Moraga resident Gordon Nathan has a love for old Fords that started with a 1930 Ford Model A Coupe he restored. He proudly drove it with his wife and daughters until his daughters got to be teenagers and refused to ride in the rumble seat any more because it messed their hair. So he did what most fathers would do: He sold it and had no car project for a number of years.

After he retired from his job as a California State Automobile Association manager in 1996, he was looking through the Sunday paper and saw an ad for a very rough 1931 Ford pickup. His wife, Gail, said she liked those models with the fat fenders, so Nathan naturally assumed that was her approval to buy the old truck.

The truck was in Lafayette under a tarp and had last been registered in 1961. "Prior to that," Nathan stated, "the truck was used on a ranch or farm in Lodi. I paid $2,500 for the nonrunning truck, but I didn't want the frame or the engine, I just wanted the body."

He was able to sell the frame and running gear for $500, reducing his investment to $2,000. But that was only the beginning. He doesn't want to reveal his total investment, but said the vehicle is insured for $40,000.

The original factory body consisting of the cab, the bed and front fenders was professionally redone and the hood was custom made to accommodate the 351 cubic inch Cleveland Ford V-8 engine.


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The 195,000-mile donor engine was from a 1971 Ford Torino that was the Nathan family car. The engine was rebuilt by Tim Morgan's Machine Shop in Walnut Creek, and it now generates about 400 horsepower.

Nathan also took the rear end and the FMX automatic transmission from the family Torino as well.

The frame with independent front suspension and coil over shocks in the rear is custom made by Roy Brizo's Street Rods in South San Francisco. It has a General Motors tilt wheel working with a Ford Mustang rack and pinion steering front end. It's really a 1931 Ford but uses a 1932 Ford grille, as it made a smoother look.

The exhaust system had to be custom made as well as the drive shaft, since the dimensions are more compact. Space gets a little tight in the engine compartment when putting a V-8 engine where a small four-cylinder used to be.

Nathan showed me a Coca-Cola cooler that appears to be casually placed in the bed of his truck. He opened the lid and showed me it actually is the battery compartment for the vehicle.

Another space problem is the gas tanks. Nathan installed two 6.5-gallon tanks under the cab, each with its own filling cap. There is a switch to change from one tank to the other. Gas mileage is not a strong feature, as Nathan reports he gets between 15 and 17 mpg.

This was no short-term project. Start to finish it took about eight years. Finally, all the parts were finished to perfection; the body was in pieces and Nathan put it all together.

I'm willing to bet that most readers would never guess what comes next. He takes it apart! Why? I asked.

He explained: "Before you paint it, before you do any powder coating you want to make sure things are fitting well."

He took it apart and put it together six times before he was convinced it was perfect. Once satisfied, it was almost ready to be powder coated and painted. But wait -- before that is done, all the hoses and brake lines have to be removed again so the surface is smooth for the powder coating.

Just because you like old vehicles doesn't mean you don't appreciate modern improvements. Nathan's '31 Ford pickup has disc brakes, power windows and air conditioning in addition to the original swing-out vented windshield. The interior is period correct with the mohair seats. But where Ford used a vinyl roof cover, Nathan used the convertible top fabric from Mercedes-Benz.

Nathan is a member of the National Auto Museum in Reno, which is the successor to the Harrah's Car Museum. He was invited to enter his '31 Ford pickup in a hot rod meet. And while the first year he received many complimentary comments about his vehicle, he won no prize.

"My wife said, 'I'll bet if you put flames on the front,'" he said, "'you'd have a winner.'

"Gail selected the type of flames she thought would look best, which proved to be the winning touch as we won Judges' Choice Award the next two years."

Could that be the reason why Gail's car and the '31 Ford get the garage space while Nathan's wheels sit outside?

Have an interesting vehicle? Contact David Krumboltz at mobopoly@yahoo.com.