Thursday, April 25, 2024
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INTERNATIONAL APPEAL – JOE NAPOLI 1938 INTERNATIONAL PICKUP

Every now and then you come across a car that stops you dead in your tracks. It may be a full blown custom with a stance and seductive lines that sucks you in, or a traditional styled hot rod built with period correct pieces as a result of years of dedicated parts searching. It may be the exterior finish that grabs your attention covering a phantom body configuration that when combined, demands further investigation. Or it may be exactly like the pickup featured here! A minds eye interpretation of an old pickup accomplished with a host of individual artistic components that captivates onlookers at every outing. It also hauls ass! 

Joe’s conception for his creation is simple; he built the pickup around a set of wheels. 

“After doing so many little rat trucks I kept getting left with these big truck wheels,” he explains. “It was always a hassle to get rid of the wheels so I said one day that I was going to build something around a set of them. This is it!”  

To help understand Joe’s motivation to compile the countless components that complete the tough little truck, we need to step back and assess what makes the man tick. Spending a few hours in his labyrinth of purpose built sheds, workshops and personal boneyard helped bridge the gap. Not to mention the abundance of projects strewn throughout in all stages of completion. 

“I bought my first car at 15 years old,” he begins, “it was a black 1957 Chevy and it cost me $375.” Joe reiterates that the low price was about the going rate back then, how many do you want for that princely sum now? 

“I pulled it down to a bare shell and began a chassis off resto,” he continues. “My dad said if I ever get it back together again he would buy me a motor. I did and he bought me a brand new 350.”

For Joe, the completion of that ’57 was the catalyst to a lifelong passion for all things automotive. By his own admission, school was not a strong point in his quest for education and he left early to pursue an apprenticeship in panel beating. Three years in, he cut it loose for an alternative vocation which led to a string of different work environments including concreting and electrical contractor. Throughout his ever-changing job descriptions however there was one constant; his passion for cars.

“Building cars was my hobby. Friends kept at me to leave work and build cars for them… so I did. That was six years ago and I haven’t stopped building cars since. I build cars for friends because it’s my passion.” 

Now up to his elbows amongst an eclectic mix of projects ranging from four wheels, two wheels and automotive manscaping (landscaping with car parts), he embarked on upsizing his trusty old pickup with another rat rod equipped with more horses. “This is an upgrade from my old Windsor-powered truck that doesn’t like to tow. I just thought I needed a big block.”

That old Windsor-powered pickup instigated reproducing his style of hot rod truck for other people. One by one, donor vehicles were relieved of their relevant pieces to construct the desired result. As Joe stated earlier he was always left with oversized original wheels that nobody wanted. In true hot rodder fashion, Joe treads a fine line between thrifty car parts stockpiler and outright hoarder. 

“I like to use everything and this truck started with the wheels. The tyres already fitted were new and I liked them. I already had a cab, chassis and a grill, so I just got into it.”   

Wanting to achieve low down stance Joe shelled out $600 bucks for an original ’46 Ford frame that provided complementary contours compared to straight truck rails. Keeping the now boxed chassis in stock configuration, Joe added his own coil over shock arrangement to an un-dropped 1940 Ford axle behind the Morris commercial grill. Out back a fabricated four link locates an original F100 9” diff that’s been shortened, spooled and modified to accept the 10 stud wheels.  

“I always wanted to build a car with the axle hanging out the front, it’s got a different suspension from anything that I have done before,” he adds.   

Sandwiched between the new suspension is the prerequisite big block. When Joe started construction, an old 454 was destined to take its place between the rails, but due to an unforseen job cancelation the 502 became available. Not to be content with the new rat mill, additional horsepower is now provide by the 8/71 supercharger sporting twin 850 Holley fuel mixers. 

MSD supplies the spark while any unused petroleum product is ushered to the rear through owner built 3” exhaust. The healthy combination is backed by a Turbo 400 employing a 3,500 stall converter with large diameter input shaft. Shift duties are orchestrated via a very tall Lokar gear selector.  

With the stock 20” wheels now attached to their purpose built platform, Joe treated them to a clever set of cycle fenders. As a nod to the pickups former life of hauling freight, a visit was paid to Lelox Truck Company to see if they would fabricate the guards Joe had in mind. 

“I talked to the guy for a while but he wasn’t real interested, but after he understood what I was building he agreed. He did a great job and I haven’t seen anything else like it. The rear brackets mount off the diff so the guards move with the wheels allowing minimal gap between them and the tyres. It looks wild going down the road.”

As for the cab itself, it was in pretty poor condition when found. Undeterred by its appearance or pedigree, Joe sized up the potential prize and cut accordingly.  When he was done a total of four inches was removed from the roof height, three inches of decay trimmed from the bottom and it was channeled five inches over the frame. A complete new floor was fabricated to match. Finishing off the re-contoured cab is an unmodified EK Holden sunvisor that fitted straight on, and centre spear at the rear of the roof that required a little more attention.

“The spear was a swap meet find that I have seen on the rear quarters of EK’s and FC’s,” he explains, “but they are small so I think this may have come off a Caddy or something. The guy selling the pair had no idea but I thought I could use them somewhere. They were chromed before I moulded one into the roof. I tried two but it didn’t work. Beautiful things!”   

The equally unique bed that completes the package was a bush find not a barn find. “The pickup bed is from a Morris Oxford that I found in the bush. I just liked all the original lines and swages.” Once home Joe removed 400mm out of the middle and shortened the now narrowed bed to fit. The bottom edge was trimmed of all remaining rust just below the original taillight housings.

After all the bodywork was complete, Joe kicked the compressor into high gear and armed himself with a spray gun. Ironically, his professional skill as an auto refinisher is somewhat underplayed with his choice of colour palette, but we’ll let him explain. 

“I don’t like shiny cars for myself as I don’t have time to look after them. I like building them for other people, just not for me. I started with red oxide, covered it with cream and started rubbing. To be honest I got a little bit carried away rubbing through. Two pack clear seals it in and you don’t have to worry about it too much. Funny thing is when I was spraying the doors, I had them hanging up and a big gust of wind hit so hard that it knocked them onto the ground. I couldn’t believe it when they fell as they were still wet! I just thought, oh well and cleared straight over them.”

With the exterior completed, attention to the cockpit was next on the agenda. If you are expecting to see a Mexican blanket or an interior clad in alloy or metal, it’s none of the above. Good friend Scott was entrusted with owner fabricated door cards for a compete transformation in rich leather, along with the glove box lid, shifter boot and Massey Ferguson tractor seats. Stunning Porsche carpet completes the lower soft furnishings while high quality headliner round out the threadwork. 

The unusual gauge cluster is more evidence of Joe’s handiwork with steel and imagination. The original dash is augmented with exhaust tubing offcuts exemplifying his ‘I don’t like to throw anything away’ outlook. Desired cowl steering is achieved by altering a 1955 Land Rover magnesium steering box that is now polished for an under-dash highlight. The stainless sleeved column is topped with an original 1928 Cadillac steering wheel that received a fresh lick of varnish and gold flake. At the other end of the box is a swap meet speedway car pitman arm that fitted the Rover shaft perfectly, so it was staying.

In just under 12 months, Joe had constructed his replacement pickup from a parts list that not many professional builders would dare to contemplate, and at a fraction of the cost. With the help from a few mates, a couple of outsourced professionals, an understanding wife and a truck load of ingenuity, it’s an understated masterpiece. A rolling piece of art that performs as intensely as its curb appeal.    

“I like to build things different from each other and they have to be my own work, not an interpretation of someone else’s. I’m no show winning trophy hunter, I build drivers.” 

It’s a winner to us, Joe.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO. FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #175
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