Tom Weston is exactly the kind of guy that would rescue a 1947 Ford COE from rotting in a Northern Michigan swamp.
He sees potential in forgotten vehicles, and has the skills and tools to put them back on the road. I’m not just talking about a standard restoration, but builds that ooze individuality and creativity.
Weston’s customs are just as unique as the man who built them. “Anybody can build a Mustang, Chevelle or Camaro, but I’m not one of those guys,” he said. Instead, he strives to build crazy, never-before-seen vehicles such as his 1947 Ford Cab Over Engine (COE). When it comes to customs, Weston has mad good taste. His inspiration comes from a long list of the greats: custom car legends such as Bill Hines, Larry Watson, the Alexander brothers, Gene Winfield, George Barris, Dean Jeffries, and Darryl Starbird.
This Pro-Street 1947 Ford COE is a prime representation of Weston’s attention to detail. Design and fabrication are his calling, and this pickup proves it.
“It’s all about the challenge of making something work harmoniously where it’s 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.”
Standing out at car shows was never a thought for the designers of the original Ford COE. The compact design that was meant to allow for more trailer room had an unintended by-product of coolness. Crowds stand around and gawk at every event that Weston attends. In fact, during a local Cars and Caffeine event hosted at the Hagerty Insurance at their Traverse City, Michigan office, Jay Leno made a beeline straight for the pickup to show his undeniable appreciation for Tom Weston’s craftsmanship.
Let’s Start From The Beginning
Finding this particular truck was a fluke. “I had just bought a ‘51 Mercury, and several days later a ‘54 Chevy three-window pickup,” Weston explained. He had an already-built Caddy 513 CID engine and transmission begging for a home, but for one reason or another, the on-the-shelf drivetrain didn’t quite cut it. “The ‘wow’ factor still wasn’t there,” he shrugged.
The day after Weston bought the aforementioned ‘54 Chevy, he received a random phone call that changed the outlook of the entire project. A friend of Weston’s caught a glimpse of the ol’ COE hidden in a swamp. The next day, Weston came to the rescue and tugged the forgotten farm truck out of the muck. It was love at first sight: He immediately knew that his waiting drivetrain finally had a home. Weston sold the Chevy truck and the Mercury and put all of his efforts into the Ford.
Weston held out for the monstrous 513-CID Cadillac V-8’s perfect home because just like the COE it now lives in, it was built to please. He had the engine milled and decked by about .80” during the machining process, and the internals were balanced and blueprinted.
Arias hypereutectic pistons are hung on forged rods, while splayed-end caps and a girdle help keep the engine together under power. Big 904 cylinder heads were treated with old school port and polishing and then fitted with a 212-cc intake and 2.02” exhaust valves.
The custom-ground hydraulic camshaft with a .562” lift, 308 duration, 108-degree lobe separation, and 30-degrees of overlap was teamed with stage 2 1.7 ratio rockers to give the V-8 a healthy heartbeat soundtrack. 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.
Weston built the engine with torque in mind. The Turbo 400 transmission has carbon fiber clutch discs to handle the 780 ft.-lbs of brunt force. The torque converter is a buffed up custom build unit as well.
Weston wouldn’t settle for the common 9-inch or 12-bolt rear axle. Since he couldn’t find a Dana 60 flanged axle in time, he stretched even farther and found an old Halibrand Champ, a rare find. After a complete custom rebuild with help from NASCAR driver Johnny Benson, the axle was ready to roll.
For the frame and body, Weston went old school by laying out his design in chalk on the shop floor and building it from scratch. The fenders took the most hammer and dolly work. “They were junk!” he expressed. Weston closed the wheel opening to better fit the 17-inch Mustang rims. Then he welded the fenders in, molded each with lead, extended both at the front, and finally reshaped and finished. The swampy marsh took its toll on the truck, so Weston fabricated the firewall and floor from fresh new metal.
A person has to make several rounds around this truck to fully absorb every fine detail. It’s electrifying, really. The bare aluminum grille lifts with a click of a remote to reveal the heart of the beast. “The grill assembly took three months and a miles of aluminum tubing to achieve the right look,” Weston remarked.
All of the windows are electric, including the rear. Weston made the headlights from those off of an old Mack truck. For the rear third brake light, he fitted individual red LEDs into hand-drilled holes and then sealed it into the cab. The front nerf bars are a nod to Weston’s old VW buggy days.
He also hand-fabricated the engine cover from fiberglass. Inside, the dash received a technology upgrade paired with a face lift. Weston hand-machined the aluminum seats, and then tediously bead rolled and cross-hatched the details. Five-point harnesses hug him into the seat.
Weston hand-built the pickup’s box, aside from the ’50 Ford tailgate and front panel. The license plate frame plays peek-a-boo under the bed at the push of a button. The truck’s rear reveals Weston’s need for speed. Wide meats, a chute, and wheelie bars are on display, but only two of the three are used, at least for now. “The parachute is functional, but the wheelie bars are all fantasy,” Weston joked. Don’t take that the wrong way, blipping the Ford’s throttle throws people back in the seat, and it turns nasty burnouts.