While we journo types love traveling the country searching out cars to show you on these pages, it can sometimes prove frustrating tracking down car owners at big shows, as understandably they're off enjoying the show. Such was the case with Steve Hager's '46 Ford. Both Tim Bernsau and I had photographed this car for show reports at separate shows a few weeks apart, Tim awarding it an R&C Top Tin pick. But it wasn't until the NSRA Nationals last year that we finally managed to collar Steve, who agreed to let us shoot his ragtop that very night. 'Cept it's not a ragtop, or at least didn't come from the factory as one.
This deceptively stock-looking-with the exception of the Plymouth grille-convertible actually rolled off the Ford assembly line as a four-door sedan, but there are parts from no less than 12 cars in the finished product. It may come as little surprise by now to learn that Steve is a bodyman, though how he found the enthusiasm to tackle such a huge project afterhours is beyond us. But we'll come to the body mods in a minute.
Steve has built and collected cars for 25 years, with an eclectic collection now comprising a rodded '40 pickup, a stock '37 pickup, a pro touring '56 Chevy convertible, a '65 'Vette, '70 Firebird, '79 Trans Am, and a '70 'Cuda, in addition to the '46. As he told us, "Being into so many different styles it's hard to pick the kind of car for the next build. But after going to a number of shows, the real late '40s to early '50s customs started to grow on me." Already knowing he wanted a convertible, he spied a flyer at a swap meet for a '46 convertible for sale. It was very rough but, "it was cheap and I had nothing to lose"
Thanks to a network of friends, the necessary parts soon began to come together, then some buddies from the Cheaters Car Club gave Steve a four-door sedan body and frame, which proved to be a much better base for the build than the roached 'vert. An S-10 subframe was grafted to the stock Ford chassis, stretching the wheelbase 1/2 inch at the same time, while an '80 Malibu rearend went under the opposite end. Now with a rolling foundation, Steve set about splicing the 'vert parts into the sedan body, adding a '50 Olds dash, altering the hood to accept the Plymouth grille, replacing the front of each front fender with sections, including the headlights, from a '50 Chevy pickup, and forming fender skirts from parts of the four-door's old roof.
During this time Steve found himself in a new relationship, but with her understanding, and sharing him with the garage, the car was done (amazingly) in two short years, which would have been quicker if it weren't for the six-month "rest" at the interior shop! "I'm very happy with the finished job, though I was mad about it at the time," he says. "Now with the car finished it's great to see people into kustoms recognizing some of the work that has been done. Street rodders think the car is pretty stock."
With so many cars in his collection, we were confident that Steve would reply in the negative when we asked if he drove the car often. We were right, but for the wrong reason. "Being black with a white interior, and me being a bodyman, I don't use it often." Having been in the same situation, we can understand that. We wondered at the time how he kept that front seat so pristine!
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1946 Ford Convertible
If you're expecting the stock Flathead, I-beam, and banjo rear under Steve's ragtop, think again. While the majority of the frame is as Ford intended, an S-10 subframe has been grafted to the front, extending the wheelbase 1/2 inch to place the front wheels slightly forward. Two-inch dropped spindles bring the frame closer to Mother Earth, though everything else is stock S-10, from the antiroll bar to the disc brakes and steering. A '79 Trans Am donated its pedal assembly. De-arched parallel leaf springs and Firestone airbags replace the transverse rear leaf spring, locating a rearend from an '80 Malibu.
With almost all Chevy underpinnings, it probably doesn't come as too much of a surprise to find a 350 Chevy underhood. Of '78 vintage, it's dressed with home-brewed Cadillac valve covers and chromed reproduction Caddy air cleaner. An Edelbrock intake with a front oil filler tube doing double duty as a PCV valve mounts a 600-cfm Holley and stock exhaust manifolds feed Hollywood glasspacks. An aluminum crossflow radiator is hidden under the extended slam panel.
Wheels & Tires
Kustom guys have it relatively easy when it comes to laying out for wheels, especially when they're covered by fullsize hubcaps, though choosing the latter can be harder than a street rodder deciding on which alloy wheels to run! Steve went with plain ol' GM 15x7 steel, then selected '54-55 Cadillac sombreros, wrapping all four in Firestone 7.10-15 bias-ply wide whites.
Body & Paint
This deceptively stock-looking convertible hides an amazing number of modifications under the owner-applied black basecoat/clearcoat. Aside from converting the body from a four-door sedan using a rusted-out 'vert parts car, it has molded rear fenders, shaved hood, decklid, and doors, rounded corners on all opening panels, custom-made splash aprons, extended rocker panels where previously there were running boards, and a '49 Plymouth grille. This necessitated lengthening the hood by 1 inch, widening it by a similar amount, and extending it and the peak panel by 3 inches. The front wheel arches were closed up and the lower front corners modified to match those behind the wheel, while sections of '50 Chevy pickup fenders were let in to raise the headlights and move them outboard slightly to clear the grille. Briz bumpers were added, the stock rear lights flipped on their sides, and the rear top bows of the ragtop lowered for a better profile. Steve spent much time ensuring the whole car looked right and "flowed". The roof and windshield surround were left at stock height, though it's the one thing Steve wishes he'd done. "I still might," he says.
A '50 Olds dash was shortened to fit the narrower Ford body and then extended into the doors with custom-made moldings, matched by a same-year but modified Olds steering column and wheel. A '47 Chevy gave up its front bench seat, while the rear was scratch-built, both covered in white vinyl with gold piping by Dennis Rynders to match the dash and loop pile carpet, a color that continues into the engine bay. Steve wired the car using an EZ Wiring harness, installing a hidden Pioneer head unit and Kenwood speakers.