My daughter Sydney, 16 at the time, wanted to get in on the fun and rebuild a classic vehicle in anticipation of getting her driver’s license. We talked about a few options – I suggested a Mustang, but like her dad, Sydney gravitates toward trucks.  

About five years previously, I heard about a 1961 Ford Unibody stored in the area and I got to know the owner. These Fords are relatively rare, especially ones in reasonably good shape. 1961 was the first of three years Ford made this iconic pickup truck in response to Chevy’s El Camino, with the bed and the cab in a single piece.

The truck was a project vehicle and wasn’t running. The owner eventually asked if I wanted it, and we struck a deal. Fast forward … the truck had been sitting in my storage for several years – it was now my long-term project vehicle, but it wasn’t on the front burner. When Sydney and I shifted our discussions to truck options, I knew we had the ideal father/daughter project already in storage! We brought it out and she fell in love with it.

We started taking the Unibody apart to look more closely at what we had. When we pulled the body off the frame, we were thrilled to discover the original chassis had already been replaced with a full, custom-built Heidts chassis along with Wilwood brakes, stainless steel control arms, and rack and pinion steering. The chassis had some surface rust because it had been sitting for a while but was otherwise in very good shape.

We had the chassis cleaned and powder coated. We installed a 6.2-liter V-8 engine from a 2011 Ford Raptor I had been saving for a project like this. Sydney preferred to drive a manual transmission, and we installed a Tremec TKX five-speed.

This is a work in progress. The more time we spend with it the more Sydney is into this project. I’ll be helping her install a new fuel tank, Dakota gauges and more. The truck still has its original primer coat, and Sydney plans to leave it in that condition for now as she saves up money to update it.

Sydney won’t let this project drag on, though. She’s anxious to get her summertime, drive-around truck on the road to show and race. You may even see Sydney and me go head to head at Rocky Mountain Race Week sometime soon – she (my former crew chief) in her ’61 Ford Unibody and me in my ’57 Ford pickup. Don’t bet against her!

In the meantime, be sure to check back here for updates on this project!