It sounds like every ZZ Top song you ever heard: Tush, La Grange, Tube Snake Boogie... and yes, the MTV ones too. That voice, that drawl, it's the sound of Billy F. Gibbons. "The little '36 was parked in Louisville, Kentucky," says Billy as he throws his mind back to when he first spotted his Ford. "It was alongside some of Kirby Stafford's pals' rides, all ratted out and raunchy."
Kirby Stafford has a long history of hot-rod building that goes back to the late '50s. "It's funny, when I think back to building Billy's truck," laughs Kirby. "At the time, eight other guys who owned property, or worked on Dillehay Street, had ol' style hot rods or were building them. People started calling us Dillehay Rats, just like they did back in the '50s." Kirby's just fine with this nod to the past, just so long as you don't call his ride a rat. "We really don't call our rods rats," he confirms. "We've developed a reputation for building dependable cars and trucks that have just the right look. In fact, I probably put 3,000 miles on Billy's truck the summer I finished it. It's real reliable and starts up first time, every time."
Rat or not, whatever it is they put in the water on Dillehay Street, the lil '36 certainly caught the interest of Billy F. Gibbons. Billy was visiting the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, when he first saw the Ford. But what is it that gets a man, who owns one of the greatest dream garages on the planet, to slam down his checkbook and fire up his ballpoint? "Well," says Billy, "It's the entire package of the rig; ice cooler in the bed, surfboard on the roof-cool piece. It stands for a driving experience where you don't have to care about where you park or locking the doors. Find some asphalt and go."
Stripped back to its basics, the Ford runs a '53 Ford flathead engine with an S-10 transmission, 6-inch drop tube front axle, and an 8-inch Ford rearend with buggy springs and air shocks. The body was channeled six inches over the frame, which itself has been Z'd four inches at the front and 14 inches in the rear. The cab features all-original steel, a five-inch chop, the chassis and bed were shortened 18 inches, headlights from a '33 Ford were bolted into place, and a custom-painted '68 Hanson long board was mounted on a wishbone frame. Stickers on the rear window are from World War II fuel rationing.
If it looked good and fit the theme, Kirby transplanted it into the interior. You'll notic
That's a '68 Hanson surfboard custom-painted to provide some vivid color to the old truck'
Driving Billy's Truck
Sliding into the truck's Jaguar driving seat it's hard not to turn your head to the right and look for a bearded man in a hat and cheap sunglasses riding shotgun. But alas it is not to be.
The steering wheel feels good while the shifter has a high angle inside the cab. The engine starts right on the button and there's plenty of pedal space, even for the big-footed. Finding the gears isn't a problem, but it's not a speed- shift quick change. But it's not supposed to be. Give it a bit of gas and the engine thrumps and chuffs happily. The truck pulls away cleanly and it's clear to see how and why Kirby put so many miles on it in the early days. It's big fun to drive, as comfortable as it can be, even for a six-footer and cruises along no problem. Billy must love wheeling this thing around.
But of course, it's so much more than just a collection of well chosen parts and Billy knew it. Kirby remembers that day at the Street Rod Nationals very well. "I think what really grabbed Billy's attention was the surfboard I'd mounted on an old wishbone. Billy was riding 'round the showground in the back of a convertible. I saw him straight away-he's kind of hard to miss. He stopped the car and you could tell he was looking at the truck. He got out and started asking questions about it and before I knew it, we'd come to a deal. We hung out together for a few hours that day. It was pretty neat."
Just like the rest of us, Billy is always on the lookout for a new car, or project, but trucks weren't on his mind the day he met Kirby. "Not a bit," laughs Billy, remembering that day at the fairground. "Yet the stance and from-a-distance glance kept bringing us back." But does the little Ford stack up next to landmark cars such as the Eliminator Coupe and Cadzzilla? "Without a doubt!" says Billy. "Straight pipes out of a flathead manifold can set you free." Gibbons' enthusiasm for these cars and the scene really is a life-affirming thing and he clearly gets a huge kick out of owning the little Ford. "It feels great and at the same time it's a welcome challenge that'll keep you on point. It's about creating a vehicle with just the right stance and profile. Up 'til now the unfinished raspiness and rude roughness this truck stands for was something one formerly used to attempt to overcome. Out of all the cars we've built and added to the collection this one is a genuine delight cuz it's a rugged and carefree go-anywhere kind of a rod. It's a gas!"
You get the feeling that Billy and Kirby's paths would have crossed, no matter what. Both men have an innate sense of what a car should look like, how it should sit, move and what it should represent. "The future is now and anything goes," says Billy when quizzed about the state of hot rodding in 2010. "The real enjoyment of making one's personal statement is wide open. Run what'cha brung." And so say all of us.
Special thanks to: Billy F Gibbons, Kirby Stafford (dillehaystreet.com) and Tony Thacker