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GhiaMonster Reader
6/2/19 9:17 p.m.

Somewhere back in my childhood I must have seen a green 1978 F150. Logically I should lust after an OBS Chevy or GMC from watching This Old House and hearing Bob Seger sing of their durability. I grew up with a square body C10 around but that also doesn’t have the same draw for me.  I also see the early 90’s F150 as the most elemental form of truck. Ask a 5-year-old to draw a truck and they draw an early 90’s F150. Through all these other truck examples I still have lusted after a 70’s Ford for at least 15 years.  Still don’t know why, but that is where my craigslist search ends up pointed.  With 70’s trucks and SUVs becoming more popular I figured I would need to get on with purchasing one soon before the market goes above my Coors budget. 

I have an ‘05 F150 that has served well for truck things for the past 7 years but is ever rapidly returning to its natural state of iron oxide.  Last season I put a snowplow on it, sealing its fate and accelerating the upcoming demise. A new truck will be needed soon so the search has been on.  Newer trucks are way too expensive and why have something reliable when you can have something cool. 

A truck should have an 8-foot bed.  I think it should have a standard cab but if there are more people in your life I get it, go extended cab. Just stick that extended cab in front of an 8-foot box and deal with the land vessel you have just created. Exceptions are given for minitrucks as they are their own group. I know this is an unpopular opinion these days but that’s where my search for a truck starts, with the bed.

I test drove a stick shift 390 ’79 F150 over the winter and while it was everything I wanted, including being green, the rust had set in too far for something that I didn’t want to be a huge project. It would be called minor rust in NY, but to the rest of the country it was rear wheel arches, doors and cab corners. Not insurmountable but more than I wanted to deal with, knowing there would always be more lurking underneath. 

I kept up my occasion Craigslist search just for fun but due to other life stuff wasn’t thinking I was in a position to buy another truck.  Then this came up and looked like a basic, clean example. 

Since my Dad loves bench racing I sent it to him with the specific instructions “Don’t call this guy, I’m not ready to buy a truck right now. Just wanted to see what you think of this one.”  Half hour later I get an e-mail back: “I’m going to look at it around noon tomorrow.”  Well that didn’t go as I had planned.

Later that night I sheepishly ask my wife if I still had permission to buy another truck.  I did, but it opened the door to her finding another old car of her own to play with. 

GhiaMonster Reader
6/2/19 9:26 p.m.

The next afternoon I get a call from Dad after checking it out and driving around town with the proclamation “This thing is in great shape. If you don’t buy it I will.” First, he set me up with going to look at it against my wishes and then throws down a statement like that?  Well I’m not going to let him have my dream truck, guess I’m buying it.  After a phone discussion with the owner and minor haggling a deal is struck.  We make it a bit sketchy on our side by asking the buyer to hold it for over a week due a vacation starting the next day but he obliges with some cash down.  

A good time to get into the “we” of this deal.  Living in NY trucks older than about 5 years are getting into the serious rust risk category.  40 year old trucks have rust, have patch panels or came from somewhere else.  With this I point my searches to rust free places where friends and family live. Georgia, Indiana and Montana are the main places I have where it is easy to have someone check out a vehicle.  So that’s how I wound up owning an old F150 2200 miles away.  Of course, you can see how the Power Tour, Roadkill and any other road trip adventures may have also influenced an almost cross-country purchase. 

Cooter SuperDork
6/2/19 9:37 p.m.

I'm in.

Love me some old truck stories.

GhiaMonster Reader
6/3/19 6:52 a.m.

So what did I get? A 1978 F150 Ranger in some version of red with 75k miles. 4x4 with a 351M and an automatic. Operates as a truck should with only a few bits to play with before being completely operational. Supposedly cruises at 70 without drama.

The great part of this deal is that it is being driven right now by a retired guy who likes to play with cars and fix things. Thanks Dad. High beams didn’t work, but the easiest answer was the right one this time, two new sealed beams and lighting is fully operational. One of the senders in one of the dual fuel tanks is suspect. Some experimenting is underway to see which tank is which and if either gauge is to be trusted. The turn signals don’t self cancel so the wheel needs to come off at some point for a new switch. It has selectable hubs installed but is the NP203 full time transfer case. These two didn’t come together from the factory and the previous owner said he now understands why this combo doesn’t work. I plan to install a part time kit in the NP203 so will leave the hubs.

From there the goal is to drive it for a season and try not to mess with it too much. Of course, I have dreams of a more modern powertrain but will try and wait on that for at least a year. Will be keeping an eye out for a wrecked modern Ford to scavenge. The easy and decidedly cheaper answer would be to LS it, but everyone does that so I’ll probably stick with something Ford. Diesel would be cool but I don’t have a strong calling for it. Open to ideas for it.

I do need to find a spot for the spare tire, maybe upright in the bed. The tires that are on it have plenty of life left but when they go I want to stick with something fitting for the era. Tall, not too wide and with a vintage looking lug pattern if possible. The final intermediate project I would like to do is some white or silver vinyl for a factory look two tone.

akylekoz Dork
6/3/19 8:09 a.m.

Does a 351M have a Winsor block or Cleveland?  If Winsor I might go for a 351 roller block engine out of a late 90's truck, plenty of aftermarket and relatively cheap to build.  Reliability will increase also.  My coworker just scrapped a 94 that would have been a perfect donor, ran great, he just didn't want to fix the brakes.

ultraclyde PowerDork
6/3/19 8:48 a.m.

I wouldn't take the 351M out, just make it run right. They're great truck motors. Not fast, but strong and reliable. Pretty sure they use the 400 block, so not really W or C, but I admit that's an area where mu FoMoCo MoJo is weak...

Seriously, by 78 they had decent ignition systems, just get a good carb and intake, throw some headers on it and enjoy the noises it makes. If you feel REAL skippy, drop a fuel injection system on it (see the GRM Ramp Truck for inspo.)  But I wouldn't pull a 75k mile 351M, it's got WAY too much life left.

Great truck.

Tony Sestito
Tony Sestito PowerDork
6/3/19 8:58 a.m.

Beautiful truck!

I would also just work with the 351M. Like others have said, intake and exhaust mods will wake it up a bit. If you get really adventurous, maybe a cam, but that's as far as I'd go with it.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/3/19 9:01 a.m.

Good looking truck.  Check to see what's going on with the hood...the gap between it and the fender is too high at the front and too low at the back - maybe something needs adjusting with the hinges?

As said, nothing wrong with the 351M for a truck engine.  I'd leave it alone for now.  Watch for rust in the lower cab corners and around the rear wheel wells, those are common problem locations in that era of Ford trucks.

They'll be hard to find today, but you could get either an optional tachometer or a vacuum gauge that would go in that square blank on the left side of the dash cluster.

That steering wheel cover has got to go.  smiley

GhiaMonster Reader
6/3/19 11:00 a.m.

If that damn steering wheel cover is still on there it won't be within a minute of me getting in the truck.  I had to learn what a 351M was with this.  I knew the Cleveland and the Windsor but not the 400 based Modified. 

My overall goal is to have something that performs reasonably like a truck from the past 10 years so ideally AC and cruise control at some point.  I would like to go fuel injected just from the aspect of get in and turn the key compared to the first few minutes of fun with a carb. I have two other carbed cars and want the truck to be as easy to operate as possible.  The overall power level isn't too critical as long as it can do truck things without being too noticeably slow.  I drive a 4.6 powered truck right now so my standards aren't too high. The idea of a bolt on self learning system FI system has certainly crossed my mind.  Any homebuilt systems are out just on the don't make it a project aspect.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn MegaDork
6/3/19 1:06 p.m.

They were available with factory a/c but that was uncommon (at least in my part of the country.)  Having said that, if you can find a parts truck with air conditioning parts that can be harvested I think they used a different dashboard that had vents in it, so I'm not sure how easy that would be to transfer over.  It may be better in the long run to go with a Vintage Air unit or similar.

GhiaMonster Reader
6/12/19 7:09 a.m.

So the truck is 2200 miles away damn near across the country. This is part of the fun of the purchase, the resulting roadtrip that comes with it. It would actually be cheaper to ship the thing by the time fuel, food, lodging and any other wear and tear is factored in. This is irrelevant since I have always wanted to do this drive. I was planning to get a one way flight sometime in the fall and maybe have a friend join me for a quick Montana vacation then drive home. Probably go with a somewhat straight shot such as this with a detour in the middle for some catching up with folks. This will get me two new states for my list, putting me at something like 35 of 55 and I can check out Chicago. I have flown through the city a ton of times but never visited. Might go see a few of the sights from the Blues Brothers.


Here comes the hitch.  My parents have a trip out east in August and my Mom! wants to drive a 41 year old pickup truck across the country.  In August, with no cruise control or AC.  I suggested she drive the truck across town before jumping in it for several thousand miles but she tells me having just sat in the driver’s seat is enough.  Now they know this drive having done it in an ’02 F150 and another time in a ’91 Miata starting out through hurricane Sandy so there is the street cred to pull it off.  This doesn’t cure the issue that I want to make the drive as well though.  So negotiations are currently under way for who is going to make the drive when. 

One trump card would be if I can con another friend into buying another vehicle out there.  Several have expressed interest in the trip and there would be no better way to do it then with more cars.  So, the Bozeman craigslist continues to be searched and schemes discussed.  Until a solid plan comes together this build log may get sporadic updates as things get diagnosed and fixed remotely and will get some more action when a roadtrip is on, whoever may be undertaking it. 


GhiaMonster Reader
6/14/19 7:00 a.m.

Vacation plans changed for the family over the summer so the potential for the parents driving it to NY is off the table.  This is almost a relief because I have no problem dealing with myself stranded on the side of the road with an old truck, but would feel bad doing the same to my parents. I might have a work trip out to either Colorado or Death Valley over the summer. If so I’ll likely head up to Montana from there to save some flying around the country.  The downside is that it would be right in the middle of summer.  If I fly out from NY I’m thinking mid-September. A friend continues to shop V10 powered Rams out west. 

Truck updates: We now know which tank is which with it pulling from both fine and that it gets about 12 mpg.  No action from the fuel gauge on either tank is something to be addressed. 

Coolant looks good so I’m going to wait until the system needs to be opened up for some other reason before a flush.  Attempts are being made to mount the spare in the factory location on the bedside.  Big clunk when shifting into reverse. If the u-joints check out will wait to investigate the rear end until winter.  The paint will shine up well with polish but there are a lot of square feet to do. Explains why only a few panels were buffed out when I bought it. 

slowbird New Reader
6/14/19 8:59 a.m.

That's a real nice truck. My dad used to have one, in two-tone brown. I miss that thing.

theflyingtee None
6/15/19 8:19 p.m.
stuart in mn said:

They were available with factory a/c but that was uncommon (at least in my part of the country.)  Having said that, if you can find a parts truck with air conditioning parts that can be harvested I think they used a different dashboard that had vents in it, so I'm not sure how easy that would be to transfer over.  It may be better in the long run to go with a Vintage Air unit or similar.


GhiaMonster Reader
6/16/19 7:52 p.m.

To stuart in mn and maybe theflyingtee I was planning on the route of Vintage Air or a similar unit. I did look up the factory option but would rather pay the price for some more modern hardware in this case over piecing together a factory style system and making it happy with current refrigerant.  Was thinking a unit hanging below the dash with minimal vents pointing side to side. Looking to make it comfortable in NY, not survive a Mississippi summer. 

On the cruise control side there was a factory option and it had the buttons in the wheel. I like that idea and would love to go that way if parts are available at all.  Besides the brain it looks like a wheel, clockspring and maybe column along with the wiring for all that.  I could see that quickly going down the path of buying a parts truck if it had factory cruise which is not a great option in my mind. 

Anyone know of decent (doesn't have to be great) aftermarket options for an old analog truck like this? The research I have done keeps pointing me to retrofit systems for modern cars that didn't come with the option.

GhiaMonster Reader
6/27/19 4:01 p.m.

The spare tire is now bolted to the bedside freeing up some floorspace. The sill trim plates weren’t attached when purchased, now in their correct locations and the interior is cleaned up from many years of mud. Go rubber floors! Fuel gauge is inoperable on either tank and the selector switch doesn’t seem to actually select anything. Sounds like an acute lack of power or ground and since it’s always a ground problem until proven otherwise, it must be the ground. Timeline is looking like a mid-September fly and drive. Tires are from 2013 so on the verge of questionable. Certainly will be replaced by next year, but would love to put cross country miles on the old ones. Am I signing myself up for buying a set somewhere in the middle of the country if I go with old ones? Looks like one of my routes goes within two miles of Tire Rack in South Bend so there is that option along the way. We shall see.

Of course friends who are into such things think this is a cool acquisition but what’s surprising is how many non-car people are excited about an old truck and a road trip. I think most people harbor a desire to have a fun car and drive somewhere just for the fun of seeing something new. Was happy to help convince a friend who bought a car down south to drive it back instead of trailering it. Luckily it didn’t blow up so he had a good time getting to know a new project.

GhiaMonster Reader
8/7/19 7:36 a.m.

One-way ticket purchased to Montana for early September.  Fly out on a Friday, hang out with the parents over the weekend and start east on Monday morning.  There has been an added adventure to this journey brewing and it seems like it’s actually going to happen.  Several friends have expressed great interest in joining on the drive but only one has actually stepped up to the plate and bought a plane ticket.  He was also truck shopping out west for a specific Dodge and found one along the way home in Iowa.  I have a friend somewhat (100 miles) local who is going to help facilitate picking up the Dodge, storing it and hopefully giving us a couch to crash on.

So, the journey will now start out in a red ’78 F150 and add a red ’99 V10 Ram along the way.  To add to the fun the Ram is on 38.5X15’s which are certainly not a highway friendly tire. New wheels and tires shipping to Montana to be swapped in Iowa.  I’m still not sure if money has actually changed hands on the Dodge, but I do know a set of wheels is shipping to the parent’s house currently.

914Driver MegaDork
8/7/19 11:07 a.m.

I was going to say "Wow, Fonda, NY and a rust free Ford?"  Got mine from Arizona, the $1100 shipping costs would be more than that for Bondo and brake lines on one from around here.

GhiaMonster Reader
8/28/19 3:47 p.m.

1.5 weeks until this adventure starts.  Have a few road trip supplies shipped to my parents’ house in Montana already, bringing some more and will do a hardware store trip before taking off. Wheels and tires for the Dodge were shipped to Montana to be carried in the Ford to Iowa, but they still need to be mounted.  That will happen in the driveway sometime over the weekend. My Dad thinks this is a crazy plan. 

Plan is for two days to Iowa, the first stopping at Mt Rushmore because why not be tourists.  Might try to drive through the Badlands national park as well.  Motel somewhere along the way. Some paperwork needs to happen for the Dodge in Iowa so we need to show up during normal people hours.  After that the trip gets a bit fuzzy. I don’t want to commit to too much until we see how fast these rigs can cruise and how far between fuel stops. Any other off highway stops recommended along RT 90? 


914Driver: Shipping would certainly be cheaper and way easier but where's the fun in that?

Azryael New Reader
8/28/19 10:16 p.m.

This should be a fun trip!

'78-79 had the best looking front end to me from that body style.

I'd been truck shopping for something older to use as a truck, and my dream was a '73-79 C30/K30 crew cab, but those are exceedingly rare, or people want $8000 for something that's in terrible shape. My next choice was the '80-86 "Bullnose" F-series, but again, the need for a crew cab made this search impossible... I found a '96 F350 with a 7.3 from the original with around 310K miles, certainly well traveled, but a 2WD truck that's lived a good life and has always been maintained.

I've since swapped out the E4OD in favor of a ZF5 with a 1356 transfer case to convert to 4WD in the future, and it's been a trouble-free truck since. In the two years I've owned it, I've put close to 40K miles on it driving it daily.

Plans are to swap over the front clip from an '80-86 truck, but the word is that it requires the 6.9 IDI core support for the larger radiator, and that part is also hard to come by. I'm wondering if I can keep my existing core support and fabricate a means to hold the grille/light assembly and fenders.

At any rate, enough of my rambling; I'm excited to see the details of this trip!

GhiaMonster Reader
9/6/19 5:14 a.m.

On a plane bound for Montana with a bag full of tools checked.  Get to see the truck for the first time today, roadtrip starting on Monday.  Yesterday went through all the permutations of this is a dumb idea thoughts and realize that's what makes it fun.

mazdeuce - Seth
mazdeuce - Seth Mod Squad
9/6/19 5:51 a.m.

I predict a totally uneventful trip of driving a cool old truck. 

Have fun. Take pictures. 

1SlowVW Reader
9/6/19 5:56 a.m.

In reply to GhiaMonster :

Sounds like a great trip you have planned. 

Woody MegaDork
9/6/19 6:32 a.m.

Good luck, we’re all counting on you. 

ebonyandivory PowerDork
9/6/19 7:10 a.m.

I think the 351M is a tall-deck version of the Cleveland 

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