There’s a lot more to Justin Lilly’s ’51 F-1 than the sleek, sculpted classic you see on the next few pages. Twenty-two years ago, Doug Lilly, Justin’s dad, was driving this very F-1 when he was dating his future wife, Shawn. Unfortunately for the truck, it was parked in 1981 and languished until Justin was old enough to take interest in it and begin its restoration. Justin and his grandfather bolted in a new engine and were beginning on the bodywork when it became apparent that the condition of Justin’s lungs were going to keep him from participating in every aspect of the build. Justin was born premature, and as a result, developed Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia, or BPD. BPD is a form of lung disease that can drastically reduce lung capacity. In Justin’s case, his reduced lung capacity meant that working with solvents and chemicals was out of the question.
When Justin was 14, his family came into contact with the Michigan chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation, in hopes of reaching Justin’s dream of rebuilding the Ford. For three years, Make-A-Wish searched for a shop able to dedicate the time and resources necessary to make the wish come true, but the budget wouldn’t cover the vast amount of work the truck needed. True to its promise, the foundation didn’t give up, and finally found Washtenaw Community College (WCC). WCC’s Auto Body Repair department and its Custom Cars and Concepts department had the facilities necessary, so it took on the job.
WCC is a rarity. Its teachers and students actually build high-end customs, hot-rods, and muscle cars from the ground up. Its clients include General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler; which is convenient because WCC is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just a few miles from Detroit. But, even for one of the top automotive colleges in the country, the budget of the build caused some hurdles. With only $5,000 from Make-A-Wish, WCC began fundraising and spreading the word about its project. Work had to be put on pause a few times when money ran short, but during the course of the 18-month build, more than $30,000 dollars was raised to get parts from manufacturers who often donated parts or sold them for cost, or less.
The sheetmetal from the ’51 was in such bad shape, WCC told Justin it might be easier to find a different truck to start working on. However, once they realized how important it was for Justin to keep this truck, which had been in his family for so long, they tallied up what could stay and what had to be purchased.
A ’48 truck cab was used for the greenhouse and part of the cowl. With the new metal welded into place and looking almost like a truck again, the top was cut off. With some help from the legendary Gene Winfield, the team at WCC chopped the top 2 inches, but kept the same rear window height. Bob’s Classic Auto Glass stepped up and supplied tinted glass to fit the cab’s new profile. Most of the remaining body pieces came from Pro’s Pick, including a new steel bed, tailgate, roll pan, tonneau cover, and running boards. Pro’s Pick also supplied fiberglass fenders, both front and rear, but they didn’t just bolt them on.
According to Gary Sobbry, the department chair of the Auto Body Repair and Custom Cars & Concepts, “the front fenders were extended in the cowl area to delete the filler panel located between the lower cowl and fender.” The rear fenders were widened 2 inches to cover the 12-inch wide rear tire that was planned for the Ford. To get Justin’s vision of a sleek hot-rod, the door handles, bumpers, drip rails, and fuel door were all removed by the students. In place of the bumpers, students installed a roll pan with LED lights for the rear, and a handmade valance for the front. Other exterior modifications include a custom fiberglass hood from Fairlane Company and Auto-Loc suicide door hinges and bear-claw latches that were added after the doors were reinforced. Ford aficionados will quickly notice the ’51 grille was modified along the way. Headlight buckets were frenched into the center of the grille, and the grille teeth were shortened to float in the grille opening.
Thanks to the hard work of Ray Evans and dyno-tuning at Paul’s High Performance, the blown 4.6L puts out 540 hp.
Next, Gary Sobbry’s autobody crew took on the challenge of painting the truck PPG DCC 9000 Black, and they sprayed it on every facet of the truck before dousing the body in clear. When the body was back from the paint booth and buffed to a high gloss, Steele Rubber weatherstripping was installed to seal the doors and hood, and a Painless Wiring harness connected all of the important electrical components.
If you can tear your eyes away from the body and take a look at the wheels, you might recognize them from another high-performance Ford. The crew at WCC painted a set of Ford GT
wheels gloss black to match the truck. Look just behind those wheels and you’ll notice SSBC disc brakes. The rest of what lies under the sheetmetal is equally cool. The factory frame was tossed for a complete Fatman Fabrications unit, with Mustang II arms and spindles and QA1 coils up front. The rear also uses QA1 coils, but this time on a Ford 8.8-inch rearend, hung from a Fatman Fabrications four-link and Panhard bar that was welded into the custom rectangular-tube chassis. A 6-inch notch by fabrication leader Joe Ortiz at WCC allows the truck to sit at the ride height you see here. Aside from the parallel four-link, the rear of the frame also holds a 20-gallon brushed-aluminum fuel tank, fabricated by the students, as well as an Optima battery that mounts to one framerail. The suspension, as well as the rest of the truck, used Gardner-Wescott fasteners throughout.
1951 Ford F1 Pickup dashboard
Now, onto the heart of the truck. Open the custom Fairlane Company hood and you won’t find an ordinary 302 or 351 here. This engine came from the same place as its 8.8-inch rearend: a race-prepped Crown Victoria. The Crown Vic was built by Ford to run in the One Lap of America, a race series that challenges car builders to build a vehicle capable of driving their cars in a grueling road trip with stops at race tracks along the way. Ford donated the entire drivetrain, including the 4.6L engine, four-speed automatic transmission, and driveshaft. The power and drivability of the 4.6L “Terminator” motor was a perfect choice for both the Crown Vic, and the F-1. With the help of overdrive pulleys, the Kenne Bell supercharger adds 15 psi of boost to the engine to wring out 540 hp and 520 ft-lb of torque. Considering the amount of steel that was replaced by fiberglass, you can imagine what those 540 horses can do in this truck. Ray Evans, John Heider, and Dev Saberwal, whom are all from Ford, helped with the install of the engine and 4R70W transmission, including the engine wiring.
We mentioned many people donated their time and/or products for this build, the interior was not an exception. Just one example: Toys for Noise helped get Alpine and Rockford Fosgate audio components to fill the custom center console that the students built. Bass thumps from 12-inch Alpine Type-R subs behind the seat, while RF separates deliver the mids and highs from the kick panels and upper cab corners. The view from the Sparco driver seat is one of a custom hammer-formed black dash and aluminum, pure hot rod. A Grant steering wheel and ididit column match the Lokar shifter and pedals and the custom Classic Industries gauges that feature WCC logos. The Alpine CDA-9883 head unit was mounted into the glovebox to keep the custom dash uncluttered, and faux leather and ostrich covers the headliner all the way down to the black-loop carpet for a sleek interior. WCC gives praise to Mike Carr Custom Upholstery in Homer, Michigan. They were able to complete the entire upholstery job from seat to doors to headliner in just two weeks.
Goodyear donated tires to fit the Ford GT wheels, 18 inches in front and 19 inches in the rear.
We didn’t get to meet Justin, but all of the guys at WCC we did meet were happy to be working on the build. As far as we’re concerned, anyone who wishes for a classic truck is our kind of guy. If all goes to plan, this truck will have traveled to several auto shows by now, wrapping up at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where it will finally be delivered to its deserving owner.
The Washtenaw Community College Team Leaders:
Gary Sobbry: Department Chair, Auto Body Repair and Custom Cars and Concepts
Joe Ortiz: Lead Tech, Fabrication Leader
Tim VanSchoick: Lead Instructor, Crew Leader
Jay Mosquera: Lead Tech, Paint Leader
Bob Lowing: Senior Instructor, Body and Mechanical Leader
Scott Malnar: Senior Instructor, Body and Mechanical Leader