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Long-term love: Russ McIntyre’s 1932 Ford pickup

20 May 2016


From sedan to wreck, to dog kennel, to over-powered pickup, this ’32 Ford sure has a hell of a story to tell!

We all love to hear of long-term projects that, after years in the build, finally hit the road. For some, the build took a long time because of a lack of funds; for others, life got in the way, with businesses, marriage/s, kids, and so on, and the project got shelved until life got back on track. For Russ McIntyre, a combination of work, life, and just having too many other cars he wanted to build meant this 1932 Ford pickup project had to wait its turn. Originally purchased when Russ was in his early 20s, it was to take three decades for him to finally finish it. 

The history behind the build goes back a whole lot further than that, though. As far as Russ is aware, it starts back in the 1960s, when a mint-condition 1932 Ford sedan was smashed in the side and practically written off. This made the car only good for scrap, as, back in the ’60s, these early Fords were still commonplace and certainly not worth saving. Ford V8 sedans and coupes were often seen being thrashed around the dirt tracks and speedways of New Zealand, and four-door sedans were definitely not sought after or treasured. 

The ’32 was relegated to the junk pile, but a Wellington hot rodder saw beyond the damage and, over the next couple of years, cut the sedan down, converting it into a pickup, removing the damaged body section and the two surplus doors along the way. While he was at it, he dropped the roof a few inches. Hitting the road in 1968, still fully fendered and with twin exhaust stacks up behind the cab, the little truck was soon clocking up the miles around the lower North Island. In the early 1970s, it moved to Levin, where the new owner drove it around for a few years before pulling it apart for a re-power. The flathead engine and a few other parts were sold off before the owner lost interest entirely and sold the rest. 

The remains of the pickup changed hands a few times over the next decade, with the cab even being used as a dog kennel, before Russ acquired it way back in 1984. We imagine that back then he never dreamed it’d be another three decades before it would hit the road in anger again!

Those who know Russ understand he is a busy guy, and, after building a successful business, he now works hard at his passion of building, rebuilding, and modifying cars for others at his current home-based business American Car Maintenance & Enhancement (ACME), which specializes in American cars and hot rods. In addition to building cars for his customers, Russ has also built some pretty staunch cars for himself over the years. Through it all, his little pickup basically sat dormant in the background. It was Russ’s ‘one day’ project, waiting for the time when it would actually get some serious attention. 

A steel-bodied car that has been on the roads in New Zealand is a big deal nowadays, and Russ has kept the registration live and on hold all this time, knowing this should make it easier to get it all legal. Russ even has the old declaration paperwork from 1992, when it was mocked together and set up as a roller. Sadly, with all the changes that have been made, that paperwork is largely redundant now; otherwise, the registration process would have been a breeze. However, those changes have made this car a proper hot rod and were worth the extra effort. 

During the build of Russ’s blown ’32 coupe, a few of the parts from the pickup got robbed and reused, and a few bits were also sold off along the way. This meant that, when Russ finally found the time to get stuck into the pickup a couple of years ago, he made the decision to start again virtually from scratch, retaining not much more than the cab from his original purchase. Then again, to be fair, there wasn’t much else left. 

Russ’s plan was to build the little pickup as a traditional hot rod, with emphasis on the ‘hot’ — meaning that a small-block engine was never going to cut it. Helping Russ’s decision was his history of having strong big block Chev engines — he had used them in his ’55 Sports coupe; wife Karen’s old ’69 Camaro; and, of course, the 600-plus–horsepower blown engine in the couple’s current ’32 coupe. 

The engine chosen was a 454, which was built by friend Steve Benge using only the best gear. Steve started with a four-bolt truck block, to which he added a GM steel crank, Eagle rods, and a set of Ross pistons. Steve assembled everything to perfection before adding a pair of 1969 oval-port Camaro heads on top. These received some gentle porting before installation and were matched to the Weiand stealth intake and crowned with an 850cfm AED carburettor. A Competition Cams roller bump stick was chosen for the engine. Called the ‘Thumper’, this engine’s idle certainly lives up to the name. A Mallory distributor and MSD ignition unit provide the fire, which, in turn, has resulted in an estimated easy 500hp and 440ft·lb — more than enough to put the ‘hot’ into this hot rod.

With this sort of power on tap, using an 80-year-old chassis just wouldn’t make sense, so Russ had Ed Junior put together a new reproduction frame for him — something that would be capable of taking the torque he would be throwing at it without becoming a pretzel. 
Even though Russ loves the handling of his coupe, with its independent suspension, the front end of the pickup had to be traditional rod, which meant it needed an I-beam, and four bars would be the only way to mount it. Sure, drum brakes would have been more traditional up front, but with all that power, and the way he likes to drive, Russ figured discs would be the better option. Out the back under the tray, parallel four bars with a Panhard rod were used to locate the narrowed Ford nine-inch diff, along with a set of QA1 coilover shocks.

The big Ford rims complement the front discs beautifully, and a GM master cylinder and an eight-inch booster were fitted, along with an electric vacuum pump to complete the braking system. 

A Walker heavy-duty radiator was fitted to keep the 454 cool, and, as additional insurance, a 16-inch electric fan was added. Russ plans on this pickup being a driver, and the prospect of overheating while cruising in traffic or at Beach Hop is something he just cannot tolerate. Being an engineer and fabricator, Russ had no trouble constructing the headers and exhaust system that tucks up out of the way under the tray, and he and friend Kris soon had the chassis wired and ready for the cab to be trial fitted. 

Russ reckons the right foot is the best form of traction control, but, as a safeguard, an MSD rev limiter was also wired into the ignition. Being the perfectionist he is, Russ has spent many hours on the chassis, with a myriad of little custom touches and bracketry — to locate the transmission cooler, wiring, plumbing, fuel pumps, and so on — turning the completed chassis into a piece of art. It is almost a shame the body and tray had to be fitted over it, as no one will ever see the quality of Russ’s workmanship. 

With the rolling chassis rapidly coming together, it was time to lavish some attention on the old truck after its long hibernation. Like the chassis, the body has received more than its fair share of attention. Chris Stanley and Simon Tippens shared the duty of getting the 50-year-old panel work looking its best, fabricating a new floor, fitting a Bitchin Products recessed firewall, and adding many other little touches along the way. Miles at LJ Smits mixed up the custom ‘poo brown’ paint for Russ, and Dean Coley applied it before adding some neat striping touches to finish the job. 

The interior is fairly Spartan by modern standards but has everything a proper hot rod needs, with the four-point roll cage tucked in nice and tight to the body, Bomber seats on the floor, and a set of Stewart Warner gauges in the original ’32 dash — everything as it should be. Even the Grant steering wheel looks correct, and only the very observant would notice that the steering column is an Ididit hot rod–style unit, fitted with an in-line electric power-steering set-up. Traditional rods can still have the odd luxury, after all! 

After a relatively quick two-and-a-half-year build, the old ’32 moved under its own power this year for the first time in three decades — and move it certainly can, with the engine living up to expectations, its loud and loping idle just screaming hot rod. Add to this the big-and-little tyre combo and chopped cab with perfect rake, and Russ has created exactly the look he was after. From the initial drives, the ’32 seems to be doing everything more or less as it should, and it certainly performs well for a fresh build. 

As this is being written, Russ is putting the ’32 through the final stages of the certification process. After decades of owning the vehicle, Russ and Karen are certainly looking forward to clocking up plenty of miles in it. 

1932 Ford pickup

  • Engine: 454ci big block Chev, steel crank, Ross pistons, Eagle rods, Comp Cams Thumper roller cam, 1969 Camaro oval-port heads, Weiand Stealth intake, MSD ignition, Mallory distributor
  • Driveline: TH400 transmission, shift kit, TCI 2500rpm converter, Ford nine-inch diff, 3.5:1 Positraction head, Currie axles
  • Suspension: Four-bar front, transverse leaf spring, Bilstein shocks, parallel four-bar rear, QA1 coilover rear shocks
  • Brakes: GM front discs and calipers, Ford drum rear, GM master cylinder, eight-inch booster, electric vacuum pump
  • Wheels/Tyres: 15×6- and 15×8-inch Wheel Vintiques rims; 165/80R15 Hankook front tyres, 275/75R15 Kumho rear tyres
  • Exterior: Two-door conversion, roof chop, custom tray, custom Spies Hecker paint
  • Interior: Bomber seats, four-point roll cage, Stewart Warner gauges, Grant steering wheel, B&M shifter
  • Performance: Untested
  • Owner: Russ McIntyre
  • Age: Over halfway to a hundred
  • Occupation: Proprietor, ACME
  • Previously owned cars: 1955 Chev Sports coupe, two 1968 Camaros, ’63 Impala, ’55 Chev sedan, ’57 Sports coupe
  • Dream car: Still dreaming about it — I have the next one planned, though!
  • Why the pickup? After owning it for over half my life, I had to finally build it
  • Build time: Two and a half years
  • Length of ownership: 31 years
  • Russ thanks: Dean for the many hours on the painting, Steve for the awesome build on the engine, and good mates Chris and Daryl

This article originally appeared in NZV8 Issue No. 125. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: