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.
Hendersonville, North Carolina
1940 Ford Coupe
Starting with the original '40 Ford chassis, Ralph modified the platform with a Total Cost Involved Mustang II-style crossmember up front and a pair of parallel leafs from Chassis Engineering out back mounting an 8-inch ford rearend. Ralph kept the homebuilt vibe going by creating his own transmission crossmember and plumbing the brake and fuel lines in stainless steel. Chevy 11-inch discs were adapted to the front suspension along with a manual steering rack.
Keeping it simple, Ralph dropped a Chevy small-block backed by a 700-R4 automatic trans into his homebuilt chassis. The Edelbrock carb sits on a Professional Products intake and has been dressed up by an air cleaner from Speedway flanked by a pair of chrome valve covers. An aluminum radiator keeps the bullet-proof combo cool.
Wheels & Tires
Ralph obviously prefers function over fancy and to that end his ride rolls on a set of simple 15-inch steelies wrapped in 165/70R15 wide whites up front and 205/70R15 matching rollers in the rear. A set of owner-modified original single-bar flipper caps completes the package.
Body & Paint
There are probably not a lot of 70-year-olds out there chopping, channeling, and sectioning their rides. Not only is that something Ralph tackled himself, but also taught a group of college students how to do it while he completed the process on his pride and joy. The process started with a 5-inch channel job followed by a 3-inch chop and wrapped up with a 2-inch sectioning of the hood with the front fenders raised a matching amount. Running boards were deemed obsolete and removed while a '41 Lincoln Zephyr gas door was added to the rear fender. The only portion of the entire build Ralph didn't handle himself was the spraying of the gray urethane paint, which he relinquished to a local body shop. Mark Peters (Asheville, NC) accented the body with some pinstripes. Briz bumpers are mounted on both ends with a '49 Chevy license surround on the rear.
Sticking with the DIY theme, Ralph took care of things inside just like the outside. Owner-stitched burgundy leather covers Mitsubishi seating and a '40 steering wheel tops a Chevy tilt column hooked to an original '40 dash. Despite a lack of A/C, power goodies or even a radio, nothing keeps Ralph from driving his '40 Ford as often as possible - just as it should be.