Trucks of a Lifetime: 1978 Ford F250 4X4

As much as I love the idea of doing a semi regular chronicle of the relatively few vehicles that I’ve owned, I never seem to get it done regularly unless you consider between 3 and 6 months “regular”. My adult life ownership history has been a series of Ford trucks: A 1972 Ford F100 2WD,  1986 F150, 1995 F250 and a 2003 F350 Crew Cab. I’ve decided to skip the next one chronologically, as I still own it but don’t have a lot to say about it.Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic truck. The 2012 Ford F350 Diesel Crew Cab does everything I need it to, and more. Reliable, quiet, smooth riding but entirely devoid of much personality. It’s my daily driver and when I bought it gently used in 2015, I decided to do my best to give it an easier life than my other trucks. Enter the next truck.

September 2015, walking our youngest daughter to the first day of school. On the way back I detoured down a side street near my house as I was on the phone, and the traffic headed to the nearby high school was very loud. And I found this.

Yes, that is pink. Asking price $1500

I texted my wife a photo of it, and said that I’m probably going to buy it and that night, I did. 1978 F250 4X4. It had the much loved 300-6 and a four speed which pretty much sold it for me. $1000 and it was mine. The idea was to have a second truck I could just drive and not worry about, and one that wasn’t 23 feet long and impossible to maneuver on tight logging roads.

The previous owner used it as his daily driver until buying something newer. It was originally delivered to a large British Columbia based highway contractor as a cab and chassis, and had the work box installed new in a Vancouver BC suburb. It detoured through a small nearby town as a city works truck and then to the previous owner. It has a 300-6, Dana 60 in the back, 44HD in the front and the 4.10 gears do not do the 300-6 any favours on the highway. It has the NP205 Transfer case, NP435 4 Speed with the granny low gear and open diffs front and rear. Pretty much it. It was as plain as plain could be, a typical fleet spec truck. The interior was originally highways yellow but the truck had been painted maroon inside and out, then the exterior gradually faded to brown-ish. It came with five instrument clusters so I have no idea of the actual mileage.  I bought it at 44,000 miles and it now has 27,000 kilometers showing.  I’m going to guess the actual mileage is a big number.

I took it home and did the usual. Cleaned it up inside (with a pressure washer) and removed some suspect wiring. Two shocks were only attached at one end, so that needed fixing, and it needed a battery and few other odds and ends. The previous owner assured me the front end and steering had been done recently, and it had. Overall it was mechanically solid, with a pretty rough body. It had and still has a 3 inch  body lift to match it up to the aftermarket box.  The Flintstone floor boards would need attention before long but within a day it was ready to go. So I drove it, as is, and I just enjoyed it.

I had to chain up to get out and then it was all downhill from there

This was around the time I started following Curbside Classic.  The CC philosophy of an honest older daily driver still earning its keep appealed to me and that’s how I used the truck. I used it for dump runs, for firewood, snowmobiling, Search and Rescue (on the second day of ownership I took it out all night on a search for a missing fisherman, who was found safe). I didn’t need to wash it or lock the doors or even roll up the windows if I didn’t want to. We used it for Sunday drives and we went back and explored some lakes and roads I hadn’t been to since my 1986 F150 days, almost 20 years prior.

That first winter I pulled it off the road for a month and fixed a few pressing issues. Leaking fuel tank, door hinge pins, aforementioned floor boards, new-used seat, and welded up some of the more egregiously ugly holes in the box. This truck had been used, and I mean well used. I had never seen leaf springs actually worn out. The top leaf on the drivers side was worn to half the thickness where the one below contacted it. When I cut the U-bolts to remove the spring pack, both left and right spring packs fell off in three pieces and had been held together by the U bolts. It rode a lot better with one piece leaf springs after that.

A wet and muddy Sunday getting firewood for the winter cabin

Then I just kept driving it.  That summer our older kids (twins, 14 at the time) learned to drive it on the logging roads and learned how to shift a manual transmission and use four wheel drive.  The truck did well with that despite a few brushes with logs, branches and ditches and they both did very well learning to drive on sometimes steep gravel logging roads with high-consequence terrain typically on one side of the road.

I continued to fix it up bit by bit. A winch was added, dual batteries, some lights, just little jobs to make it a better truck. Fast forward two years and the rust was really becoming bad. There was a mysterious clunk when you hit a bump coming from the right front corner which I guessed was a cab mount but I didn’t want to know just then. One fender broke loose from a creek crossing detour and a healthy door slam the last winter caused one cab corner to become detached from the cab. Time to actually fix it up. Like most projects, I started small and it snowballed, but mostly in a good way.  I won’t chronicle the whole project as there was a lot of work put into it in three months.

The summer prior I had purchased a parts truck to donate a cab and some other components. I didn’t want my truck down for as long as it would take me to fix everything, so I fixed the donor cab and doors and did a swap to save time.  The 1979 F150 donor was actually a pretty nice truck itself, but hid some rust pretty well until I got into it. I patched the floors, roof corners, and did some very extensive rust proofing, painting and sealing. The cab turned out well and I added a mix of new and repaired doors and fenders.

This F550 Service Truck has been very useful for these projects

While I had the cab off I replaced the clutch, as two summers of teenage driving lessons had pretty much taken care of that. For $150 and the hour it took me with the cab removed I thought it was a good investment anyway.

The repaired “new” cab went on and the truck went over to our friend’s body shop which he generously let me use for a weekend. It had been 21 years since I painted a truck in that same shop and many years since I had done any painting to speak of. Thanks to my brother in law who supplied me with enough paint to do it twice, I had a backup plan in case I forgot how to paint the first time. Overall it turned out pretty good. I trailered it back to our shop and began reassembly.

I was very pleased with the finished product. I went into it thinking I would just swap the cab, spray it flat black and carry on. In the end I’m glad I did what I did and I’m hoping it lasts. I like the truck and it gets lots of attention. I put it in a couple of car shows with my Dad and his ’68 Torino convertible and although I clean it up for the show I make sure it looks like a driver and not a show queen. The paint colour is Quicksand, a newer  Toyota color that looks different depending on the light.


Last fall, with the new chain hangers and headache rack installed

I’ve got another project now that I’m just starting but I really, really enjoy this truck. I like going off road, I like cruising logging roads, working with it, just driving it anywhere I can. I set it up for towing with a custom hitch and trailer brakes and use it occasionally to tow a large flatdeck trailer, our boat or the travel trailer (although not very far).  I like the challenge of working the 6 cylinder with a heavy load behind it as it is so completely different from my modern diesel truck.

My wife drives it whenever she can, and she loves it too. When our son got his drivers license this past fall his first solo drive was in the truck, and now our youngest is up next to start back-road driving lessons next summer. With a day job consisting mostly of paperwork, computers and email, this truck has provided me a sense of accomplishment and visual progress along with the feeling that comes with resurrecting a hard working truck that was probably headed to the crusher.  I’ll be a while with the next project, but have a few more vehicles to talk about in the meantime.