Car of the Week: 1948 Ford F-1 Pickup

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By Brian Earnest

Jerry Drenzek is probably like a lot of guys who love old pickups. He can’t pinpoint exactly what it is about them that trips his trigger, it’s more a conglomeration of an old truck’s personality traits that makes it so appealing. Moreover, it’s often not what an old pickup is, it’s what it isn’t, that makes it so loveable.

“I was into everything from muscle cars to Austin-Healeys to Cadillacs, but then I started getting into 1950s pickups,” noted Drenzek, a resident of Macomb, Mich. “There is nothing that says Americana like old 1950s pickups. I like the looks of them. I like the simplicity of them. I just love everything about them.”

One of Drenzek’s favorite toys, and his most recent addition to his vintage pickup fleet, actually predates the 1950s by a couple years. His 1948 Ford F-1 half-ton was a bit of an impulse buy after Drenzek had already acquired 1952 and ’55 Chevrolet half-tons.

“I was really thrilled to find this one because it was unmolested. It was really original, which was important to me,” he said.

Drenzek had given his ’52 Chevy a ground-up restoration and he was not particularly eager to do again on the 1948 F-1. Fortunately, the ’48 Ford hauler didn’t need such a complete makeover. The truck had a bit of a “barn-find” past, had been partially restored once some years earlier, and was plenty appealing just the way it was when Drenzek found it on Craigslist. The pickup had belonged to a professor at Western Michigan University, where, according to Drenzek, it had been used, among other things, to tow homecoming floats for the football team. Originally, the truck was owned by a plumber in New Jersey. After the man’s death, his widow apparently parked the pickup for 40 years. When the widow died, her family sold the truck to an Ohio man who did “a quick amateur restoration,” according to Drenzek, before the professor in Michigan became its third owner.

“It was pretty nice when I got it,” Drenzek said. “I had to replace the bed, because the boards in back were just shot. They were like match sticks — all dried out. Lucky me, a local guy here had put together a kit for these things, with the dovetail and all that and all the sections you need. All I had to do was put on a coat of varnish and fasten down about a million fasteners and I was good to go. The wheels had been painted white, and I didn’t like that, so I painted them the color of the truck. I bought some new hubcaps. It already had the wide whitewalls, so I left those.

“[The odometer] shows 25,000, but I don’t know if that is correct or not … the last guy that owned it seemed to think it was , but you never know about people changing instrument clusters and stuff along the way. It’s pretty darn solid. The doors don’t sag and door handles don’t sag — stuff that’s usually a pretty good indication. Maybe it is the right mileage, I don’t really know … Meadow Green is the original color, but this truck was painted at some point along the line. It’s not exactly the same color. I found the old paint chips and matched it up. I found places like inside glove box where it wasn’t painted and I could tell the paint was off.”

The 1948 model year marked the debut of Ford’s “first generation” F-Series pickups. Ford trumpeted its “Bonus-Built” trucks as big improvements over the previous car-based haulers and gave its half-ton versions the F-1 label.  There were also seven other weight ratings in the same F-Series lineup, with trucks coming as traditional pickups, cab and chassis, panel trucks, cab-overs and schools buses.

The F-Series trucks were considered to be Ford’s first legitimate new postwar vehicle, and the F-1 trucks were lauded for their “Million Dollar Cab” design that was wider, longer and taller than earlier models. A new cab suspension system was supposed to make the trucks quieter and smoother.

In front, a recessed horizontal pattern grille with five bars was stretched between the set-back headlights. Early production trucks had had a tan mounting plate around the headlights. Argent silver was used later in place of the tan and later production vehicles had Argent silver grille bars with red stripes. All had black wheels.

The half-ton pickups had 45 cubic feet of loading area in the beds, which were 6-1/2 feet long and made with all-steel bottoms and tailgates. Power was supplied by a base 226-cid flathead six-cylinder rated at 95 hp, although buyers could also get the flathead V-8 rated at 100 hp. A three-speed transmission with floor shifter was standard, with an optional four-speed also available. Inside, driver ergonomics were improved with an adjustable bench seat, a more horizontally mounted steering wheel and a simple dash cluster that showed a round speedometer on the left and four small rectangular gauges to the right.

Drenzek’s truck carries the six-cylinder engine. He has resisted any temptation to upgrade to a V-8, or add any other non-stock items for that matter. “It’s pretty much a bone stock truck out of the factory,” he said. “It does have a rear bumper, which I believe was an option … It does not have a radio, but at some point somebody drilled a hole for the antenna on the fender … It does have a second wiper, which was an option, and it does have front center-mounted marker lights, which I believe was an option. That’s pretty much it. Everything else is pretty stock. These trucks were pretty simple. It doesn’t even have a heater.”

There are no exact numbers showing how many F-1 half-tons were produced, but Ford cranked out about 143,000 of the Bonus Built trucks for the model year. It’s doubtful too many of those had longer slumbers than Drenzek’s truck after its early duty as a plumber’s truck. He has tried to help the old Ford make up for those 40-some years of idle time by driving it frequently in recent years and using it as his “daily driver” hobby truck.

“It’s just a nice driver and I get in there and pump the gas a couple times and it’s running and I’m off down the road,” he said. “It’s the truck of choice. When I go anywhere, I usually take that truck. A few of the guys who are friends of mine always ask why I don’t drive the other trucks. I just always take this one. You know how you have a favorite pair of shoes? That’s kind of what this truck is to me. It’s just an old pair of shoes … It’s just a fun truck to drive, and you get the thumbs-up everywhere you go. It’s just very nostalgic. It only let me down one time. On my way to breakfast one time … it just went dead. The battery was done. That’s all it was — and when I broke down, I was right in front of a battery store!”

As humble pickups go, Drenzek’s truck has actually gained a bit of celebrity status in recent years. The ’48 was used in the filming of the movie “Margarine Wars,” starring Doris Roberts and Robert Loggia. “The producer had the idea to use the truck to haul an 1,100 lb./7-foot-long dairy cow in the bed, which was not going to happen,” Drenzek recalled. “There was too much cow and not enough truck.” Still, the truck got some screen time, along with its 1955 Chevy stablemate. The F-1 was also used as a model for a charity calendar to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Originally, Drenzek admits he didn’t have any plans to make the 1948 Ford a keeper. He figured it would come and go after a few years like so many of his other four-wheeled toys. His plans have changed, however.

“I’ve had it three or four years now, and part of me says, ‘Move along, it’s time to move on to something else,’ but it’s like, gee, every time I get in this truck I think, ‘I can’t sell this truck!’ It’s like part of the family now. I’m going to keep it and enjoy it.”

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