Cab Over Rat Rod: 1938 Ford COE


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One of the more under-the-radar vehicle segments is that of old commercial trucks. There’s a tremendous following for heavy-duty hauling trucks, particularly those built to a high specification, but you don’t see much about this enthusiast community in the mainstream media. From rescuing old Peterbilts to tracking down elusive Volvo tractor cabs, there’s an array of makes and models just as diverse as any contingent of performance-oriented vehicles. In particular, cab-over trucks are cherished by truck collectors and this 1938 Ford model with the rare “bird’s mouth” grill design is listed here on eBay with a Buy-It-Now of $12,500 and the option to submit a best offer.


Cabover trucks represent a unique opportunity to either be restored back to factory form or to be reborn as an epic restomod build. Last year, we sold a White 3000 COE off of the property in North Georiga after months of trying to find a buyer; the new owner plans to make a radical custom truck out of the COE, which is probably the best plan for a truck with some bodywork issues. This Ford is in much the same place with the seller disclosing that it does have rust without disclosing exactly where; regardless, he is quick to point out that some companies have begun making patch panels for trucks like these.


I can see rust in the lower edges of the cab and inside the doors above the steps into the cab; these are pretty typical trouble spots for a rig like this. Overall, it appears to be solid, or at least solid enough to live with the bodywork while the mechanical bits are restored. Sadly, the seller confirmed that the flathead V8 is locked up tighter than tight, so the next owner will have to explore a custom engine installation or if he wants to tear down the existing engine and give it new life. Truth be told, with a truck like this, I’m sure retrofitting a modern powerplant would take some engineering but would still be pretty straightforward given the truck’s simplistic design.


The floors don’t look bad at all, which is likely attributable to the fact that this COE resided in western Nebraska before making its way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The rig comes with a clear title and looks like a blank canvas for customizers and restorers alike who love to see these old cabovers still trundling down the road. While its long-distance hauling days are done, one can hope there’s a sympathetic truck fan out there who sees the potential in breathing new life into this forgotten Ford, but I do think the seller needs to come down on his asking price given the limited market for one of these trucks in project form.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. geomechs geomechsMember

    This is a well-equipped truck. I see a 2-speed rear axle with a manual shift mechanism. That would suit me fine because the vacuum pots are hard to come by, and they are usually trashed. The original engine would be a 221 CID Center Outlet Flatty. The 81A engine was the first to have 14mm plugs and it morphed from 21 stud heads to 24 by the end of the production run. I wouldn’t begrudge anyone who dropped a 59AB in it; the extra 15 hp could be put to good use.

    1938 was the last year for mechanical brakes. Some would immediately want to convert it to hydraulics but mechanical brakes aren’t all that bad as long as they’re adjusted properly, and are kept in adjustment. I might add that if you lose a wheel with mechanical brakes you still have brakes. Lose a wheel with juice brakes or blow a line and you’re stopping like Fred Flintstone. Well, I guess you still have the parking brake at the back of the transmission. The school bus I rode when I was a kid went for a week with the parking brake as the ONLY stopping component before the owner finally fixed it properly.

    RESTORE it! I’ve seen so many COEs sacrifice their cab to the butcher who wants to drop it onto another Dodge/Cummins 1-ton chassis. These are classy when fully dressed and deserve to be continued. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen some really great-looking resto-mods, but that doesn’t make it right…

    Like 20
    • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

      Hey, hey, how you been, pal? A long overdue “private message” is needed.
      I believe this is a 1940, because it already has hydraulic brakes, and that wing above the grill looks like 1940 images. Try and find an original to look at. I thought maybe that 2nd shift lever was an aux. trans. but I think you are right. It would have to be a linkage to a cable, no? I thought you of all people would appreciate that “make ‘er fit” oil filter with the “heat wrench”, and no question, it will become a street rod of some sort, and that’s okay. It was such an unusual style, it could be really sharp again. Like this? At this price? A great Super Tramp song comes to mind,,”Dreamer,,,nothing but a dreamer”,,

      Like 9
      • geomechs geomechsMember

        Hi Howard. I was in a bit of hurry when I breezed through this and didn’t realize that it was newer. My bad. The bright ring was available on the ’38 models but the wings give it a 2-year (40-41) use. Yes it does have juice brakes so no need to debate the constant adjustment required by mechs. A ’39 on would be powered by a 24 stud flattie and a lot of them were repowered by the 59AB. Seeing that cut-away in the shroud would indicate that the filter was on a repower.

        Like 12
      • Driveinstile DriveinstileMember

        When i saw the twin sticks I was thinking the same as you, that it has a Brownie Box. I wouldnt be surprised, a lot of trucks back then had Aux Transmissions. I really hope someone restores this back to as stock as possible, keep it a nice running Flathead with both transmissions.

        Like 5
      • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

        Hi Geo, correcting you is ALWAYS risky business. It’s google images that saves my rear, unlike ACTUAL knowledge displayed by you. Your stance on mechanical brakes is still valid, and ol’ Hank never trusted juice brakes either. You know, we look at that dog house with a big hole in it, and don’t think twice about it, but I bet some poor schmuck froze their arse off.

        Like 5
      • geomechs geomechsMember

        I thought it might have a Brownie but the rear diff housing is a typical shape for an Eaton or a Rockwell axle, either which could have a 2spd. A Ford single speed axle would have that 2 piece housing that resembles a Model T rear with a thyroid condition. Ford used mostly Eaton 2 speed axles but I can also stand corrected on this one as well…

        Like 5
      • Ivan Felker

        My dad had 2 1941’s. 2nd stick had a rod all the way to the 2 speed axle. Before vacuum. 41’s also had vertical grill bars.

        Like 0
  2. Mark

    This is definately not a ’38; it’s a ’40. Grille emblem, marker lights, hood-side emblem holes prove this. Also; no ’38 ashtray.
    So it’s juice brakes would be factory.
    Rear is indeed an Eaton.
    FInally, these were only 221 CI in ’38- the rest of the 1st gen were 239s.

    Like 3
  3. Claudio

    I personally really like driving , i don’t cruise , i drive so i need a vehicle that moves
    This heap would be useless for me and is probably for most
    So the chances of it being restored is as bleak as an honest …

    Like 1
  4. George Birth

    Cute old truck , and many enthusiasts go crazy over these. However on the flip side a non runner with a frozen engine is not worth $12K especially with the rust, missing windows, no bed etc.. This one should be worth $5-$8K considering whoever buys it will need a heavy duty wrecker to tow it home.

    Like 5
  5. TheOldRanger

    The “intro” picture would make it a great vehicle for a “scary movie”…..

    Like 1
    • bobhess bobhessMember

      Got here late. What “intro” picture?

      Like 0
  6. Anton

    I have visions of a “pseudo-retro” Rv built around this…

    Like 3
    • Mike

      I was thinking of that also. Would be cool if a 1930’s style Airstream cabin could be added to the back. Would be a ton of work and dump truck of cash, but it be fantastic.

      Like 3
      • geomechs geomechsMember

        Something like this? Even a purist like me appreciates a well-done restomod…

        Like 3
  7. Mark

    >”The bright ring was available on the ’38 models but the wings give it a 2-year (40-41) use.”<
    '38-40 used the oval grille, '41-42 & 46-47 used the waterfall grille.

    Like 0
  8. Norman K Wrensch

    what happened to the pictures?

    Like 0
  9. DON

    I never saw any old cabovers as a kid ;in New England , things just dont last as long as they do in other areas. The first time I saw one was in an old junkyard in the woods near my house while looking for Falcon parts . This was pre internet , so it really was seeing one for the first time. Same body style Ford dump truck, but the decades sitting in the woods here had taken its toll – sunk to its frame in the pine needles, , completely covered in rust . Even in that sad shape I thought it was a cool looking truck !

    Like 0

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