Purists look away: Jack Gibson’s ’52 custom Ford Ford F-1 is packing a Mercedes diesel motor and a whole host of sacrilegious mods. But he’s not worried about the haters, he’s too busy slaying tyres…
Feature from Fast Car. Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Dan Sherwood.
You love to see it. Modifiers who start young, building excellent and mould-breaking cars, and grow up into proper offbeat thinkers with hardcore skills and imagination for days. Jack Gibson is one such person. Back in 2014, readers of our sister magazine Classic Ford were treated to the sight of his Mk1 Escort estate – a car he bought at the age of 22 simply because a childhood spent going to car shows with his dad meant that shows were in his blood, and a classic with a lot of boot space would give him plenty of room for camping gear. Following his own unique path he then set about upsetting the purists and shaking up the establishment by fitting the longroof with a home-made air-ride setup and Piaggio orange side-stripes. Setting out his stall with this fledgling project, Jack’s been putting purists’ noses out of joint ever since, his personal skillset growing to astonishing proportions as he continues to plough his own furrow in the automotive scene.
Fast-forward to 2021, and we find him in the boss’s chair at Jack’s Shack, his custom campervan and hot rod shop in Leicester. Alongside the everyday bread-and-butter of applying his extensive skills to the creation of bespoke VW campers, the business has always had a dark side, existing to quench a thirst for malevolent modification. The sign may say ‘Established 2017’, but the thread of this really runs back through his childhood. “I started building cars at sixteen, when I bought a classic Mini,” Jack recalls. “I fitted a Zetec twin-cam engine and made it RWD! Next up was the Mk1 Escort estate that I fully restored and customised, and after that I found my love for classic American trucks – which just snowballed to where I am today!”
The truck we have here has actually been in Jack’s life for many years, in one form or another. He’d first spotted it rotting away in a local field when he was fifteen, and had always fancied getting hold of it someday. That day eventually came when he was 23, five years ago, and he jumped at the chance to finally make the dream come true. The dream of buying a fully knackered old pickup that had been trying really hard to dissolve for as long as he could remember.
This, of course, is no ordinary truck. And we’re not talking about the extreme modifications – we’ll get to that – but the fact that it’s a true genesis model. Naturally the cult of the pickup truck is an all-pervading thing in America; they’re a way of life for so many, and such a stalwart of the custom scene that pretty much everything has been done to them over the years. Ford’s F-Series is a particular success story, having been in constant production since 1948 across fourteen generations. It’s consistently been the best-selling pickup in the USA since 1977, and the best-selling vehicle overall since 1981… so you can understand why enthusiasts might see the original model as untouchable. The first-generation Ford F-1, built from 1948-1952, is where it all started. And Jack’s truck, being a ’52 model, has irreplaceable trucking heritage baked right into the formula.
They’re just things though, aren’t they? And while Jack isn’t deliberately trying to annoy people with his sacrilegious modifications, it’s fair to say that he hasn’t exactly followed the concours route here. Transplanting a Mercedes-Benz diesel engine would probably be enough to have people taking pot-shots at you in Texas or Alabama, but in the damp wilds of Leicester it makes a lot of sense. After all, someone else had already buggered about with the truck anyway, and most people would have considered the rotting hulk to be well beyond saving.
“To say it was the worse for wear would be an understatement,” he recalls with a grimace. “It was running a Nissan Patrol engine and needed a complete overhaul. The original idea was start with replacing the engine and axle to get the ratios right, but after seeing some of the repairs others had attempted I felt the need to improve a few bits… at that point it just spiralled out of control, and ended up being a two-year project working nights and evenings. Once I accepted it was going to be a complete restoration, I had a clear image of where I wanted it to go.”
There’s an animalistic element at play here. The thirst for the offbeat is what’s ultimately led the truck to be nicknamed ‘The Jackal’, as it shares a number of the hunting beast’s attributes: a physique well-suited to long-distance running, aggressively bared curved teeth, a crepuscular nature that sees it being most comfortable hunting at dawn and dusk… an angry creature of surprising agility, leaping from the shadows to devour all in its path.
With the instinctive forces of its namesake, the big Ford’s future rapidly rewrote itself. Jack’s first task was to totally tear the truck down to see what was what, eradicating all traces of corrosion and fully reinforcing the chassis to cope with the power mods he was planning. Much of the one-off suspension setup was custom-fabricated in-house, incorporating a wishbone setup from a Mustang II, a power-steering rack, and a four-linked rear with an 8.8 axle. This eased the path for the new engine – and what an engine it is! Given that the Ford had already been bastardised with a Nissan derv, it was no great heartache to think even more laterally, and he opted for a Mercedes OM606 [see boxout] – a brutal turbo-diesel which, thanks to a massive Holset HX40 turbo, is now kicking out the thick end of 500bhp. The perfect setup for tyre-slaying. So with the oily bits taken care of, it was time to do something similarly radical with the body.
“The cab is now the only standard bit of bodywork remaining,” says Jack, at once energised and exhausted by the sheer amount of hard graft that’s gone into the makeover. “I stretched the bed by a foot as I love the look, then scratch-built the tailgate to keep the contours of the sides. I extended the side-steps to match the new bed length, and widened the arches front and rear by 2in, because tubbing is too easy! I wanted to keep a good-sized rear bed, and I knew I wanted a wide stance for the truck. For the front end, I built my own visor and added two teeth to the grille, then made the bonnet flip forwards and unbolt easily. And as you’ve probably spotted, I went a bit crazy with the dimple die all over the truck!”
It’s an astonishing amount of fabrication, all beautifully resolved and impeccably crafted, and that wider stance is crucial to the aesthetic. Because, you see, Jack was keen to build his own wheels. That’s right, there really is nothing he won’t turn his hand to. “I custom-built my wheels to ensure they would be unique,” he says, matter-of-factly. “They’ve been kept in bare steel, and lacquered in our bodyshop to protect them while also showing off the hours of TIG welding that went into them.”
The final piece of the puzzle was the interior, and once again Jack’s played an absolute blinder. The alloy bomber-style seats were hand-made fairly early on in the project, and over time the approach has evolved along with the truck’s changing vibes; sitting them on floating frames, he decided that weathered brown leather would be the ideal finish, and handed them over to James at AutoTrim in Leicester to do the business. While this was going on, Jack was building a stealthy hidden rollcage into the cab, and at the upper edge of this you’ll find a variety of auxiliary gauges to monitor the bonkers engine, the panel being trimmed in matching leather.
There are always ups and downs with any build, of course, and a major conceptual stumbling block came as Jack was reaching the finish line. “I gave it a full respray, and it just killed the truck,” he recalls. “I totally fell out of love with it for a few months.” But these motivational troughs are always escapable eventually, and in time he figured out a way to change the look from something he wasn’t happy with to something he adored: the simple answer was sandpaper, chewing through the new paint to create an illusion of sun-baked patina. After all those years of yearning and painstaking effort, the dream was
Jack must be feeling pretty pleased with his achievements then? “Well, y’know, my mum says I’m special,” he grins. “I guess there can’t be many others who started customising cars aged 16? And yeah, it’s quite rare to fit a highly-tuned diesel engine into a hot rod, especially here in the UK.”
This is precisely what it’s all about – following whims and fulfilling dreams with flair. So is he done, now that he’s completed this lifelong achievement? No, actually – the truck’s up for sale. “I’ve always wanted a ’57 Chevy Bel Air, since going to all those car shows with my dad as a kid,” he says. “If I sell the truck, maybe I can buy one…”
That’s the thing about dreams – they seldom exist in isolation. But with the requisite skills and passion, we can keep on chasing them.
Tech Spec: Custom Ford F-1
Mercedes-Benz OM606 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel, Holset HX40 turbo with Quickspool manifold, manual diesel pump by Diesel Pump UK, custom 4in exhaust system with wing exit 500bhp (est.)
GM TH400 3-speed auto with Ratchet shift box – built by Summit Racing (USA), 8.8 rear axle
Custom air-ride system: Air Ride Technology 3-stage kit, Mustang II front end, four-linked rear
Wilwood 4-pot calipers front and rear, drilled and vented discs, braided lines, line-lock
9x20in (front) and 12x20in (rear) custom-built wheels in lacquered bare steel, 225/35/20 (f) and 295/40/20 (r) tyres
Custom alloy bomber seats (on floating frames) trimmed in weathered brown leather, hidden tubular rollcage, auxiliary gauges mounted to ’cage and trimmed in matching leather
Arches widened 2in front and rear, load bed extended by 12in, scratch-built tailgate, extended side-steps, custom front visor, two teeth added to front grille, flip-forward bonnet, extensive dimple-dieing throughout