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Custom 1956 Ford F100 Truck - High Octane

They Don't Get Much Wilder Than Tom Pagano's '56 F-100

Kevin Aguilar
Jul 1, 2007
Photographers: Kevin Aguilar
Photo 2/16   |   1956 Ford F100 front Drivers Side View
So, you think you are into customs? Chances are that you were either in diapers or weren't even born when Tom Pagano was hot-rodding around. Yes, the world of custom classics has boomed in recent times with more people into these vehicles, but the only thing different now is the availability of aftermarket products. The new innovative parts on the market now update the functionality of these classic rides. As far as fabrication goes, things are primarily the same as they were back in the day when Tom started customizing.
Photo 3/16   |   "Back when I built this truck, the purist restorers didn't like us hot-rodders and wouldn't sell parts to us because we were modifying our classic vehicles." - Tom Pagano
In 1978, Tom was out of college and looking for a means of employment. Knowing his situation, Tom's brother offered to help him start a flooring business in Pueblo, Colorado. Business quickly gained momentum, and Tom needed a truck to pile equipment in. During that era, gas prices were still sky-high from the recent oil embargo of the early '70s, and Tom was in search of a fuel-friendly hauler like a Toyota Pickup. What Tom found was this '56 Ford F-100 that was in pieces. The big sell for Tom was that the truck already had a 4-inch choptop, and the cab was partially sectioned. It was a no-brainer, and Tom brought the F-100 home to his family who instantly became angry with him for buying a truck that wasn't even running, nor was it economical. To calm them down, Tom told them that he already had a plan to assemble the truck in a quick manner and get it to a reliable driving state. That story became true, once Tom showed the pile of parts to his hot-rod buddies and looked to them for help and guidance on building it. One of the helping hands was offered by Tom's friend, Jim Fortune. He knew a lot about metal fabrication and became Tom's customizing mentor. With his help, they started by welding up the 9-1/2-inch section of the firewall and the rear of the cab. Then, the same amount of sheetmetal was taken from the middle section of the door shells, and the outer skin was cut at the bottom to accommodate the loss. To carry the sectioning through the front, the hood was pancaked down to match the cab. Additional sheetmetal mods included pulling the fenders in, molding in a louvered stock front pan, and recessing the grille 2 inches inward. For the bed, Tom wanted it to just be bigger than the rear fenders. The box was brought down, and the floor was channeled 6 inches. Then, the whole thing was shortened to fit just around the fenders.
Photo 4/16   |   1956 Ford F100 interior
The rest of the truck still needed to be finished in order to run and drive. Since the bed was shortened, it meant the frame's wheelbase needed to be shortened by 9-1/2 inches. Then, mounts were fabricated for the Ford 302-cid small-block and C4 transmission. Of course, brakes and steering went in next to make it safe. Tom also needed a fuel tank and wanted a Mooneyes aluminum tank to go in the bed for some cool hot-rod styling. On a call to Dean Moon, Tom found out that they were getting out of the fuel tank business and didn't want to make them anymore. Tom insisted and got Dean to find just enough aluminum stock lying around the shop to make his last handmade tank before the Mooneyes speed shop was sold.
Before Tom knew it, the truck was out of the garage and hot-rodding down the street. It only took Tom and his friends 30 days to get it done, and that's the way it stayed for many years to come. At the time, there were few people who could survive on customizing vehicles for a living, so Tom kept on working in the home-improvement business. This led him to move around for work and leaving his customs in storage.
Photo 8/16   |   1956 Ford F100 rear Passengers Side View
In 1997, Tom made some time to update the truck with a brand-new chassis made from 2x4-inch steel tubing with a 4-inch Z in the front. After a couple of measurements, Tom was able to see that the new frame left a lot of space under the cab, and he was able to lower the floorboard down 4 inches for more legroom. Back to the chassis, Tom installed a complete Fat Man Fabrication Mustang II IFS and a matching four-link with Panhard bar. The new chassis gave the F-100 a good stance and better handling capabilities. Tom still had his conventional life that consisted of going to a regular job every day, with little playtime for his projects. A couple years later, the temptation to work in the garage was building to the point that one day he got fed up and said, "f@$# this!" Tom straight-out quit his job and went into business as Pagano Rod & Custom with his son T.J. Tom then left the truck alone to work on his customer's projects, while making some money to pay the bills.
Photo 9/16   |   1956 Ford F100 undercarriage
Fast-forward a few years later. Tom caught word that the '06 F-100 Super Nationals show would have a special celebration for the 50th anniversary of the famed '56 Ford. The show was in May, and in January, Tom and T.J. tore the truck apart for a new paintjob and the addition of a 4.6L Cobra engine from a '99 Mustang. Once they started working on the engine swap, they started to realize that there were more things involved than just dropping in the motor. A call to Scott Sullivan of Sullivan Performance helped out with the majority of parts, as well as advice to get the motor firing with a ProCharger D-1 supercharger and twin intercoolers. To let the motor exhale, Donna at Sanderson Headers prototyped a set of headers for production on this very engine. With the motor planted in, Tom saw how the massive motor got in the way of the steering column. Luckily, his friend Dave O'Conner owns Wizard Fabrication, which makes an offset steering coupler called Steer Clear that took care of this problem easily.
Photo 10/16   |   1956 Ford F100 door Panel
The list of things to do on the build dwindled, and before they knew it, the Super Nationals had past. Along the way, the plan changed to get the truck to the SEMA Show, which would give them more time to tie up all the loose ends. They knew the truck had to be clean and presentable for the truck to go into the Stewart-Warner booth to display its new line of gauges. With the truck still not running, Tom and T.J. finished up the bodywork and added custom styling with 5/8-inch round aluminum stock in the front and rear, as well as in the bed. Once the body was ready to go, it was sprayed in two-tone with Sherwin-Williams Planet Color paints, featuring black satin scallops to break it up.
Photo 11/16   |   1956 Ford F100 back In The Day
Come SEMA time, the truck was trailered to the show for its debut, and it completely blew everyone away-including us. Although the truck had not been fired up at that point, it still did its job of showcasing the many products that could be found on it. From there, it was on to getting the exhaust running through the back of the cab, wiring the engine, and plumbing the fuel injection. Then, it was tuning complications that had Tom and T.J. chasing down little issues to get the truck to run properly and to withstand Tom's heavy right foot. When it was ready to be driven, Tom took it on a quick testdrive around his block, resulting in four calls to the local police department by his neighbors. Their disturbance was due to the ear-pounding rumble of the 650hp engine in this little hot-rod pickup. It's loud, fast, and ready to get wild on the streets. Tom plans on doing nothing less than driving the hell out of this thing and collecting the trophies during the '07 show season. For his sake, we hope the cops don't try to stop his fun.
Photo 12/16   |   1956 Ford F100 rear Passengers Side View
The 411

Tom Pagano of Pagano Rods & Customs / Rancho Cordova, California
'56 Ford F-100
'99 Cobra 4.6L V-8 engine, bored 0.020 over / rebuilt with Manley Performance Products forged pistons and H-beam rods / Sullivan Performance valve covers, intake manifold, coil pack, Hal-tek computer, fuel rails, and injectors / Aeromotive fuel pump, regulator, and filter / 12-psi ProCharger D-1 supercharger with twin intercoolers and custom-made piping / Cool Craft radiator with electric fan / Optima YellowTop battery / Sanderson headers / MagnaFlow 4-inch stainless mufflers / rebuilt C4 transmission / custom-made 2,000-stall torque converter / TCI billet bellhousing / Gear Vendors Overdrive / 9-inch Ford rearend, narrowed 4 inches
By: Tom & T.J. Pagano
Front: 18x8-inch Raceline GT wheels, with 4-inch backspacing and coated in Permastar black chrome
Rear: 20x10-inch Raceline GT wheels, with 4-3/4-inch backspacing and coated in Permastar black chrome
Front: 225/40R18 Toyo Proxes
Rear: 275/40R20 Toyo Proxes
Front: Fat Man Fabrication Mustang II IFS with coil springs and polished stainless steel control arms / SSBC 13-inch brake kit
Rear: Fat Man Fabrication stainless four-link with Panhard bar and coilovers / SSBC 11-inch brake kit
Accessories: JAZ plastic fuel tank / Mooneyes aluminum fuel cell / SSBC billet brake master cylinder
Chassis: Custom-made frame from 2x4-inch steel tubing that's 9-1/2 inches shorter, and front clip is Z'd 4 inches / Wizard Fabrications Steer Clear
By: Tom & T.J. Pagano
Body Mods:
4-inch choptop with louvers in the cab / 9-1/2-inch sectioned cab and doors / door handles shaved / original hood pancaked with custom mechanisms to tilt forward / pulled in front fenders / front grille recessed 2 inches / molded in and louvered original front pan with frenched license plate / frenched antenna / bed channeled 6 inches and shortened to fit around rear fenders / custom sheetmetal bed floor / molded custom tailgate / custom louvered roll pan with frenched license plate / custom exhaust exits on side steps / custom styling for front pan, roll pan, and bed made from 5/8-inch solid aluminum stock then chromed / custom Plexiglas taillights with LEDs
By: Jim Fortune, Tom & T.J. Pagano
Custom Paint:
Sherwin-Williams Planet Color Smoked Graphite and Flame Red
By: Tom Pagano / pinstriping by T.J. Pagano
'88 Chevy truck buckets covered in vinyl with pleats / door panels covered in vinyl with pleats / black German wool carpet / custom-made center console to house engine computer and Gear Vendors Overdrive / Stewart-Warner gauges with chameleonillumination effects
By: Tom & T.J. Pagano / Howdy Leadbetter of Fremont, California
Kenwood KDC1132 head unit / MB Quart 6-inch coaxial speakers / Rockford Fosgate Punch 40i amp for speakers
By: Tom & T.J. Pagano
Special Thanks:
His son T.J. Pagano for everything / Craig Coston for the bodywork / Scott Sullivan for help on the engine / Josh Cole and Jeff Young for helping during SEMA deadline / ProCharger / Gear Vendors / Sanderson Headers / MagnaFlow / Raceline Wheels / Toyo Tires / Cool Craft / Hose Techniques / SSBC / Sherwin-Williams / Stewart-Warner / Wizard Fabrication Steer Clear / Steer Clear / Aeromotive / Sacramento Vintage Ford
Back In The Day
Tom did not B.S. us around when he said this truck has been around. He sent us a few photos to prove that the truck was truly done nearly three decades ago. We also have a boatload of killer build-up photos from the SEMA scramble that are on our website


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