Interest in Ford’s vintage F-100 pickup trucks has risen in the past few years. And with an increase in popularity comes an increase in price for clean, used examples. Luckily, Chris Donaldson acquired his before the trend began, and he didn’t have to travel very far to find it. The 1976 Ford F-100 you see here actually belonged to Donaldson’s grandfather, George Gillespie, who purchased it new in Knoxville, Tennessee. Gillespie daily drove it until he bought a new truck to replace it. After that, it was parked until Donaldson showed interest in it during his early teen years.
“I got it from my grandfather around the year 2007,” Donaldson explains. “I was not quite in high school and I knew it would be a long build process.” The build was long indeed, as the goal was for Donaldson to drive it in his wedding shortly after college, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he was able to actually take the truck for its first drive.
Before that first drive, which was to the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky, could happen, Donaldson had numerous plans that needed to be executed in order for the truck to be what he envisioned.
“I grew up working on stuff and taking my dad’s truck to World of Wheels,” Donaldson says of his formative years working with his father, Steve, on his 1966 Ford F-100. And like his father, Donaldson opted up upgrade his truck rather than restore it. Further pushing the desire to build a modified F-100 was his work place. Donaldson is one of the tech gurus at Powermaster Performance and as you can imagine his day includes fielding tech calls from owners of modified vehicles that are seeking the best for their ride. We won’t call it peer pressure, but Donaldson’s passion and work place might have played a heavy hand in his desire to craft his truck’s build.
“Originally, I had a 460 cubic-inch engine, but I wanted to be able to drive it without stopping at every gas station,” Donaldson tells us of his upgrade path and decision to replace the factory Ford 300 cubic-inch straight-six engine. “I was trying to get the coolest motor I could get without spending a lot of money.” Donaldson eventually found a wrecked Lincoln Mark VIII and pulled the luxury ride’s 4.6-liter V8 engine and 4R70W transmission from it. At same the time, he also relieved the Lincoln of its engine computer and wiring harness. He later switched over to a MegaSquirt EFI system for a cleaner, easier installation that he could tune himself.
To get the most performance out of the Modular powerplant, Donaldson found that a set of long-tube headers for a 2003 Mustang Mach 1 fit the frame, and he continued the dual exhaust system towards the rear of the truck and equipped it with Black Widow mufflers to give it just the right exhaust note. In order to provide the proper fuel volume and pressure for the fuel-injected engine, Donaldson modified the stock fuel tank to house an appropriately sized, in-tank fuel pump.
Beyond the performance upgrades, the engine also received a makeover like the rest of the truck. The engine was cleaned up and the cam covers were painted in the same juicy Tangerine hue the exterior is covered with. He also fabricated his own inner fender wells as part of the smoothed look of the engine bay.
“The Lincoln intake is relatively ugly, so I took a Cobra air cleaner and fabricated the base of it to make it look like an old 427,” Donaldson explains. Both the air cleaner and the ignition coil covers, that were pirated from a 2008 Shelby GT500, were sanded to smooth the rough casting finish and then painted in a contrasting black finish. The final touch for the engine bay was installing a Powermaster Performance alternator to make sure a constant stream of power was being returned to the battery.
Additional modifications can be found on the inside of this F-100 where Donaldson swapped in a 1967 Ford F-100 dashboard in it.
“The 1976 has a lot of plastic pieces—while the 1967 is all metal and smoother,” he explains of his decision. For seating, Donaldson opted to retain the stock bench seat layout, but replaced the original with a brand-new bench from TMI. He also made his own door panels and installed a tilt steering column for additional comfort while driving. There are a lot of options for gauges these days, and instrumentation for this F-100 is a trick setup that utilizes a digital tablet that runs off of the MegaSquirt. With the information supply sorted out, the last piece of the interior puzzle was the addition of a Vintage Air system to provide conditioned air in the cabin.
Looking to update the F-100’s handling characteristics, Donaldson put a Mustang II-style suspension from Fatman Fabrications under the front of the truck and combined that with a four-link suspension in the back to locate and control the Ford 9-inch rearend. After adding a more capable suspension to the vintage truck, Donaldson also updated the braking system. For this, he used 12-inch rotors and calipers from a 2007 Mustang GT mounted with adaptors on the Mustang II spindles up front and custom-fabricated brackets to hang the rear brakes.
As you might tell from the photos, the exterior of the truck received its fair share of modifications as well. The marker lights, door handles, cowl vent, and drip rails were all shaved and filled, as was the gas filler neck, which is now hidden behind the driver’s side taillight now. It’s accessible simply by swinging the taillight open. Additionally, Donaldson re-skinned the tailgate with a more desirable ’68-’72 center panel. At the front of the truck, the bumper was cut and tucked to the body and while many enthusiasts opt for a custom grille, the factory front one was repainted and re-chromed for a fresh look.
Though Donaldson’s F-100 was orange in color from the factory, he chose to repaint it in Ford Bright Tangerine using PPG paint products. Completing the vintage, yet updated look is a set of Coys C67 wheels measuring 17×8 up front and 18×9 in the rear.
With the paintwork completed around 2012, the F-100 was ready to be driven and enjoyed. Donaldson drove it to the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, and has made several trips to the Holley Ford Fest in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Perhaps some of his most memorable experiences with the truck was running it around Charlotte Motor Speedway, which he was able to do several times as well.
Though he has had plenty of enjoyable experiences behind the wheel of his grandfather’s truck, Donaldson continues to update it as he sees fit. Just two years ago, he decided to swap out the automatic transmission for a TREMEC T-45 five-speed manual from a 1997 Mustang GT.
The clutch is a stock Mustang unit, and he also utilized the hydraulic actuation and added a Steeda short-throw shifter. Realizing that the geometry wasn’t quite right with a factory truck clutch pedal, Donaldson traded that out for a Wilwood clutch pedal.
“You can have more fun with less horsepower if you can rev it,” Donaldson says of the manual transmission swap.
As this build started with his grandfather gifting the F-100, the build and subsequent enjoyment have continued to be a family oriented affair, with Donaldson and his father showing both of their trucks. They are also building a 1966 Mustang for Donaldson’s wife, Katelynn, as well. Based on how good his F-100 looks and performs, we can’t wait to see how that turns out.