Styles took a turn for the wild in the early ’60s, and custom rods and show rods helped lead the way. Since the ’50s, builders like George Barris, Dean Jeffries, Ed Roth, Bill Cushenberry, Darryl Starbird, Gene Winfield, and many others were pushing the boundaries of customization further than they had ever been pushed.
In some cases, these extreme custom styles were applied to trucks; the wildly customized Rod & Custom Dream Truck being one famous example. Another was a yellow Ford pickup exhibited at the 1962 San Mateo Auto Show. Owned by Joe Crispin of Redwood City, California, it featured a heavily louvered hood, a 1956 Oldsmobile engine, Eldorado wheels, Corvette taillights with 1959 Cadillac lenses frenched into the rear fenders, and a telephone and TV in the bed. A year later, the truck was back in San Mateo, this time with dark green metalflake paint, flames on the rear fenders and spare tire cover, frenched quad headlights added by Bill Cushenberry, and a new name: Crème De Menthe.
Steve McClain was a little kid at the time, just old enough to be impressed by those far-out show rods. Now he owns Crème De Menthe, a resurrected piece of Bay Area custom history.
Steve learned about the truck from his friend Dave Simonds, who found it at a swap meet in very rough condition. Steve was interested in the truck’s history as a Bay Area custom show vehicle. He offered a trade—the truck for an unfinished project of his own. What he received in his end of the trade was a far cry from a show truck. He brought it home in pieces, finished with a worn orange paintjob. “The truck was a basketcase,” Steve says. “The cab was a mess. All four corners were rusted out with huge holes in them. The floor was rusted out and had large holes in it. The firewall was toast, the back of the cab was dented, and the driver side door had some problems.” The lower portion of the cab was beyond repair. The bed was also in bad shape and had been tubbed when the truck was redone as a Pro Street–style race truck—but the louvered hood, front fenders with Cushenberry’s quad headlights, rear fenders with the custom taillights, and other distinguishing components had survived various rebuilds.
Steve wanted to preserve as much of the original truck as possible. Old timers in the Bay Area who had memories of the truck shared copies of show programs and a July ’62 issue of Rod & Custom magazine featuring photos. Eventually, Steve ordered repro cab corners, floor, and bed from Northern Classic Parts—and a new firewall and kick panels from Bitchin Products. He also bought a MIG welder to do his own sheetmetal repair. He replaced the rusted sheetmetal and added a new front frame section to the boxed Ford ’rails (which have now been powdercoated satin black). The new Mustang II–style front suspension from TCI includes polished tubular A-arms, 2-inch dropped spindles, and coil springs. A Ford 8.8-inch rear with 3.73 gears and limited slip came from an Explorer and is suspended by Posies parallel leafs. Front and rear antiroll bars were added and brakes were upgraded to front and rear discs.
American Classic offers tires with a narrow whitewall just like the tires seen on this truck when it appeared in Oakland and San Mateo back in the day. These 225/75R15 and 165R15 radials are mounted on Wheel Vintiques chrome reverse wheels.
The rebuild was not intended to be a clone of its early ’60s version, and Steve proceeded like a true customizer, making modifications that suited his taste and the truck’s personality. The Olds engine from the early show years was removed years ago. Power is now provided by a 1992 Ford 5.0L HO engine, aspirated by an Edelbrock 600cfm four-barrel mounted on a polished Edelbrock Performer RPM intake. A finned aluminum air cleaner and finned Moon valve covers give the engine a traditional look. The front pulleys are a Vintage Air Front Runner system. Sanderson headers connected to 2-inch pipes with glass pack mufflers handle the exhaust. Faux ripple exhaust pipes extend along the upper edge of the bed, just like they did in the ’60s. A Ford AOD trans built by Nor-Cal Transmission was treated to a shift kit and spins a Ford Explorer driveshaft, modified to fit.
Hot rod builders Brandon Flaner and Aaron Groesbeck had just opened East Bay Speed & Custom in Concord, California, when Brandon was contacted by Steve. Things were progressing on the pickup project, and he needed some professional attention to push it to the next level. The guys at East Bay are young but have a love for early customs (they restored Mickey Himsl’s historic 1929 Ford Pickup a couple years ago) and Brandon said that building the Steve’s ’41 was a fun project. He straightened and refined the bodywork, repaired some of the vintage lead work, and recreated the rear fender metalwork surrounding the custom taillights. Brandon and Freddie Bedolla used House Of Kolor paint to return the truck to its early ’60s green finish, complemented by some lowkey pinstriping. East Bay also rebuilt the aluminum bed tonneau cover and spare tire cover.
Old photos show gold and brown tuck ’n’ roll upholstery in the truck. Bob Divine at Divine’s Custom Interiors brightened up the interior, using light green and vanilla shake colored vinyl to cover the inside panels and the Ford minivan bench seat. The stock instruments were restored, and a trio of Stewart Warner gauges was added to the center of the dash. The steering wheel is a reduced 1940 Ford from Vintique on an ididit column.
In addition to doing his own building and working with Brandon Flaner and other professionals, Steve received help and support from fellow members of the Early Ford V-8 Club. After final assembly and a few weeks of working on final details, Steve, Brandon, Aaron Groesbeck, and Bob Flaner loaded up the 1941 Ford and took it to Pomona for the Grand National Roadster Show.
Spectators loved seeing a genuine early ’60s custom show truck make its 21st century return, and judges selected it for a couple of “Best” awards. If trucks have feelings, being back at the Roadster Show after 50 years must have felt like a homecoming for Crème De Menthe.