By the end of August 2006, Jane and I had finally resolved to finish our '36 Ford roadster. We had been talking about it for four or five years but kept procrastinating because, after several memorable road trips, we had gotten attached to the flames on the faded primer and the $29 mail-order tiger fur seat cover.
We drove 5,200 miles in three weeks on our longest trip back in August 2004. We left Colorado with no top and went north through Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota. Then, we headed west along the Canadian border through Montana, Idaho, and Washington. After that, we turned south through Oregon and California, down to San Diego, before heading home through Nevada and Utah, and back to Colorado. It was 32 degrees on a very lonely highway the morning we got to Bismarck, North Dakota, and 110 degrees on a jammed 10-lane freeway the afternoon we got to L.A. The 9-inch Ford gave up in Pullman, Washington, and the old Top Loader four-speed donated some teeth in San Luis Obispo.
This road trip offered us some trying times. There were days when we would drive for hours hunkered down, squinting through the short wet windshield, trying to stay dry and on the road. There were a couple breakdown moments when the car just stopped at inconvenient places. Then, there were the hours after those breakdowns when we had to figure out how to fix a car made entirely out of obsolete, incompatible, and highly modified old junk, in a town where we knew no one. But tired, hungry, hot, cold, or broken-down, we figured out how to get along and stay married. We thought we would be glad to get home, but when we were finally home and unpacking, I was feeling a little melancholy as I pulled Jane's blue wrinkled and still-damp rain-jacket out of a bag. I looked at Jane and noticed her eyes getting glassy when she ran across the Ziploc bag with tranny teeth in it, so I asked, "What's wrong?" She just said, "The trip is over."
With this and many other memories rattling around in our heads, Jane and I settled into the cheap seat covers in August 2006 for the last short drive out to Pinkee's Rod Shop. There, I parked the '36 in a stall in a corner that Eric Peratt had cleared out for it.
My relationship with the '36 started years earlier at Dave Crouse's shop in Loveland, Colorado. It was originally a '36 coupe with the top cut off because it was rusted badly from being upside down in a field somewhere. He had sheetmetal from a '36 roadster from the beltline up to go with it. Dave proposed grafting this stuff together to make a '36 Ford roadster. My plan was to hot-rod it anyway, so I didn't need a pristine original. I struck a deal with Dave and we got underway.
While Dave started grafting the body together, I had Ron Schleiger build the chassis. I told Ron it was going to have an old dual-quad Ford 427 side oiler with a four-speed, and I wanted to be able to use both for what they were made for, in addition to wanting more room for bigger rear tires. Ron went to work using a set of boxed aftermarket 'rails, a pickup load of 1x2 tubing, and some 1/8-inch plate to scratch-build the rear third of the 'rails. By the time he was done, the rear 'rails had been reshaped to go up about 6 inches more and were swept in about 3 inches just in front of the rear fenders, and there was a bunch of 1x2 tubing tying the two sides together to keep it from twisting. After the sheetmetal for the rear fenders and floor had been modified to match the frame, there was room for a 30-inch-tall tire, and I could still get low with the planned Air Ride Technologies system.
The frame was done and Dave had finished grafting the two bodies together, so I was ready to go to work. I had a shop set up in my walkout basement with a 7-foot-wide door to get cars in and out. I had all the stuff down there-a Miller welder, an English wheel, a stretcher/shrinker, a sheetmetal shear, a sheetmetal break, a bandsaw, a belt sander, and three TVs.
To help get the hot rod look I was after, I concluded the windshield posts would have to be leaned back 10 degrees and chopped 2 inches. The top of the post had to be even with the top of the windshield frame, and it had to be clean when the convertible top was down. I didn't want the big black rubber gasket that normally surrounds and seals the movable stock windshield frame, but I did want it to look sort of original. After studying the stock '36 posts, it became apparent I wasn't going to get what I wanted using the stock iron posts, so I started from scratch. I got a piece of half-inch all-thread, screwed it into the original mounting holes, and then bent it to where I wanted the sides of the windshield frame. With 1/8-inch Plexiglas cut into strips and stuck into the groove at the edge of the frame, I could rest the frame on the cowl and lean it against the all-thread. I started adding Bondo to the all-thread until I had the shape I wanted and then had bronze castings made.
Even after I got the '36 on the road, I never stopped refining the look. One of the more radical but subtle mods resulted from Eric and me wandering around looking at cars and discussing what we liked and how the builder had done it. When we were approaching my '36, Eric said, "Ya know, that front is really blocky looking. The way the windshield is leaned back, it makes the grille look vertical." When we got to the car, he explained further. "I think we need to slant this grille, bring the fenders forward, change the line at the back of the fender, and bring the whole front suspension forward." I could see what he was talking about, but I felt like a proud father who was being told by his plastic surgeon friend that his darling daughter's nose needed tweaking. Not only was the shape of my little princess being disparaged, but my wallet seemed to be shivering and shriveling up like a raisin, like it was trying to hide from the weight-reduction program it was about to experience.
When we got back to Colorado, the '36 went in for the first of numerous Pinkee's surgeries. A couple months later, the bottom of the grille was stretched forward 2 1/2 inches. The fenders were moved forward the same, and the slope on the back of the fenders was changed to blend in. I cut the front suspension loose and welded it back in 4 inches farther forward. The hood sides and all the trim had to be modified and the bull nose was fabricated out of Bondo and cast in bronze by Nesh Brass. The headlights were shrunk from the stock 9-inch to fit a 7-inch sealed beam. This was done by pie-cutting the bucket and refitting the ring. It sounds like a lot of bother, but I liked the trim ring on the '36 headlight but didn't like the size. The whole idea was to make the front look like a stock '36 Ford but a little more streamlined and less cluttered.
Fast forward a few years and lots of miles, and the '36 was ready to come apart for shiny paint, fancy leather upholstery, and perfect chrome. I got to Pinkee's early to start the disassembly and started twisting bolts.
I began disconnecting the wires to the dash; I'm always amazed at how many wires it takes to make a car work, even a basic hot rod with no A/C, stereo, or any other electric accessories. When I thought I had all the wires loose, I slowly pulled the dash back to avoid tearing out anything I might have forgotten to disconnect. At that point, I felt like there was no turning back from going all the way to finishing this thing. At the next reunion of these parts, they would have really expensive shiny stuff on them and I would be sweating bullets trying to keep from scratching anything.
The dash, more than anything else in a car, gets familiar. After hours of driving and looking at it every minute or so to check speed and engine vitals for 15,000 miles, the relationship gets nearly intimate, and I recalled what went into making it almost every time I looked at it.