Tradition has more than one stripe as we've seen in the last decade. Whether by showcasing different genres or varying degrees of authenticity, builders have shown us just how much latitude there is in a term so seemingly restrictive.
Only there's more to tradition than meets the eye. Looks matter, but the way something is built can lend a car an awful lot of traditional credibility, even if its parts aren't 100 percent faithful to the era the car claims to represent.
There's no doubt that Dave York's '49 Ford has the look part down. But it also has that something extra. It's because Dave built his car in what we'd call a traditional way: largely by himself and with the help of good friends. And probably most importantly, he did it within his means.
"It goes back to 2001," Dave began. "My buddies came up to me with an ad for a '49 Ford Tudor sedan. Someone had chopped it and thrown it in primer, but it was just a shell."
And a neglected and gussied up shell it was, too. "I had to grind a lot of mud out and redo a lot of welding," he lamented. "I slowly started throwing the thing together. I frenched the taillights and rounded the hood corners-you know, the usual mild-custom stuff. I threw it in black prime and drove it that way for years. But about a year ago I really went nuts," he continued. "I wanted to build a car that is visually traditional; a car that if you shot it in black and white you wouldn't know it wasn't 1955."
Though the top had been chopped 3 inches, "I re-chopped it and went a full 6 inches." He's being modest; what he really means is that he eliminated almost all of the rear of the factory top and wheeled another from flat panels. "The car started out as a sedan, not a coupe," Dave explained. "So to make it flow right with the top that low I had to make everything." And just to make it that much more challenging, he put it all together with a gas torch and lots of dolly-on-hammer work.
"A couple months later I extended the headlights out 4 inches," he said. It's inspired by the Merc that Gil Ayala built for Wally Welsh and Dave's is a method that bears explaining. "If you just extend the headlights forward based on the top of the fender curve, they end up a lot lower," Dave revealed. Instead, he scribed a horizontal line at the centerline of the headlight ring, projected it rearward by about half a foot, arched it over the fender top, and snaked the line down to the bumper apron. He cut on those lines and removed basically everything below the centerline of the headlight ring. He then pushed the whole ring/fender top forward on that horizontal plane until it looked right and filled the resulting gap behind it with fresh metal. He rolled another panel to take the place of the tin orphaned from below the headlight. Again, he gas-welded things back together.
Shoeboxes are pretty cars, even if they are a bit plain here and there in stock form. To stylize the car a bit more, Dave replaced the front wheel openings with those from a '53 Ford. Ironically he kept the first thing most would-be customizers of the day changed: the side trim. It actually created more work, though, as he said he had to remove the uppermost 4 inches from the '51 Mercury fender skirts to make them fit under the trim. He also welded the quarters and fenders to the body.
Buster Litton's Cerny/Barris-built "Panoramic Ford" inspired the taillight treatment. The lights started life on a '51 Oldsmobile, only the larger and less-common '98 model. He grafted the rearmost foot of the Olds quarters to the Shoebox's flanks, thereby extending the car another 3 or so inches. Naturally he shaved the Ford's taillight spears, and of course, he used gas, dollies, and hammers on those easily warped slabs.
The paint was a real nightmare, though," Dave says, groaning. A series of setbacks pushed Dave to within a month of the West Coast Customs' event in Santa Maria, California, the venue where he expected to debut his car. "So I went to a good friend of mine, Vince Minnis, who has quite a reputable body shop," Dave said. "He and his guys really stepped up to the plate, and if it hadn't been for them the car wouldn't have made it to California."
Minnis and his crew applied the new-age Jeep Green. "It's a tri-color paint, so it's really sensitive," Dave noted. "So we screwed around with it until we got this brassy green." But there's more to it than that, he says. "A Jeep is all flat panels, but this is all round. It really shows the color differently." And he's right; in the sun it glows as green as an electrified Granny Smith apple, but at sunset that apple goes golden as if dipped in caramel.
"Because the quarter panels are more pronounced like a '51 Merc, I had to build the wraparound rear bumper," Dave said. It started life on the front of a '53 Ford, but Dave said he cut it into four chunks, narrowed it about 6 inches, and re-contoured the ends to better follow the Olds' quarters' profile. The front came from a '51 Ford, which Dave also narrowed. Both ends sport '53 Kaiser bumperettes, only Dave "ported" the Dagmars on the rear one for the exhaust outlets.
He sort of broke with most peoples' definition of traditional with a few things under that slick body, however, going by the idea that he used available parts from newer cars and his gumption to blend them together, doing things just as our forebearers did. For example, the frame bears a GM clip. "It's a Chevelle clip of all things, the wrong clip to use," Dave laments. "It was so wide that I had to narrow the lower A-arms and relocate the upper A-arms to get the wheels to fit under the wells." He also replaced the rear axle with a more modern 10-bolt from an S-10 pickup. The way he sprung the car is certainly time-honored: he had the rear springs de-arched and spaced the axle away from the springs with 2-inch blocks. He also clipped the front coils, although he's the first to admit that he's looking to do dropped spindles and softer custom springs. "The ride is the only thing I'm not entirely happy with," he says.
He used an engine that barely fits with his 1955 timeline: a small-block Chevrolet. We'll grant him this indiscretion simply for the fact that Dave's actually a closeted hot rodder who built performance engines in his past, one of which helped a naturally aspirated gas race boat set records. Though the 327 he built for this car is tamer than his standard fare, it's leagues beyond the greasy stock lumps under most nosed, rounded, and louvered hoods (Norm Abrahms punched the 180 holes in this one, by the way).
As for upholstery, "That's a good one too," Dave enthused. "My dad did the seat for me. He got pissed off trying to get upholstery work on one of his cars, so he bought an old industrial sewing machine. We did it over at my mom and dad's in their basement," he explained, emphasizing, "It's real tuck 'n' roll, not just flat pleats. We stuffed all those pleats on the kitchen table. We got some good bonding time." Another one of Dave's good friends, Bob Campbell, trimmed the door panels, installed the pleated headliner, and whipped up the carpets to match, including the pleated transmission hump.
"Once the car came back to my house, another friend, Rob Pybus, came by and wet-sanded and polished the car," Dave says. With only days to go 'til Santa Maria, he said a mad thrash ensued. "We were almost late," he explained. "It was 3 o'clock Monday morning and my girlfriend came into the garage and said, 'Enough's enough! Get into the house; this is crazy.'" Still, they set out for California that day at noon.
Dave's car debut wasn't normal, unless of course your definition has people like John D'Agostino specifically asking if you'd park your car among their's at noteworthy events like the West Coast Kustoms Cruisin' Nationals. In fact, Dave's first-time custom on its first-time outing won a few trophies. That's not too shabby, especially considering the fact that Dave and his girlfriend drove nearly 1,500 miles, unlike most of their peers who trailered only a few hundred.
"It was unbelievable," Dave said, still reeling from the experience. "If it wasn't for everybody coming together, like my friend Laurie Petersen who came over whenever I needed some help, I never would've made it," he said. "Brad Purser, my buddy Dean Martens-those guys were there whenever I needed an extra set of hands.
"But I really want to thank my gal, Lisa," he added. "You know what it's like when you're working on deadline, you have things to do to the car but you really should be taking her for dinner and a movie. She's a real trooper. She sure cut me a lot of slack on this one and was supportive, even when finishing the car for Santa Maria seemed hopeless. I'm very fortunate to have a gal like her."
So too is Dave York fortunate to have a car like his. He gave it something that no pro builder, no matter how good, could: himself. And if building a car specifically to fit you isn't traditional, what is?
Rod & Custom Feature Car
British Columbia, Canada
1949 Ford Sedan
For the most part Dave's shoebox rides on its stock frame, however, once upon a time it acquired a Chevelle subframe. The rest remains stock despite the relatively low rear stance. Dave replaced the old Spicer axle with a 10-bolt GM unit from an S-10 pickup. He tuned the stance by de-arching the stock springs and inserting 2-inch blocks between them and the axle. The Chevelle clip's lower control arms were narrowed and the uppers repositioned inboard. It still runs the stock Saginaw 605 steering box and 11-inch disc brakes. He clipped the coils for now, but plans call for dropped spindles and custom coils.
Considering Dave's past as a performance engine builder, it's natural that he put the soup to this 327. His buddies Dave Child and Chris "T-Bone" Trenholme at High Performance Engines Ltd. machined the engine. The forged flat-tops and 461-series Camel Humps give it 10:1 static compression ratio-a ratio far too high for street gas if it wasn't for the COMP Cams Magnum 280H camshaft. The vintage Joe Hunt mag is mounted at the front using a Laughton front distributor drive. It runs Edelbrock rocker covers and manifold, the latter with three Rochester 2G carburetors. Dave's exhaust choice? Quiet and reliable cast-iron manifolds. The engine backs against a TH350 transmission.
Wheels & Tires
There exist few proper tires for an early custom, and the best of the bunch (at least the best looking) aren't radials. These BFGoodrich Silvertowns measure 6.70-15, which makes 'em tuck nicely inside the wells. Their relatively smaller 3 5/8-inch whitewalls are period for '50s.
Body & Paint
The body changes owe their existence to Dave. He chopped the top 6 full inches and removed the drip rails, which required him to scratch-build the back of the roof. He shaved the stock taillight spears and grafted '51 Olds 98 quarter ends to the denuded flanks. He then cut the headlights free and moved them forward about 4 inches. After clipping the front of the hood off, he welded the fenders to it and the cowl and rounded the hood corners. Bordering the '55 Desoto grille insert is a '50 Merc surround. The '51 Merc skirts needed 4 inches off the top to fit under the stock trim, which Dave obliged. Needless to say, he nosed the hood, decked the trunk, and shaved the doors. John Doering cut the glass for the new window shapes. Dave said he owes a debt of gratitude to his good pals Laurie Petersen and Brad Purser for offering ideas, lending hands, and sharing their beer.
Dave and his dad hand-stuffed the black-vinyl seat pleats in true tuck 'n'roll fashion. His buddy Bob Campbell trimmed the door panels in black panels with white pleated inserts. He also molded the nylon carpet, making the pleated vinyl cover to fit the tunnel. Among other things, he installed the pleated headliner too. Since it gets hot even in Canada and since Dave drives the snot out of the car, the Vintage Air climate-control system sees plenty of use. He used an early Ford Econoline column with an earlier Ford shaft to mount the '49 Lincoln steering wheel. The Unity spotlights are real, too.