Neat setup, right? Not with those matching front and rear tires, it’s not! This just will not stand…If you’ve been following along with Hemmings’ digital content and stories, you may have spied a particular brown-sugar “dentside” Ford pickup truck making an appearance here and there. As the arbiters of all things Hemmings Green, we’re expected to not only know a few things about old cars, but, y’know, own at least one and maybe even drive one, on occasion. And so it is with this 1974 Ford F350 Super Camper Special: it’s (mostly) a daily driver and it’s (definitely) hauled its fair share of Hemmings employees, stories and adventures on the West Coast over the last few years.
This truck was born at the long-gone Ford plant in San Jose, CA back in the Spring of ’74 and lived its entire life in the shadows of that plant till about a decade ago when it finally moved a whole 50 miles north to San Francisco. The great thing about this guy is that it falls under the cutoff for the dreaded California smog check. The bad thing is that its carbureted 460 c.i.d. V8 gets 6mpg parked overnight and California is in its spendy summer blend fuel season – mix that with a roughly 40-gallon capacity among two tanks and periodically winning the PowerBall is definitely a requirement for driving it on the regular.
F350? That means a one-ton chassis rating. Thing rides like a TRUCK. Super Camper Special? That means it’s a one-ton with a 140-inch wheelbase with the spare in the passenger side of the bed behind an access panel. Neat truck, but that also means it came with 16.5″ wheels.
Now, here’s where I turn this thing to the 1st-person point-of-view: the truck needed new rear tires. And let’s just say that I’m a visually-driven car guy. I’m also a sucker for lost causes, orphan cars, weirdo factory options, oddball aftermarket stuff and just about anything that really makes no sense and costs way more than it ever needs to. As evidence of these character flaws, I’ve not only kept the factory-spec 16.5″ wheels on this truck, but I’ve actually found 7″-wide fronts and 10″-wide rears for it. Because I’m a sucker, that’s why. But, with a 9.50 on the front and a 12.50 on the rear, dang that truck has a wicked stance!
“Dude, you need to find a set of 16s…” My friends mean well, but, like I said; I’ve got flaws. And I’m proud of the fact that I found these oddball steelies and an extra set of caps. And it’s got a real attitude with this rake it sits on, now. But when it’s time to buy tires? That’s a whole new problem that I try to avoid as long as possible.
As the years pass by, fewer and fewer tire manufacturers are making over-the-road 16.5″ tires. And the world’s supply is running low. Not that demand is very high, but the few brands still making them really want to punish anyone who dares click that button on the online spec chart. And, like the great poet David Coverdale once said, “Here I go again on my own.”
The 9.50s aren’t too difficult to find, so I’d replaced the fronts a year ago. It was like an instant power steering rebuild kit! Thing drove and tracked like a dream. But those Mastercraft 12.50 rears? They’ve got a date code stamp on the sidewall of 2003 and if I light a candle at night or make a wish on New Year’s Eve, it’s that those two tires magically regenerate their rubber compounds every six months.
Turns out, they don’t.
The sidewall cracks were deep enough now, that they couldn’t be filled in and ignored with a healthy dollop of tire dressing anymore. So, after consulting many a Facebook group, message board and bench-racing session, I finally ordered a pair of 12.0×16.5 Power Kings. One of the few manufacturers still making anything close to that 12.50 that nearly resembles a road tire and not a full-on mudder, I found them online and lit my credit card up like a Wal-Mart with 6 months till Christmas.
As online tire sites so expertly do these days, I had them shipped directly to my mechanic’s shop and waited for the email alert that they’d been taken delivery of. At this point, I figured I’d beaten the rubber reaper and was about to retire those old Mastercrafts when Bernard called me: “Dan, good news and bad news. Your tires are here. Bad news: they’re too damn big for my tire machine.” Ugh. OK, Bernard, I’ll come get ’em out of your shop. Called the shop I go to with all my weird hot rod tire projects: “Dan, there ain’t nothing I can’t mount, you know that. Bring ’em in day after tomorrow.” Tire shop humor is a dying art. Probably a good thing.
But I couldn’t leave these tires in the bed of the truck for days. And the garage I rent is 25 miles across the San Francisco Bay in Hayward, CA. So, off to the warehouse I went. Figured I’d wait till the weekend, then knock off a few things on the list on the hot rod and bring the tires back, get them mounted, bobs-your-uncle.
And, on the way home from my garage, two blocks from the house, the right rear finally let go, after a scant 16 years of service. As if my very sensible and practical dad had gone down to the crossroads and made a deal with Legba to teach me a lesson and cued it up so that I didn’t kill anyone/thing, but would suffer a little for constantly making wildly impractical decisions.
Well, at least it didn’t blow on the highway. Ever see three tons of brown Ford start swinging across five lanes? Me, neither. And I don’t wanna be the one behind the wheel if you ever do. I just pulled over and parallel-parked it where it popped. Suffice it to say that no Prius or Bolt was harmed in the making of this story, but the bad news was that 1) I don’t carry a spare with me and 2) I couldn’t leave this thing on the street without risking a $135.00 ticket. Ah, city living.
So, now what? Welp, an urban gearhead does some weird things to maintain the lifestyle. In this case, renting a pickup truck to traipse back to the warehouse, grab the new tires and a pair of old baldies on lame 16″ spares would still be cheaper than the looming parking ticket. I could rent a brand-new Silverado for $49.00 and free mileage. DONE.
Off to the local car rental I Lyft-ed. One big red Silverado later, I was floating my way back across the 7 miles of San Francisco Bay bridge to my warehouse. When you daily a ’74 F350, this half-ton Chevy feels like you’re riding on the back of a giant, bloated, lazy bumble bee, but the Sirius radio and locking tailgate are neat features.
And speaking of locking tailgate, I figured it was the right moment to finally treat myself to a new floor jack, so a stop at the Dollar Tree version of a hardware store was in order. I confidently left my new tires in the bed of the Silverado, hit the remote lock dongle and spent a whopping $89.00 on an already-cheap $144.00 low-profile jack before heading west across the Bay. Again.
Got back to the injured old warrior with a Chevy full of new tire, wheel chocks, wood blocks, breaker bars, long screwdrivers a new floor jack and a pair of spares. Chocked the front wheels and got to work.
Five lugs can be a pain, when they were mounted with a pneumatic impact driver, but an 8-lug wheel and a long-armed ratchet? I’m writing this days later and I’m still sore. But I got it done.
Got the spares on the truck, the new tires and the hero 10″-wide steelies in the bed and I was off to the tire shop with an hour to go before closing time. Pulled up and the place is standing room-only. “Not today, Stoner – you’re gonna have to come back again tomorrow. But you can drop them new tires off tonight.” Which is exactly what I did. Got back home, parked the truck, dragged the new floor jack into the entry way of the house (not the first time I’ve done that) and returned the Silverado. Caught another Lyft back home from the rental yard and got ready for the next day.
Finally got the truck, the new tires and the old steelies under the same roof at the same time. And once those Power Kings were mounted, it was all worth it. Nevermind that one tire was so far out that it needed a 15oz. weight. Nevermind that the other wheel was a little bent. Nevermind that the shop owner warned me to stand back from the balancer while it was spinning and made sure it was still bolted to the floor after he pulled my new freshies off it. Once the truck was dropped back down on all fours, it looked awesome.
Three days. $40 worth of Lyft rides. $55 of rental truck. $12 in bridge tolls. $120 of California summer blend go-juice. $93 of new floor jack. $50 in mounting fees. $9 of In-N-Out Burger. $379 in two new Power King 12.0×16.5 tires. Will I keep my promise to make my life so much easier and finally make the move to 16″ wheels in a few years when these tires are shot? Probably not. Like Coverdale says…