I was looking for a new project in 2005 and wanted to build an early custom. I wanted to do something subtle and classic that could've been a factory prototype or something you would have seen James Cagney drive in a film noir. I also wanted it to be just as much hot rod as custom and build the drivetrain as if it were in a fenderless '32. It not only needed to look as if it were built 60 years ago, but to drive with the same feel, performance, sound, and comfort as it would've back then.
The search for a project took my friend Gene and I to the Charlotte, North Carolina, AutoFair in the fall of 2005. He was looking for parts for the '32 five-window he was building and I was specifically looking for an early custom project.
I found a guy with a bulletin board full of cars for sale that he brought for his friend Donnie. There were pictures of two '35 Ford three-windows on the board; I had always liked that particular year and model. The swoopy fenders and the grille always drew me in and I had envisioned one with slightly better lines than the designers had given it, as well as some later '40s touches. The pair were priced right and looked complete ... I called Donnie and we left the swap early to make the hour trip north to see the cars.
When we got there, he had both '35s under one carport. I struck a deal for the less expensive of the two and told him I would come back tomorrow with a trailer. I drove the five hours home to Marietta, Georgia, and turned around the next morning with the trailer and made the trip straight back to pick it up. I loaded it up and hated to break up the sibling coupes, but as fate would have it, I would cross paths with the other one again-and it ended up to be the one I would ultimately build.
I got the coupe back to the shop and started dismantling it. Donnie called me a few months later and asked me if I was interested in the other coupe. He had too many projects and needed to move it. I wasn't looking for two coupes but told him I was interested and that I would come with the trailer and take another look. I made the trip back to North Carolina and we struck a deal again. I loaded up the sister coupe and headed back to Marietta. After I got back, I realized that each coupe had its share of pros and cons, but the second one was a better candidate for chopping since someone had put a steel roof insert in it at some point that ruined the original channel and really shrunk the metal around it. It needed to be cut out. I made a call to my friend Norman and offered him the first coupe I bought. He bought it with plans to build a '36 out of it.
I didn't really start on the actual build for a few years. I spent a lot of time searching for the right parts that I wanted to use. I found nice original, N.O.S. parts even though some of the items I was looking for are reproduced. That was a lot of the fun. Meeting new people in the process and calling some friends to help beat the "parts" bushes. It seems there was a story for every part I found.
I went through a few Flathead blocks that had problems before finding the '46 factory relieved 59L that I ended up using. The 4 1/8-inch crank came out of an old local dirt track racer's Flathead motor from the '50s and the N.O.S. 81A rods came from my friend "Putt" Smith's honey hole. I had been looking for a decent set of block-letter Edelbrock heads and they were not being re-popped at the time. I found them by luck when a guy called me and said he had a few Flathead blocks and some aluminum heads for sale. I went and looked and there they were; they were super nice, so I bought them and the blocks. I got the Edelbrock high-rise intake with a bunch of parts that Joe Smith and I bought together. The Harman & Collins magneto came from an old rodder in Tennessee who had two of them stored in a box under his bed since the late '50s. I bought them both and I had Don Zig in California rebuild the one for the coupe. I used a '40 Ford frontend under the coupe and was looking for an early dropped front axle. I talked to Dave Mann who had a really nice original Mor-Drop axle that I traded out some '32-34 frontend parts for. Mann had purchased the axle from a guy who had it dropped by the late John Moore in 1954 to go under his Carson-topped '41 convertible.
The body needed the usual rust repair before I could do anything that was going to make it look like I wanted. I installed new original-style floors and patch panels and then I had to address the poorly filled top. I completely cut out the insert and channel. I wanted to keep the factory roof insert like a lot of the early customs had before filling was common. I found a guy who was filling his '36 five-window top and I bought his complete cutout channel. It worked out great since I needed a longer one to replace where the top was lengthened during the chop. I also struck a deal with a guy in Santa Ana, California, who was looking to convert his trunk on his '35 five-window to a rumble seat. We swapped even and he sent me the parts, rain gutter, and hinges from his trunk and I sent him everything from my rumble seat.
After a bunch of looking and asking around, I found a Columbia two-speed axle in my price range a few miles from my house. It was a '46 that I converted to a '35. I got my rebuild parts and '40 Columbia controls from my friend Dan Krehbiel in Temecula, California, who owned Columbia Two Speed Parts at the time.
One of the highlights of the build for me was involving my 4- and 6-year-old boys in the build. They got to see it from the ground up and were always interested in helping. Their look of disbelief when the top was lifted off was priceless. It is now their favorite form of transportation ... especially to school.
Rod & Custom Feature Car
1935 Ford Three-window Coupe
The chassis for the coupe started with a stock '35 Ford frame. In the front, a '40 Ford frontend was used with a 3 1/2-inch Mor-Drop axle, a stock '40 spring, and '41 Ford shackles. Steering comes from a '40 Ford steering box and mount that Josh rebuilt. To drop the rear of the car, the stock '35 rear crossmember was raised and the frame was C-notched. A de-arched '37 rear spring connects to the stock rearend with 4.11 gears and a Columbia two-speed unit is attached to drop the ratio to 2.94 at cruising speeds. The '40 Ford Columbia controls supply the vacuum to switch the two-speed unit. A '39 Ford pedal assembly and master cylinder combined with '39 Ford brakes provide the stopping power and '39 Ford Houdaille shocks supply the dampening.
The factory relieved 59L '46 Flathead was bored out 0.125 inch and an offset ground 4 1/8-inch Mercury crank was used to achieve a 284ci displacement. The engine was taken to Atlanta-area Flathead legend "Putt" Smith for machining, balancing, and short-block assembly. Lift and duration are provided using a Winfield SU-1A camshaft with N.O.S. Johnson lifters and valvetrain. Original Edelbrock raised block-letter heads sit atop the engine as well as an Edelbrock high-rise intake with dual 94 carburetors. Josh made a raised fan idler to clear the magneto with a '35 fan. An offset chromed generator keeps the battery charged and spark is provided from a Don Zig-prepped Harman & Collins magneto. The chromed Fenton headers are routed through Mellowtone mufflers. A lightened '34 flywheel with a '46 clutch and pressure plate connect the Flathead to a '40 Ford transmission with factory 19/25 tooth Lincoln gears that Josh assembled.
Wheels & Tires
A stock set of '36 Ford 16-inch wheels was used on all four corners of the coupe wrapped with 6.00-16 Firestones. The hubcaps were made by mating stock '36 Lincoln Zephyr caps, which had the stainless outer band, and stock '37 Ford center caps.
Body & Paint
After Josh tackled the usual patch panels, the original rumble seat was converted to a trunk, which accesses the modified neck to the '35 gas tank. Josh chopped 2 1/2 inches from the front and 3 inches from the rear of the top and used a five-window roof insert channel to replace the poorly done fill job that the car came with. The fender skirts are original '40 Ford that have been heightened and reshaped to fit the '35 fenders. The '38 Ford bumpers were used and a modified '41 Ford grille guard was used in the rear with '38 bumper guards. The '39 Ford taillights were slightly frenched into the fenders. The headlights are '36 Ford lowered 1 3/4 inches. The grille was filled at the top and fitted with a custom bull nose and peaked at the bottom to match the fender lines. Burt Litton, who used to be a mold maker for GM, made the initial bull nose prototype that was later cast and chromed. Three additional hood side moldings were added for a simple but streamlined look. The original running boards were sent to Hunley Acuff in Rossville, GA, for re-vulcanizing. Once Josh finished the sheetmetal work, he took it to Josh Deavers at Customs & Color in Woodstock, GA, for the bodywork and paint. Dan's Polishing in Adamsville, TN, and Pro Plating and Polishing in Decatur, GA, handled the chromework. All glass was done by Glass by Mark in Cartersville, GA.
Josh joined the bottom section of a '40 Ford dash to the top of the '35 Ford dash. This setup allows for the use of the stock windshield roll-out mechanism and looks right at home in the coupe. A '41 Mercury steering wheel connects to a '40 Ford column and drop with a chromed shifter. A '40 emergency brake handle was also used. A chromed Hadees heater knocks the chill off in the winter. The coupe uses '49 Chevrolet armrests and '36 Plymouth interior handles. Burt Litton of Hot Rod Interiors in Marietta, GA, handled the burgundy and off-white Naugahyde job and the roof insert. The rolled and pleated seat is a stock '36 flip-up unit that has been lowered to accommodate for the chop. Josh wired the car using a modified '40 Ford harness.