Low, Lean And Clean: Mike Brown's 1981 Ford Courier

10 min read

Low, Lean And Clean: Mike Brown's 1981 Ford Courier

10 min read

“I remember seeing a Courier at the Street Rod Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky one year, and I had no idea what it was,” recalls Mike Brown of Bardstown, Kentucky. “I’ve always been into those smaller Ford Rangers from the 80s, so this thing really caught my attention. Once I got a chance to give it a closer look, I immediately knew what I wanted my next project to be.”

As the son of an oval track racer Brown spent his formative years helping out on his dad’s crew, and the two of them later took on the restoration of a ’65 Mustang Fastback when Mike was still in high school. “I’ve always been fascinated by just about anything with a motor in it,” he explains. “But over the years I’ve become a die-hard Ford guy.”

His search for a Courier of his own initially led him to Indiana, where he discovered what turned out to be the right car at the wrong time. “I went and looked at this ‘81, but I actually ended up not buying it because it just wasn’t going to be practical for me to get it at that point,” he says. “But I kind of kept tabs on the car after that, and I ended up seeing it again at the 2019 Holley Ford Festival. I got to talking with the new owner, and I showed him the pictures that I still had on my phone from when I’d originally gone to look at it. I told him if he ever wanted to get rid of it, I was definitely interested. And, to my surprise, he called me a few days later.”

Brown seized upon this unlikely second chance and picked up the truck the following day. Shortly thereafter he put together a plan to freshen the Ford up it while still retaining its killer aesthetic. “It was in pretty good shape when I got it, but I wanted to go through it to update it a bit,” he tells us. “The interior needed a bit of attention, and that’s still a work in progress right now. But the rest of it was mainly little things here and there – we rebuilt the carburetor, replaced the compressor for the air suspension along with some of the bags and lines, put in a new fuel pump, and we’re in the process of putting in stainless steel brake lines now. And my uncle is going to re-do the seats – he does all of the upholstery work. We’re also going to pull the 2.3-liter four cylinder engine out for a rebuild so we can make this thing a bit peppier. The plan right now is to get that started in the next few weeks.”

Hooked to a four-speed manual gearbox and the factory rear end, the Brown has no delusions about the Courier’s current place in the high performance food chain. “Low and slow is the name of the game right now,” he quips. “It’s definitely a cruiser. But it still seems to get everyone’s attention.”

He says that the short-term plan is to turn it into more of a low-key sleeper. “I want to keep it a naturally aspirated four cylinder for now – I’m not going to go the turbo route. It’s going to be all motor with a big cam and some headwork, etc. Sort of like a circle track engine build.”

The truck currently rides on 14-inch six-lug wheels which tuck under the factory bodywork. The matte red paint highlights the Courier’s clean lines, while metal flake on the roof section and custom pinstriping give the Ford a period-correct look.

At this year’s Ford Festival at Beach Bend Raceway in Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Courier made its first appearance under Brown’s care. “It’s probably my favorite event of the year, right up there with Street Rod Nationals,” he points out. “There’s a little bit of everything there, and the kids loved it. I think the kids enjoy showing the truck off even more than I do! They like hitting the switches. But I really love that I can watch some drag racing, check out some off-roading, and look at parts that I want to get all at the same show.”

Looking down the road, Brown says that a Coyote swap may be in the Courier’s long term future, but the top priority right now is modernizing the air suspension. “I’d like to update it so that I can control it through my phone with an app,” he says. “And I want to add a few more valves and switches so we can do some more advanced things with it. For instance, it would be nice to have one-touch control of the ride height so I don’t have to fiddle with two switches to get it where I need it. But with the re-upholstered seats and the engine rebuild to go along with the updated air suspension, it should be looking and running better than ever at next year’s Ford Fest.”

Meanwhile, Brown has also recently turned his attention back to that ’65 Mustang that he and his father put together back in the day. “That’s becoming more of a mild pro tourer, so we’re putting modern brakes on it and coilovers, and it currently has a 302ci V8 in it that’s hooked to a five-speed manual transmission. With these two, our ’88 Thunderbird, a couple of old trucks, and some boats in our fleet, there’s always something to work on around here.”

Mike Brown Courier rear


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