The annals of the custom car have been pretty kind to ’46-48 Fords. Pressed to build new cars for a reinvigorated post-war market yet deprived of the time and resources to develop one from scratch, Henry’s crew slapped a bold new beak on the make’s aging pre-war models. That the redesign survived three years suggests it was a worthy industrial design. That re-stylists in the nascent custom-car world championed it only proves that point.
You’d be hard pressed to make that case for the car that donated its lights to Fred Reynolds’ 1947 Ford convertible, though. To be fair, Lincolns seldom made custom bait, but starting in 1949 the baseline models seemed to have a chance if only because they shared bodies with the wildly popular Mercury. Unfortunately, cartoonish fender spears, a grumpy grille, and tunneled headlights set far from their rounded corners made the cars look more musky-like than Mercurial.
But just because the headlights looked awkward on the ’49 Lincoln didn’t mean they were a bad idea; they just needed to grace a canvas smaller than the Lincoln and their positively gargantuan Cosmopolitan brethren. If anything they make Fred’s car distinctive if not quite handsome.
The car owes those lights and a great deal of its restyling to Steve’s Auto Restorations (SAR) in Portland, Oregon. However, it wouldn’t exist if not for Fred’s labor. “In September 2002 I saw an ad in the Oregonian that a guy in Battle Ground, Washington, had a ’47 Ford convertible for sale,” he says. The seller deemed the car complete minus the engine with excellent sheetmetal. “When I walked into the garage and saw the car sitting there in pieces, I knew in 30 seconds I was going to buy it,” he says.
Soon after Fred stripped the car to the rivets in his garage and had the carcass chemically stripped. Upon the car’s return home, Fred enlisted Dave Ayres and George Minkoff to help install the GM Performance Parts RamJet 350 and the B&M-prepped TH350 transmission.
“I had a pretty good visual of what it was going to look like someday,” he says. “I used a model car to mock up what I wanted in the end, and it came in real close, except I didn’t know what color it should be. I painted the model several colors and it still wasn’t correct.”
A number of years earlier Fred hired SAR to restore his ’31 Ford Tudor. That the car did well on the show circuit—it won its class at five concours events—inspired him to retain their services to finish the ’47. He invited Steve Frisbie and shop foreman Chuck Barr to appraise his ideas.
“I told them it was going to be yellow someday,” Fred says. “Chuck looked the car over, stepped back, folded his arms, and said, ‘That’s an awful lot of yellow.’” Worse yet, at least for Fred’s yellow yearning; Frisbie agreed.
Frisbie suggested red. Fred declined. “I really didn’t like red, thinking of bright red,” he admits. Only the color Frisbie proposed more closely resembled a cranberry-laden cosmopolitan cocktail than the torch red in Fred’s head. More importantly it resembled the color applied to Baron von Kuhl, the coachbuilt ’37 German Ford SAR restyled soon after the turn of the millennium. “Well, now that’s a different story because I love that color,” Fred concedes. “End of discussion.”
It was at SAR that the convertible acquired the Lincoln’s frenched headlights. Their installation required the crew to carve the existing headlight moorings and replace them with metal shaped more like the Lincoln fenders.
Reshaping front fenders is indeed a task but nothing in comparison to the modifications that the top took: the SAR crew chopped it 1 7/8 modest inches. Actually any amount taken from a convertible top is a big deal as any one modification disrupts the entire linkage. In the end they modified the top irons to fold and stow away neatly behind the rear seat as intended. Bumpers are pretty much mandatory to balance fat-fendered cars’ bodies; however, they needn’t be as thick as stock. The thinner ones on the car now came from a ’40 Ford.
Though it’s a big part of it, a finished car isn’t the whole point for most builders. Sometimes, as Robert Pirsig demonstrated in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the journey is more important than the destination. Custom cars and hot rods that bear their owner’s mark are proof of the concept, working examples that validate their builder’s ideas.
And though he didn’t invest himself absolutely in its construction, the car represents a big part of Fred’s life. “One reason I wanted a ’47 car, besides being a convertible, is that was the year I was born,” he notes. “So now in my shop I have my very first car the Model A (the Tudor SAR restored), a ’69 GTO exactly like my first brand-new car, and now the ’47 to show how old I am.”
And while we think that’s great and we’re proud of Fred Reynolds for the car he created, we have to admit his exercise serves another purpose for us. We really like it that someone finally figured out how to use ’49 Lincoln headlights, thereby proving the theory that some of the oddest-looking cars give us the coolest custom parts.