Other nearly countless modifications followed. Ken bobbed the trunk lid, and when he frenched the license plate into the new panel he gave it a brow for some character. He also made the plate flip down to reveal the new fuel filler. For finishing touches Ken fabricated the Turnpike Cruiser skirts and crafted side trim from '55 and '56 Pontiac stainless.
With the chassis sorted and the body work finished, Ken shot the car in a PPG-blended purple urethane with a pearl-tinged clear. It wasn't too long after that I met Jerry at Cedardale Auto Upholstery. I bring it up because it serves as a good timeline; Jerry said he was half done with the car at that point, but that was 2001 when trimmer Paul Reichlin was still working from home. And for the record, the interior is as laboriously crafted as the body of the car.
Naturally after investing so much time, effort, and money into his car, Jerry was naturally a little bit emotional about actually driving it. "It was kind of weird," Jerry reflected about the car's first test-run, even though it was in primer. "After all these years I could actually take it for a short drive. I only drove about a mile or so but I can tell you it was the best feeling I ever had with my pants on."
Now that he's finished, he drives it quite a bit. At the 2006 Northwest Nationals in Puyallup, Washington, Jerry's car got the Shoebox Pick. And if that wasn't enough, on Saturday he found out his car was picked as one of five contenders for Custom Car of the Year. "What an honor," Jerry mused. "Your car picked by your peers to represent the hobby. That was a major highlight.
"I can't tell you how many times guys told me, 'You'll never finish this car,'" Jerry recalled. "Having shallow pockets, it took 15 years to complete it. I don't regret a moment of it. In this day and age, when our hobby seems to have been taken over by big-money builders and owners, I'm proud to say if you stick to it, and with a little help from friends, family and a dedicated builder, the little guy can still build a winner."
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1951 Ford Coupe
Jerry's shoebox sits on most of the original frame. A shoebox crossmember is so low that it almost violates scrub line at stock height. Factor in the relatively poor geometry and the expense of upgrading it and it's understandable why Mike White at Lunatic Components eliminated it completely. He fabricated new framerails from the firewall forward, and between them he grafted a Mustang II-style crossmember. It uses standard components all the way down to the strut rods and 9-inch-diameter disc brakes. The 9-inch Ford rearend mates to the chassis by way of a Chassis Engineering four-link setup. Air Ride Technologies air springs suspend the chassis at all four corners.
Buick Nailheads were fixtures in the custom car's golden age but they weren't as big as this one. It's a '66 vintage, and the finned valve covers indicate it's a 425 from a Wildcat GS. Action Machine in Seattle cleaned it up and reassembled it with Badger forged pistons, a mild TRW cam, and a modest port-and-polish on the heads. An Edelbrock dual-quad manifold with a pair of AFB-style 600cfm Edelbrock carburetors feeds the engine. Air Mobile in Phoenix built the alloy radiator for it. When Jerry ordered the Vintage Air climate-control system, he had the company throw in a 16-inch-diameter electric fan for good measure. It's not visible, but the firewall was moved back to accommodate the engine. Ken Riggs fabricated the exhaust from 2-inch-diameter stainless tubing and ceramic-packed bullet-style mufflers.
The engine came with its own transmission, a TH400 specific to Nailheads. Woodinville's Kelly Waller rebuilt it with, among other things, a 2,500RPM converter. Drivelines Northwest in Everett built the driveshaft that links it to the '59 T-bird 9-inch rearend which spins a Trac-Loc limited-slip differential with a 3.25:1 screw.
Wheels & Tires
The front wheels are Ford 15x6 rollers with standard-issue backspace. The rears are OEM-style 15x7s, but with a 21/2-inch backspace. All four wheels wear 215/75R15 Coker Classic radial white-wall tires. They wear '49/50 caps and rings.
Body & Paint
In the 60 years that shoeboxes have roamed the earth, few have been modified as extensively as Jerry's. Read the story for a detailed account of the modifications, but here's the nutshell account of what Ken Riggs did to the car: top chopped 21/2 inches at the A-pillars and 3 inches at the C-pillars; rear window moved rearward, inverted, and leaned forward; '56 Chrysler Windsor roof skin; body sectioned 4 inches; handmade grille surround around a '55 Chrysler grille bar; '53 Studebaker chin panel; handmade rear roll pan; '62 Corvette bumpers; '53 Ford headlights; '49 Ford taillights; frenched flip-down license plate; fuel filler relocated behind license plate; pancaked hood with rounded corners and '49 Mercury peak; handmade hood hold-down; bobbed trunk; side trim made from '55 and '56 Pontiac stainless; handmade Turnpike Cruiser-style skirts.
Paul Reichlin has a reputation for fabricating the transitions that merge dissimilar interior components. The seats came from a T-bird ('63 fronts and '65 rear). Paul trimmed both in custom-dyed lavender leather, skinned the headliner with Novasuede, and carpeted the floor with tight-weave wool. Ken Riggs lengthened the '60 T-bird console and modified it to both fit the hump and accommodate the '66 Buick shifter. The column is a '60s Caddy tilt/telescopic mounted to a T-bird swing-away column mount. Ken also filled the speedo hump in the dash so Jerry could run chrome-bezel Series 1 VDO gauges. Victoria Plating in Victoria BC refinished the bright work; Alderwood Glass in Marysville glazed the windows.
While gathering parts for...
While gathering parts for the car, Jerry happened upon a lot of Thunderbird seats, specifically these '63 fronts. He also found a '60 T-bird console, which Ken stretched and fitted to the shoebox' trans hump. Paul Reichlin trimmed the seats and door panels in a custom-dyed lavender leather.
Sixty-five T-birds came with...
Sixty-five T-birds came with really cool wraparound rear seats. Ken integrated this one with the rest of the cockpit by extending the console between the individual seat base cushions. Paul trimmed the headliner in Novasuede, a polyester-based synthetic suede.
When Ken made the templates...
When Ken made the templates for Alderwood Glass, he brought the panes together to eliminate the divider bar. Remember the Mercury hood peak? Ken did it to match the stock roof peak.