1935 Ford Bobber Truck: Street Rod Dreams For A Military Man

Robert Clemens spent 24 years of his life as an active member of the U.S. military. During that time, he had multiple hot rod projects but never had the chance to finish one out.

“When you’re in the military, you move so much,” he says. “I never got to finish any of them. My wife, Natalie, bought this bobber for me as a gift when I retired from military service. She knew I wasn’t about to start working on another one from scratch, but it has been a great time doing my own modifications.”

The ’35 Ford truck may have been ‘done’ when he got it, but Clemens tinkered with it quite a bit since then. “The car was built in 2010 by an Indiana custom builder named Kenneth Veale,” Robert says. “I keep working on things. I’ve got the motor out right now, doing work on it. I’m putting dual carburetors on it, changing out the cam, and doing the transmission. My wife can’t figure out why I’m messing with it. I guess you’re never satisfied if you’re not changing something.”

When Robert bought the truck, it had a stock crate engine built by Performance Automotive Warehouse. “It was bone-stock with some chrome,” he says. “I quickly added an Edelbrock Performer RPM small-block-Chevy Intake manifold finished in Endurashine and JetHot ceramic-coated headers.”

Another early modification item for Robert was a Vintage Air air-conditioning system for comfort during the summer. He also added a 3-inch stainless exhaust system with Borla stainless mufflers. “I replaced an old belt-driven fan with a new electric fan, which improved cooling tremendously, as well.”

Other engine bay improvements include a chrome master cylinder and brake assembly and ran all new stainless brake lines, which improved the overall brake system.

The transmission is a GM 700R4 from a 1987 Camaro. Robert also recently installed a new performance torque converter along with a Holley/B&M Performance shifter for smoother gear transitions. The polyurethane gas tank is of unknown aftermarket origin. He also added an Edelbrock fuel pump with all braided fuel lines and fittings.

The hot rod’s all-steel body has the roof chopped nearly 3 inches. The custom bed was handmade using oak with stainless steel. The chassis comes from a 1988 Mitsubishi Mighty Max two-wheel drive pickup. The frame remains stock-width and is modified very little to accommodate the cab, bed, and drivetrain.

Inside the truck, the seats were salvaged from a 1999 Chevrolet Malibu and a full complement of VDO gauges fill the dash. As a military retirement gift from his wife, Robert is perfecting the truck with his own touches such as a new steering column and other small interior details.

TThe taillights are a mystery brand found online on a street rod shop website. Robert liked the look of the taillights, and they get a lot of attention from the car show crowd. He jokes that he wishes he could remember who made them when people ask.

Coker Tire wide whitewalls with steel rims powder coated to match the truck are another of Robert’s additions. “It had plain black steel-rimmed tires on it when I got it,” he says. “Those wide whitewalls just made it pop.”

The front suspension is all-original to the Mitsubishi chassis. Robert chuckles, saying, “I’m tinkering again. The stock rearend is currently being swapped out for a Ford 9-inch. I’ve had that differential sitting in the garage long enough.”

Friends tease because I drive this truck everywhere. I tell them, Jay Leno always said you make a $20,000 car out of a $30,000 car and driving the hell out it. It ain’t fun if it’s sitting in the garage. – Robert Clemens

“I’m going to replace the current Mitsubishi steering column with an Ididit chrome and tilt steering unit over this winter,” Robert says. “I’ve got a buddy who is going to help with a steering wheel. We may just re-spline the one that’s in it or find a new one I like.”

He is happy with the headliner and door panels, but decided to install a floor mount stereo system in the cab. “I drive too much with the windows down to listen to the stereo, so I just put in something basic,” he says.

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All the paintwork and pinstriping was done by Jeremy Hooker of Hooker Hot Rods in Damiansville, Illinois. The paint is Victory Red basecoat and clearcoat. “I’m a big fan of Jeremy’s work,” Robert says. “I took it to a show and told him to do what he wanted with it. I said be creative, go crazy with it, and let me know what I owe you for it. He did a great job and I trusted him to make it look good. I also had him pinstripe the hubcaps with the Ford logo on it.”

He has shown the truck around the Midwest and has won multiple trophies at shows. “The best one for me is the Mayor’s Choice Award at the Mascoutah, Illinois, Fall Festival,” he says. “That was the first time I had ever taken it to a show. I drive it everywhere. I have never trailered it.”

Robert has traveled as far as Indianapolis from his St. Louis home but says a three-hour-long trip is stretching the comfort level. “I drive it everywhere, but it’s a tight fit, so you can’t drive very far,” Robert says. “Three hours is about the limit before I have to get out and stretch.”

Robert once thought about putting bomber seats in the truck. He changed his mind after he thought about the resulting problem. “You’d have to roll yourself out to free yourself from the truck if I installed those,” he says. “I don’t want to do that. It’s just not something a tall person can sit in. I’m happy with the seats as they are now. I thought I needed new seats, but one day at a car show, I got bored and started cleaning those seats. Man, they polished right up.”

“I enjoy driving the wheels off of it,” he chuckles. “The thumb-ups and comments at every stoplight are fun. The custom frameless windshield grabs a lot of attention. I’m always a little worried about that windshield when I’m driving the truck a long way. I mean, trying to fix that unique workmanship wouldn’t be easy.”

Robert is currently making a grille for the truck. “I’ve got the pattern cut out,” he says. “Now I need to do all the TIG welding, and I’m doing that all myself. Before I went into the military, I was a welder. This is helping me get back into practice doing the grille.”

The wipers appear stock but are actually an aftermarket electric-conversion kit hidden behind the panels along the headliner. One unique thing about the truck is the frameless windshield fabrication. “It takes a lot of fabricating to set in a window like that,” Robert says. “The original builder told me they created three windshields before they got one to fit right."

Though he didn’t know much about the truck when he bought it, Robert did meet the gentleman who originally had it built and enjoyed talking with him. “I met him at the big Evansville, Indiana, Frog Follies car show,” Robert remembers. “This truck was the last vehicle this guy [the builder] built before he died. He only built two trucks and this was the second one. They were both at the Follies event.”

What’s next for the bobber? “I’m planning to finish the grille and then enjoy it for a while,” Robert says. “If I go to a show and see something I like, I may do that project. This is just something I bought to have and enjoy. I drive it so I can enjoy it, but I love working on it too. I may have bought it done, but it’s not done for me.”

From all of us here at Rod Authority, a hearty and sincere thanks for your service to our country, Robert!

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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