By Tim Suddard
We had seen some cool vintage ramp trucks at Monterey a couple years ago and couldn’t get them out of our head. How great would it be to find one of these forlorn old car carriers, buy it cheap, and equip it with everything you’d need at the track?
During a recent visit to Connecticut we found a 1973 Ford F-350 ramp truck for sale nearby. Wedged into an old barn was an original Ford F-350 Camper Special that had been modified into a ramp truck when new. It even had its original paint and interior, and the odometer read just 50,000 original miles.
And just like that, Grassroots Motorsports’ Project Ramp Truck was born! We just had to get it home.
Step one was to take it to Cobra Automotive, then plan a return trip to get the old truck ready for its journey to the Grassroots Motorsports offices in Florida. We would have to do quite a bit of work before hitting the road.
Our first day of preparation was long: we toiled away for over 12 hours. We decided right away that some small amount of safety needed to be thrust into this whole crazy plan. Our first call was to our friends at Falken Tires who promptly shipped seven new Falken R52 Heavy Duty tires our way.
By day’s end we were ready for a test drive. The truck started, stopped and ran well. It was actually fairly comfortable, and after rechecking all the lights, replacing the wiper blades, and cleaning and applying Rain-X, we were ready to go.
However, the day we were to depart, the truck wouldn’t start. Cobra Automotive’s best electrical guy, Ed, took a look, quickly found the problem, and we were on the road within a few minutes.
Our first stop was Vintage Racing Services, which was less than an hour from our starting point. There we looked everything over on the truck and loaded up the Triumph Spitfire that we were taking home. When we arrived we realized we had antifreeze leaking out of the top radiator hose. While it didn’t take us long to fix, we were starting to realize the folly of our ways.
Sure enough, less than an hour later, the ramp truck started to intermittently run hot. Since we hadn’t replaced the thermostat, we bought a new one and looked for a good place to work. Our only option turned out to be a gas station parking lot at midnight. After a relatively successful surgery, our problem seemed to be solved. Off into the night we drove.
We cleared all of New York City’s traffic by 2:30 a.m. and stopped for a very short night to get some much needed rest.
We started day four by fixing a few things. Then the rain appeared on the horizon. We didn’t know what to expect. Would the truck leak? Would the wipers be effective? Would the whole mess be treacherous to drive in the rain?
Actually, none of the above turned out to be a problem, and the truck ran through the rain with no problems. Even the heater and defrost worked fine. Our new Falken tires easily and admirably dealt with the torrential rain.
With 750 miles to go, we decided to go for broke and finish the entire trip to get home to Daytona Beach, Florida, that day. However, once it was dark we realized that we had no headlights at all. Could we possibly have two bad headlight bulbs at once? Yes, yes we could.
It dawned on us that the Spitfire we were carrying takes the same type of headlights as our truck! With our cheap, crappy tools we managed to get one headlight bulb off the Spitfire and onto the truck. We skipped the second bulb, figuring the time would be better spent driving to the auto parts store and buying a new set. With five minutes to spare, we dashed into an O’Reilly Auto Parts store and bought both of the bulbs they had in stock. With new lights installed, we rolled off once again into the night.
By the time we made it back on the road, it was nearly 10:00 pm. We were still about four hours from home, but we didn’t want to stop for the night. We soldiered on with no further problems and high-fived each other well after midnight as we passed the “Welcome to Florida” sign. We had made it… or so we thought.
Within five miles of the border, all hell broke loose. We heard a terrific crash and a horrible series of banging noises. No! This was not happening. We had driven some 1200 miles with just a few minor teething pains. Was our dream of a ramp truck going to end just south of the Georgia border?
The driveshaft had come apart.
With few options, we gave the towing company a credit card number and began to unload the Spitfire. (Adding insult to injury, we were told our AAA membership did not cover this kind of tow). While the truck was towed home, we finished the trip behind the wheel of our cargo.
After we put the headlight back on the Spitfire….
About Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard grew up the son and grandson of a Ford dealer. He began restoring cars at the age of 14 and still has the first car he restored, a 1929 Ford that his grandfather had sold brand new. Shortly after graduating Stetson University in 1982 Tim started Grassroots Motorsports, a magazine geared towards regular people who enjoyed fixing up and playing with common, readily available sports cars. Suddard maintains, rallies and races a collection of about fifteen eclectic, mostly British, sports cars and has restored over 40 cars since that first Model A – including one broken Ford F-350 ramp truck.