By on January 31, 2013

Rich, the mastermind behind the Rocket Surgery Racing mid-VW-engined Renault 4CV, just got hired to install a daily-driver-suitable modern drivetrain in a ’53 Ford coupe. The owner wanted to keep it all Ford, EFI makes for much better real-world drivability, and so a late 1980s or newer Ford 5.0 or 5.8 (aka 302 or 351W) V8 engine looked to be the best choice. Running donor cars and trucks that fit those requirements tend to go for four figures, so it was time to hit a Denver-area police-impound auction. Here’s what happened yesterday.
I used to buy cheap Civics, Sentras, and Tercels at the San Francisco towed-car auction, and the setup here is similar: the cars are lined up in a lot, none of them can be started, and most don’t have keys. You get an hour or so to inspect them (i.e., try to guess which ones are runners and which aren’t by sniffing engine oil, studying the paperwork inside to see if they were towed off after a DUI bust, warrant-check, or some other situation that indicated a functioning vehicle when it fell into John Law’s hands). The star of this auction was a 1968 Chevelle 2-door hardtop. Lots of Bondo, trashed interior, generic-looking small-block engine, but not much rust. It went for $1,800.
I was tempted to take a shot at this ’07 BMW 335i, because its 302-horse twin-turbo six and manual transmission would have been a fun swap for my 1941 Plymouth project. However, the bidding got way into the thousands in a hurry on this car and I wandered off to go look at potential Ford Windsor donors for Rich.
This ’83 Signature Series Mark VI Continental had a 302, but it was equipped with terrible throttle-body Late Malaise Era fuel injection, so no dice. Meanwhile, some vehicles were selling for surprisingly good money, e.g., a ’97 Volkswagen GTI with an obvious history of hoonage went for $1,900. A manual-trans-equipped Nissan Altima sold for $3,900.
This Honky Chateau Econoline camper had some flavor of Windsor— probably a 302— but it was carbureted, plus the scrapper typically knocks off 1,000 pounds of value from an RV due to all the wood and other non-valuable materials within.
Another friend was considering this Dodge RV, though he felt a little nervous about the prospect of driving it home with this sprayed across the back.
So, the best potential ’53 Ford engine donor of the bunch ended up being this 1991 Ford F-150.
It was some sort of custom conversion, complete with door badges, done by the apparently-now-defunct Centurion Vehicles in White Pigeon, Michigan.
“Sedona” badging, custom paint and stripes, not in great shape but pretty solid.
The 5.8 liter V8 has the tall truck EFI setup, but the ’53 Ford has plenty of engine-bay altitude. The oil looked good, and the truck was a confiscation victim, meaning the owner who was arrested with it would be prohibited from buying it back (and that it was probably running when it got towed off by the lawmen).
There was no arrest paperwork in the truck, but I was able to find evidence of some interesting stories in other auction vehicles. Say, this impressive septuafecta bust.
This truck came with a few full bottles of Negra Modelo (frozen, thanks to the 18-degree temperatures in Denver yesterday morning) and a fairly worn-out interior. No potential bidders seemed to be paying much attention to it, since the truck shoppers were mostly looking for ready-to-roll work trucks younger than 22 years of age.
A $750 bid took it away. That would have been a lot for something like this, five years ago, but these days it’s not a bad deal. The ignition key was on the seat, but the battery was dead. A quick jump-start and it fired up and drove home under its own power. Good engine, good transmission.
Rich will yank the engine and transmission, keep the tires, and scrap the rest at $240/ton.

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43 Comments on “Looking For an Engine Donor For Your ’53 Ford? Police Impound Auction!...”

  • avatar

    A running truck that isn’t a complete dump-heap for $750? Score! That interior does look pretty gross, but for a “few trips to Home Depot or the Mulch Yard” kind of truck, it looks perfect.

  • avatar

    And a Lariat to boot.

  • avatar

    Wow nice deal indeed. Too bad the engine is going to be removed. I bet after using a good buffing machine on the outside and a couple cans of Tuff Stuff on the inside, along with a new seat cover from JC Whitney, a nice little profit could be made on that.

  • avatar

    I would have gone modular with a running/driving P71 interceptor.

    The deal on Craigslist currently is a 2007 ‘Vic with an 80k mile engine and trans for $600. Apparently, it just has an idle control problem (easily fixed with a trip to the junkyard).

  • avatar

    I would have to be convinced to part with the truck. That’s a good buy.

  • avatar

    I’ve been attending Impound Auctions for 30+ years and they always mention why the vehicle was impounded ~ as I was buying to scrap out for the drivetrains I always bought the DUI cars ….

    This truck looks nice and it’s a shame to break it but I hope to see the ’53 Ford article ere long .

    Used Panther Police ccars are always available for $1,000 tun key with current smog check at most Munincipal Autions , here in L.A. about 3/4 of them wind up as Taxis , then get run straight into the ground .


  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    Centurion also made a custom F-Series/Bronco mashup which grafted the rear body section of a Bronco onto a crew-cab F-Series pickup. The result was the Ford equivalent of the Chevy Suburban. Centurion built these into the mid-1990’s until Ford discontinued the Bronco and introduced the Expedition.

    I have a photo of one of these over on Flickr.[email protected]/6426361395/

    • 0 avatar

      They also made crew cab short bed F150s before Ford did as well. My dad seriously considered buying one off the dealer lot back in ’94 or ’95.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      I saw one of the pre-Expeditions in a mall display circa 1996. It wasn’t until a few years later I realized it wasn’t a factory job.

      Dunno if Centurion made these too, but someone around here used to have a crew + extended cab Ford diesel with a dually longbed. Thing must have been 25 feet long.

    • 0 avatar

      Centurion certainly had some wacky designs including an Econoline van modified for towing 5th wheels. Here is a brochure if anyone is interested:

  • avatar

    Two questions:

    1) What kind of SUV / CUV is it that’s sporting the plexiglass replacement window?

    2) Why does Jesus look way too much like Barry Gibb on that prayer card?

  • avatar

    Years ago, before the interwebz, I saw an ad in the local paper for the county’s used car auction. The ad read in part, “Used vehicles from $25 and up.” I really didn’t need a car, but I attended out of curiosity. Yes, they had $25 cars….one of them had a small tree growing out of the defroster vent. The $25 cars were bought up in lots of 10 by scrap metal dealers. There were 3-4 dozen cars worth bidding on….ex-cop cars, other county vehicles, confiscated vehicles. When the first decent vehicle came up for auction, the auctioneer opened the bidding, accepted a bid from one guy, and then immediately closed the bidding. The rest of us were like, WTF? One would-be bidder complained that he couldn’t get his bid in. The auctioneer responded by telling him this was a fast process and he needed to pay attention. Second vehicle came up for auction, and the auctioneer repeated the same thing, sold the vehicle to the dude who bought the first one without giving anyone else a chance to bid. The guy who complained the first time around went ballistic. The auctioneer threatened to call the police. The complainer told the auctioneer to save his dime because he was going to call the police. The county cops showed up, and spoke to the complainer. Then the cops spoke to the auctioneer. The cops then approached the complainer and told him to leave ASAP or he would be arrested. The complainer left, as did the majority of the rest of us.

    My one and only county used car auction.

    • 0 avatar

      Auctions are so hit and miss. I go to a lot of surplus/police seizure auctions (just for fun, not always to buy) and its all just a big game.

      At the most recent surplus auction I went to, I overheard two guys in the crowd talking to each other. It was the one guy’s first auction and he was asking the other guy about how it all works, etc. The second guy said most of the stuff is county surplus but some of it is consignments. He said 4 or 5 of the trailers were actually his consignments and that he makes good money at these auctions. A bit later, the bidding comes around to the trailers and guess who’s throwing his hand up fast and furious on them? He looks around carefully the whole time, and once the bidding slows down on each one, he bows out and lets them sell.

      I’m sure the auction company is well aware of all the shills, but they take their cut on the final sell price so they certainly aren’t going to step in.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes, a lot of these types of auctions are rigged. Recently there was some action taken on San Francisco-area foreclosure auctions because of bid collusion. Basically, on a lot of the corrupt auctions, you have to be one of a handful of favored bidders to win, and everyone else has to buy off of those guys as a markup. It’s a scam.

    • 0 avatar

      Beaters are one thing, but if you’re looking for a deal on a later model, do not go to an auction house. Or just be ready to pay FULL retail plus 10% for an as-is you can’t even test drive. I recently went to a truck and heavy equipment auction by one of the largest and well known auctioneers in the world and shills were everywhere. They’d end up with the winning bid about 1 out of every 5 units that crossed the block.

      Someone would whisper something to the auctioneer right after he dropped the hammer then he’d offer the unit to the 2nd highest bidder. If he declined, they’d start the bidding over again.

      Still, buyers at these corrupt auctions don’t care if they’re paying full retail. They have more money than time, buying dozens at a time and selling them at 2 or 3X the money overseas or at a BHPH.

    • 0 avatar

      The person to call in the case of a corrupt public auction is the local DA/AG/Prosecutor. No guarantee they’re not part of the scam or unwilling to be bothered doing their job, but a better chance than wasting time calling the cops, who will neither care nor have jurisdiction.

  • avatar

    Nothing beats an old skool EFI 351W and this may be a collectible Centurion. Like Joe McKinny points out, these were popular conversions, but I don’t remember this one and it may have inspired the Lightning.

    Mine is in a ’96 F-350 crew cab 4X4 with manual trans/transfer case and hubs. Best old truck I’ve ever had. Bulletproof.

  • avatar

    As others mention, that would be a good truck with a little elbow grease and an O’Reilly’s seat cover. Here in Iowa you can’t find that generation F150 without wheel well rust and this one looks pretty clean. You’d probably be time and money ahead to spiff it up and sell it for at least $2K and take that money and get a better engine already tested and pulled.

  • avatar

    Just seeing that interior, I can smell that musty-musk smell of the inside of a 70s/80s Ford pick-up.

  • avatar

    Sounds like an interesting project but as the owner of a ’96 Bronco I hate to see this truck cannibalized and scrapped, especially since an EFI 302 from a Mustang arguably would have been a better choice.

  • avatar

    Centurion got bought by Southern Comfort Conversions.

    They also made other interesting things, e.g. Ford F-Series + Ford E-Series = crew cab long-bed hauler, often as a dually. The back seat in the crew cab would have double-doors, like an Econoline.

    Check out for the enthusiast forum.

  • avatar

    This article kind of made me a little sad, I love this era of F-Series. I’ve wanted one of these since I was a little kid. Plus in Southern California, these are damn near unkillable, especially if it has the 4.9 inline 6.

  • avatar

    I like this truck. I would have bought it and drove it. Sure looks less rusty then the 2 i already have. Parts are cheap, easy to work on, bulletproof engines, efi is easy to diagnose, and reliable.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    I agree with the others re breaking it and scrapping. It’s a nice looking truck with that Short bed and the engine is possibly a Lo comp deal with a lower power range as compared with a car engine.a sort of “all torque,no action” type.
    Give it a spit and polish,test the market and see if it sells or gets any attention. if not,nothing lost, but you might just win too. I’d be leary of an engine from a light truck formely owned by a drunk who liked huntin’,fishen’ etc…..

  • avatar

    The real-world value of this truck, now that it is known to be running, is probably something like a grand (if that). Not worth the hassle of selling it, especially when you factor in all the time wasted on flaky-ass buyers who never follow through on appointments to see the thing. It’s also not worth the hassle of getting a proper title for it using the lien-sale paperwork, and nobody is going to buy it without a real title. In the end, Rich would make about $10/hour, at most, for “saving” it from the Crusher, and he’d still need to go find another engine for the ’53 Ford.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the education as to why this vehicle is less valuable than it looks. I, for one, didn’t know that getting a real title would be such a hassle.

      I would have thought a running truck that’s not a rust-bucket (with a clean title) would be worth more than a grand, but I imagine you would know more about that than just about anyone.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d gladly give him $900 for it, but he’d need to get it to Orlando and get a title for it. If it was an I6, I’d go $1100.

      Without a title, it’s scrap.

    • 0 avatar

      About a grand indeed, if it had a title. But you did get a very good deal for an auction. Especially municipal auctions are insane – people paying 20-50% more than they would if they just used CL. Not to mention you can test drive cars on CL.

  • avatar

    My car has Ford throttle body injection. You only have to worry about 2 injectors, one O2 sensor, and 140 horses from your 302. You don’t mind occasional freeway downshifts do you?

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    Back in the late nineties I worked for a flooring installation company and one of the guys I worked with had this exact truck , which was about 5 years old at the time . He didn’t like the truck much , constantly complaining of the lousy gas mileage with the 351 and complaining that his father had bought his younger brother a better truck . Like all the young guys I was working with at the time he wanted a new Ford Lightning. I told him that this was obviously a custom truck and just an appearance package like the Lightning, what with the Centurion labels. IIRC the wood accents or at least some of it was real wood . His had a stick-shift which kept popping out of gear . One time I was with him going to a job in the middle of nowhere and it broke down .

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    John Denver will enjoy driving the spirit of this truck in High heaven.

  • avatar

    Murilee, do you think posing for pictures with a vehicle taken from a criminal is a good idea? Have you ever seen the Simpson’s “Lil’ Bandit” episode. Snake isn’t going to be happy with you.

  • avatar

    “….flaky-ass buyers who never follow through …”


    And to the “why you could fix it up, and sell it for a lot..”, Would you pay “a lot”?

  • avatar

    Having been present during Rich’s purchase of this truck, I can attest to it’s extra ratty condition. It photographs well but up close it’s no prize and the right side is covered with dents. I followed Rich home on the Interstate and the truck accelerated up to 75mph fast enough that I was left in the dust. From the way Rich was weaving in and out of traffic I thought he may have actually drank the frozen beers before leaving the auction! In addition the truck had no functioning lights at all in the rear. I like to “save” cool old trucks but I’d have no issue crushing this one after it’s given up it’s drivetrain. It’s a classic case of something being worth more in pieces than it is as a whole.

  • avatar

    Impound auctions have some good deals. I picked up my 83 Turbo Coupe at one in 2005. Most vehicles were bringing less than scrap value, because the buyers had a truck and were going to haul for scrap, I remember prices being near $80-$90 on most stuff. After I won the TC at $120 I learned the guy I was bidding against was the PO. The car got towed for expired registration and he was hoping to buy it back for less than the penalty.

    Even though I outbid him on his own car, he went home and got the keys and left them in the ignition for me. I pumped up the tires (*BALD* TRX’s) put in a battery and drove it home.

    Still have it, runs/drives great but interior has some missing parts, trunk got pried open to get to the PO’s speakers he had. Front clip replaced for probable deer strike. Still gets the job done.

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