It may not always be the first thing that comes to mind when looking at a hopped-up old car, but there's usually a great story of how a vintage vehicle survived through the years without ending up rotting away in a field, being sent off to the big auto graveyard, or getting recycled into late-model transportation. Some stories go back for decades and can be easily traced, while other histories do not reach so far back, but are just as interesting nonetheless.
Ralph Turnberg's '40 Ford coupe looks like it could have a long and attention-grabbing history dating back decades, but its custom incarnation began only within the last few years, when he came across the weathered coupe in a classified advertisement.Soon a road trip was planned, which ended up with Ralph leaving $7,500 in North Carolina and towing the well-worn coupe back to his home in South Carolina. The old Ford appeared to have served some time as a quarter-mile warrior and was showing some of the battle scars. The floor had been replaced at some point over the years and the body suffered from the typical rust common to vintage sheetmetal.
Seeing as how the floor that had already been cut out once and there was rust in the lower body, Ralph didn't think too long before deciding that channeling the coupe would really get the project moving forward toward a traditional Fifties-style custom build. In an effort to pass on some of the old custom tricks, he towed the coupe to Blue Ridge Community College where he demonstrated to the auto restoration class how to channel an old hot rod. After completing the five-inch channel, Ralph tried to find a local bodyman willing to chop the top, but everyone had a full schedule with at least a year-long wait. As luck would have it, Ralph got word that custom legend Gene Winfield was putting on a two-day seminar on chopping a top near his home, and that the demonstration would be on a '40 Mercury coupe! After paying very close attention to Gene's instructions, Ralph came to the conclusion he could perform the necessary top surgery to his '40 himself.
With his confidence high, Ralph scheduled another demonstration for the Blue Ridge students and let the cutting begin. The slicing of the lid went off without a hitch. It's especially inspiring to note that Ralph was only 70 years old when he tackled the metal work, which included removing 3 inches from the roof's height and then gracefully laying back the windshield posts. The panel below the rear window was moved forward approximately 4 inches and a new panel was formed and welded into place. Body modifications continued with the front fenders being raised 2 inches and the hood sectioned an equal amount. Ralph didn't have a need for running boards, so he removed them.
Underneath the coupe, you'll find more of Ralph's craftsmanship, with a stock chassis fitted with a Mustang II front suspension from Total Cost Involved, and parallel leafs from Chassis Engineering mounting an 8-inch Ford rearend in the back. Slid into the chubby chassis is a '82 Chevy small-block. Power from the mighty Mouse is transferred to a 700-R4 automatic transmission controlled by a GM column shifter.
There is more owner handiwork inside the low-slung cruiser, with stitching and wiring by Ralph. Rolled and pleated burgundy leather covers Mitsubishi seats facing an original '40 dash and steering wheel. Ralph has kept it simple with no major creature comforts, but that doesn't keep him from regularly hitting the highway for some long-legged cruising in his owner-built beauty.