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Danville man’s 1940 Ford pickup truck took four years to restore

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

At first, a truck was just a work vehicle and almost exclusively a vehicle for laborers doing heavy manual work. There wasn’t much point in making it look pretty or making it a comfortable ride. They were designed for function and function only originally, but as the industry progressed, trucks got better looking. However, they all still looked like trucks.

In 1940, for the first time since 1932, the Ford half-ton pickup was designed to look like the standard Ford sedan. Ford’s chief designer, ET “Bob” Gregorie, who designed the 1940 pickup, had an interesting background. He was a high school dropout who became a yacht designer. He went to Detroit and worked for a few months with famous GM designer Harley Earl, but was laid off because of the Great Depression.

Gregorie tried to find a job at Ford-owned Lincoln Motor Co. in 1930, but Lincoln was not hiring at the time. In December of that year, however, he received a telegram from Lincoln, and apparently from Edsel Ford, offering him a position in Dearborn, Michigan. He was only 22 years old.

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

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

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

And Walsh kept his promise, but that didn’t include drag racing. He was a champion drag racer many times from the age of 14. He’s owned the 1940 Ford pickup in this number for about 22 years, although he only started working on it about 10 years ago.

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

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

“We worked a few days during the week after school, then on Saturdays.”

They completed the project in about four years. Walsh bought the truck in 2000 for $2,500 (about $4,200 today), but it had no engine or transmission. Some parts of the body were rusty. Walsh and his granddaughter replaced the truck bed with new wood and steel and replaced all four fenders. Even though the front fenders look like car fenders, they are slightly different.

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

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

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

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