Restored red wrecker

Old Cars Weekly archive – September 11, 2008 issue

Represents First F Series Fords

Story and photos by John Gunnell

Car and truck restorers have always considered the first and the last vehicles in a series to be the most collectible. Ford’s long-lasting F-Series trucks turned 60 last year. The 2008 model wasn’t the last F-Series truck, but Milt Oppen’s ’48 Ford F-4 wrecker represents the desirable first-year F-Series truck.

The ’48 Ford trucks made headlines. They were “The most completely revamped line of Ford trucks in a decade.” The F-1, F-2, F-3, etc., were part of Ford’s “Bonus Built” line, which had 115 distinct models. The light-duty models added over the previous year represented the largest increase in Ford history. Ford also added a new extra-heavy-duty line with 2-1/2- and three-ton models.

Rear view shows the “business end” of the restored ’48 Ford F-4 wrecker. The twin-boom Holmes 490C was a very practical unit for businesses such as Newman Brothers Ford. An experienced operator could do a lot with a 490C.

 

With fresh styling, the ’48 Ford trucks had completely revised bodies. The same cab was used for both conventional and cab-over-engine configurations. It had a one-piece windshield, a lower and blunter hood with front air openings and a grille with broad horizontal bars and flush-mounted headlights. New rear fenders, when used, resembled the front fenders. Special models, like Milt Oppen’s wrecker, had custom-made rear fenders that were different.

Oppen’s F4 wrecker is a one-ton heavy-rated rig. Ford had offered a Tonner model in 1947, but in 1948, this truck became the F-3 and had a three-quarter-ton heavy nominal rating. The F-4 was a new one-ton heavy model. It was actually the same truck as the previous 1-1/2-ton Ford, although with a lower rating.

The truck came in three sections, the main one being the chassis and cab, which needed quite a bit if work. Here we see it without the hood, fenders, grille and other front-end sheet metal.

 

Ford advertised the F-4 as the “full brother of Ford heavies.” It was available with Ford’s workhorse six-cylinder inline engine or with the 8R flathead V-8 that was a virtually all-new powerplant.

The 8R replaced the venerable Model 59 flathead V-8. The 8R updates included a conventional ignition system, improved cooling and crankcase ventilation and a separate clutch housing.

The F-4 was a very attractive package for towing service operators, because its lowered tonnage rating made it more affordable, while its higher rung in the F-Series ladder made it seem like a heavier-duty truck at the same time. By changing the tonnage rating and the model name, buyers seemed to get more truck for less money.

This impression appealed to hardworking businessmen. It was like getting the best of both worlds in one package that was also a “new product.” Things don’t get much better than that — even today!

With so many moving parts, the Holmes 490C wrecker unit must have been a bear to de-rust and clean up. However, it at least looks like all the parts were there, which often isn’t the case with old road relics.

 

Milt Oppen’s F-4 started as a chassis-and-cab truck and was fitted with an aftermarket wrecker body supplied by Ford’s factory-approved supplier. A brand new Holmes 490C wrecker unit was bolted into the sturdily built, art deco styled body. It even had chrome-plated bed rails. The unit was invoiced to a Ford dealership in Winnsboro, Texas. Original lettering on the body indicated that this business was known as Newman Brothers Ford.

Oppen’s Crow Towing Service of Tyler, Texas, became only the second owner of the Ford F-4 tow truck in 2001. Crow Towing purchased it as three rusted piles of pieces. In the first pile was the chassis and cab. In the second pile was the wrecker body. The Holmes 490C wrecker unit was in the third pile.

Milt Oppen then spent six long years doing a loving restoration of the vehicle starting with the bare frame and putting the refurbished pieces back together as he worked.

Countless hours were spent doing clean up, sheet metal fabrication, bodywork, upholstery, mechanical repairs, painting and assembly. In 2007, the truck was reassembled and ready to go. It was painted bright red and lettered with Milt’s logo, name and slogan, “Need a tow . . . call 561-CROW.”

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