Every hot rod comes with its own distinct story, and the tale behind this beautiful black '39 Chevy coupe has all the makings of a classic fable. There was once a man, the fable would start, who wished for two things: a son and a street rod. When his son was born, the man bought a '39 Chevy coupe, which he stashed in his garage awaiting the day when the two of them would build it into a street rod for the boy to drive. Fourteen years later, the man decided to start working on the Chevy, but the foolish son decided he didn't want a street rod. So the father sold the car to another man, whose name was Brad Van Vickle. Now, Van Vickle also had a son, named AJ, who was not foolish but wise, and a computer whiz on top of that. Using Photoshop, Brad and AJ digitally modified the body lines and components of their '39, transforming it into a remarkably reworked concept rod. Their design mods were then applied to the real car, and years later, the '39 Chevy coupe was completed. Since then, the Van Vickles have had a lot of fun with their absolutely incredible coupe, which has earned several awards and a feature in ROD & CUSTOM. The other man and his son never got to do any of those things. The end.
What keeps the story from being a fable is the fact that it's true, and the previous owner's loss is Van Vickle's prize-winner. After sitting untouched for 14 years, the coupe was in exceptionally good condition when Brad purchased it. Once Brad and AJ finalized their design ideas, the car was turned over to Anderson Customs, a two-man shop in Menahga, Minnesota, operated by body-and-paint man Mike Anderson and fabricator-and-assembly man Dennis Wothe.
It's one thing to modify an image of a car using a computer; Anderson and Wothe had to make the Van Vickles' ideas work on a real car. The plan was not a radical makeover, just some well-conceived touches to bring out the best of the '39's lines, such as eliminating the bumpers, door handles, side mirrors, hinges, driprails, hood trim, and side louvers. The sanitized look is set off by Porsche headlights, a handbuilt grille, and low-profile rubber on super-sized American Racing five-spokes. A Heidt's frontend and rear Air Ride bags help drop the body over the filled and smoothed original frame at a rake hinting that the refined-looking coupe might have a few bad manners. Climb inside and it's all refinement again, with black leather upholstery and a milled aluminum instrument panel. Under the hood lives a ZZ4 Chevy small-block, rated at 385 hp.
Rick Amado took these photos at the '02 Street Rod Nats, where the '39 was a Pro's Picks winner. Brad had previously won a Boyd Coddington Pro's Pick prize at the Goodguys show in Indy and has since earned a few more awards at local events. His next goal with the car is to spend more time driving it. If there's a moral to this story, it's this: Get it out of the garage and on the street.
Brad Van Vickle
'39 Chevy Coupe
Drivetrain: Brad decided on Chevy small-block power using an aluminum-head ZZ4 350 built by Sallee Chevrolet. The 350, rated at 385 hp, runs a GM "hot" cam. A single Holley 750 carburetor on an Edelbrock RPM manifold is topped off with a custom air cleaner. Rodware headers were treated to HPC coating. The 4L60-E electronic automatic is controlled by a Lokar shifter and features a 2,500-stall converter from Phoenix Transmission. The '57 Ford 9-inch houses 3.73:1 gears with a Posi.
Chassis: Dennis Wothe at Anderson Customs filled and smoothed the original '39 Chevy rails, adding tubular crossmembers. The Heidt's IFS frontend includes dropped spindles working with Shockwave springs and a Mustang II power steering unit, with airbags from Air Ride Technologies in the rear. Wothe added Wilwood disc brakes with polished calipers at all four wheels. Heidt's front and rear antisway bars stiffen up the suspension.