Everybody loves a saga, a story about an ordeal that never seems to end. So next time you're bench racing with your buddies, bring up the story of Jerry Kincade's '51 Ford.
Jerry has what's arguably one of the more extensively modified shoeboxes around. Those are big words-craftsmen have created legends in the past 60 years. But the car warrants it. It has the trifecta of ultimate modifications: It's not just chopped, it's sectioned and channeled. Given that Jerry is a normal working stiff like you and me, it's understandable why he maintains it took 15 years to finish (and some say he's being modest with his timeline).
"I found the car at a local hot rod car lot in September, 1984," Jerry began. "The car was so rusty and beat up that they wouldn't even park it on their lot-they parked it across the street at the grocery store. They wanted $600 (but) I offered $300 and they took the deal. I think I got the worst of the deal, but you know, love at first sight.
"I'll never forget the day I drove that rusty rag home. You could have stamped me "P" for proud; I finally had a car to work on. But my wife and daughters took one look at that car and I'm sure they thought I'd gone off the deep end."
Jerry said he toyed with the car a bit but said he didn't commit himself until a bay opened up at Ken Riggs' place, Street Machines Unlimited in Stanwood, Washington. Now bear in mind that, from the Nailhead to the extensive chassis modifications, the car has great merit; however, nothing rivals the modifications made to the body. They're extensive enough to warrant a story on their own, so we'll treat them that way and leave the captions and tech boxes to explain the rest.
"The sectioning was the first really big deal," Jerry recalled. For that, Ken sliced 4 inches from the perimeter of the car's beltline. But understand something about Ken: he's old school. Rather than buzzing the panels back together, he gas welded them, stopping every few inches to hammer the beads straight. "That took quite a while to complete," Jerry admitted.
"Next was the chop," he continued. "Back in those days there was a group of street rodders that hung out on a regular basis at Ken's shop, and it was a tradition for Ken to chop a car on New Year's Eve. I'll never forget it. The shop was full of fellow street rodders, family and friends sharing good food, music, lots of adult beverages, and car talk. Ken had it all laid out and ready to go."
At the stroke of midnight, Ken and a few revelers relieved the car of its top. When the dust settled, it sat 3 inches closer to the body at the A-pillars and 2 1/2 at the Cs. But that was just the start of it.
Business coupes like Jerry's ordinarily don't lend themselves to chopping. Their tops are shorter than sedan tops, and whacking them only exaggerates the car's tank-turret profile. It's the reason the sedans are so much more popular for extensive modifications. So Ken had to approximate the profile of the longer-topped sedan.
To begin with, Ken moved the base of the rear window back by about 10 inches. He leaned the whole panel forward to meet the remainder of the roof and, in a brush of genius, flipped the rear window.
Though the changes brought the car's profile back into proportion, it wasn't so kind to the top's profile. As Jerry explained, it looked too round. "After searching numerous bone yards for a suitable replacement, we came across a 1955 Chrysler New Yorker," Jerry said. "With hacksaw in hand we cut it out and took it back to the shop."
Considering Ken had to fabricate floors anyway, they made the decision to make them about 2 1/2 inches higher than stock which effectively channeled the car. But channeling a car has a ton of unforeseen consequences. The leading and trailing edges of the fenders, for one, needed work. What's more, Jerry took a liking to a '56 Chrysler Windsor grille-specifically one of its bars. So to accommodate both the bar and the channel job, Ken fabricated an entirely new grille surround. It effectively bridges the two fenders, making the front clip a one-piece assembly.
Rather than conventional bumpers, Jerry's car has '62 Corvette blades. To integrate them to the front, Ken grafted a '53 Studebaker chin pan to the front clip and scratch-made the rear roll pan.
Ken pancaked the hood to match the car's new profile, but he didn't stop there. Following tradition, he rounded the hood corners. Then he took it one step further by grafting the ridge from a '49 Mercury into the hood center.
Paul used a combination of...
Paul used a combination of standard leather and leather perforated to resemble MB Tex, the textured pattern Mercedes-Benz used in its cars. Rather than foul up the panel with speaker grilles, Paul perforated the hide where it covers the speakers. Ken's thoughtfulness is apparent in the door light, but his most clever trick, the hard-line conduit in the jamb bent to follow the door's swing, unfortunately isn't visible.
This isn't your typical steering...
This isn't your typical steering arrangement. It's a deep-dish '62 Olds steering wheel on a shortened Caddy tilt/telescope column. Here's the really cool part: the column mounts to a T-bird swing-away assembly. Note how Ken integrated the '60 T-bird's console into the shoebox dash.
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.