The designers of the Cab Over Engine (COE) trucks weren’t thinking of standing out at car shows when they came up with the tightly packed “forward control” front ends. There were some strict rules as to overall length on the highway in the early days of trucking, and truck manufacturers worked their cab designs around leaving as much cargo space as possible. The compact design of the COE was intended to make truck tractors shorter, to allow for longer trailers. It’s a side benefit that these trucks also look so cool, and it’s the looks of this 1947 Ford that attracted builder Tom Weston.
Tom is the kind of car guy who values individuality, and he has the skill, creativity and tools to bring one-off monsters to life in his own home shop near Traverse City, Michigan. His ’47 Ford is a prime representation of Tom’s attention to detail (and, let’s face it, mad good taste). Crowds stand around and gawk at the pickup during every event that Tom attends. It attracts attention even from people who you’d think would be too jaded to care about a local custom. TV host and car collector, Jay Leno, made a beeline straight for the pickup during a Michigan cars and coffee event. We agree with Leno on this one, Tom’s truck is hard to ignore.
For Weston, finding this particular truck was a fluke. “I had just bought a ‘51 Mercury, and several days later a ‘54 Chevy three-window pickup,” he told us. He had a built engine and transmission just begging to be installed, but for one reason or another, the two new purchases didn’t quite cut it. The “wow” factor just wasn’t there. Out of the blue, the day after Weston brought the ‘54 home, he received a phone call that changed the outlook of the entire project; “A buddy of mine caught a glimpse of this ol’ girl hidden in a swamp,” he said. The next day, Weston tugged the forgotten farm truck out of the muck, and he immediately knew that the waiting drivetrain had a home. He sold the Chevy truck and the Mercury, and got to work on the cab forward Ford.
Tom originally had nitrous in mind for the monstrous 513ci Cadillac V8 that now powers the truck, but it’s plenty powerful even all-motor. Tom started the engine build by milling and decking the block. Inside are Arias pistons hung on forged rods, while splayed main caps and a girdle help hold everything in place. The big 904 cylinder heads were treated with old school port and polishing. A custom ground hydraulic .562 lift and stage 2 1.7 ratio rockers work together to give the V8 a healthy heartbeat. Tom pillaged the MSD parts catalog for all his ignition needs, and a FiTech’s 800-hp fuel injection system replaces the old Demon carb on this thirsty 570hp motor. The engine was built primarily with torque in mind, and the Turbo 400 transmission was built to handle the 780 lb-ft. with carbon fiber clutch discs, and an upgraded sprag and sun gear. The torque converter is a custom build from Hughes in Arizona.
The rear axle is a rare find. Tom wouldn’t settle for the common 9-inch or 12-bolt. He considered, but couldn’t find a Dana 60 flanged axle, but he did find an old Halibrand Champ quick-change. After a complete rebuild with help from NASCAR driver Johnny Benson, the axle was ready to roll—or at least, make the truck roll.
For the frame and everything else, Tom went old school by designing in chalk on the shop floor and building it from scratch. The fenders took the most hammer and dolly work. “They were junk!” he says. He got them beat into shape and closed the wheel opening to better fit the 17-inch Mustang rims he planned to fit on the truck. Then the fenders were welded, leaded, extended at the front, and finally reshaped and finished. Remember that this particular pickup was pulled from a swamp, so you won’t be surprised to hear that Tom fabricated the firewall and floor from new metal.
It’s All In The Details.
A person has to make several passes around this truck to fully absorb every fine detail. It’s electrifying, really. The heart of the beast is revealed when the bare aluminum grille lifts gracefully with the click of a remote. “The grill assembly took three months and a s**t-ton of aluminum tubing to achieve the right look,” Weston told us.
All of the windows are electric, including the rear. The third brake light consists of individual red LEDs that are fitted in drilled holes and sealed into the cab, and the headlights are fabricated from an old Mack truck. The bumperettes (nerf bars) are a nod to Tom’s old VW buggy days. He also fabricated the engine cover (dog house) from fiberglass. Inside, the dash received a technology upgrade paired with a facelift. The one-off aluminum seats were machined and tediously bead rolled and cross-hatched and feature five-point harnesses.
The pickup’s box was completely hand-built; aside from the ’50 Ford tailgate and front panel. “The parachute is functional, but the wheelie bars are a fantasy,” Tom admitted.
Tom’s inspiration comes from the custom car legends: Bill Hines, Larry Watson, George Barris, and all the rest of the greats. “Anybody can build a Mustang, Chevelle or Camaro, but I’m not one of those guys,” he explained. “I strive to build crazy, never-before-seen vehicles. It’s more fun that way!”
Design and fabrication is his calling: “It’s all about the challenge of making something work harmoniously where it is not supposed to; the fitting of that odd piece and making it look coherent, as if it belonged there all along. That is what keeps me building one vehicle after the other.” To Tom, the finished work is not as interesting, and as soon as a project is complete, he’s ready to move on to the next.
Future plans include a 1952 Pontiac that is currently sitting in his shop, but building a hauler has also been on his mind for some time. A mini Japanese Cab-over is on his priority list, incorporating a Hayabusa drivetrain and some cart wheels. We look forward to seeing what’s next.