R&C Feature Car

Terry Stoker
Ontario, California
1935 Ford Roadster

For every rod or custom that was built back in the day and has a well-documented history, there are hundreds more that are complete mysteries when it comes to who built them or where and when they were put together. Even some well-known cars have gaps in their timelines. Take the SO-CAL Speed Shop belly tank for instance, where we inadvertently managed to fill in a missing blank in its history when we met Bill Beattie to photograph his Model A for our "Readers' Riders" column in Rod & Custom magazine. He shared a picture of his old race car with us, which turned out to be that well-known lakes racer. Of course he knew what it was, but it took that chance encounter to share it with the world.

So what happens when a guy builds a car and keeps it for 50 years, mostly out of sight for the first 20, then in storage for 30 years, and sells it with little information on its history just before his death? That's the story with this '35 roadster. No matter how hard we tried, we couldn't dig up any information on it other than what its present owner could tell us, and very few extra details on its builder, Ralph Flaaten.

An only child of Norwegian immigrant parents, born in 1927, all we could ascertain was that Flaaten grew up in Seattle where he built the car in the late '40s or early '50s. An aeronautical engineer, he took the car with him when he moved to Southern California in 1963, where he went to work for an airplane company, most likely Hughes Aircraft. What is certain is that the last pink slip for the '35 shows he lived in El Segundo, near what is now Los Angeles International Airport, while earlier pictures of the roadster show it with side curtains on the doors and Washington license plates. Pretty much the only story Flaaten told on selling the old Ford was that he regularly used it to go on skiing trips, with a blanket over the occupants' knees and the skis sticking out of the open roof!

Despite Flaaten being the only person with that name in the United States, extensive searches reveal nothing more about him, other than he died in 2003, the year after he sold the roadster, and that he was a radio-controlled airplane enthusiast, as well as a record holder in the '70s with the American Miniature Racing Car Association. His tether car ran in the highest class (VIII Hot) at 113 mph. Other than that, and the fact he moved back to his parents' house in Seattle after his mother died, he died without leaving a will, and with no heirs, nothing is known about him. Maybe a reader knew him and can help with more information on Flaaten or his '35?

So what of the '35? Flaaten chopped the windshield frame and folding roof somewhere between 1 and 2 inches, installed '36 rear fenders with '39 taillights, added skirts and '41 bumpers front and rear, and painted it Chrysler Butterfly Blue. It also has a complete '40 Ford drivetrain, with a stock '40 engine and trans, as well as the later steering column (wheel and column shifter) and a Columbia two-speed rearend. A Dago dropped axle and juice brakes from the '40s complete the mechanicals. Flaaten added Stewart-Warner and other miscellaneous gauges to the dash, and aircraft lapbelts, unsurprising given his vocation. Unrestored and unmolested, it's truly a time-warp custom that fortunately has fallen into the hands of owners who appreciate its history, and haven't messed with it other than making it mechanically safe and adding a new period-style roof. Luckily, it was discovered before it was sold at the estate sale after Flaaten's death, otherwise we may not be looking at it in this condition today!

Flaaten sold the roadster to a guy in Oregon who'd heard about it through a co-worker, and fully expected to find a four-door '39 Chevy or similar when he arrived at the address he'd been given. On seeing the '35 he bought it immediately, despite its seized engine and moth-eaten top, but it wasn't long before it found its way onto eBay where John Koehnke from Southern California saw it, and purchased it after the auction ended. As Koehnke told Pat Ganahl in his recent book Lost Hot Rods, "This was the kind of car people hound you to get. People kept hounding me, and I finally said OK."

Terry Stoker was the guy who offered Koehnke the right price and is now the current owner of the roadster. He's since completed a 200-mile trip on the Pasadena Reliability Run with no problems, as well as a couple of runs out to El Mirage dry lake from his home at the eastern end of the L.A. basin. We've also seen the car at the L.A. Roadsters Father's Day Show. Terry's intentions to use and enjoy the roadster, with no plans to update, paint, or modify it, work just fine for us. We also kinda like the fact that no one has ever felt the need to swap the front sheetmetal for '36 items either!