps.

The front marker lights began life as '58 Olds rear bumper corners and backup lamps. He cut holes in the apron in their general profile but created the peaked shape with more bar stock. "We were lucky we had Bill Dickey's father-in-law," Otto admitted. "He knew how to use lead and to work out those panels by filin' and beatin' here and there."

The '58 Lincoln was about the ugliest car made, but its canted-quad headlights were all the rage when Otto built his truck. Between those is a '55 Chevy pickup grille that Otto narrowed and flipped. "I put the expanded metal in there and the drawer pulls. To fancy 'em up, you could get these little gold stars to go behind them."

A local sheetmetal shop fabricated the rear roll pan and Otto coved it the same way he did in the front. Only instead of finishing it in body color, he skinned the recess with patterned aluminum. Using more 1/4-inch rod he made buckets in the shape of '58 Bel Air taillight housings. Using them to extend the stake pockets, he canted them like the quads.