Otto Rhodes' 1953 Ford
1953 Ford F-100 restyled by Otto Rhodes and Bill Dickey of Pueblo, Colorado. The pickup is also known as "The Mountain Pearl" and was restyled by Otto and Bill over a span of four years. In 1962 Otto's truck was the first full-color vehicle featured in Hot Rod Magazine.
Otto bought the truck in September, 1956 after selling his first car, a chopped 1936 Ford Sedan. He had just graduated from high school at the time and began to modify the nearly new truck on a limited student budget. He chromed the front and rear bumper, mounted 1953 Pontiac taillights below the tailgate and dropped the nose over 1950 Mercury wheels. Otto wanted to have the truck painted so he took it to Bill Dickey who owned a body and paint shop with his father-in-law Howard Gentemann. Bill talked Otto into chopping the top. Otto and Bill first chopped the it 5 inches. The result was so ugly that they had to redo it, putting 1.5 inches back in the rear of the cab. Influenced by a Barris Kustoms truck, the project snowballed after the chop. The Barris truck had the front fenders leaned in, and a similar front end treatment to the final result of the Mountain Pearl. Otto and Bill removed the front bumper, and canted the bottom of the fenders in 5 inches towards the truck's centerline. They trimmed the roll pan to match and welded it to the fenders. The license plate cove was created by first defining the shape with 1/4 inch bar stock and tacking it to the roll pan. Otto had never welded prior to starting the restyling of his pickup. Two inch round tubing was used to form a new grille cavity. Canted 1958 Lincoln headlights were fit in the new grille opening along with a flipped and narrowed 1955 Chevrolet pickup grille. Chromed cabinet knobs mounted on perforated steel mesh were placed inside the grille. A combination of parking lights and bumperettes were made from 1958 Oldsmobile back-up lights and set in the front pan. The hood was shaved, peaked,and punched full of louvers. The triangular front end treatment was carried through in the rear and perforated metal was also used behind the license plate. Canted 1958 Chevrolet taillights were used at each end of the rear pan. The rear roll pan was fabricated by a local sheetmetal shop. The bedsides weren't real cherry, so he made light sheet metal pieces and cut holes in them for the fender mounting bolts. The same was done to the tailgate which was bolted in and rendered decorative rather then functional. The inside of the bed was upholstered by Phill Sedita. Bill Dickey and his father-in-law Howard Gentemann of G&D Body and Paint painted the truck in an iridescent pearl-white color. G&D Body and Paint also painted the bedside and tailgate in red Metalflake. The Hunter Brothers Trim Shop upholstered the interior of the truck in white and red frieze and vinyl using a 1958 Chevrolet Impala seat. The truck was fit with cut-down 40-48 Ford wheels sporting Bell Auto accessory caps.
The Mountain Pearl was powered by a bored and stroked 356 cubic inche 1954 Oldsmobile engine that was hopped up with the help of a C-T crankshaft, Thomas mag rockers, Howard F-5 cam, Jahns pistons, Cragar manifold, six Stromberg 97's, Wilcap flywheel and a Cragar adapter. Dan Morgan made the headers using bends from tailpipes and various tubes that and Otto found.
Once completed, the Mountain Pearl made its debut at the Sabers' show at the Denver Coliseum early in 1961. At the show Otto's new pride won 5 awards: sweepstakes for first-place truck, upholstery, paint, and body. Not long after completing the truck Otto was drafted (October 1961) and spent 18 months in Germany. In his absence Bill Dickey displayed the Mountain Pearl at various events. When Otto returned from Germany, Bill talked him into updating the truck and Otto tore it apart; intending to preserve the interior. In 1966 Otto was married and his first child was born in 1967. Needing to take care of the family, he didn't have the funds to use on the project and work progressed slowly until 1973 when it stopped altogether.
Tom Pagano of Pagano Rod & Custom in Sacramento, who had seen the truck at the first car show he attended when he was 8 years old, bought the Mountain Pearl from Otto Rhodes. The chassis and body were in a good condition when Tom got it. Before Otto had gotten married in 1966 he had started to create a new firewall with a fraome of 2 inch tubing. Otto wanted the new firewall to match the front end. He had also bought a 1965 Ford Thunderbird gauge cluster from a Ford dealer and started to fabricate its housing. When Tom took over the project he wanted to complete what Otto had started. He completed the firewall, but changed it slightly. The new firewall featured a clear acrylic center piece giving occupants a view of the engine; an alternation that Otto liked and approved. Otto had also created a floating steering column from a piece of flared exhaust tubing. The column was topped by a 1962 Oldsmobile steering wheel. In the early 1970s Otto had bought a totaled 1970 Ford pickup and transplanted the entire running gear into the Pearl. He had also chromed every piece that unbolted from the chassis: the leaf springs, the brackets, the axles, the pedal assembly, master cylinder and even the inner fender wells. Jim had swapped the Oldsmobile engine for the chrome job. When Otto restored the truck he only had to rechrome a couple of things.
Tom talked a lot with Otto while rebuilding the Mountain Pearl. Originally Otto wanted the truck to be real futuristic so Tom replaced the Impala seat by floating Monte Carlo swivel seats with an outer space theme. Howdy Ledbetter was responsible for upholstering the second incarnation of the Pearl. Otto's original tonneau was a piece of plywood trimmed in button-tufted biscuits. Tom replaced this with new tonneau framed by tubing. Howdy applied the upholstery for the bed. The new tonneau hinges from the side rather than the front and it was motorized using linear actuators. Chromed 1949 Mercury rims were used up front and 7 inch pickup rims in the rear. Merc caps and Coker Classic G-78 and J-78 white wall tires were chosen for the restored truck. After the restoration, the truck was featured in numerous magazines and won several prizes at shows where it was exhibited.
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