Unregistered for more than 50 years, this 1953 Ford F-100 pickup offers a uniquely authentic drive experience.
The aesthetic beauty of 1950s vehicles is one thing, but inevitably there are a host of stories from the last 65 years to make up a fascinating history. Dean Croyden’s 1953 Ford F-100 pickup has lived its decades perhaps like no other work ute in Australia. Dean’s only the second owner and it has just 32,000 miles on the clock. Its body and powertrain are practically the same as when assembled here after coming from Canada a few short years after World War II. Dean bought the curvaceous F-100 from the family of the man who bought it brand new from Brisbane. “He passed away in 1968 and the family kept it in a garage, then I bought it in 2005,” he said. “Incredibly it had never been registered, so once we had it running I was the first to get its registration, over 50 years after it was first built.”
The original owner used it on his farm in the Queensland agricultural town of Gatton, and the longest journey would be to the corner store. “Registration obviously didn’t matter back in the day as there was hardly anyone out there,” Dean explained. Sound like simpler, happier times.
It was a restorer’s dream find for the owner of Classic Pickup Supplies on the Sunshine Coast. Dean’s a plumber by trade, but his side business specialises in restoration parts for American Ford and Chevy trucks and cars, such as rust repair panels, rubber kits, glass, wheels and tyres. Little wonder his ’53 F-100 presents so beautifully today.
“Back in the 1950s every manufacturer wanted to be different,” Dean said. “Ford was hell-bent on looking different to Chev; Chev were hell-bent on looking different to Studebaker and Dodges, and that’s what made the era so special. Then Cadillacs came along with their big fins and theywere like no other. The F-100 has such a special shape; it’s one of those cars everyone smiles at.” Not only was Dean taken with the F-100’s style, but these second-generation F-Series trucks were the last to use a flathead V8 before Ford moved to an overhead valve Y-block V8. In this instance it’s a 239 cu in (3.9-litre) V8 with a beautiful note coming from the original exhaust system – another part that’s somehow survived the years.
“The flatheads have a really special sound that give a soul to this F-100,” said Dean. “Many new vehicles are soulless, but a car like this there’s a sense it’s a living thing. We call her Poppy and I give her a pat on the dash when she makes it up a hill, and thank her when she gets us home.”
Thanks to the F-100 hibernating out of the elements – sun and rain rapidly age unused cars – the restoration work needed was far from extensive. Not that the work bothers Dean. He insists there’s little better than “the enjoyment of coming down to the workshop on a weekend and playing about with cars.
Dean has gained skills through experience. He raced a replica Falcon XW GT in historic touring cars, then bought and restored a number of original XY and XW GTs. Restoring American cars and pickups followed, and after taking panel beating courses, tinkering and learning through trial and error, he’s become impressively skilled. Teaming with a good friend who assists with trickier mechanical elements, the results are laid bare with the beautiful ’53 F-100.
“It was practically rust-free when I bought it, and we’ve used all the original drivetrain, plus kept the four drum brakes with no brake booster. It still has the three gears on the column with no synchro on first, but electrically I’ve changed it from 6v to 12v as the lights and wipers just weren’t strong enough.”
“Incredibly It Had Never Been Registered, So Once We Had It Running I Was The First To Get Its Registration, Over 50 Years After It Was First Built.”
Despite not being used for some 40 years, the fact it had been undercover through the decades was a blessing. “It was like a time capsule,” Dean said. “The fuel tank was completely rusted out so we put a new one in, changed the oil and put fuel down the throat of the carbie. It wound over a couple of times and then it started. No coughing or anything. There’s nothing to them really. If you’ve got spark and fuel then you’re there. Simple as that.”
The brakes were far from effective but with some careful adjustment to the shoes they performed well, but Dean reports they’re still very soft compared to modern standards. But he’s keen to preserve as much originality as possible for a true 1950s drive experience, as few of these early F-Series trucks have remained untouched. That means no seat belts, power steering or synchro on first gear, plus those lazy brakes.
Crossply tyres are used instead of radials on aftermarket 16-inch rims (fear not, Dean’s kept the skinny original wheels), complete with the required white walls. “No wonder they got rid of crossplys, they’re horrendous to drive on, but they ensure you’ll never fall asleep at the wheel of this vehicle,” Dean said.
The truck’s body and chassis were near mint, the exception being the bonnet. The original was too wavy to be beaten out properly; the result of years of forceful hands slamming it. Dean’s business gets body panels and other parts from America and Taiwan, which he says are excellent substitutes, even if he compels owners to try to save original panels if at all possible.
“A lot of panels have rusted out and are hard to find as they’ve got so old,” he said. “The originals fit better, but aftermarket ones work well once you’ve played around with them a bit. Ford sells licenses for companies to reproduce panels and parts, they lease out the tooling or someone can remake the tooling off Ford’s blueprints.”
The whole car was stripped to bare metal and resprayed its original and beautiful colour, a kind of cream with subtle green through it. The body badges and chrome bumpers were replaced as the originals were pitted, and the suspension springs re-set to give a lower stance. The timber tray is worn with a nice patina while the simple cab with three-seater bench has been re-trimmed in original vinyl brown.
“When I took it to be registered they suspected it may be stolen,” Dean explained. “They said in all their years they’d never seen a vehicle over 50 years old never before registered, there was just no history of it. The couldn’t believe it.”
These old trucks are wonderfully simple, but maintenance can be messy. The air filter is in an oil bath so it’s an “oily, disgusting job to do,” while the oil filter casing has no drain plug so you have to “get a little cup to scoop the oil out, then use a rag to soak up the rest.”
Strictly a Sunday driver, Dean said the F-100 is ideal for heading to the beach for breakfast, taking the slower scenic coast roads. “Brand new the engine was around 90hp, now it’s probably 60-70hp. There are ride-on mowers with more power, but it’ll sit on 80kmh comfortably. You have to be slow and precise with gear changes as the linkages are a bit sloppy, and with no synchro on first, if I come up to a roundabout and am too slow for second gear, I have to come to a complete stop to put it in first.”
Even so, it appears nobody minds getting held up by this charming classic. “It’s just a happy car isn’t it?” Dean said. “Everywhere you drive it all you get are smiles.”