There's a lot more to Justin Lilly's '51 F-1 than the sleek, sculpted classic you see on the next few pages. Twenty-two years ago, Doug Lilly, Justin's dad, was driving this very F-1 when he was dating his future wife, Shawn. Unfortunately for the truck, it was parked in 1981 and languished until Justin was old enough to take interest in it and begin its restoration. Justin and his grandfather bolted in a new engine and were beginning on the bodywork when it became apparent that the condition of Justin's lungs were going to keep him from participating in every aspect of the build. Justin was born premature, and as a result, developed Bronchopulmonary Dysplasia, or BPD. BPD is a form of lung disease that can drastically reduce lung capacity. In Justin's case, his reduced lung capacity meant that working with solvents and chemicals was out of the question.
When Justin was 14, his family came into contact with the Michigan chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation, in hopes of reaching Justin's dream of rebuilding the Ford. For three years, Make-A-Wish searched for a shop able to dedicate the time and resources necessary to make the wish come true, but the budget wouldn't cover the vast amount of work the truck needed. True to its promise, the foundation didn't give up, and finally found Washtenaw Community College (WCC). WCC's Auto Body Repair department and its Custom Cars and Concepts department had the facilities necessary, so it took on the job.
WCC is a rarity. Its teachers and students actually build high-end customs, hot-rods, and muscle cars from the ground up. Its clients include General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler; which is convenient because WCC is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just a few miles from Detroit. But, even for one of the top automotive colleges in the country, the budget of the build caused some hurdles. With only $5,000 from Make-A-Wish, WCC began fundraising and spreading the word about its project. Work had to be put on pause a few times when money ran short, but during the course of the 18-month build, more than $30,000 dollars was raised to get parts from manufacturers who often donated parts or sold them for cost, or less.
The sheetmetal from the '51 was in such bad shape, WCC told Justin it might be easier to find a different truck to start working on. However, once they realized how important it was for Justin to keep this truck, which had been in his family for so long, they tallied up what could stay and what had to be purchased.