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Article updated: 6/17/2013 6:30 AM

Body shop owner resists the urge to restore 1947 pickup


Immediately after acquiring his 1947 Ford pickup, Steve Belknap was faced with a crossroads.

The Barrington resident saw the hauler while driving down the road in Cary. While some enthusiasts would eagerly and completely overhaul the tired, worn-out vehicle, the Barrington resident opted for a different direction.

"Similar trucks I'd seen had all been fully restored, seemingly dipped in chrome and sparkling like new," he says.

After taking a look at his special highway find, Belknap had a different goal. "There was so much originality there, the more I looked at it -- with its intact glass, floorboards and untouched engine -- it just seemed a shame to fix more than what was necessary to keep it from falling apart."

Belknap was more than surprised when purchasing the 66-year-old relic that it fired up and he was able to drive it home. While he wanted to keep his rig as original as possible, he also wanted it to be safe and reliable.

"I rebuilt the brakes because only one wheel cylinder was working, and replaced the carburetor," Belknap said. Other maintenance items addressed were a rebuilt distributor and fuel pump, new fuel lines and replacement tubes in the tires. The only upgrade is a set of dual exhausts, which was born out of necessity.

"The heat riser in the exhaust manifold seized and snapped off while I was working on it. Nothing would seat right with it gone," he said.

Undeterred, Belknap located a vintage set of Fenton exhaust manifolds, allowing for the dual pipes. "It ended up being a great modification. The V-8 runs better and sounds better, too."

While very little has been added, there are some things that have been removed. "A previous owner had installed incorrect seat belts and turn signals, which I took off," Belknap said.

Around back, you'll now find the factory-correct single taillight setup. Inside a back-to-basics cabin, the only addition is new covering for the bench seat.

"I didn't want to reupholster but the original material had been patched too many times, dried out and became brittle. It was beyond uncomfortable," he said.

The dented and battered body only received a few welds to keep the fenders from vibrating off'. "I avoided extensive body work to preserve the original paint, which still covers the majority of the truck."

Unfortunately, the previous owner couldn't pass on many details regarding the Ford's history, but Belknap has uncovered several clues. "I found 1953 registration in the glove box from northern Wisconsin." In addition, Belknap found a 1947 mimeographed movie bill caught in a crevice on the underside.

One thing is certain. The Ford pickup was worked hard.

"It clearly grew up on a farm, acquiring reasonable dents here and there. By looking at a couple of the makeshift repairs on the truck, you can tell when a farmer needed to get it back on the road," he said. For example, when a bolt broke on the tailgate, it was simply welded shut.

While this rough and ready character won Belknap over, it also attracted high praise from an unlikely crowd. "The truck was shown at the 2012 Barrington Concours d'Elegance. I was thrilled to win the Most Coveted Vehicle Award."

Belknap, who owns a Barrington auto body shop, had the doors custom painted with lettering that resembles an old-time look, right down to the shop's phone number, which reflects an early Barrington area code.

While Belknap says he would have enjoyed the challenges of turning his tired and tattered ride into a gleaming new show machine, he has a different view on the matter.

"Nothing makes me happier than driving the truck" in its well-used condition, he said. "It was built for work and I don't think a pristine restoration on an old truck is appropriate."

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