As most stories go, the person who assumes a derelict project inherits a bag of mixed blessings. And in light of the modifications Otto had in mind and the years his pickup spent out of circulation, it would be a reasonable assumption. "But it was gorgeous," Tom intoned. "The chassis was gorgeous. The paint had cracked but the body was just gorgeous."
Upon getting it home, he said he just stared at it. "I was almost afraid to touch it for a while," he said. "Then I got my plan together."
Tom didn't have to plan much; Otto basically set the direction in which the Pearl would go. "I wanted the firewall to match the front end," Otto said, "So I used more of that 2-inch tubing and formed a new firewall." He bought an entire '65 T-bird gauge cluster from a Ford dealer but got only as far as fabricating its housing. "I made something underneath there, but I discarded that," he said. "It was kind of plain down there." Faced with the impasse, the dash project stalled.
Inspiration struck Tom when he removed the firewall's chrome center panel. "It was for this light setup," Tom recalled. "There was this circuitry that made these lights blink. It was all behind a frosted Plexiglas panel.
"But looking at the backside of the motor, I thought, 'Dang, let's put a window in there!'" he continued. "One of the guys back in Colorado (Al Coffin) had a Plexiglas firewall. So I copied that."
Otto approved; "I thought it was a great idea," he said. With the firewall sorted, Tom solved what stymied Otto for decades.
But the firewall was the tip of the iceberg. In the very early '70s Otto acquired a totaled '70 Ford pickup. He installed the entire running gear: its 360 FE-series engine, C6 transmission, split driveshaft, and 9-inch rearend. What's more, he made brackets and a crossmember to adapt the twin-I-beam suspension to the '53 frame. Then he proceeded to chrome-plate every piece that unbolted from the frame: the leaf springs, the brackets, the axles, the pedal assembly and master cylinder-even the inner fender wells he had fabricated.
"Here's the deal," Otto revealed. "I knew this guy who ran the chrome shop here in town. He was a good one for trading and he wanted that Olds engine out of the truck. So he agreed to do all my chroming for that. He got in trouble later for trading; he was just the manager."
Tom credits the dry mountain air for preserving the chrome. In fact, he had only two things re-plated. "He used stock axles and the truck sat way too high, which was a problem with those front ends," Tom explained. "So I took a set of stock axles to Mor-Drop over in Oakland to be dropped and then chromed."
"When Otto bought this truck it was almost new, so it had never been abused or got rusty," Tom noted. He found out just how nice when he got the body soda-blasted. "It was humbling, really, he admitted. "It was all gas-welded and leaded; the work was beautiful." Though he elected to retain every bit of filler, Tom said he fretted potential adhesion problems. "I talked to everybody from Bill Hines to Winfield to Marcos at Lucky Seven because I was worried about the porosity and things popping up later."
The solution: He squeegied epoxy primer into the pores. "We let it dry and I did that two or three times just to make sure there were no bubbles underneath. We had to do a little skimming here and there but it was damn near perfect." Upon the final blocking, Tom applied base/clear Sherwin-Williams urethane: white on the body and red on the bedsides and tailgate, just as Otto did nearly half a century prior.
According to Tom, "Otto and I talked a lot when I was building [the Pearl]. He said he wanted it to be real futuristic so, thinking back to the Sixties, we came up with the floating swivel seats and a spacey pattern." Legendary trimmer Howdy Ledbetter obliged, and the truck emerged with an Apollo-era motif in red and white.