Wildsville: Mike Cooper’s 1993 Ford pick-up

Crafted rather than built, Mike Cooper's wild Tubester rod is pure art

Photographers: David Fetherston

Notice something a little different here? There’s a reason for that. The builder of this wild rod is not your traditional bolt-it-together kinda guy. Nope, Mike Cooper is a wood sculptor and college lecturer who used his formidable talent to create this metal masterpiece, and in much the same way he’d approach a wood carving, he chopped, shaved and milled raw material to achieve just the right look.

First published in the October 2002 issue of Street Machine

The project began with an abused ’33 Ford pickup truck and Mike started out slowly by first building the chassis with extra care. He boxed and shaved the frame, adding a new crossmember and stepping it 13-inches at the rear, setting up the frame with a sixpoint roll cage. So he could install a Chevy small-block V8, along with a six-speed Corvette transmission, a complete ’93 Corvette rear end and a Heidt’s Superide front suspension was fitted with Canover air suspension cans for ride-height adjustability.

Mike then turned his mind to the body. He already had an image in his head of what he wanted and a hundred drawings done to scale. It was to be radically chopped and channeled with a short, tight-assed bed, like the one he’d seen cruising his hometown back in the late 50s.

He chopped seven inches out of the roof height and channeled the body down over the new frame, but it took three goes to get there. He also set the A-pillars back 30 degrees and sloped the roof down at the front nine degrees, and created a new windscreen opening using the slightly-curved windshield glass out of an ’88 Toyota Tercel. This meant he had to create a one-off windshield frame which had its base moved forward out onto the cowl. Once he had the opening figured out and formed up, he had the glass cut to shape.

The bed presented its own problems. He couldn’t use the original steel, so he did the next best thing and built one using a set of highly-modified steel rear fenders to retain its classic Ford lines and four sheets of 16 gauge steel. It turned out 20 inches shorter than stock and four inches shallower. To this, he added a one-off tailgate and hole-punched rolled pan using ’94 Corvette taillights and a moveable racing spoiler.

The fenders were also a nifty part of the new bed. These he widened four inches and rotated forward so the tips of the fenders lift out and away from the wheel giving the rear a more aero-look, all this after he first mocked it up in wood just to see how it’d look. The front fenders were also radically changed with huge scoops molded into the lower leading edge to serve as brake air ducts, and ’94 Ford Taurus park lights molded into their inner face – see, some good can come from a Taurus! The stock headlight bar was replaced with a pair of new “insect stalk” headlights which Mike created using ’37 Plymouth taillight housings fitted with ’96 Dodge foglight lenses mounted directly to the frame.

Mike had picked out his colour early on and as pieces were finished they were painted in a special Brilliant Red mix of DuPont Premiere. Creative Concepts in Santa Rosa, California, did the final bodywork and painting and the job is stellar.

“Blown might be cool!” thought Mike when considering the go show, but that created the immediate problem of finding a place for the radiator. The solution was a radical twin-radiator, fan-cooled system mounted in the bed of the truck with huge oval side scoops drafting extra air in from behind the front doors. It’s a nifty bit of engineering and not wanting to hide it, Mike built a seethrough ribbed white ash floor as a finishing touch.

Such innovation in the cooling department was necessary as he built the rod to drive – long distance driving, like the annual Hot Rod Power Tour. So with the help of several fellow hot rodders the powerplant came together. Squatting in the engine bay is a jewellike, Cub Barnett-built 355 small-block. It runs Keith Black blower pistons, Scat rods, blue-printed and balanced moving mass, Comp Cam, six-quart oil pan, Edelbrock aluminum heads and a Littlefield 6/71 supercharger topped with a single Carter 650cfm carburettor hidden in what appears to be a cast injector hat.

This three-port induction scoop was made out of two pieces of raw aluminum weighing 131kg, which were milled down to just 9.9kg! The job was done on his Bridgeport mill after he mocked it up out of cardboard, wood, clay and coffee cans.

But it’s the exhaust which gives this truck its Tubester tag. Mike loves pipe and especially the organic shapes you can get when you start making sculptures. And so, its “bag of snakes” headers were created from his own imagination using a collection of stock U-bends which he shaped to flow out of the engine compartment and down into a collector just above the running board. The pipe exits the header through a hole on the lower section of the cowl and the system then goes into a pair of 40 Series Flowmaster mufflers. From here the commercial ceramic-coated plumbing feeds out into a wild tapered tubing set which culminates in a single central outlet at the base of the bed.

The interior is also a jewel. Mike had Rich Santana in Diamond Springs, California, create the software in creamy-brown leather and fabric over shortened OMP Rallye seat frames, a Mullins steering column, MOMO steering wheel and a hand-made dash filled with Auto Meter instruments.

The wood dash panel is made of over 160 pieces of polished wenge (a South American hardwood) and white sycamore which Mike laminated together at an offset angle. This 45kg slab was then gouged out to form a gorgeous, flowing multi-coloured 12kg panel which Mike drilled for instruments and controls. Mike also created matching door caps which blend with the dash when the door is closed giving a continuous flow around you. Other pieces of sugar pine, purple heart, black walnut and maple are intricately carved and used for door pulls, gearshift knob and armrests. Now, after eight years gestation, the Tubester is a fullyfunctional street-driven rod.

“I thought several times that I was close to being done, but that was years back,” Mike says. “Now, it really is done and I’m so ready to just get out and drive it as much as I can!”

Mike’s wood sculptures

Mike Cooper is a well-known and highly-respected artist whose works have been showcased in some major US museum art collections. The Australian Craft Council even invited Mike to participate in teaching tours in Australia back in the 80s. Mike’s sculptures are finely-detailed wood sculptures of people, motorcycles and weapons. The work pictured above is dubbed Turbo. The wild chopper features 22 types of laminated soft and hardwoods, and Mike’s famous Harley-Wesson engine with a Smith and Wesson Handgun integrated into the engine design.


Colour:DuPont Premiere Brilliant Red
Engine:355 Chev
Blower:Littlefield 6/71
Heads:Edelbrock alloys
Pistons:Keith Black
Carb:Carter 650cfm
Gearbox:Corvette 6-speed
Front end:Heidt’s Superide
Rear end:’93 Corvette IRS
Suspension:Canover air ride
Seats:Leather and cloth trimmed OMP
Dash:Lotsa wood
Wheels:American Racing Torque Thrust
Rubber:BFG TA, 195/70/14 front, 255/70/15 rear