Story and Photos by Richard Truesdell
Over the past 50 years, we've watched the pickup truck evolve from their utilitarian roots on farms and the vehicle of choice for small businesses to rise to the top of the sales charts year after year in the case of the Ford F-Series. Of course, the Chevy Silverado, GMC Sierra and (Dodge) Ram are no slackers, either, when it comes to annual sales. All are the most profitable, on a unit basis, for their manufacturers.
And while we recognize their farm and small-business roots, there's one other constant over the years: their use as recreational vehicles. Today, that means that you're likely to see a pickup towing a luxurious fifth-wheeler, but 50 years ago you were more likely to see a camper slid into its bed. Addressing this need were the origins of optional camper packages.
To see a time-capsule example, take a look at Richard Drake's 1967 Ford F-250 Camper Special.
Drake is an enthusiast owner. He's a regular on the Southern California show scene, and over the years we've admired his truck at events like Fabulous Fords Forever in Buena Park and the annual Orange Plaza Show. What exactly is it about his truck that makes us stop and chat every time we see him?
For starters, Drake’s truck is the definition of perfection. It's a California original 1967 Ford F-250 Ranger Styleside Camper Special. “I've owned the truck for 32 years. The year 1967 was the first year of the redesigned F-Series pickup truck, first year for the Ranger series, third year for the Camper Special edition, and the last year for the 352cid V-8 engine. I am the second owner, buying it in June 1980 from a neighbor,” he said.
Drake's research and the truck's Marti Report tell us that it was built at Ford's San Jose, Calif., plant on May 2, 1967. It is equipped with the stock 352-cubic-inch-displacement V-8 mated to a heavy-duty C-4 three-speed automatic transmission. Air conditioning was a rare factory-installed option in 1967, but Drake's truck is equipped with a dealer-installed air-conditioning system.
Speaking with PUTC, Drake said the original owner bought the truck from Corwin Ford in Orange, Calif., with a camper-over-cab truck camper unit that was quite typical for the time. The MSRP was $3,660.36 (). (In today's dollars, that comes out to $25,024.) The camper was sold separately in 1992 after having served the family for many years on vacations throughout the Western states.
Before the truck camper unit was sold, the entire truck was stolen from Drakes’ home in 1991. Thankfully, it was recovered by the California Highway Patrol a month later – just before being driven over the Mexican border. CHP reported that the thieves were driving drunk, erratically and without lights. Driving it back to Orange County took an extra toll on the truck because a desert sand storm pitted the windshield, body paint and brightwork. Little did Drake know that some of his future restoration work was done for him!
In 2006, Drake finally got serious about restoring his Camper Special. He wanted to keep it original inside and out as much as possible. The process was spread out over three years, and when the project was completed the truck looked just as it did on the day in 1967 when its first owner signed the delivery papers at Corwin Ford.
All the interior components have been restored, including the original AM radio, knobs, instrument bezel, steering wheel, horn ring, dash pad, door handles and the brightwork. The seat, upholstery, floor carpet, door panels and headliner have been reproduced from the originals.
One of the biggest parts of the restoration process happened in 2009 when the original 208-horsepower engine was completely rebuilt to original Ford specs by Jasper Engines in Indiana. Likewise, the three-speed, C-4 Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, driveshaft and differential have been rebuilt.
The exterior, the first thing people notice at shows, has been restored to as-delivered condition. Drake notes that the upper body/Fawn Beige metallic paint was a factory special order in 1967, so it took a bit of work to match it since there was no letter code on the ID for the paint. The Wimbledon White below the belt line was used by Ford on countless vehicles the 1960s and 1970s.
All the body panels are original, and close examination of Drake's truck shows no dents, cracks or rust. The exterior brightwork is original, but Drake spared no expense to re-anodize or replate the components as needed. The stainless-steel window trim was buffed. The undercarriage has been cleaned and coated with rubber sealant. The engine has a fresh coat of Old Ford Blue.
Drake applied some functional upgrades, too. These included front disc brakes, power steering (which was optional in 1967 and not originally installed on the truck in 1967), electronic ignition, radial tires and a Dana differential of with 3.54:1 ratio in lieu of the original 4:10. Drake made two functional changes to the exterior, replacing the western side mirrors with smaller F-100 mirrors and 16-inch solid wheels in lieu of the split-rim wheels found in 1967.
Over the years, the F-250, like countless others, received federal government mandates for safety and emission control, and it got numerous changes in the drivetrain, interior, exterior components and models as Ford widened the size and scope of the F-Series to meet changing consumer tastes as pickup trucks moved from their utilitarian origins and into the personal-use category.
One of the great things is that Ford has built millions of F-Series trucks, and they have a strong following, especially among customizers, which makes Drake's stock truck all the more appealing. That's certainly what caught our eye when he first showed the completed restoration in 2009. Since then, his truck has won eight best-in-class and two best-of-show awards.