Me & My Car: Danville man’s 1940 Ford pickup took four years to restore

Ford Motor Co. has been building trucks for 105 years, dating back to the Model T days. Starting in 1908, coach builders who saw the potential of motorized trucks about nine years before Henry Ford introduced a one-ton chassis that he called the Model TT, pricing it at $600 (about $14,420 today), almost double the price of the Model T chassis. This new truck had a stronger frame and 124-inch wheelbase but still used the same 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine as the Model T car.

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In the early days, a truck was just a work vehicle and almost exclusively a vehicle for working men doing heavy manual labor. There was not much interest in making it look pretty or for it to be a comfortable ride. They were designed for function and function only originally, but as the industry advanced the trucks became better looking. They all still looked like trucks, though.

In 1940, for the first time since 1932, the Ford half-ton pickup was styled to look like the standard-model Ford sedan. Ford’s chief designer, E.T. “Bob” Gregorie, who styled the 1940 pickup, had an interesting background. He was a high school dropout who became a yacht designer. He went to Detroit and worked a few months with GM’s famous designer Harley Earl but was laid off because of the Great Depression.

Gregorie tried to get a job with the Ford-owned Lincoln Motor Co. in 1930, but Lincoln wasn’t hiring at the time. In December of that year, though, he received a telegram from Lincoln, and reportedly Edsel Ford, offering him a position in Dearborn, Michigan. He was only 22 years old.

He designed the 1936 Lincoln-Zephyr, which New York’s Museum of Modern Art called “the first successfully streamlined car in America.” Gregorie in 1939 also designed the first Lincoln Continental, which Edsel Ford showed to his wealthy Florida friends at his winter home. They liked it, and Edsel Ford decided to manufacture it. Gregorie retired to Florida from Ford at age 38 reportedly because he didn’t get along with the new management after Edsel Ford died in 1943. There, he returned to yacht designing.

The owner of this column’s feature is Tom Walsh, who now lives in Danville but grew up in Alameda.

“I’ve been a car guy all my life. I got started probably because I have an older brother and he had a 1940 Ford coupe when I was growing up. I got caught driving his ’40 Ford coupe when I was 8 or 9 years old. The police pulled me over. The first thing he said was ‘Does your brother know you have this car out?’ ‘No, sir,’ I said. He said, ‘I’ll make you a deal. I’ll follow you back to the house. You park it exactly where it was. I won’t tell your brother, but you have to promise me you won’t do that again until you have your license. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”

And Walsh lived up to his promise, but that didn’t include drag racing. He was a champion drag racer numerous times beginning at age 14. He has owned this issue’s 1940 Ford pickup for about 22 years, though he didn’t start working on it until about 10 years ago.

“I always wanted to get a ’40 pickup, but I didn’t have the time or the space to work on it,” he said.

Walsh, a retired automotive shop owner specializing in building mostly hot rods, has a large garage at home to work on or store 11 vehicles. His 13-year-old granddaughter used to hang around while Walsh was working on different cars. He suggested that they work on this 1940 Ford pickup together as a grandpa-granddaughter project, and they did.

“We would work a couple days during the week after school and then on a Saturday.”

They finished the project in about four years. Walsh bought the truck in 2000 for $2,500 (about $4,200 today) but it didn’t have an engine or transmission. Parts of the body were rusted. Walsh and his granddaughter replaced the truck’s bed with new wood and steel and replaced all four fenders. Even though the front fenders look like car fenders, they’re slightly different.

“I had an old Dodge Hemi engine called a 241-cubic-inch Red Ram engine, which I installed, and I adapted it to a Chevrolet 350 automatic transmission. We put disc brakes on the front and had it painted and the interior done.”

It’s a driver as well as a show car. Walsh has no plans to ever sell it and isn’t even too sure what he’s invested into it or what the truck’s current value is, but he did turn down an offer of $125,000 several years ago. His plan is to leave it to his working partner, his granddaughter.

Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at [email protected]. To view more photos of this and other issues’ vehicles or to read more of Dave’s columns, visit mercurynews.com/author/david-krumboltz.

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