1931 Ford Channeled Pickup - Trouble Maker
In Praise Of The Big-Fun, Low-Buck Beater
From the August, 2009 issue of Street Rodder
By Chris Shelton
You couldn't tell by walking the aisles of a modern car show, but the hot rod originated as the alternative to spending a lot of money. It gave a bucks-down kid the opportunity to pit his ingenuity against dollars: An old cast-off car was cheap, and with sweat equity and an engine swap it could be made fast for not a lot of money. Roundly dismissed as beaters, they offered something that no showstopper ever could: unadulterated, juvenile, tire-frying, donut-spinning fun.
Many say that cost and availability have all but killed the beater, but a few continue to prove them wrong. Josh Martinson is one of those few. We propose that his '31 Ford pickup is pretty faithful to those original hot rods, at least in its philosophy. Hear us out.
The pickup began as a dream and a $250 body. "It was rough, rusty, and disassembled, but it came with some replacement panels and a new wood kit," he said. "Because the body was so beat up, I figured the military theme would work well--as if it were built by a hot rodder returning from service and had brought parts back with him." And thus began his low-cost quest.
Because the body didn't have a frame and a new one cost less than buying, boxing, and building crossmembers for an old one, he started with a bare Total Cost Involved Engineering Model A chassis with a 4-inch rear kick-up. The Super Bell axle is a fraction of the cost of a stretched Ford, and the F-1 spindles and their self-energizing brakes are practically giveaways compared to earlier passenger-car spindles and non-servo brakes. Including the bungs and tie-rod ends it takes to split them, '35-and-later wishbones cost less than even the cheapest hairpins. Vega steering boxes are now more affordable than F-1s, and the cross-steer arrangement they encourage doesn't bumpsteer. About the only expense Josh spared was the monoleaf spring, but it's hardly a premium over a conventional reversed-eye spring.
We love small-block Chevrolets...
We love small-block Chevrolets because; A) they're cheap, B) they go fast real easy, and C) they make snobs whine. This one's a standard rebuild with hogged-out 327 swap-meet heads, a no-name cam, and a mild Edelbrock/Holley induction system.
The rear suspension is a little less conventional but every bit as frugal. Most people overlook them, but the axle that came under compact 4x2 Toyota pickups from the '70s to the mid '90s have a stout 8-inch ring gear, 11-inch brakes, and a popular 5x4 1/2-inch bolt pattern. They're the same width as the most popular Ford units, they came from the factory with gear ratios from 3.15:1 to 4.88:1, and a healthy aftermarket offers a wide array of limited-slip and locking differentials. Since the one under Josh's didn't cost much more than its weight in scrap metal, he invested the savings on a Pete & Jake's ladder-bar setup. He saved even more by using a cast-off front spring from a '40s-era Lincoln.
Say what you will about a small-block Chevy being ordinary, but the cost of the rebuilt 350 in Josh's car came in less than the core value of its exotic alternatives. And with nothing more than 2,000 pounds to push around, it's plenty adequate with a mild cam, carb, and intake. The TH400 it bolts to is so low-buck that Josh doesn't even know who rebuilt it.
Josh is a tall guy, but the biggest of the Model A pickup cabs is a short order. So instead of chopping the top, a slice that would easily eat up more than 5 inches to make it look right, Josh channeled the cab 4 inches. Rather than find and repair old door latches, Josh turned to the industrial hardware market for universal rotary latches, parts usually marked up and re-sold as bear-claws in our hobby. He also filled the window channels.
Pickups from this era had cloth tops, so Josh fabricated passenger car-style side panels and spanned the gap between them with OD-green canvas. Legend has it that Josh hand-rubbed each of the 40 coats of paint it took to achieve such a deep luster. Okay, so we're jiving you; Josh really used cheap alkyd enamel, but he did admit to using the finest brush he could find.
We admit there is one thing on this pickup that blows any talk of low budget right out the window. Actually, it's four things: the wheels. They're Kelsey Hayes accessories, commonly but incorrectly called DIVCO or milk truck wheels. Their original application is highly debated, but they were made famous years later by land-speed racers who used their large diameter as a means to effectively increase their race cars' gear ratios. Before greedy lenders and idiot borrowers killed the goose that laid the golden egg, they commanded as much as five figures for a set of four, but Josh stumbled into his at an estate sale for less than $200. And when we say stumbled, we mean it; he didn't even know what they were. "I just thought they were cool," he admitted.
While Josh's pickup uses early parts, that's not necessarily what makes us think it's so true to the early hot rod. After all, he built it with many parts that didn't even exist during that period. In fact, to adhere strictly to some era would've blown his budget.
What makes it true to that form is the philosophy behind it: By working within his means, he stripped an ordinary car to its bare essentials and gave it lots of horsepower. Whether a Model A, a Mustang, or a Mitsubishi, that's a hot rod.
But it goes deeper than that. Hot rods of yore were often fleeting things. They either evolved with their builders' budget, skills, and standards or came apart altogether to become entirely different cars. Since building this pickup, Josh has blown it apart with the intent of reassembling it as a roadster.
But for that time it was together, it was a well-built, go-fast machine whose purpose was nothing other than going fast and having fun. And if you don't think kids half a century ago built hot rods to do just that, you've got some history to learn.
Josh's seats are just takeout...
Josh's seats are just takeout military truck seats with their original canvas. The swap-meet steering wheel sits atop a universal Speedway Motors column. The swap-meet B&M shifter has a cable, which let Josh relocate it between the seats.
Racers in the day used the...
Racers in the day used the 18-inch Kelsey accessory disc wheels on the rear, but why not run 'em on all corners if you've got 'em? The headlights are old Grotes, the grille a '30 Ford, and the insert uses expanded metal.
Egomaniacs scoff and purists...
Egomaniacs scoff and purists cringe at it, but in the presence of his pickup Josh Martinson looks like this. And smoking the tires only makes that grin bigger.
By way of a well stocked surplus...
By way of a well stocked surplus market, the military theme was not just easy, but cheap. Whether he stumbled upon them or they were given to him as gifts, things like the taillights and the ammo cans helped Josh maintain about an $8,000 budget.
Through the '50s the standard...
Through the '50s the standard low-cost fuel tank was a bomber oxygen tank, but from the '60s onward nothing beat an old beer keg. Can you think of a simpler, cheaper, and more reliable battery box or gear holder than an old ammo box?
Gauges seldom matched in old...
Gauges seldom matched in old hot rods. The end ones are old military US gauge units. The middle is a military Stewart Warner, but for a diesel hence the low speed. Not that it matters; the seat of your pants is a far more reliable shift indicator.
|F A C T S & F I G U R E S |
|Josh Martinson |
|Roy, Washington |
|1931 Ford channeled pickup |
|Frame / Manufacturer ||Total Cost Involved (Ontario, CA) |
|Modifications ||Z’d 4” in rear |
|Chassis plumbing ||Steel Bundy type and rubber lines |
|Rearend / Ratio ||Toyota 8” / 3.73:1 |
|Rear suspension ||Ladder bars by Pete & Jake’s (Peculiar, MO), ’ |
| ||40s-era Lincoln front spring, ’60s-era Dodge A-100 shocks |
|Rear brakes ||Toyota 11” drum |
|Front suspension ||4” dropped I-beam by Super Bell (Peculiar, MO); ’50 Ford F-1 pickup |
| ||spindles, steering arms, and tie-rod; Total Cost Involved mono-leaf |
| ||spring; ’37 Dodge front shock mounts |
|Front brakes ||’50 Ford F-1 |
|Master cylinder ||’67 Ford Mustang |
|Pedal assembly ||Total Cost Involved |
|Steering box ||Vega-style |
|Wheel make, size ||Kelsey-Hayes accessory, 18x3 3/4 |
|Front tire make, size ||Excelsior by Coker Tire (Chattanooga, TN), 4.50-18 |
|Rear tire make, size ||Firestone by Coker Tire, 7.00-18 |
|Gas tank ||stainless beer keg |
|Make ||Chevrolet |
|Displacement ||355ci |
|Machining / Assembly ||NAPA Auto Parts, Tacoma, WA / Waterhouse Motors, Tacoma, WA |
|Pistons ||Hypereutectic-cast 9.5:1 compression ratio by Speed-Pro/Federal Mogul |
|Valvetrain ||Summit Racing 1107 hydraulic flat-tappet cam, |
| ||.488/.510 lift, 292/302-degrees duration; roller-tip |
| ||Magnum rockers by COMP Cams, Memphis, TN |
|Water pump ||Summit high-volume |
|Cooling fan ||Summit 15” flex-style |
|Radiator ||’65 Ford Mustang copper/brass three-row |
|Alternator ||GM 10SI |
|Heads ||327 Chevrolet, heavily ported with 2.02/1.6 valves |
|Valve covers ||Cal-Custom die-cast finned aluminum |
|Manifold / Induction ||Performer by Edelbrock (Torrance, CA) / Avenger 750 by Holley Racing (Bowling Green, KY) |
|Ignition / Wires ||Uni-Lite by Mallory (Carson City, NV) with tachometer drive / restoration-grade cloth-covered |
|Headers ||Swap-meet 1 5/8” block-hugger |
|Exhaust / Mufflers ||2 1/2” steel / 18” glass-packed |
|Make ||GM TH400 |
|Converter ||GM 3/4-ton pickup |
|Shifter ||V-Gate by Hurst, Carson City, NV |
|Trans mods ||Stage II shift kit by B&M Transmission, Chatsworth, CA |
|Driveshaft ||Drivelines Northwest, Fife, WA |
|Body style / Material ||Pickup / steel |
|Body mods ||Channeled 4”, military-style canvas roof insert, |
| ||door-window channels filled, scratch-built floors |
|Grille ||’30 Ford |
|Paint type / Color ||Alkyd enamel / OD Green |
|Graphics ||Owner |
|Headlights / Taillights ||Grote industrial / WWII-era military |
|Outside mirror ||Peep style by Mooneyes, Santa Fe Springs, CA |
|Other body items ||R4-style rotary latches (Bear-claw style) by Southco, |
| ||Concordville, PA; windshield by Tahoma Glass, Puyallup, WA |
|Dashboard ||Unknown '20s passenger car |
|Insert / Gauges ||Vintage military Stewart-Warner tachometer and |
| ||US Gauge Co oil pressure and water temperature |
|Steering wheel ||Swap-meet find with foam rim |
|Steering column ||Universal stainless by Speedway Motors, Lincoln, NE |
|Seats ||Military truck with original canvas |
|Floor covering ||Ribbed rubber industrial mat |
|Seatbelts ||Forklift |