LIFE SENTENCE – RICHARD WATKINS’ 1934 PHANTOM FORD PICKUP

Richard Watkins may have finally done his time on this phantom Ford pickup, but there’s no rest for this prisoner of hot rodding…

BY WARREN DAY, PHOTOS JOHN ANTONIW
FEATURED CRUZIN #201

Richard Watkins bought his first car when he was 13 – pretty impressive. What puts Richard a cut above is that it was not your conventional sedan, he opened his account with a 1927 Chev Sports Coupe. Just as astonishing was the price of a measly ten bucks!

Now that is some seriously cool cred. Just as astonishing is the fact he still owns it. Hot rodding grabbed him by the balls and has never let go. He’s continued collecting and acquiring cars, parts and memorabilia and even went to the extent of incorporating clubrooms when he built his current house – the one he managed and built himself. 

Most thirteen year olds don’t arrive at such a point all by themselves and in this case, it was Richard’s dad who was the major inspiration. He was a mechanic by trade with his own acute addiction to Yankee iron, Buicks closest to his heart. Together they rebuilt the ’27 engine and they acquired a gearbox and diff. The latter was brought home by wheeling two rims and tyres a few suburbs over, attaching them to the diff and wheeling it home.

In the seventies, back when kids lived outdoors, in a shed not far from his house, Richard watched from afar as the Frankenstein of Ford Customlines was being created. He saw it get a six inch channel, pancaked roof and such radically reworked front and rear ends that no-one could pick its origin. Powered by a Y block and a four speed, it was the coolest thing on the planet to the impressionable teenager. Such was his infatuation with the car, he bought it in ’76 at the age of twenty. That’s just as remarkable as the Chev seven years earlier, which now found itself parked in the corner. 

So taken with the radical custom genre he purchased another similar Cusso, this one featuring quad headlights. Eventually his mind returned to its rodding origins and the ’34 obsession was born – but he wanted a ’34 like no other. 

“In 1983, American Street Rodder built one in fiberglass,” Richard reveals. “Having seen this magazine, I figured I could build an Aussie one in steel.” 

The custom Cusso’s were offloaded and his starting point was an original chassis, cowl and sedan front doors purchased from Ian Wallace in Mildura. Thus ensued a 20 year build. 

Richard is quick to point out that the actual build time was probably around six years but life and its associated ups, downs and distractions resulted in the protracted timeline. Genetics and practical coaching from dad furnished Richard a suite of skills that now came to the fore. To get an understanding of what was required and achievable, he mocked up the parts he had and starting plotting his course ahead. One thing was immediately obvious, the front doors were going to need some proportionate length and even more obvious was the amount of fabrication work required. The more he thought how he could achieve his desired result, the more the solutions and process came to him, so he set upon his passage to pickup paradise.

First up was the chassis. He boxed the rails, fabricated a K member and crossmembers as well as setting up the four bar mounted nine inch. Rod-Tech supplied the 4” drop I beam front and four bar mounts as well as the coil overs at all four corners. Rod-Tech also supplied the pedal assembly, now partnered with a combination of P76 discs and Commodore calipers up front with Ford discs and calipers at the rear.

Now came the real fun, handcrafting half the cab and the entire tray. He started by stretching the doors six inches which sounds relatively straight forward, but when you see the curvature of the doors you can appreciate the complexity. Part of his original purchase package were B pillars which form the start of the cab rear, the rest was fabricated by Richard. Three inch exhaust was used to form the rear corners and panels were cut, bent to suit and welded to the pipe.

All four guards and running boards were acquired from Deuce Customs with the rear guards forming the basis for the owner-built tub. Under the wooden deck is a shallow storage nook at the rear, the battery up front and the polished flush mounted fuel filler is a visual centerpiece. 

The seed for the cream and burgundy colour scheme was also planted many moons ago, this time from a car Richard spotted at the ’93 Nationals in Adelaide. The chassis was painted gloss black in a local booth and once Richard had chosen a shade of Ford’s Wimbledon White, he handed the body to Paul and Ben at Custom and Classic Cars to prep the body and lay on the PPG two pack paint. 

The knockout part of the colour combo was handled by Horrie Collins who Richard chose due to his work on high end restoration projects. While tuck ‘n’ roll may not be his specialty, his work on the tilt bench and adjoining panels is stunning, as is the colour when surrounded by the off-white exterior and dash. While the hardtop material is lighter, the effect is possibly more stunning. 

Richard happily grabbed the tools when it came to rebuilding the warmed over 351 Clevo, but turned to Bruce Cusson’s Automatics when it came to revitalising the FMX automatic. Graham at Boss Automotive capped off the driveline with a 9” from a ’74 LTD, narrowed of course, packing 3.5 gears.

Good things do come to those who wait. It’s been an extremely long haul but Richard has now been enjoying his fruits of his labour at every opportunity. He hits the road as often as possible and he’s even picked up some tin ware along the way at Extreme Auto Expo. However there’s no rest for this prisoner of hot rodding, with four more started projects on the go, and that doesn’t include his original ’27 Chev!

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