Half-Ton Time Capsule

Blair restorer skips the work, nabs cherry ’76 F-100

By Jeff Barnes

Mike Patak is a master automotive restorer whose wheelin’, dealin’ and fixin’ have led him to encounters with celebrities like Jay Leno and Sammy Hagar. His spot-on restorations of ‘60s and ‘70s muscle cars have landed him among the pages of national enthusiast magazines, and he’s probably the world’s foremost Ford Galaxie restorer with more than thirty of his own.

So how is it that one of the favorite vehicles in his personal collection is a 36-year-old pickup that never spent a second under sandpaper at his shop?

DSC_0346Patak, owner of Mike’s Classic Cars in Blair, says he prefers not to do work he doesn’t have to and wanted to find a clean, red 1976 Ford F-100 pickup.

“I wanted to find a red pickup and restore it here, but the cost of restoring one is so expensive,” he said. It’s almost as if the gods were listening – Patak received an auction brochure in the mail which included a red 1976 Ford F-100 in Pennsylvania. Unbelievably, it was in original mint condition with 1,280 actual miles on the odometer. He put in his bid over the phone during the auction and won.

For Patak, 53, the truck is a personal “time capsule.” He was a 17-year-old working at a Ford dealership in Crete, Nebr., and decided he wanted a new truck for himself. “The ‘77s were coming out and mine was clearance-priced at $3,000,” he said.

The Explorer (now better known as a sport utility vehicle) included a special stripe kit, chrome bed rails, hood ornament and bumper guards. Because it was a dealer-installed trim and option package, Patak did the installation work himself then.

DSC_0317He drove that truck for about three years until getting married and having a child necessitated buying a new Fairmont station wagon. Still, fond memories of the truck kept him on the lookout for another as he began collecting cars.

Patak’s auction win didn’t have the Explorer package, so he added the “Explorer” ornament, bed rails and stripes to create the package. For the striping, he had to pull the design off a junked truck using onion paper and then have it custom made.

He put new belts on the 302 two-barrel V-8 engine (“Just a typical, doggy, mid-70s engine,” he calls it). He put on new tires and wheels, but kept the original tires which still have nubs on them. But nothing else had to be done.

DSC_0358It IS in pristine shape. It’s very rare to find a vehicle of that era without a cracked original steering wheel or dashboard, and the upholstery is shiny and new. Patak pulls the seat forward to reveal the foam backing of the seat – that’s usually dried, cracked and powdery at this point in a truck’s life but even it looks showroom-fresh.

“It even smells brand new in the cab,” Patak said. “There are no squeaks when you go over bumps and the engine is as smooth as the day it was built. It’s got the original AM radio, too; when I was a kid it would play music, but now it plays corn markets and Rush Limbaugh.”

Patak said he’ll eventually get around to finding a bit more about the truck’s history before he bought it. “This was a work truck, not a collector vehicle,” he said. “It’s not likely that someone would buy it new and store it in a temperature-controlled environment, but that’s what it looks like. It’s amazing it would look as new as it does.”

Now that he’s found and recreated the truck from his teens, can he ever imagine parting with it?

“I guess I AM ‘Mike’s Classic Cars’ and technically everything I have is for sale,” Patak said. “There are a couple of guys who have asked about it, but none have come up with anything that says they like it more than me. And I love it.”



(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, March 2012)


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