Frank’s Dream – 1949 Ford Bonus F1
Perhaps one of the greatest classic pickups of all time, the Ford Bonus F-1 is a study of simplicity and style. By Ashley Webb, photography John Galvin
During the 1940s, Ford battled financial issues but fought back with several successful new products. Although the decade will always be remembered as ‘The War Years’, Ford produced some vehicles outside of its war effort that are still very much sought after by enthusiasts today.
In January 1948, a new era began at the Ford Motor Company with the release of a new range of trucks. Ford promoted this range as the ‘Bonus Built Line’. It featured an extensive range of models with different cab and chassis combinations starting out with the light-duty half-ton-rated F-1 pickup trucks through to the extra heavy-duty, three-ton-rated F-8.
The fresh new look of the F-series line-up was met with a positive response from the buying public. The squared-off front guards wrapped smoothly into the front fascia, which contained a prominent horizontal-
bar grille. Rear guards were styled to match the profile of the fronts, plus for the first time, a one-piece windscreen to tie it all together into one very handsome truck.
For 1949, the truck line was not affected. All trucks shared the same corporate face of the 1948 redesign, regardless of chassis set-up or weight class so they could easily be identified as a Ford.
THE PERFECT CHOICE
On 28 October 1998, Frank Gibson purchased this 1948 Ford Bonus pickup truck for approximately $12K from someone nearby in Paraparaumu. After some initial maintenance work, it was warranted four months later.
Frank was no stranger to working on anything mechanical. He’d
been interested in metalwork and engineering from the age of 11, building and making things for his three younger brothers.
Motorbikes became Frank’s passion during his teenage years. He spent most of his free time either working on his bike, or fixing bikes for other people. Frank was also the first person in Hull, Yorkshire (his birthplace) to import chopper parts from the US and soon found himself fitting them for his customers.
On long rides with his biker ‘gang’, Frank rode at the back to ensure that no one was left behind and to lend a hand for any mechanicals at the side of the road. He was the ‘Guy Martin’ of Hull.
Given his passion for all things mechanical from an early age, Frank’s career was hardly surprising. After leaving school at 16, he worked as a mechanic for several different garages before ending up at British Gas, eventually becoming the foreman.
NEW ZEALAND BOUND
After being inspired by a holiday to New Zealand to visit his sister-in-law, Frank moved to New Zealand in 1995 with his wife Sue and son, Luke, eventually settling in Pukerua Bay.
With the family settled into Kiwi life, Frank worked as a diesel mechanic and enjoyed fishing, rugby league, and working on his Ford Bonus.
Likewise, his Ford has also had a long working life. This was evident when stripping the truck — two spanners were found welded to the bonnet, used as a quick fix to reinforce it at some stage.
Frank also used the Bonus regularly to help out the community, family, and friends when possible. Whether delivering loads of firewood for people, driving around the community and picking up donations for the local school gala, or driving kids around at the beach on summer days, the truck was a constant presence in the community, and Frank wasn’t afraid to get it on the road and dirty.
Frank had a passion for constantly wanting to improve things, and the truck was no different. He took the truck off the road in late 1999 for an engine and gearbox conversion that took about a year, doing the lion’s share of the work himself, only enlisting aid when required. Five years later the truck was off the road again, and then again in 2008 when Frank decided to do a full restoration, hoping to have it ready in time for his retirement.
Unfortunately, life never goes as planned, and Frank’s wife was diagnosed with cancer in early 2015, sadly passing away in 2017.
Frank still continued to work on the truck throughout this time but, as one would expect, it was no longer at the forefront of his mind. The truck was in pieces in the garage, while Frank worked on what he loved best — the engine.
Sadly, Frank himself was diagnosed with cancer early in 2018 and passed away in November of that same year. Prior to his passing, Frank finished
the chassis and fitted new suspension components. With the help of his brother-in-law and nephew, he was also able to install the rebuilt engine and run it in.
Several weeks before passing away, at Frank’s recommendation, his son Luke contacted The Surgery in Porirua to pick up where Frank had left off — to help realize Frank’s dream of getting the truck fully rebuilt, back on the road, and on its way to Beach Hop.
In response to Luke’s inquiry, John Galvin and Mike Baucke traveled to Frank’s home to inspect and photograph the proposed restoration project and started to put a project plan together. The brief from the family was quite clear: the truck was to be restored back to how Frank had it rather than back to factory original specification. Luke had also indicated to John and Mike that his father’s dream had been to get it ready for Beach Hop in March for his last ride. This left just over four months to get the job done, which was tight, to say the least, but a challenge that the team at The Surgery was keen to be a part of.
As the timeline was tight, John and Mike quickly compiled a project plan, and together with initial project estimates and options, this was sent to the family. The next day, they got The Surgery team together to discuss how to handle the project with such a tight timeframe.
NO TIME TO WASTE
With all the formalities taken care of, the truck was delivered to The Surgery workshop. The last major work that Frank had completed was the restoration of the chassis and running gear, which had been finished to a high standard. The rest of the truck was completely disassembled, a job that Frank had started and worked on until he became too ill.
Using a combination of sandblasting and acid-dip stripping, all the panel work and fittings were taken back to bare steel. From this point, the team at The Surgery knew exactly what it was dealing with. Like most commercial vehicles of its age, the Ford had been a trusted workhorse for most of its life and had taken a fair share of knocks and abuse in the course of earning
As with most restorations, the team had hoped for better news due to the tight deadline. Unfortunately, almost every panel had some level of rust
that required repairs and, due to the extent of old repairs and previous rust work, it almost doubled the metalwork needed that was initially assessed before being stripped. All panels were bare-metal treated and then coated with epoxy etch primer, leaving the old repairs and rusted sections free to be replaced. Where it was cost-effective to manufacture new panels in house, this was done, otherwise, new repair panels were ordered in for the metalwork to commence.
By this time the unfortunate news that Frank Gibson had passed away was relayed to the team at The Surgery. As a group of passionate automotive people, they were saddened to hear it, passing their sympathy to the family. This news only spurred the team on though, with the goal of Beach Hop in sight.
Every panel on the truck required repair work of some type — a complete new wellside tray, for example, was manufactured due to the poor condition of the original. The existing original Ford rear fenders were repaired and re-used to keep to the style and look that Frank had created many years before.
After the completion of all metalwork, a full reassembly and test-fit of the cab, tray, and all other panels took place. This was the first time in many years that the family had seen the truck looking like a truck again, and it gave everyone a much-needed boost.
FULL STEAM AHEAD
While all of the metalwork was taking place, the steering, brake pedals, door mechanisms, and many other items were overhauled ready for installation. The same went for the chrome work and fittings, which had been metal finished, repaired, and then sent off for chrome plating.
The body filling, finishing, and straightening started immediately after the metalwork was completed, with little time to spare. Due to the deadline, the team operated a segmented overlapping system to approve areas that had been filled, finished, and straightened so that they could go to paint before the rest of the vehicle.
Beach Hop was looming, so it was all hands on deck to ensure that the quality of finish remained high — the family wanted the end result to be show-stopping. Filling, finishing, and straightening was happening all at the same time as paint, with panels being signed off and passed over.
The Surgery paint shop team moved into top gear at this point and prepped, etched, surfaced, and undercoated everything. Next, the cab and tray were again removed from the chassis ready for paint. Things went back to basics from there, with every panel being carefully hand-block sanded and detailed to ensure a perfect surface for the application of the PPG Envirobase waterborne metallic blue/black base colour. After the base colour was applied, the final high-solids clear coat was laid on and then baked to a deep gloss finish.
At this point, there was only 10 days until Beach Hop. The entire team at The Surgery wanted to hit the deadline to honour Frank and his family and
the pace was intense but this continued speed was accompanied by increased risks. It was becoming clear that there was too much work to do to hit the deadline — no one wanted to pull back
the pace, but no one wanted to see any issues or mistakes being made either. This was discussed with Luke, and all agreed to dial things back a little. Luke indicated that he was still keen to get the truck to Beach Hop, if not this year, then the next.
Paint continued to flow on the bonnet, front and rear guards, and any remaining small parts. As the family wanted that old-school, very deep gloss, all of the paintwork was then hand sanded with 2000 grit and then machine and hand-polished to a perfect glass-like finish.
By the time all the panels were finished and the truck was ready to
be fully assembled, they’d missed Beach Hop. Spirits were positive, though, as the family was really happy with how the truck and its new paint job were looking. Reassembly began at a slower pace, and by early May the Bonus was being road tested. A couple of mechanical issues reared their heads
during the testing phase, some of which only Frank would have known about. The Surgery worked through these issues and got the truck running like a dream. In total, the team at spent 1370 hours restoring Franks truck to its former glory.
The story of Frank’s Ford and the
road to Beach Hop does not end
there. After the truck was finished, Luke moved to the UK for work. The Bonus went into storage with the team at The Surgery, waiting for Luke to return for Beach Hop 2020. Little did any of us know what was in store for New Zealand and the rest of the world at that time. The Covid-19 pandemic swept across the world at the start of 2020, forcing many countries to go into lockdown. New Zealand was one of the first to close its borders while calling for all public events to be canceled, including Beach Hop, which has since been rescheduled for November. As the months move on and international travel has ground to a halt, Luke has had to remain unsure of his plans for Beach Hop 2020. The drive to honour Frank Gibson might just have to wait until 2021.