IT SURE takes a lot of people to build a hot rod on your own,” jokes Michael Ahrens of his latest project, a ’32 Ford pickup built specifically for his dad, Pete. Michael has created the hot rod that his father never had. “As a young man, Dad had early Fords but never the money to build hot rods, like many of the 60s youths,” says Michael. “And he always had utes of some sort; even when he didn’t he’d cut a sedan or wagon into one!”
This article on Phil's pick-up was first published in Street Machine's Hot Rod #19 magazine, 2018
Fast-forward to 2006, where a Stateside holiday for Pete had him eyeballing a beat-up ’32 pickup at the local Friday night cruise that he frequented. Soon the old ’32 was etched into his mind, making for an easy build choice.
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Under the front is a 4in dropped Super Bell axle sporting So-Cal batwings and a stainless four-bar. Steering is thanks to an XY Falcon box
“When I heard of some ’32 pickup bodies being available about six years ago, I grabbed one,” says Michael. With the body sussed, the pickup’s direction was then agreed upon. “It wasn’t always the way, but Dad now understands where I’m coming from and was supportive of me directing it artistically.”
Next, the pair purchased a ’32 rolling chassis off good mate Geoff Western. “I knew who’d built the chassis back in the 80s, and all of the suspension, mounts and steering box were already there. We changed a lot, but that was easier than starting from scratch,” Michael says of the time-saving decision.
“We bought a shortened bed in San Diego, then a month later a stock bed – exactly what we wanted – turned up in Indiana,” Michael explains. “Luckily our friends Gen and Andy lived ‘only’ eight hours away from there, doing a 20-hour round trip to get it and drop it at the shippers in Indianapolis!”
Up front, the Windsor and C4 were sold off to make way for a Japan-built ’75 Toyota 4V engine. “We finally got around to using the Far East engine and transmission that Dad had bought from a late-90s swap meet. It’s a neat, oddball motor with Hemi heads; an alloy block with the crank up high,” Michael says of the light and economical V8. “And it looks to be in such good condition with low miles.”
1935 Ford tail-lights sit beside the tailgate, while inside the tray the wooden tonneau beams were crafted by Michael and mate Dargon before Pete stained them. A beige tonneau cover, to suit the wheel colour, was then fashioned by Peter Bray of Light Pass Motor Trimming
Behind, they’ve kept the Aisin-Warner three-speed auto, which looks like it’s never been separated from its factory coupling. This feeds back to the 80s-built, cut-down Tank Fairlane nine-inch.
Above that sits a tidy, original pickup bed that took quite a bit of sourcing, followed by many months of waiting due to the Long Beach shipping strikes. “We’d continued collecting components but were hesitant to get stuck into building without all of the major parts,” Michael says.
Fronting the ’32 grille shell is a dropped ’32 headlight bar with 7in 682J BLC sealed-beam headlights. “The BLCs were a popular headlight as a replacement for old cars that didn’t have sealed beams,” Michael says. “They would bolt them on, without painting them the body colour”
Once the bed finally landed, the project shifted up a gear. “It was all happening. We bolted the ’32 grille-shell to factory holes, which dictated the hood, in turn dictating the cab location. Thankfully there was still enough room to get the wheels sitting correctly in the arches,” he says.
Working the 80-year-old tin came next. “Unfortunately the cab had lived on its roof in a field for who knows how long. All of the usually bad bits were good, but the usually good bits were rooted; that’s the tops of the doors, and the cowl,” Michael says.
“The engine bay is practical, as the hood is always going to be on; I don’t find this 70s Japanese engine to be pretty,” Michael reckons. The firewall’s been flattened to fit the alloy engine. On the Valiant air cleaner is a ’65 Ford sticker – giving a nod to the ignition module used: “It might confuse people more than they already are!”
As his tinkering progressed, a tight completion date was soon set. “In May ’17, I decided to knuckle down and get it done for the Road Knights stand at the Adelaide Hot Rod Show in November,” he says. “We almost built the whole car, plumbed it, wired it, pieced it all together, then cranked the engine without firing it before pulling it all apart again for paint.”
“There’s no carpet or door trims, as it’s a truck; they never had those things,” Michael says. “The door pressings have such an industrial look, you don’t want to mess with that. Finding an original seat saved a lot of time and the trim on it was excellent, so why change it?”
At this point, Michael took two weeks’ leave from his mechanical day job just so that he could rock back up at the same place each day to prep the panels. “I sanded the body and did all of the filler work with guidance from Mike Bowden,” he says. ‘Kiwi’ Jo Zyzolo then laid the tint, based on Michael’s push for a traditional finish of solid colour, without clear, and no polish or colour sanding allowed. “It was off of the gun and I was happy with that,” Michael says of the Fantale Orange and black hue. “I chose that orange as the first time I’d seen it, on an SS Holden ute, my mouth hung open; it’s not a late-model colour and should be on an old, industrial commercial vehicle.”
“We wanted to sit three across the bench seat,” Michael says. “So, with persistence we used a column-shift from a manual ’46 Ford and made a spring-loaded-gate neutral safety to make it control an auto.” This sits atop a ’40 Ford column and repro ’40 Ford wheel
As the deadline loomed, Michael and his wife Tracy spent many late nights shedbound, with primary daytime help thanks to Pete and father-in-law Terry.
“I was up until 3am on the night prior to the show, managed four hours sleep, before heading back out and had the first test drive at 11am. Then we washed the truck, I had a shower and drove down to the rod show. It didn’t run great, but my lack of sleep let me think it was fine. I hadn’t even done the timing or tuned the carby!”
Stewart Warner Wings gauges fill the centre panel, flanked with ’50 Ford switches. Turn signal is off a 70s Ford truck and the heater is a late-60s Land Cruiser item with a hidden Vintage Air unit tucked under the dash. It’s finished off with lettering by Raymond P Moondog
Michael’s delirious bid to complete the ’32 earned a hefty swag of compliments throughout the weekend. “As people saw it for the first time they had really positive things to say, especially about the orange, which was great to hear for both me and for Dad. The paint scheme gets people thinking; it really works.”
A few months later it was regoed and Boogaloo-bound. “Dad drove it to Castlemaine, roaring along without it playing up, getting 20 miles to a gallon and starting up every time,” Michael says.
“Now, Dad just loves driving it around. As a retiree he has time to spend two hours chatting with strangers about the pickup, which instigates his life stories – long tales of adventure!”
“One thing I came to realise after previously having a Far East four-cylinder in the T roadster with nondescript Toyota badging on the hood, was that it caught the eye of a whole heap of different gearheads,” Michael says. “I’ve met a lot of young guys and it gets them talking, which is excellent.
“This li’l Hemi was built for the Toyota Century,” he continues. “The carby is Aisin brand, which is a copy of an early-60s four-jet Rochester carby. But I can’t really touch the rest of the motor, as all of the information is in Japanese!”
PETE & MICHAEL AHRENS
1932 FORD PICK-UP
Paint: Spies Hecker Holden Fantale orange, Deep Black
Brand: Toyota 4V V8 3.4L
Induction: Aisin four-barrel carb
Cooling: 80s Walker radiator, 14in thermo
Exhaust: Homemade 13/8in headers to 2in straight-through exhaust
Ignition: Toyota dizzy, Bosch ignition module
’Box: Aisin-Warner three-speed
Tailshaft: T roadster
Diff: 9in, LSD, 2.75:1, 28-spline axles
SUSPENSION & BRAKES
Front: Tube shocks, 4in dropped Super Bell I-beam, transverse spring, four-bar
Rear: SPAX coil-overs, parallel four-bar with Panhard rod
Steering: ’46 Ford column, XY box
Brakes: Super Bell 11in discs (f), Falcon 10in drums (r)
Master cylinder: Falcon dual-circuit
WHEELS & TYRES
Rims: International pickup centre with ’39 Chev outer 16x4 (f), International pickup 16x5 (r)
Rubber: Excelsior Stahl radials; 5.50R16 (f), 7.00R16 (r)
Terry Davis; Pete Ahrens; Tracy Ahrens; Dean Bassett; Geoff Western; Steve Vorwerk; Steve Hillman; Malcolm Morris; Peter Zachilow; Steve Hillman; Duane Jones at Kiwi Connection; Rowan at Extensive Wheel Services; Gen and Andy; Pauline at Street Rod Parts & More; Shannon Cato; Mike Bowden; Gareth Watt; Spicey Pete Spicer; ‘Captain Thread’ Dave; Romano and Mick Puntin; Moondog Ray; Aaron Bray; Peter Bray; Carly Dale; Ashley Cave; Rob Marcheson; Ben Erdahl from Lucky’s Speed Shop and Dargon