Like any good nickname, the best car monikers have to come from an outside source. It's not like you can just start calling yourself "The Lady Killer" or "Mr. Money Bags" and expect it to stick with all your buddies, right? The same goes for really good car names that live on for decades once struck up by a third party.
This situation recently happened to J.J. Barnhardt and his '32 Ford coupe on its very first outing after years of construction and perfecting at the famous SO-CAL Speed Shop in Pomona. Working up to that fateful date, J.J. had been one of the men behind the scenes organizing the Petersen Automotive Museum's 75th anniversary celebration of the '32 Ford, "Deuce Week." This event would include a week of driving events, dinners with speaking sessions by hot rod legends, an impromptu concert with rock legends, a display inside the museum with some of the most famous and beloved '32 Fords, and finally end with a large outdoor display with just about every shape and style of '32 Ford ever made. The majority of these Deuces were some of the most gorgeous hot rods ever put together since many were almost-new to present builds finished just hours before the show.
J.J.'s car fits into the latter, being that he took possession of his freshly completed car from SO-CAL president Pete Chapouris the night before the event. J.J.'s coupe received plenty of praise and admiration at Deuce Week, but it got some really special attention from '32 Ford aficionados Roy Brizio and guitarist Jeff Beck. While admiring the coupe, Jeff noted to Roy that he would really like a color similar to the one on J.J.'s coupe for his own five-window. When they asked J.J. about the color, he was both a bit protective of the special blend and equally stumped, as it was a totally custom mix without a true name. That's when Jeff Beck said in his best native British accent, "Well, it's the color of Champagne, mate!" From that moment on, the car has been known as the Champagne Coupe.
The upper-class, refined demeanor of J.J.'s '32 is something fairly new to the old coupe. See, it was only a few years ago that it was found by SO-CAL employee John Reed languishing in a Southern California garage as a forlorn old hot rod that had not seen the road for multiple decades. The really good news was that some unknown rodder had started with a nearly perfect car, modified it lightly, and then for some unknown reason parked it inside a garage where it sat for at least 40-plus years. This long-term hibernation had been very kind to the car, and John showed J.J. the recently acquired five-window when he mentioned to John that he really wanted a nice three-window coupe.
At first J.J. was not sold on the idea, but it hit him what a perfect hot rod a well-chopped '32 Ford five-window makes after studying many early rod magazines. After a series of multiple sleepless nights, J.J. made a deal with John and had the coupe moved inside the SO-CAL facility for a full buildup.
With the basic game plan of a late-'50s hot rod, SO-CAL shop foreman Ryan Reed headed up the project and guided the coupe's transformation with input from both Pete and owner J.J. An early decision was made for a unique powerplant, which came in the form of a Buick Nailhead. This selection would require careful planning since the length of the Buick mill generally requires a substantial loss of interior room-a loss in which J.J. was not interested. So, without stretching the wheelbase or hood length (a common solution), the Nailhead was carefully shoehorned into the SO-CAL chassis and fitted with one-off pulleys and hardware to make everything fit in the limited confines of the '32 engine compartment. A Tremec five-speed backs up the 401ci engine, followed by a bulletproof Ford 9-inch rearend. A selection of traditional pieces from the SO-CAL catalog make up the front suspension with original Mercury wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich wide whitewalls for rolling stock.
Once the chassis was squared away, the nearly factory-perfect body was next on the list. It was handed over to the Kennedy Brothers just around the corner in Pomona for a proper 2 1/2-inch roof slice before returning to SO-CAL for final massaging by Luis Padilla and the custom-mixed squirt job by Mick Jenkins. When the paint was dry, Gabe's Upholstery stitched up the black and white leather upholstery and Jimmy Shine added his touch with a custom wiring harness.
Now, like a bottle of fine wine (or Champagne), J.J. Barnhardt's '32 coupe will only get better and more appreciated as time goes by.