So, you think you are into customs? Chances are that you were either in diapers or weren't even born when Tom Pagano was hot-rodding around. Yes, the world of custom classics has boomed in recent times with more people into these vehicles, but the only thing different now is the availability of aftermarket products. The new innovative parts on the market now update the functionality of these classic rides. As far as fabrication goes, things are primarily the same as they were back in the day when Tom started customizing.
"Back when I built this truck,...
"Back when I built this truck, the purist restorers didn't like us hot-rodders and wouldn't sell parts to us because we were modifying our classic vehicles." - Tom Pagano
In 1978, Tom was out of college and looking for a means of employment. Knowing his situation, Tom's brother offered to help him start a flooring business in Pueblo, Colorado. Business quickly gained momentum, and Tom needed a truck to pile equipment in. During that era, gas prices were still sky-high from the recent oil embargo of the early '70s, and Tom was in search of a fuel-friendly hauler like a Toyota pickup. What Tom found was this '56 Ford F-100 that was in pieces. The big sell for Tom was that the truck already had a 4-inch choptop, and the cab was partially sectioned. It was a no-brainer, and Tom brought the F-100 home to his family who instantly became angry with him for buying a truck that wasn't even running, nor was it economical. To calm them down, Tom told them that he already had a plan to assemble the truck in a quick manner and get it to a reliable driving state. That story became true, once Tom showed the pile of parts to his hot-rod buddies and looked to them for help and guidance on building it. One of the helping hands was offered by Tom's friend, Jim Fortune. He knew a lot about metal fabrication and became Tom's customizing mentor. With his help, they started by welding up the 9-1/2-inch section of the firewall and the rear of the cab. Then, the same amount of sheetmetal was taken from the middle section of the door shells, and the outer skin was cut at the bottom to accommodate the loss. To carry the sectioning through the front, the hood was pancaked down to match the cab. Additional sheetmetal mods included pulling the fenders in, molding in a louvered stock front pan, and recessing the grille 2 inches inward. For the bed, Tom wanted it to just be bigger than the rear fenders. The box was brought down, and the floor was channeled 6 inches. Then, the whole thing was shortened to fit just around the fenders.
The rest of the truck still needed to be finished in order to run and drive. Since the bed was shortened, it meant the frame's wheelbase needed to be shortened by 9-1/2 inches. Then, mounts were fabricated for the Ford 302-cid small-block and C4 transmission. Of course, brakes and steering went in next to make it safe. Tom also needed a fuel tank and wanted a Mooneyes aluminum tank to go in the bed for some cool hot-rod styling. On a call to Dean Moon, Tom found out that they were getting out of the fuel tank business and didn't want to make them anymore. Tom insisted and got Dean to find just enough aluminum stock lying around the shop to make his last handmade tank before the Mooneyes speed shop was sold.
Before Tom knew it, the truck was out of the garage and hot-rodding down the street. It only took Tom and his friends 30 days to get it done, and that's the way it stayed for many years to come. At the time, there were few people who could survive on customizing vehicles for a living, so Tom kept on working in the home-improvement business. This led him to move around for work and leaving his customs in storage.