A Vintage Ford With Diesel Power

November 18th, 2011

Text and Photos by Kevin Wilson

Classic trucks and diesels represent the biggest growth in the light truck market these days. Many hot rodders and street rod enthusiasts are giving up their traditional rides in favor of building some vintage iron, because trucks from the 1950s and ’60s are increasing in popularity and are more useful than a ’32 roadster. And the existence of quality aftermarket replacement sheet metal and parts from companies such as LMC are making the builds more attractive.

But what if you could combine your love for diesels and vintage pickups in one project? That’s exactly what James Knight, of Geneva, Nebraska, did with his 1961 Ford F-100 pickup. A diesel tech by trade, he wanted something different than everybody else’s project that had diesel power. The end result is a street-rod-quality F-100 half-ton with a Cummins under the hood.

“The truck was originally purchased by my best friend in high school,” James confessed. “I purchased it from him and intended to make a 396-stroked street rod truck out of the thing. But when fuel prices went high, I decided to go diesel.”

The build started with a frameup restoration, as would be the case with any custom classic truck built. James engineered his own Mustang II IFS front suspension, complete with disc brakes, that utilizes Speedway Motors control arms. The IFS conversion allowed him to install rack-and-pinion steering, as well. Air Ride Technologies was the source of the truck’s air suspension components along with the shock absorbers.

One of the few original components left on the truck, James admits, is the Ford 9-inch rear end, which is fitted with long 3.25 gears and a LocRite locker. Combined with the truck’s NV4500 five-speed manual, lifted from a ’97 Dodge, the Ford can push more than 20 mpgs on the road. Putting the power to the road is a set of five-lug American Racing wheels wrapped with 275/55R17 Hankook tires.

Since nearly all ’50s- and ’60s-era pickups originally came with straight six-cylinder gasoline engines, it wasn’t too difficult to swap in another straight six, this time a Cummins from a ’92 first-gen Dodge. There was even room to add an intercooler, along with the heavy-duty diesel radiator.

A Dakota Digital gauge cluster sits inside the original steel dash insert. Check out the original-style retro control knobs on the dash, also courtesy of LMC Truck.

James claims the motor is all stock—except for the polished aluminum and custom paint—and utilizes a “pumped-up” injection pump to feed 50-horsepower Bully Dog injectors. A 4-inch exhaust runs the length of the truck and culminates in a polished 5-inch tip at the rear.

Restoring a classic truck always has it challenges. Rusty floorboards and missing trim items top the list, along with bent or rusted body panels and missing interior parts.

LMC Truck, of Lenexa, Kansas, is a great resource for the classic truck builder and even the diesel enthusiast for finding the parts you need for a perfect resto or repair. When it came to body work on the ’61 Ford, James turned to LMC for such items as the door handles, exterior mirrors, glass, tailgate and tailgate hinges, rearview mirror, vintage Ford taillights and even the hard-to-find interior knobs. James admits that having the right parts made the built that much easier.

After the truck was shot with PPG “Toreador Red” paint by Bright Built Hot Rods, of Salina, Kansas, James fitted it with a custom-made oak wood bed kit, using stainless steel straps from LMC. On the inside, all the aftermarket upgrades came together on the all-steel dash.

Abbee Auto Glass and Upholstery, of York, Nebraska, installed all the new window glass and re-upholstered a pair of late-model F-150 buckets that replace the original bench seat. The buckets also came with a matching center console. A Dakota Digital dash replaces the stock gauge cluster, while a Hot Rod Air system keeps the cab cool. Painless Wiring was the source for the new electrical system, which eliminated dealing with any old wiring electrical gremlins. A GM steering column fitted with a Grant steering wheel finishes out the interior.

The truck is a head-turner wherever it goes. We spotted it at the FASS Indy Nats, and there was always a crowd around it. Best of all, according to James, is that it is a great daily driver and gets more than 20 mpgs. It’s also at home at hot rod events and cruise nights, as well as at diesel gatherings.

This is in the December 2011 issue.

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